Writing prompts at random

“Describe an important item from your childhood. Why was it important and where is it now?”

It was her eleventh Christmas that she go the pink teddy bear from her grandparents. Pink wasn’t really her color. Her initial reaction was confusion and a touch of disappointment. Actually that disappointment was strong. Her parents were there and expecting something more from her so she smiled and laughed in what she hoped was delight. Her mother asked if it had a name and she said something akin to not yet. She hadn’t decided if was going to have a name yet. Did it deserve that level of personalisation? Perhaps. It was so pink, that pepto-bismul pink… It wasn’t fair to the poor bear for her to judge it so. Her cheeks flushed with embarrassment for dismissing it so quickly. Sure it was a strange color but that made it stand out amidst her blues and purples.

She hugged it to her chest. It was soft and smelled of the cardboard box and fudge. Her grandmother so enjoyed sending things to them. It probably made her feel closer to them despite the infrequent and bridg trips her family made to visit. It wasn’t her faluth that she didn’t know her grand daughter well enough to know that pink was nearly as abhorrent as red or orange. She probably thought it was a safe color for a pre-pubescent girl. She likely was right and her grand daughter was too inflexible to be grateful.

That night the teddy bear stayed on her bed. It actually made a decent pillow. The size of the belly and arms, just a few inches larger than her head, made it comfortable to lean on. That and how soft it was though the fur tickled her ears and nose.

A week later she gave it a name. Lacie, the same as her half-sister. She loved Lacie, both the bear and her sister, in a rather abstract way. After all, it wasn’t Lacie’s fault she lived so far away and that her younger sister didn’t even know she existed until 3 years earlier. Lacie visiting always meant adventures and her parents taking time off from work. Lacie’s presence helped to bring them together. Her parents didn’t fight or get so angry. That bear could be a tiny piece of her sister and all the things she meant. Those nights when there was yelling and screaming and crying were the worst. The bear was there though, a tangible thing of comfort.

She would write to the bear and talk to it late night, imaging what it would be like to have her sister there instead. In a sense she was with a wee bit of herself within the bear, though her sister would never admit it.

A few months passed before her mother noted how much she fell asleep with the bear in her arms. “What’s your bear’s name?” she asked again.

“Lacie,” was all that the girl said. Her mother nodded slowly, understanding instantly the importance of that name. Fast forward fifteen years and she still has Lacie with her. She no longer sleeps with it, that right is now reserved for her cats who get as much comfort from the soft bear. They are smaller than it, a perfect companion for them to snuggle up to. Sometimes she still talks to Lacie, sharing her thoughts with that wee, tiny piece of her sister. She may not speak with the bear’s namesake but much like that abstract love her bear shifted into something deeper and real, so has the love for the person that is her sister. Each monologue to the smaller Lacie ends the same, “I love you, Lacie.”

What’s worth doing even if I fail?

Look! Another post inspired by Brene Brown, this time from Daring Greatly. “What’s worth doing even if I fail?” She whispered this phrase to herself as she was walking out on stage at her 2012 TED talk. I think I have to step back further from where she’s at though and just start with “what’s worth doing?” What is something that needs to be done, what is something that I feel I need to do? I want to do some sort of deep introspection and thinking here but honestly I am too internally blocked to go that far. That will eventually be my answer to “what’s worth doing even if I fail?” but I’m not quite there yet.

That leads to the question of what is worth doing in a more general sense. Superficially I want to create whether it is to create a difference, create an object, or create a thought.

Creating a difference is important to me because I have always desperately wanted to be needed. So much of my self-worth and identity is tied into being a helper, being available for people when they have little else. It’s probably the primary reason why I’ve been entrenched in mental health nursing since I became a nurse nearly a decade ago. (Side note-holy shit that was 10 years ago!) If there’s one group of people that don’t have much it’s the people described as severe and persistently mentally ill. All of the agencies I have worked at served a population of people that were homeless or only one flat tire away from it. I could be something for them: a smile, a greeting, a “how are you?” with the actual desire to know, a quiet presence to cry with, or a guide when the voices, self-contempt, or anxiety got to be too much. (This is where my tendency towards over functioning comes in but that’s a blog for another day)

You see, in working at places where my need to be needed was satisfied with little effort on my part I was able to continue to do without having to stretch out and be uncomfortable. Sure there are always the discomforts of learning new systems, new people, and figuring out my place in the system but I could always figure out a way to create a difference because there was always at least one person around that needed something.

Creating things has become a large focus for me in my knitting and crochet projects. I can make things that are useful and have an art to them. They aren’t perfect but often I’m the only one that knows how imperfect they are. Other people see the things I’ve made and appreciate them and all is good in the world. I’ve even slowly been pushing past my fears of different techniques and projects because this is a challenge I can do. If it doesn’t work out I can just rip back the yarn and watch my work shrink away until the mistakes disappear. (Note that more often than not this is an accidental thing and results in cursing at the tiny loops until I get everything back to where it’s supposed to be.) I can take chances and risks with little waste except my time and patience. This is a safe place to challenge myself and do something daring.

Lastly, creating a thought is actually the other two forms of creating mixed into one. A thought is an unformed object budding from someone who has been bit by the inspiration bug. I’m still working on how to do that with any consistency. There’s an unhealthy level of criticism and fear around creating a thought… oh. Right. I think that is probably what I need to focus more on. A something that is so important and worth doing despite the risk of failure would be an act of creation so long standing as to inspire thought, discussion, debate. Writing is one of those things for me.

Perhaps that is enough honesty and being vulnerable for the night. I know that my something worth doing despite the risk of failure is doing something that can inspire thoughtful discussion, ideas, and perhaps action. It’s still a rather broad concept at this point in my journey but I now have a direction to wander while I let this percolate a bit more. Hopefully the process of finding out what’s worth doing even if you fail isn’t so vague or hidden from yourself as what I’ve found my something to be.

