How to handle personal flaws

Do you ever wonder, like I do, about your flaws and how they affect your life?  It’s not the easiest thing to think about, is it?

Oh, we look in the mirror and pick apart our appearance.  Maybe we even go so far as to think that if we weren’t fat/skinny/beautiful/ugly/tall/short/etc., that life would be better—we’d have more money, better relationships, more success, hotter sex, be able to make a difference in the world, get taken seriously, be appreciated more, and feel better about ourselves.

Or maybe we think that if we weren’t so busy/tired/sick/over-worked/etc., that it would be easier to make the kind of changes we know we should make but never quite get around to doing.

But have you ever noticed that some of the things you dislike about yourself are present in other people, and those flaws don’t seem to hold them back in the same way?  And sometimes people even more busy/tired/sick/over-worked/etc. than we are still manage to do some of those things we think we can’t.  (Yes it’s motivating, but sometimes it also kind of sucks to have your reasons exposed as nothing more than excuses.)

What makes the difference then?

A good friend and I were discussing flaws recently.  We asked each other to name one.  I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t the answer I received.  I’ll even admit to feeling a little disappointed when I read it.  I figured there was some deep dirt that I just hadn’t seen because, well, it was my dirt.

When I read his words, I thought,   “What!?  How can that be a personal flaw?  And really, what kind of impact could that have on my life?” 

But a good friend who took a couple days to consider an answer shouldn’t be dismissed easily, so I thought about what he said…really imagined it in vivid detail.

You might be thinking, “What is it?  What’s your flaw?  Tell us!”

Quoted from my friend, “It feels like you’re avoiding your true subject. …  I get a strong feeling that you’ve got a powerful memoir in you, the sorta thing that will knock someone for a loop like a first round Mike Tyson … But that you’re scared of it.”  (The “…” is missing text that is irrelevant to this article or private.)

Yep.  That’s the major flaw a close friend saw in me.  I told you it felt anti-climactic.  If you’re like me, you’re probably wondering how in the world avoiding writing a memoir could possibly be a flaw.  (And there are a few people who just panicked that I might actually write about their role in my life…lol)

It’s not the lack of writing that is really the flaw; it’s the fear of what would happen if I turn my experiences loose in the world.  I have stories within me that are capable of positively changing other peoples’ lives.  They’re powerful experiences filled with self-discovery, kindness, and personal growth along with the heartache and pain that spurred some of the growth.  But regardless of how I tell my stories, someone is going to question them and me—more specifically, they will judge me.

What will people think if they find out that I didn’t understand my father until he was dying?  Would it help someone else to hear about my experience?  Who will it anger because they only saw my father’s public side?

How about if people knew I was once friends with a boy who was later called a monster for the heinous crimes he committed after he and his family moved?  Would seeing the boy through my eyes impact their view of the man?   Would it change how they see themselves?

Talking about the heart and soul of some of my patients would probably go over pretty well, but there would be some nut out there who would want to challenge how much strength and courage fighting your way back from major illness really takes.

Yeah, I think my friend got it right.  How much is fear of what others think of me affecting my life and stopping me from telling my story both literally and figuratively?  The answer is: way too much.  That is, indeed, a flaw.  (So is the reason the fear is there in the first place – but that’s another story.)

My mom always asked me what our neighbor, Hulda, would think if she were to walk up to the door and see me licking cookie dough off the beaters.  My answer then and now is that Hulda would probably think that it must be good cookie dough.

I am certain of how I feel about cookie dough.  The rest of my life is a bit more complex.  I don’t believe that there is one right way to live except that at some point, if we truly want to get anywhere close to achieving the potential that lies within us, we must turn and face our fears.  Perhaps even accept that for some questions and situations there are no easy answers, or maybe just no answers.

Sometimes, in fact, every possible choice hurts and feels wrong even if one of them is the best answer for the situation.  Other times, the challenged fear will disappear like a puff of candle smoke on the wind.  But until you find the courage to look fear in its hidden face, call its bluff, and rip loose its disguise, you’re giving something else power over your life.