Rising Strong means writing

Earlier today, well yesterday by the time this is posted, I started a new audio book Rising Strong by Brene Brown. I’ve had it on my phone for several months now but only just recently felt like I was maybe ready to hear her words. I’ve got several of her other books and have read some, but not all, of them. Honestly they have been too much for me to process all at once. They inspire deep introspection and assessment of yourself in a most painful way. The primary focus is on shame, guilt, blame, fear, vulnerability, trauma, self-doubt, and avoidance. Heavy, heavy topics, especially for those who have, ahem, avoided such intense personal awareness.

Despite the heavy topics I felt that this book was easier to listen to than to read as the slower pace enabled me to process the implications more. Also, hearing Brene speak directly about her own experiences and stories that others have trusted her with makes it feel more intimate. There’s power in a person speaking their own story, their own struggles and triumphs. It’s also relieving to hear that someone with such a strong background in social work has to battle through understanding these hard concepts and that it’s not an automatic thing for her. She has been able to learn and gain greater awareness and understanding so that she can recognize when she’s falling into the trap of blaming, getting even, or avoiding what she is experiencing.

There are people who figured out how to be vulnerable and aware of their self-worth but there is at least one other person who hasn’t figured that out for every one who has. The ones that have already do something that is both obvious and hard; they write out their story each day. It doesn’t have to be for a particular amount of time or have a true focus or method of narration. Some people write short stories, some draw it out, some use blogs or diaries, some write letters that will never be sent. All of these are things I’ve encouraged patients to do in the past. “Write out what you’re feeling, give yourself permission to be honest with yourself.” It’s so easy to give the advice, not so easy to follow it yourself.

I’m going to try this idea. Writing for just a little bit of time, sometimes just for me but other times it will be to share. It may not always be on this blog but one of the others I’ve got, depending upon what’s more appropriate. Some of my stories for the day would be what Brene called “shitty first drafts” SFD for short and they won’t be shared. Some may be fiction narratives for me to explore what’s going on in my head. Others may be rants or complaints or pleas for understanding. Regardless I feel that bringing this whole blogging idea back to life is probably healthy. Plus, I’m starting a new chapter in my work life and since I can’t do something funky with my hair I can at least make some other visible change in my life. Blogging is visible, if less so than my hair, and is probably far more likely to result in moments of revelation. Those are pretty cool when they happen even if they are infrequent.

Anywho, writing, it’s a thing and a thing I hope to do more often.

A Completely Unexpected Thing

I’ve been getting a lot of hits on my blog the last few months. It’s all completely related to the essay I had posted in the middle of spring semester 2013, . As of 2pm on 8 Oct 2013 it was 935, an average of 5 a day since it was posted in April. It’s been really weird, to the point that I decided to go through and edit it a bit to make sure that anyone who just c/p without reading the whole thing would get a few weird questions from their teachers and maybe realize that plagiarism isn’t cool.

Today it occurred to me that perhaps not all of the views were due to the fact that people were just looking for something to plagiarize with. Sometimes people really are just looking for ideas on what to do. I decided to do a wee bit (read 3 minutes worth) of research and discovered that for at least three search terms “video games essay”, “video games are good for you essay”, and “sample video games essay” my blog post is on the front page. It’s actually numbers six, three, and two respectively. Holy shit. What the hell, dudes?! That is one of the absolute last things I would have expected to find. I know that the google algorithms basically say that the more traffic you get the higher up on the list you go, but I never expected to find anything that I have written get so high up on the list.

It also makes me worry even more about whether or not people are being not so cool and copying my work. *sigh*. Oh well. I hope people at least enjoy reading. Some part of me hopes that my atheism essay starts to experience the same success because I feel like that one is just as worthy of thought. Anywho, I just had to share my what the hell sort of epiphany thing.

Why Should You Consider Atheism? A Persuasive Essay

“I don’t try to imagine a personal God; it suffices to stand in awe at the structure of the world, insofar as it allows our inadequate senses to appreciate it” (source). This quote from Albert Einstein always comes to mind when I try to convey to others why it is that a lack of God or gods does not make the universe any less meaningful or lackluster, but instead bright with wonder and curiosity. It is one of many misunderstandings regarding unbelievers, heretics, atheists, agnostics, or whatever you should want to call those who have come to their own conclusion that they can no longer believe in a particular God or gods. That is right, most atheists were not raised in a family of non-believers. The vast majority have spent time in churches, attended Sunday school and participated in church events (source). They each come to the conclusion, in their own way, that there is too much cognitive dissonance between their own logical perception of their world and reality and the potential for any sort of deity. To be a non-believer does not mean that a person loses their morals, their understanding of right or wrong. It does not mean that they no longer have passion for their fellows humans nor for causes that benefit those in need. It does not mean that they have become any more or less than what they were when they did believe in something else being out there. Most importantly, it does not mean that they have declared war upon any particular church, group, or country. Atheists and agnostics are people who have chosen to live their lives without God or gods and honestly believe that it is the best way for them to live. I would like to challenge everyone, regardless of their faith, to consider what non-belief means and why it is a way of living that should be considered.

I have heard over and over again that non-believers are always causing trouble for the church and are just as zealous as the fundamentalists they are campaigning against. However, according to a comprehensive study performed by Christopher Silver with the University of Chattanooga found it is less than one out of six atheists who would fall under this description, most of which have recently been hurt and cut their ties with a particular faith or church. This study also found that Atheists, much like Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and every other religion, are not made up of one homogenous group but instead can be described as part of sub-sects falling under the umbrella description of religious-nones. The more caustic and argumentative of atheists have begun to claim a new name, anti-theists, meaning against religion or belief. It is an apt reference to people who often seek out those who do not believe as they do, that there is no God, no pantheon, no creator, and work to convince them that they are wrong. Richard Dawkins, a biologist known more for his role as an antitheist preacher and author, is often held up as what every atheist must be within their hearts. I argue that nothing could be further from the truth. While men and women like Dawkins may be something of celebrities at conferences and quoted over and over it is not because their words are the only truth, but because their words are often the first glimpses many have of this other way of thinking. A way of thinking that is outside the teachings of Sunday school and church. They are an introduction to questioning what has been considered fact, of beliefs that may or may not be applicable to a person’s life any longer.

The typical non-believer is not going to proclaim that they don’t have a god to pray to for all to hear. For most atheists or agnostics the lack of religion takes up so small a part of their time that it is insignificant (source). Some like to debate their ideas with others but merely as an intellectual exercise. Others couldn’t care less about the whole religion thing. They don’t understand why there is so much trouble caused by debates between believers and non-believers. The best word for them is “meh.” There are others who stand in the middle ground between believers and non-believers. This middle group may not believe any human can know whether there is something out there or there isn’t. They don’t care if that something is a sort of great universal energy or power that encompasses all or an actual all-knowing entity or nothing at all, they just believe that there could be something more out there. Mr. Silver even found a group of atheists who continue to go to church or synagogue because they enjoyed the rituals and community. There are many, many more different variations upon this theme. There are as many ways to be an atheist or agnostic as there are ways to be a believer. It is truly an amazing example of how many different ways there are to understand and interpret the world. Perhaps the most inspiring of things to me is that these non believers do not require some written or spoken code of conduct to know what is right and what is wrong.

This, the question of morals, is perhaps the single greatest conflict between believers and non believers and the greatest obstacle a person who is experiencing a crisis of faith has to overcome if they are going to become a non believer. This comes from a misunderstanding about how it is that humans develop their morals. Yes, religious teachings help us to establish our morals but it is in much the same way that we learn how to speak. We are surrounded by these concepts on a daily basis in every aspect of our lives in churches, at school, in the home, our family and friend’s homes. It is a necessity that every child learn what is considered right and wrong within their own society. An atheist does not need a bible to tell him or her that killing is wrong. They only have to look at the laws of the land to know that it is punished by society. However, an atheist may be confused by a person who follows the bible, particularly the Old Testament, when there are so many examples where people are murdered and it is considered right in the eyes of God. The story of Joshua and the destruction of the city of Jericho and all the men, women, children and even animals within the city is one which many atheists point to and ask believers, “Why? Why is this okay?” There is also of the question of how a group of people can reconcile the revenge based teaching of “an eye for an eye,” from Leviticus 24:19, with Jesus Christ’s Sermon on the Mount that declares, “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also” (biblehub). An atheist or agnostic may look at this contradiction and declare that at least their concept of morality is consistent. They do what is right based on an internally consistent and externally approved set of mores and values without having to waver and consider between two different teachings. That is not to say that every person who reads both the New and Old Testaments has trouble deciding which teachings they based their morals on, but it has frequently come up in discussions between peoples of different belief systems.

The question of morality is not the only debate that occurs when people of differing beliefs converse. The most common question heard is, “How do you know that your religion is the right one?” There are thousands of religions believed throughout the ages, some that are still around and others that have become extinct along with the civilizations that followed them. A person who is willing to look at this information and ask how there is one true religion when there are so many potential religions that could be right. Richard Dawkins points out the problem with believing that one, and only one, way of thinking is true, “We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one step further” (source). Most atheists and agnostics have voiced this as one of the first questions they start asking that leads to their deconversion from religion (source). If a man or woman begins to ask for some sort of proof for why one religion is more right than another they have a lot to look at and ponder.

One of the most prominent questions that really doesn’t seem to have any answers is what makes this one religion that a person grew up with more right than one in a different culture or from a different time. If there is only one true and right religion and way to believe and any who do not follow that system will be tortured, lose their souls or be stuck as ghosts wandering the world forever when there are millions of people born prior to the establishment of that religion or in parts of the world that have not heard of it or had the chance to hear about it. This may not be a concern to some people, but many others they have difficulty understanding how any deity can dole out such punishments while stacking the chances against a society or individuals. In the words of most children, that just doesn’t seem to be fair. Certain people, just by pure silly luck, were born in the right place and at the right time to hear a very particular religion and therefore can be saved from eternal suffering. Everyone else is just plain out of luck. Non-believers often have trouble reconciling this concept because it just doesn’t make sense that any god or pantheon of gods would punish people who never had a chance to know them. There are religions that declare that God is not a specific entity but rather a formless and all encompassing universal power that is understood and related to in different religions based on what fits in their culture so that the Christian God is the same as the Egyptian God Amon Ra is the same as the Hindu God Shiva. All are different aspects of the same unknowable and incomprehensible power. Examples of these belief systems are pantheists, deists, Secular Humanists and some Unitarian Universalists. Unitarian Universalists in particular are accepting of most possible ways of seeing a god or gods, questioning the existence of some greater entity or nothing at all (source). Secular Humanists are typically agnostic or atheist but are accepting of all peoples of all faiths and really just want everyone to recognize the humanity and goodness in everyone.