That seems tragic.

So I think that the answer to my earlier question (about the difference between those with flaws who seem to do well anyway and those who don’t) has to do with knowing yourself well enough to be willing to risk facing fear and then taking action.  Easy to say; hard to do.

I’ll close with the following dialogue from a TV show:

My Tragic Flaw, by Ephram Brown

(From the television series Everwood)

The more things change, the more they stay the same. I’m not sure who the first person was who said that. Probably Shakespeare. Or maybe Sting. But at the moment, it’s the sentence that best explains my tragic flaw: my inability to change.

I don’t think I’m alone in this. The more I get to know other people, the more I realize it’s kind of everyone’s flaw. Staying exactly the same for as long as possible, standing perfectly still… it feels safer somehow. And if you are suffering, at least the pain is familiar. Because if you took that leap of faith, went outside the box, did something unexpected…who knows what other pain might be out there, waiting for you. Chances are it could be even worse.

So you maintain the status quo. Choose the road already traveled and it doesn’t seem that bad. Not as far as flaws go. You’re not a drug addict. You’re not killing anyone… except maybe yourself a little.

When we finally do change, I don’t think it happens like an earthquake or an explosion, where all of a sudden we’re like this different person. I think it’s smaller than that. The kind of thing most people wouldn’t even notice unless they looked at us really close. Which, thank God, they never do.

But you notice it. Inside you that change feels like a world of difference. And you hope this is it. This is the person you get to be forever… that you’ll never have to change again.


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“She thinks that happiness is a mat that sits on her doorway.” ~ Matchbox 20

[…Some of you are aware that my father died last month.  Since I process a lot of my emotions by writing, you might even be expecting a post about him. I’ve tried to figure out what to write when it comes to my father, but either I’m not ready or there’s no way to express all that I feel. Maybe writing his eulogy was enough for now…]

Do you ever think about your dreams and wonder what, if anything, they mean?

Most of the thoughts and images that wander through my mind while asleep are just odd fractions of things going on in life. But every now and then there’s a dream that just feels different—the sheer intensity of thought and emotion clouds the barrier between the dream and waking world.

An example is the night I dreamed of running on a forest path and transforming into a white wolf. In the dream I howled quite loudly. I also howled in real life…at 3 in the morning…loud enough to wake up myself and the neighbor who heard me through the not-quite-thick-enough townhouse walls. My wolf howl turned to hoots of laughter once I was awake enough to realize what I was doing. The neighbor gave me very curious looks for a couple of weeks.

Last year I had a different type of dream. An old friend who died several years ago took me by the hand and led me forward in time to view pieces of my future. There were things in the dream I had a hard time imagining ever happening. Some scenes were difficult, but the last one left me feeling happy beyond words.

The grey streaks in my hair showed the passage of time, but I stood on a small stage outside playing the mandolin with a group of people. The music was great, but the most striking thing was how happy I felt—happy in an “I forgot this was even possible” kind of way. It isn’t like I was or am unhappy in my waking life, but it had been years since I had felt the totally blissed-out happiness of the dream.

At the time, I didn’t play the mandolin at all. Matt had bought me one as a Christmas present several years earlier, not too long after my friend who played had died, but I never learned how to play it. In fact, I had considered selling the mandolin several times.

I’m not an “I dreamed it so it will come true” kind of person, but I think that sometimes our dreams have value. Besides, life is short and that sort of happiness shouldn’t be shrugged away as just a dream.

That night, I started learning to play the mandolin. It’s a fun little instrument. It’s comfortable to hold, light to carry, and has a unique sound. Mandolins are associated with bluegrass music, but I’ve been messing with a couple of classical pieces, swing, country, pop, and rock too. (I’m not good at playing any of them yet, but I enjoy working at them.) The mandolin is a lot more versatile than I ever realized.

It’ll be a couple of years before I can play it well, but progress is happening…not just with playing the mandolin but with my life too. As silly as it sounds, that dream and playing the mandolin is bringing deeper happiness into my life. If nothing else, the dream reminded me what it is to have every cell of my being dancing with joy.

One day I was musing over how much fun I was having while playing and I lifted the mandolin to admire the woodwork. On the back of the instrument there are natural variations in the wood grain. If you angle the mandolin a little bit and the light hits it just right, those markings become a smiley-face.

Disregard the ceiling fan reflection and look at the wood grain happy face near the bottom right of the mandolin.

Sometimes it’s good to follow your dreams.

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Giggling with Ghosts

More of Will’s story will be posted soon, but this was on my mind today…

Sun spilled in through colored glass windows and danced with the bluesy melody of a piano as the player’s voice stirred my soul.  Twenty years or more had ticked away, but the place where we gathered seemed unchanged while those of us who shared the day showed telltales of passing seasons.  We reminisced.  We shared stories.  We laughed.  We remembered.
Later, our group moved outside where a gentle breeze stirred the multi-colored leaves and sent soft whispers through the air.  In this place, the markers of time surrounded us…literally engraved in stone.  I walked past several, reading names of people I’d known since childhood.


One marker belonged to the family who owned the land we called Luick’s Hill.  For years, children (and adults) gathered there each time it snowed.  Bonfires, hotdogs, s’mores, and countless memories were made on that hill.  A hidden and mostly unused road ran between it and the cemetery.  Plenty of kids scared the crap out of each other if the sun went down before they started their walk home.  I once walked a friend half-way so he wouldn’t have to go the whole way alone, but I ran all the way back until emerging huffing and puffing in the moonlight again.  We giggled about how scared we’d been for years.  Although it meant going close to 3 miles further, I noticed he took the longer route after that…even as a strapping teenager.  When I returned as an adult, the hill still seemed huge and the road scary.


One marker was engraved with my uncle’s name.  It was his wife’s life we celebrated that day.  They gave me a doll I named Jimmy for Valentine’s when I was four.  Jimmy has patches over his knees and neck to match my frequently skinned knees and the removal of my tonsils.  I left my childhood behind many years ago, but I hung on to the doll my aunt and uncle gave me and I still laugh at everything it has survived.


The next marker held the names of my childhood neighbors although one of them isn’t resting there yet.  They had air-conditioning which was a huge treat since my family just sweated out the summers.  She always offered me cookies, and for a while she tried to teach me piano.  I wish I’d been a better student for her, but she was always very patient with me.  Her husband constantly teased and made me laugh.  His gregarious nature seemed starkly contrasted to her very proper appearance, but they were incredible neighbors.


The last one I walked past was my brother’s.  His children had obviously been there and decorated it for Halloween.  It brought back memories of the Halloween weekend I stayed with him, went to the circus, decorated cookies, and played by the lake.  He was fourteen years older than me, and while I never knew him very well as an adult, I adored him when I was a kid.  His gravestone filled my heart with sadness that his children and the rest of us lost him while he was still young.  But I was also filled with warmth remembering all the fun times with him.


I turned back and joined the rest of those gathered for my aunt’s burial.  As we continued to laugh and reminisce over stories of Opal’s life, I realized that while everyone there with a marker was missed, they continued to make the rest of us laugh and share memories.  Most of all, they silently reminded us to live while the fire of life still flickers.


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Chapter I continued…

This is a continuation of the story that started here.


There was a path through the pine trees and down the cliff on the left.  Deer and other creatures had helped, but his and Lily’s children were the ones who wore it so deeply it could still be found.  It wouldn’t be long before his grandchildren would add their own footprints to the path as they sought to play on the rocks and sand below.

The horses he’d saddled earlier whickered a soft greeting.

“This view never gets old,” Lily said as she approached, bundled in a jacket made of deerskin.  She took Jameson’s free hand and admired the view with him.

“We should get going,” he said after a few minutes.  The horses were getting restless.

“I suppose the bread isn’t going to bake itself,” she said with a smile at him.

“Probably not,” he smiled in return.  “But we’re likely to have help today.”