Perhaps it is this awareness of the many possibilities and acceptance among the atheist and agnostic community that makes it appealing to so many who are uncertain. One does not have to declare themselves an atheist to be part of it. Some atheists will challenge those who are questioning their own belief, but there are many, many more who are willing to discuss and be open about their own journey from being a believer or being raised in a religious household to declaring themselves a non-believer or no longer religious. They understand that it is never easy to leave behind a long established way of thinking of the world and the comfort of the rituals provided by religion. This is why non-religious individuals have established organizations like Universal Unitarianism and Secular Humanisism; they wanted to provide some of that same support and structure that religion provides. Atheists, agnostics, religious-nones, deists, pantheists and those who don’t care are just trying to live their lives in a way that they have found to be the most logical and sincere for themselves personally. Douglas Adams, one of the greatest minds of the 20th century, summed this up quite eloquently in his book The Salmon of Doubt. “I’d take the awe of understanding over the awe of ignorance any day.”

Just a note: If you want to use this as a source, cool. I’m totally down for that and would be happy to share with you some of the sources I used. However, I do ask that you be considerate of the fact that this is my 6th revision of this essay. That means I put in a lot of work and taking credit for another person’s work is cheating yourself as much as that person. If you’re going to use me as a source just keep in mind that I’m just a random blogger who happens to be taking classes at this time and am not, in any way, considered a great 1st source for material. If, however, your assignment is regarding information dissemination and impact of social networks, cool! Have fun.

Maybe Not So Crazy – Writing Idea

Mostly still not really edited but some revision to go with what the character wanted anyway. Still don’t know if I like the way the end went.

It had always been assumed I was crazy. My parents, friends, distant relatives, even me, we all knew I was crazy. Not the sort of crazy you see on street corners with people holding signs and talking to themselves and smelling really bad. Not like the crazy that rages against people and assumes the government is out to get them and that everyone is poisoning them. I don’t think I’m God or Jesus or a rock star or anything like that. But I have heard voices for as long as I can remember. I stopped talking back to them around middle-school. They never responded to me and never seemed to be talking about anything that was going on around me. They just… were. That’s all. I hardly notice them anymore to be honest. I stopped listening to them in high school. Well, mostly. I would listen to them at night sometimes, those times when I couldn’t fall asleep. It was my version of counting sheep. I’d listen to them ramble and soon would drift off to dream land and that was it.

Well, I guess that wasn’t entirely it. There are all the crazy, weird-ass dreams, too. Those don’t bother me much either. I do use them as jump off points for short stories. I’m told that I do talk when I’m dreaming. Loudly. My parents shunted me to the basement as soon as they could so they wouldn’t have to listen to me yammer anymore. That’s what they called it around me, but I’ve overheard them whispering about how scary it really is. Apparently I talk about assassination and plots and some sort of war that I don’t understand. Kind of fantasy stuff that only old school fairy tales are willing to hint at – Rumpelstiltskin sort of evil creatures. They’re really night-terrors actually. I don’t think of them that way anymore, but when I was little I did.

Really though, I’m not as crazy as I sound. I was a straight-A student all the way through school and college. I’ve got my bachelors in creative writing and have published most of my short stories and am in the midst of a novel. I have never been fired even though I have always worked at least one job from the age of fifteen and two or three jobs since college. Strangers at the bookstore and coffee shops I work at don’t know I’m different. My editor doesn’t know where all my crazy ideas come from. Publishers don’t care as long as my stuff sells.

So, I guess, in the long run it doesn’t really matter that I hear voices. According to psychiatrists that I’ve seen I’m not really diagnosable as anything because I lead a perfectly normal life. They’ve tried meds just to see if the voices will react but all that happened was that I slept. A lot. And felt really fuzzy in my head. My own internal voice was all jumbled and mumbling and couldn’t track at all (especially on Haldol, that stuff messes with you) but none of them fazed the voices. That was the part that really freaked out the psychiatrists. Nothing worked on the voices and I responded to the drugs the same way that a “normal” person would.

Thinking about that makes me feel even more crazy. A weird sort of crazy. The sort that even people who deal with crazies can’t figure out. That’s about when I stopped thinking about them at all. I wrote down my dreams when I woke up, went to the coffee shop, stocked books and answered the ridiculous questions customers came up with, went home to my cat and wrote then went to bed. The routine blurred the days and those blurred days dulled the voices.

Until about a year ago that is. Then they got loud. Really loud. Like I couldn’t move because of migraines and was having seizures and ended up in the hospital for so many tests that I am still paying for them even with decent insurance sort of loud. Again, the neurologists and psychiatrists were just as stumped as the previous psychiatrists were. According to the CT scans and MRIs and EKGs and sleep studies and whatever other tests they did my brain and body were perfectly normal. Absolutely normal. Like the sort of normal that is used in presentations that doesn’t really exist sort of normal. Well, there were some weird spots that would light up when I was asleep, but they’ve seen that in other people who have vivid dreams, so again, not really all that weird. Actually, I think they said that activity was absolutely textbook standard for night-terror brain activity. I think they were split on whether to use me as a case study, destroy all the evidence because it was too weirdly-normal or conclude that I was making everything up and just wanted a break from my dull life. I gave those last two a nicely worded letter telling them to go fuck themselves. Hindsight says it wasn’t the best idea but they pissed me off. Anyway, I sort of agree with the second group of docs. I basically think of my brain as so normal that it’s no longer normal but just on the other side of the dividing line between normal and freaking weird. Not schizophrenic. Not bipolar. Not depressed. No growths. No abscesses. Not even any concussions. Just weird. Basically the story of my life.

So I was crazy and weird but normal all at once. It probably should have freaked me out and led to some sort of breakdown at least sometime in my life. But that’s just not how I roll. Probably because my brain is too weirdly normal to accommodate such a normal response to so many weird things. Which sucks by the way.

I got out of the hospital after about a week when everything stopped. Just stopped. Migraine gone. Seizures none-existent. Voices missing. I never thought I’d say it but I was suddenly very lonely.

That lasted for about three days.