“Boris paid the boy for his fourth week of work last night,” Jameson said as he helped Lily swing into the saddle of her mare.

“The boy is a curious creature,” she said as she watched her husband hook his foot in the stirrup and swing up into his saddle.  The moonlight shone down on more of his forehead than it had just a few years ago, but her Jameson was still strong and lean with a striking smile.  He had a good heart and ran an honest business.  People could find better prices at other shops, but not better quality.  “What are you going to have him do?”

“Who says I’m going to have him do anything?” he winked.

“Jameson Cole Oliver!” Lily chastised, “I married you because of your kindness.  Don’t you go turning into a mean old man now!”

Jameson laughed and urged his horse forward down the road that led to town.  Lily’s mare fell in beside him without need of command.  “I thought I’d see how clean he is today.  If he’s still all fishy, I’ll have him work the stables.  If he’s clean, he can help me put that new shipment out on the shelves.”

Lily nodded her approval.  “If you’re done with him before I leave for the day, maybe he can come back to the cabin and help me pick some of the vegetables from the garden.  The garden won’t care if he smells fishy or clean.”

“I reckon that’d be fine too,” he nodded.

The road into town was short, but they always rode the horses.  Rain could blow in without warning and sometimes supplies or projects needed carried back and forth.  Jameson felt safer having Lily on horseback when she left the shop without him.  He’d never tell her that or his beautiful but stubborn wife would walk every day.  Her deep blue eyes smiled at him as moonlight reflected off of the scattering of grey that grew amongst the thick black hair she wore pulled back in a bun.

They both loved the trip to the store in the mornings.  The townsfolk still slept, the birds weren’t yet fighting over scraps from the boats, and the only noise came from their horses’ hooves or their own hushed voices.

“Definitely a curious creature,” Lily whispered with a nod toward the stable as they turned their horses into the alley behind their store.

“Curious indeed,” he replied.

“Good morning,” the young boy said when they were close.

“Good morning,” they echoed as they dismounted.

“What’s your name, son,” Jameson asked.

“Will, sir,” he replied.

“Will, it’s a bit early for a lad your age to be out, isn’t it?” Jameson asked.

“Yes sir,” he said with a nod.  “It’s just that I was hoping maybe I could work for you and Miss Lily for a while.  I figured I had to be here when you get here if I had any chance of you saying yes.”

Jameson didn’t even look at Lily.  She’d have that “give the boy anything he wants” look in her eyes by now.  He studied Will.  The lad had taken a bath and put on fresh clothes that were clean but too small.  His shoes had the opposite problem.  They were dusty and way too big.  The boy had initially stood tall, but he began to fidget as Jameson looked him over without answering.

“I reckon we can find something for you to do, but first I want you to answer a few questions for me.  Can you do that, Will.”

“Yes, Mr. Jameson,” Will nodded.

“You’ve been going from store to store.  I’ve talked to the other owners and they all say that you’re a good worker.  After a month, even though they’d be happy to keep paying you for the help you give them, you quit and move on to the next store.  That seems odd to me.  So my first question is why you want to work for Lily and me,” he said as they led the horses into the stable.

“I figure if I’m going to work for the rest of my life, I might as well like it.  But there’s no way to know what I like to do until I try it.  That’s all,” Will said with a shrug.

“Lily’s the only one who makes bread, but I’m not the only store the trades and sells other goods.  Is it only Lily you want to work for?” Jameson asked.

Will wiggled the toe of his overly large right shoe against the floor of the stables.  “No sir.  I want to work for both of you.”

“What do you think you’ll learn from me that you didn’t learn from the other shops?” Jameson asked.  When Will was hesitant to reply, he added, “Lie to me, boy, and you might as well head on home.”

“I’m not going to lie, Mr. Jameson.  I just don’t know how to answer without you thinking I’m saying something bad about the other store owners.”

Jameson saw a touch of fear in the boy’s eyes and softened.  “I don’t want you to say anything bad.  I’m just trying to understand what you want.”

“Well, you and Miss Lily work the furthest from the dock, but people that come in on the ships will walk past other shops to trade their supplies and spend their coins with you even though your things cost more and they have to carry their stuff all the way here.  I want to know why they do that,” Will said as he stuffed his hands into his pockets.

Jameson nodded.  “That’s a good enough reason.  The second question is why a lad as young as you is working.  Where are your parents?”

Will bit his lip and looked at the door.  For nearly a minute he stood and fidgeted as he looked at Jameson, Lily, and then the door over and over.

“I told you that I’m trying to figure out what work I want to do and am just trying different jobs,” Will finally said.  He licked his lips and looked at the door one more time, weighing if he could answer Jameson’s question or if he should just leave.  “My parents are at work.  They’re there a lot.  My dad said I could work if I wanted to.”

Lily touched Jameson’s arm.  He felt the same compassion Lilly did.  “I don’t think you’re lying, but I don’t think you’re telling me the whole story either.  Is that true?” Jameson asked.

Will nodded and then hung his head.

“Today I’m going to have you help Lily mill the grain, and then this afternoon you’ll go home with her and help her in the garden.  If you do a good job and want to come back tomorrow, we’ll come up with a plan to teach you about most things in our store.  We’ll feed you breakfast and lunch as part of your pay.  Some days you’ll work harder and earn more copper than on others.  How’s that sound, Will?”

“Yes, Mr. Jameson.  That’s more than anyone else has paid me, sir.”

The boy looked almost defiant and Jameson realized that Will thought pity was involved in his pay.  Jameson squatted down on his heels to be at eye level with Will and placed a hand on his shoulder.  “There will be a lot of people in this world who want to pay as little as possible for the goods they buy and the work others do for them.  That’s fine for them, but I try to be a man who appreciates good quality supplies and the hard work of other people.  It makes me feel comfortable expecting other people to appreciate my work and the quality of my supplies.  I’m asking you to be at my store earlier than you were at any of the other stores, and even earlier than you were at the docks when you went out on the fishing boats.  That’s worth a couple of meals to me.  Do you understand?”

Will furrowed his brows as he thought about it, but finally he nodded.

“Now off you go with Lily.  I’ve got to get the horses settled and get to work or we’ll not be ready when customers arrive.”

What have I got myself into? Jameson wondered as the lad followed Lily out of the stables.


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A Novelette Experiment…

The following is an experiment.  I’m working on a project that won’t be done until the end of the year, engaging in a self-directed programming class, and writing a novelette to help introduce readers to the characters in Chasing.  That doesn’t leave much time for blogging, and while I’ll continue to post some different content occasionally, I’ve decided to post the first draft of the novelette as I go.  It will eventually be edited and put together in eBook format—and first drafts seldom look much like the final version—but some of you might enjoy seeing a first draft and comparing it to final version later.  


Chapter 1


Jameson watched his neighbor drop 5 coppers into the hand of a boy who smelled like fish and ocean.

“Thank you, Mr. Boris,” the lad said.  He pulled a leather pouch from his pocket, added the coppers to the other coins already there, and walked away.  “Good night,” he called over his shoulder with a friendly wave.

Boris looked at Jameson and grinned.  “He’ll be at your shop tomorrow.”

Jameson nodded as the gulls at the docks fought over fish tails one of the sailors tossed overboard the Good Catch.  “I reckon you’re right.  Is he a good worker?”

“For a lad who hasn’t been in this world more than 7 years, he’s one of the best,” Boris said as he locked the door to his shop.

“I s’pose it really doesn’t matter.  That mop of black hair, those sparkling green eyes, and that smile of his has already won my wife to his cause—whatever that might be,” Jameson said with a sigh.

“Don’t know what his cause is, but the boy will work hard until he decides it’s time to move on to the next shop.  You ask Vince and Xandr.  They’ll tell you the same thing I jus’ did,” Boris said as he pointed up the street at the other shops.

“If he’s gonna steal my wife’s heart, at least he ain’t big enough to steal her kisses,” Jameson grinned.