Then they started up again. Only this time they were aware. That’s the only way I can describe it. They started talking about what I was seeing and hearing and even feeling. They were violently loud the first hour then it was like a volume knob was dialed back. Not on my side, but on theirs. I don’t know how to say why that’s how it was, but I just know that my brain wasn’t capable of dialing anything down at that point. I was back in the fetal position and wishing I could find my way into a nice medication induced coma again. After a day or so to recover from that hour of arguing and my name being yelled back and forth, oh yeah, I forgot to mention that they knew my name, didn’t I? Well, they knew my name and they were saying it for the first time since I can remember, and they seemed to be arguing over what to do about me. Like whether to kidnap me or kill me sort of what to do with me. Awesome. That’s not disturbing or anything.

After the volume got dialed back and I more or less recovered from the blast of argument I still heard voices, but it seemed like they were only saying things that they wanted me to hear. I wasn’t hearing just random crap anymore, but intentional stuff. There were even times when they seemed to be able to blur the words, sort of like if you’re at the beach trying to listen to someone talking twenty feet away but the waves and wind are too loud to hear more than that they are saying words in what is most likely a language you understand.

While there were fewer voices overall, I finally figured out that there were two groups, one wanted to kill me, the other kidnap me and both were trying to figure out how to do it without the other knowing. Or me.

I already knew I was crazy. That was never in question. But now… now I was edging toward the sort of paranoid crazy that the people on street corners shout about. People were after me. They wanted to hurt me. Only they were still all in my head. It’s really hard to ignore voices that talk about how you need to die. I tried, I really did, but there’s only so much I’m capable of, even with my supernaturally normal brain.

Then there came the voice that started talking to me. Well, there were two eventually. One guy, one lady. They seemed to think I should know them and they started talking about how they were sending some people out to rescue me and just to wait and I’ll be back home and some other bizarre stuff. I initially ignored them. Then I protested that I was home, that I didn’t need to be rescued. I tried asking them what in the world they were going on about. They told me. I think. But it was more conspiracy theory stuff only they claimed to be from some alternate reality. Yeah, I stopped listening at that point. Like I said, conspiracy theory crap. And we had already established that I am crazy. Was crazy. I was crazy. I’m pretty sure I still am. Maybe I’m in an asylum somewhere and just don’t realize it. Perhaps it’s better not to know for certain. I had always assumed the old saying was true, “Only crazy people don’t question their sanity” or however it goes.

One year. One whole year spent spiraling further and further into the real crazy realm. Fun times. I have a lot more sympathy for the dudes on street corners now.

So yeah, I stopped wondering about conspiracy theories around the same time that two incredibly beautiful/handsome/oh my, can I bang you now, guys show up at my apartment and try to tell me that I need to leave with them right away before I get murdered. I don’t know why but I invited them in for tea instead of running off with them. Maybe I was hoping for some action, it had been a while after all. Instead they drank tea with me, tried to convince me I’m some sort of inhuman creature called Sidhe or Fae or whatever. I didn’t believe them, stopped listening and was trying to figure out the best way to kick the pranksters out on their asses when they killed a man.

To be fair he did sort of have it coming. A man jumping through a window with a lot of wicked looking knives probably doesn’t want to sit down for a cup of tea. Two of those knives would have impaled themselves in my chest had one of my actually invited in guests not knocked me out of my chair while his buddy wrestled the other dude into my kitchen. Which he spent the better part of three hours cleaning up afterward. Or so I’m told. I spent most of those three hours plus another twelve in my bathroom throwing up every meal I’ve ever had. While my tea guests/rescuers slept somewhere out front, I slept in my bathtub clutching my cat. I think I slept. I’m assuming they slept. I don’t actually know. The next morning they were still in my apartment and insisted I leave with them. I refused at first, but then they pointed out the daggers that were still embedded in the wall and said something about more killers on their way and that I was lucky and yadda yadda yadda. I didn’t argue much more. I’m sure they disagree with my point there. They didn’t want me to bring my cat, Snickers. I refused to leave without him. Made sense to me at the time. I didn’t want to come home to find him dead waiting in front of the door. They complained, something about cats being a massive nuisance and not welcome where we were going. They relented after I told them they could go fuck themselves if they thought I was leaving without my cat. Apparently that’s my fall back when I’m pissed. I need to come up with something else more creative to say.

Three days and a lot of miles later we ended up in BFE (that means butt-fuck Egypt, just in case you were wondering) nowhere Pennsylvania and hung out there for days. I didn’t know what we were waiting for. They kept saying we’re waiting for the right moon or something, but I didn’t really understand why and they said they can’t tell me why until I see it for myself.

On the plus side I haven’t heard much in the way of voices in my head since they showed up. Oh, the occasional thing from the lady and man that keep trying to tell me that they’re so glad I’m on my way “home”. On the bad side I recognized both these guys voices when they asked to come in to my home. I forgot to mention that, hadn’t I? That was probably why I invited them in for tea. Why shouldn’t I? My voices materialized in the form of some of the most handsome guys I’ve ever seen, may as well take advantage of the eye candy before I get hauled away to the funny farm. In this case they were the ones that did the hauling rather than the police like I had expected.

You know, I’m sure you’re as confused as I am, well was. Let’s go back a bit. A little more detail would probably be good. It’s not like I don’t have time. It seems like all I’ve got is time.

So, from the beginning. Maybe not the very beginning. That’d be too boring. Let’s start with the day that I met my two rescuers, captors, whatever. The day that I found out I’m a Changeling and the daughter of ambassadors for the Seelie Court to the Unseelie Court. The day I found out I’m either crazy as a loon or never was crazy. Man, do I wish I was still crazy. That’d be so much easier than the other. I really hope I’m locked away somewhere, else this is going to be the most unbelievable thing ever. So here goes, story time.