Boris threw his head back and laughed.  “That’s why my Anya stays home.  If all the little ones she falls in love with look like me, she’ll forget that I’m not very good looking.”

Jameson shook his head and chuckled.  His own children were grown enough to be away at school, but Lily had brought them to the shop even when they were little.  She’d find something for the boy to do just like she’d found chores for their own children.  “Goodnight, Boris.  See you in the morning.”


* * *


Jameson stood at the peak of the cliff that looked out over the bay.  He and Lily had built their house up here for this view.  The sky was still filled with stars, but below him and to his left he could hear the waves crash against the rocks and throw spray into the air.  To his right, the bay curled into the rocky wall that wrapped its arms around the water like a protective lover.


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My first novel is published!


From the back of the print version of Chasing

The life of a Chaser seemed to fit Ottum like well-made armor. She hunted and killed evil without questioning the path her life had taken – until the day evil started hunting her. In that dark moment, Ottum’s past and present collided to shatter what she once believed to be unquestionable truth.

Ottum’s dead mentor begins talking to her in dreams, asking her to come to him. Another Chaser is poisoned and used as bait to lure her into an evil trap. And as she struggles to save her brother from the Avil’s tortuous acts and the other Chaser from the poison, Ottum wonders if she is losing her mind or seeing life as it really is for the first time.

My first novel, Chasing, is now available at in both print and Kindle versions!

For those of you who are more adventurous with technology, the eBook version also available at Smashwords (where you can download it for your iPad/Kindle/Epub/Kodo/SonyReader.   The eBook is also available at Barnes & Noble.

If you purchase and read Chasing, please feel free to submit a review of it on the site where you purchased the book/eBook.

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Indie Publishing

After seven years of stop and go writing, intensive editing (and yet more editing), and several wonderful people who agreed to test-read, my first novel is about to be published.  Another project will grab my attention first, but I intend to be writing the next fiction book by August…it won’t take 7 years.  🙂

It was 4,428 in the queue when I uploaded my book to Smashwords earlier today.  That number is astonishing to me.  It will take about 24 hours before my book is through the queue which means that in just that one avenue of publishing, there are roughly 4500 books published each day.  Add in Kindle, Nook, Createspace, Lulu, and all the other publishing platforms, and that’s a whole lot of books.  Indie publishing makes that possible.

There are those who would say it’s crazy to go up against that sort of competition.  There are those who say that the only people who publish Indie are the people who can’t publish traditionally, but that’s an exaggeration.  The percentage of Indies who would make it with a publishing house is still about the same as it is in the general writing population…they just don’t have to go through the submission process or deal with some rejection before being accepted.  (They have other issues that go with any do-it-yourself project, so it isn’t as simple as it sounds.)  And then there are those who say Indie is the wave of the future.

I went Indie for a few reasons:

  1. No waiting — As soon as I’m done with edits and cover design, my book can be out there for the world to buy and read.
  2. Cost — I don’t get an advance, but I also don’t have to invest a ton of cash up front.
  3. Experience — I’m a new author.  Of course I want my work to be professional and well done, but the best way to achieve that is by working and improving each and every book.
  4. Platform — Traditional publishing isn’t extinct yet, and part of me hopes it’s never totally gone.  I love the feel, smell, and experience of reading a print book.  However, mobile reading devices have a lot of positive attributes too, and I love our Kindle.
  5. Competition — The amount of competition is staggering regardless of publishing route.  I tried to create a story people could love, but regardless of writing quality, it’s always the readers who make a book wildly popular.  Marketing helps and is vital, but readers are the driving force behind significant success.

Later this week I’ll announce my new novel and provide a link so you can read part of it before purchasing.  As things unfold, I’ll try to provide updates for other authors who might be searching for information for their own careers.



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The Day Gandalf Died

Lord Of The Rings is an epic tale.  There’s drama, good versus evil, elves, orcs, magic, wizards, hobbits, bittersweet love, Gollum, The Ring—how do you not love such an epic story?

There are many highs and lows in the book, but I remember the day Gandalf died.  As a reader, I was invested in him.  How dare Tolkien kill him! But if he hadn’t, the other characters would never have had their own adventures, struggles, and victories.  They would have all followed him and the story would have been very different.

I’m sure you’ve heard multiple stories about “calling the old man out,” but Tolkien couldn’t do that.  It would have been a disaster for us to see Gandalf as “fallen” or bested by anyone else in the party of travellers.  At best it would have just been a replacement for Gandalf, and at worst we never would have seen the other characters as clearly.  So instead, “You shall not pass” …and Gandalf literally fell.  We maintained our love and respect for him, grieved his loss, felt the vulnerability of the rest of the party, and went on our way all the while wondering what was going to happen next—how would the party survive without his strength and wisdom?

Wizard carving

But in life, it isn’t always like that.  Sometimes our mentors fall in a non-literal way—they take directions we’re not willing to follow, or sometimes we just see them for who they are instead of who we thought they were or who they were pretending to be.  We feel disappointed, often in ourselves as much as the other person.  How did I not see that coming?  How did I fall for all the deception? What do I do now?

I’ll share a small secret with you.  You didn’t see it coming because you were getting something you needed or at least thought you needed.  You fell for the deception because what you were seeing was a reflection of something/someone you desire to be.  That something/someone is most likely still good and honorable even if your fallen mentor is not.  And you’ll keep doing what you were doing because you were always on your own path…you might pick a new direction, a new map, or a new route, but you’ll keep going.  Hopefully it will be with new wisdom and a new understanding of your own motivations.

Some friends recently experienced the fall of a mentor, and I remember the loss of my own several years ago, so I wanted to take a moment to remind them that the day Gandalf died was the day the rest of the party solidified what was important in their lives and what needed to be done.

What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly ~Richard Bach


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Ninety-nine Bottles of Fear on the Wall

From time to time I’ll write a short story and post it.  They’ll be diverse and typically I won’t really edit them before posting.  Please let me know by posting in the comments section if you especially like one of them.


“Ninety-nine bottles of fear on the wall,” sang the warlock who watched their every move.

Take one down, pass it around, and there’s 98 bottles of fear on the wall…and one in my hand, Kayra thought to herself triumphantly.

She looked around the yard at her fellow prisoners.  Each of them had their own section of wall and their own bottles of fear.  Some had more than others, but all who remained in the yard had at least one bottle on their wall—bottles that no one else could remove for them.

Kayra’s own bottles mocked her.  She did her best to close their taunts and shrieks from her mind.

Two left, she thought as sweat dripped down her face and onto her standard issue t-shirt.  Still panting from the effort it had taken to remove it, she held bottle number three in her hand.  She thanked the Highers that it stopped screaming the moment she lifted it from the wall.  This one will break easily; she smiled as the cold glass of the bottle trembled in her hand.  She felt its heart racing, and Kayra cursed its maker for causing the enchanted bottles to feel like living creatures.  It made it even harder to destroy them.

The warlock who cursed them all left some of the bottles empty for his entertainment.  They would shriek and threaten like the others, but they were empty imitations of real fear.  Bottle number three had been one those.  Kayra knew he laughed at her from his observatory.  She’d felt him laughing for two weeks as she tried to find the courage to remove number three.  Bottle number four had burned her.  At least it’s gone from my wall. She looked at the burns on her hands and smiled at them.  The eventual scars are a small price to pay for my freedom.

Many of the bottles left at least a small mark as they fought to remain alive and whole.

Kayra stared at the last two bottles on her wall.  I should be excited, she thought.  She looked across the yard at Carrick.  One bottle remained on his wall.  It was tiny, and from the color of it, Kayra suspected it was as empty as her number three had been.  Carrick sat, as he had for the last five years, staring at the gate.  Etched constantly on his face was a look of longing and despair.

I will not be like Carrick! Kayra turned back to her own wall.  The fear in the bottles throbbed to the beat of her racing heart.  As she stared, the bottles grew in size.  Kayra wiped the sweat from her brow and looked again at Carrick.  Why doesn’t he just break that last bottle? The question added even more panic.