Not so long ago a crazy lady was startled from her manuscript by three loud knocks on her front door…

Writing Prompt: There Were Three, But Now There’s Only One

Again, unedited, first draft. This one is kinda meh, but could be worse I guess. Methinks I should stick with something a little more silly.

There were three, but now there’s only one.

The lump in his throat had been there for weeks. No amount of swallowing or drinking made it go away. Sometimes he could forget it was there, but that only lasted as long as it took him to find another bottle. Anna lectures… lectured me all the time about drinking this stuff. He didn’t know what else to do.
It had taken weeks to get courage to do more than stand in the doorway to their small bedroom. He stood at the foot of the bed, staring at bed covers that were still tossed back and rumpled. The mobile above the crib still spun, sending stars and moons running across the walls and ceiling.

They were gone. Anna and Tony, both gone.

This was the last place that had any bit of their presence, their things, their scents. He had scoured the rest of the tiny house the same night he lost both of them. He had gotten rid of everything, scrubbed and painting the walls and ceiling. He had bought only the most minimal amenities, an air mattress, a single set of dishes and a mini-fridge. He kept telling himself that he would toss everything from the bedroom and sell the house, go back to the days when he wandered. There was something he had to do first.

Vengeance was not typically his style. He had been a loner and had learned the hard way when he was young that the only way he would survive was if he kept his nose down and avoided all contact with the locals. He and Anna both knew that lesson. They had made sure to find a place that was considered free territory and kept out of the local and regional politics. They made a living doing normal things, he as a substitute teacher, she as an assistant librarian. Tony, barely 18 months old, was either watched by their neighbor down the street who had her own baby or happily played with the other babies at the library. Nothing they did ever drew attention. They even made sure Tony never overheard discussions or saw their less human tendencies so that he wouldn’t say anything out of his naivety.

He only had two leads: the rental car he had found outside town with their scents all over it and the small cross he had found around the neck of the third thing he had called. Few of their kind followed a human faith, least of all the Christian faith.

He expected that he would find them tonight. After all, it was a full moon. They had to be upset about losing five of their coven to only two wolves even if one had not made it. And they had forgotten that he could track them, even six weeks later. Witches always left imprints of their presence everywhere they went. Five together, well their trail would be there for months longer.

“Watch me tonight, love. Be ready to guide me home, please,” he whispered to the empty room. He turned around and left without touching anything, leaving this last tangible memory to keep them here. He needed them still. If he failed, he hoped they would understand.

Play Video Games, It’s Good For You – An Argument Essay

This is mostly for Ed, but also for any others who would be interested/curious. Many, many thanks go to Jeff for editing and helping me to make it much better and spiffier than its previous incarnations.

Play Video Games, It’s Good For You

Video games have been accused of contributing too many acts of violence or aggression for decades. What the media misses is that video games have many benefits we haven’t found in any other media. Society should stop being afraid of video games and instead start looking forward to how we can best use them to benefit ourselves and our children. Anyone who doesn’t understand why needs only take a quick look at our society. Surveys have shown that 90% of children in the United States play video games. 70% of heads of households play video games, too. That leads to the average age of video gamers to be 33 years old (Bavelier, “TED”). Society is changing and non-gamers are being left behind.

Millennials, those born between 1978 and 2000 (Madland 1), grew up playing video games. Home video game systems (known as platforms) such as Atari, Nintendo, Sega, Playstation, and don’t forget computers, were well established before they began primary school. These young adults have participated in the rapid development of video games from the most simple of games like Pong, released by Atari in 1973 (Winter), all the way to games like the super-realistic BioShock Infinite, released across multiple platforms in 2013 (Take-Two). To play Pong players manipulated a wheel on a controller to move a white line (the paddle) up and down one side of their television screen to prevent a white dot (the ball) from getting past their paddle. The graphics were incredibly simple. By contrast, games like BioShock Infinite are action-packed, fast-paced, and full of realistic scenery and characters. There are dozens of genres of video games, but most can be split into several broad categories, the most controversial of which are “first person shooters”, also known as FPS. These games use the perspective of the character being played; pulling the gamer from the more remote godlike view frequently described as third person perspective. FPS games also have a focus on violent game play where the main objective Leroy Jenkins is to shoot enemies. Today’s young adults play many of these genres, including FPS, and have gained skills from video games that were never anticipated. Depending upon the type of games they play, they may have a greater ability to: track visual information, process and make quick decisions, focus and complete complex tasks.

Some of the most controversial video games are also the ones with the greatest potential benefits. Fast-paced, FPS like BioShock Infinite, Halo, Doom, Half-Life, Borderlands and third-person equivalents like God of War: Ascension, Dragon Age, Mass Effect, and Force Unleashed have all been accused of being too violent, but the benefits gamers gain from playing them are astounding. Researchers like Daphne Bavelier and C. Shawn Green have pwned been able to demonstrate in multiple laboratory tests that playing these fast-paced games increases a person’s ability to track multiple pieces of visual information and decrease reaction time. They also have worked with another researcher, Alexandre Pouget, and showed that fast-action games also decrease decision making time. Basically, these games have so much going on all the time that for someone not used to following and tracking so much information it can be overwhelming. Gamers have no trouble keeping up with this information overload. This essay was found on a blog and was used without permission, therefore it was plagiarized. The players are able to assess, make decisions and react quickly because they had to learn how to do so in order to play and advance. Here is a list of all the things they must keep track of for themselves, their allies and their enemies: physical place within the world, their objective, ammunition, health status, where they need to go, what obstacles are in the way and what objects may help. If they are playing by themselves they may have to give orders to their computer allies. If they are playing with other humans then they have to be able to communicate effectively with them while tracking all the other data. Oh, and they’re getting shot at while doing all this.

The typical human’s brain is completely incapable of coping with processing all this information. However, the brains of gamers adapt so that they can keep track of all the information they need to. Bavelier and her team found that a video gamer’s brain physically changes so that the player can process all of this information, and, most importantly, use it. A video gamer is capable of making accurate, informed decisions faster than a non-gamer with the same percentage of right answers. Bavelier and Green demonstrated that this benefit from fast-action video games sticks around for at least six months after a test subject has played only 10 hours over the course of 2 weeks. This means that every person can gain this benefit without actually being a gamer, as long as he or she is willing to put in a few hours a week to train his or her brains. This is really exciting because many of these changes have immediate benefits off with her head outside our living rooms, the most obvious of which is driving. When driving, the increased awareness, ability to track the many things going on around us and to make correct, fast decisions about likely outcomes of movements is invaluable in the prevention of car accidents. Playing video games has a huge impact on an individual’s brain and as a result has a direct impact on how gamers interact with and navigate our world.

Many gamers are told over and over that they have trouble focusing, and that they must have ADD because they do so well in focusing when there is so much happening on their screens all the time. However, exciting new research, again from Daphne Bavelier and her team, is showing that gamers’ attention and focus is actually better than that of non-gamers. They are capable of resolving visual conflicts faster, which is frequently used in the lab to determine attention and focus capabilities. However, video game detractors point to information released by the Centers of Disease Control (CDC) regarding increased Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) diagnosis rates since 1997 with growth rates as high as 22% between 2003 and 2007. They argue that more and more children are being exposed to video games and more and more educators and parents are complaining that their children are unable to focus on things like classroom instruction the female orgasm and homework (Klass). What has been found, though, is that these child gamers’ brains, as well as the brains of their already adult counterparts, are very capable of focusing and they can maintain the same level of performance in stimuli-rich environments like what we find in many video games like World of Warcraft, much of the Final Fantasy series, and the previously mentioned first person shooters for hours. Detractors like Dr. Klass actually point to this seeming contradiction as part of the causal relationship between ADHD and video game play. However, Gabe Zicherman, a leader in the development and application of “gamification” or how to apply video game concepts to real life, disagrees with such views. He suggests that it is adults that need to catch up and keep up with kids, not slow down kids to their slower pace:

Is it that our children have ADD or is our world just too freakin’ slow for our children to appreciate? … The evidence is found in the games that they play. Consider the video game World of Warcraft. When I was growing up the maximum skill that I was expected to display in a video game was simple hand-eye coordination, a joystick and like a firing button. Today’s kids play games in which they’re expected to chat in text and voice, operate a character, follow long and short term objectives, and deal with their parents interrupting them all the time to talk to them. Kids have to have an extraordinary multi-tasking skill to be able to achieve things today. We never had to have that.

It should then not be a surprise to discover that children who have become excellent learners in high-stimulus virtual environments may have trouble settling down into a sedate classroom with other children who are also conditioned to learning through video games. Tom Chatfield has written multiple articles and a book on how video games are the perfect education and motivation tools. He points out that children are constantly learning in a virtual environment where there are consequences to not accomplishing a task, e.g. losing a life, a tool, or not meeting a time requirement. There are also clearly stated rewards to completing the task as well as possible unexpected rewards that are doled out at calculated increments. Video game designers have been fine tweaking the ratio of difficulty, rewards and consequences to being a dumbass so that they know exactly how much to throw at a gamer at what level in each game in order to keep that person engaged and coming back for more. Educators could learn a lot from what these designers already know; children who are engaged and rewarded in an interactive learning process can and do give their entire attention and focus.

The fact that video games are a tool that can be used for education, and therefore do have an impact on the human brain, means we do need to be aware of what the potential negative impacts of those changes could be. What most every person has heard as an argument against video games is that they encourage violence and aggression in the people who play them. Multiple studies have been published on the topic, but when those studies have been reviewed and compared, it was found that they contradicted each other, and in many cases, used flawed methods to reach their conclusion regardless of the results (Mitrofan). Christopher J. Ferguson with Texas A&M University used meta-analysis to review 12 studies available to him at the time of his publishing (2008) and found that researchers often used flawed methodology, drew conclusions that were not supported by their evidence, or in general could find no link between video games and violence. Of all the research that I could find on the subject, the most conclusive causal link was that violent video game or media exposure does decrease a person’s response time to help someone after they suffered a violent event, if they noticed that something violent was going on at all (Anderson). If this were an effect that lasted for an extended period of time, this would be concerning to me. However, Holly Bowen and Julia Spaniol of the Dept. of Psychology with Ryerson University found that there is no indication that people who play violent video games have any long-term emotional desensitization to violence in their immediate surroundings. They do acknowledge that there may be a period immediately after playing these violent games that a gamer may be desensitized, but it is not an effect that could be attributed to an increase violence and aggressive behavior in those test subjects. Essentially, the evidence so far is showing that video games have a short-term impact on how people respond to violence and are likely desensitized to violence and possibly even reading for a short period after they play violent video games, but there is little evidence that there is a long-term impact. The heart of the argument against violent video games is based on the idea of a long-term, negative impact on gamers. Research just does not support that position.

Video games have become a part of our culture and a part of our lives in many ways. As a society we need to focus our energy and attention on is how to use them to make our lives better. We’ve already seen research that shows how video games can be used to help with several tasks with real world applications. We can use video games to increase our ability to track multiple objects and thus be able to monitor more of our surroundings while driving. They teach people how to be able to focus and maintain attention in situations where there is a lot of information to absorb in very short period of time. Video games can help us to better analyze what is going on around us and make quick decisions about the best action to take in a variety of situations. New research about the benefits of video games is coming out every year. It is time for us all to step forward and embrace the technology around us that has so many benefits and work together to mitigate the deficits that are present. Our society will not be ruined by this action, but will instead be enhanced further. There is one further thing we need to do. We need to sit down and pick up a controller. We leave ourselves at a disadvantage if we refuse to play out of false concerns regarding violence and aggression. Video games are here to stay.

Writing Prompt: It Was Just A Normal September Day, Except

Unedited, first draft, first writing prompt in forever and a day.

It was just a normal September day, except…

It wasn’t September. Or rather, it was September, as far as she could tell by leaves on the trees, but it wasn’t supposed to be. Last she knew it was April and she had just gone to sleep. She had no idea where she was or how she got there or what was going on. Actually, she did know what was going on; she was in her pajamas in the middle of the day getting robbed. She just didn’t know why.

“I don’t have any money, really! No pockets, no jewelry, nada, nothing, zilch,” she said in a rush. The man holding the knife did not look very impressed.

“Who the hell goes outside with nothing of value? What am I supposed to do, just let you go?” he said, frowning at her. She could only figure this was a foreign idea to him and she would have to work hard to convince him that it was a good idea.

“I didn’t mean to be outside. It just sort of happened,” again, she added to herself though she dared not say it out loud. “Last I knew I was going to bed and then I was, well, here. You wouldn’t mind telling me where here is, would you?” Maybe if she distracted and confused him enough he would just give up and go find a less difficult victim.

“So… You’re crazy then,” he stated more than asked.

“No, well, maybe? I guess. I don’t know,” she thought for a moment before deciding that was the best way to make him go away. No one wants to rob a crazy lady. “Yes. I must be crazy. After all, you pointed out that no one in their right mind goes out and carries nothing of value. Therefore, I must be crazy. Thank you for pointing that out to me,” she said and smiled brightly. It was better than the other explanation she could tell him. At least this one he could believe.

He thought for what was the longest minute of her life before coming to some sort of decision. He turned his whole body away from her and looked up the street before saying, “Listen, lady, I don’t want to get mixed up with nothing weird, okay? Just… forget about it. Don’t tell no one, bad for business, get it?” She nodded vehemently. He never saw it though. He had already turned around and was walking away. Fast. She didn’t really care. She was just happy the crazy lady argument worked so well.

Am I crazy? How many people wake up missing months of their lives? Maybe it’s the best explanation for what’s going on. Except she knew what really happened to her. She knew because she had lied to him about not having anything of value with her. There was the earring she had bought at some dusty, hole in the wall thrift store a few years ago. Ever since, she seemed to have started experiencing odd things. Like waking up on a different day besides “tomorrow”. Or finding notes addressed to her in someone else’s handwriting. Or setting things on fire on accident. Luckily the fire one had only happened twice. She figured out how to avoid that one at least.

“Come on, Toto, let’s follow the yellow brick road,” she said to no one in particular as she started walking.

Anomalycon 3: Thoughts and ramblings with pictures!

One family enjoying themselves at Anomalycon

I spent this past weekend in a fantastic and improbable place. Some very smart and mad people created a time and space anomaly right inside a hotel in the Denver Tech Center. Hundreds of the quirkiest and geekiest people in Colorado were pulled into this anomaly (I promise, I’ll stop) and all sorts of mostly controlled chaos and fun ensued.

This was my second time attending Anomalycon, a steampunk/alternate history and science fiction convention. Really, the only reason why I went last year was because I happen to know the person who was that right combination of insane and incredibly organized and motivated and started the whole thing and is still in charge. I came back this year because I enjoyed myself so much and because I like supporting cool causes of which new cons ran by friends falls under that category.

I already had an agenda when I went in. I was going to watch every performance of Pandora Celtica because they absolutely rock. In a faerie, acoustic, punk, but not really rock, sort of sense. My husband has spent much time the last year randomly surprising me with their music just showing up in my phone or home, but the live performance is where they go from awesomesauce to completely made of win. This weekend was absolutely no exception. I greatly enjoyed their two shows, and as usual, wish they had performed at least one more time. Though where I would have fit that into the very busy weekend schedule is anyone’s guess.

I spent pretty much all of my time at the con in the writing panels. Thirteen of the twenty panels/performances we attended were in the “writing” room, much to my husband’s dismay. Or so I imagine since he spent the majority of his time reading programming manuals or looking up tech stuff. *sigh* For myself, each panel increased my interest in writing, real writing, and poked at that dream I had put away of ever doing anything with it. The panel on overcoming writer’s block (ugh) sort of knocked loose some of my excuses that I always come up with for why I can’t/won’t/couldn’t/shouldn’t bother. Sometime around Saturday evening during the NanoWrimo panel, I decided that I was going to give this whole thing a go. Again.

There were a finite number of authors/guest panelists, which means that by the end of day two, several of the authors were recognizing me. Rather than hide and shuffle off to a corner as is usual for me. Instead I hung out and talked with them and some of the artists. Some of them even autographed my copy of an anthology they took part in writing, Penny Dread Tales Vol III. Some of them even gave me the go ahead to Facebook-stalk them and I did! O.o Just in case you were curious, that is waaaaaay outside my comfort zone. Majorly so. But, they were really friendly and gave some great advice, and even if I never actually do anything further in writing, I can always watch for their new projects and all that good jazz.

None of that really gives a good indication of what Anomalycon is though, does it? Just me rambling on about stuff. So, let’s go on to pictures! Most of these come from Westword, a local paper that has been coming to Anomalycon all three years.

Authors S.J. Chambers and Gail Carriger at a free-for-all panel

Probably my favorite “costume” of the entire event

Taking a break between events

The tallest member is hiding behind the speaker...

Pandora Celtica!

Gizmos! Gadgets! Doohickeys! Thinga-ma-jigs!

Why not?