“You’re just like him.  You think you can be different, but you will never be free of us,” bottle number two sneered at her.

Kayra looked at the warlock’s observatory as she did each day.  He smiled at her.  He tortured them every second of every day with his cursed bottles, but he stood there looking as though he were the very incarnation of goodness.  For the first time since she had broken bottle ninety-nine and had learned what real pain felt like, she realized that she was suddenly more angry than scared.

Kayra grabbed for both bottles at the same time.  She wrenched them from the wall and screamed as their fear spilled over her.  She dropped to her knees, and with tears streaming down her cheeks, she beat the bottles against the base of the wall.  The glass shattered and the last of the warlock’s curse oozed into the dirt.

Kayra turned with the intention of destroying every bottle on every wall in the yard.  She ran toward Carrick’s wall first.

“You can’t take his fear,” the warlock’s voice boomed at her as she neared Carrick’s wall.

“Watch me,” she replied defiantly.

Carrick looked at her with more hope than she’d ever seen on another’s face.  She reached for his last bottle, but the bottle turned to mist.  Kayra’s hand repeatedly floated through it.

“Your bottle isn’t real, Carrick!  It turns to mist every time I try to grab it,” Kayra said.

Carrick narrowed his eyes and scooted away from her.  “Just because you don’t have any bottles, doesn’t mean that mine aren’t real!  You’re as bad as the warlock!” Carrick accused.

“I told you,” the warlock said with a detached shrug.

Kayra looked at Carrick and sadness filled her.  She realized it was part of the terms of their imprisonment.  Bottles on another’s wall were removable only by that person.

“It’s time for you to leave now,” the warlock commanded.  “Stay any longer and your wall will be refilled.”

Kayra walked past her wall on the way to the gate.  Already bottles were starting to accumulate on top of her wall.   No, she thought.  It isn’t my wall anymore. She rushed to the gate.

The gate remained closed as she approached.  “How do I go through?” Kayra asked the warlock.

“How did you break your bottles?” the warlock asked in return.

Kayra reached out and grabbed the gate.

Carrick saw her disappear, and he hated her.  The warlock smiled at him and then disappeared through the gate and back into his observatory.

Kayra didn’t realize until she stepped through the gate how dulled her senses had been by the fear on her wall.  She felt the warmth of the sun on her skin, enjoyed the soothing coolness of the breeze on her face, and smelled the intoxicating smell of green grass and earth.

Free at last! Then she opened her eyes and blinked.  In front of her were multiple paths, each with a shattered bottle marking its entrance.  Kayra recognized them as her bottles.  The shards and dust sparkled in the sunlight as though they had never been anything but delicate and pretty.  On this side of the gate, she doubted they could be anything else.

Kayra looked back at the exit she had just come through and saw the warlock standing there.  He smiled at her.  In order to leave, you must destroy your fear, she remembered him saying the first day she had been imprisoned.  She looked at the multiple paths marked with destroyed bottles.

“I could have left after I destroyed bottle number ninety-nine?” she asked the warlock.

He nodded, smiled at her, and sang, “Ninety-nine bottles of fear on the wall…” his voice trailed off as Kayra chose her path and left him.

copyright 2011, Kathryn J Woodall
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An interview with Stella about Mel Gibson’s new movie, The Beaver

(Just a bit of warning that this post is more spicy than most of my writing, but I hope you enjoy Stella.  🙂 )

KJ: It’s great to have you with us today, Stella.

Stella: When you say it that way it sounds like I’m nearly dead!  Are you going to tell people, “Stella’s no longer with us,” once the interview is over?  Pff!   I’m not that old!

KJ: I just meant that we’re honored to have you as a guest.

Stella: Don’t be too honored.  I’m only here because my agent said I had to be. (She flips her hair and glares at KJ)

KJ: (forcing a smile) I’ll have to remember to send a special thank you note to your agent.

Stella: Pff!  (Shaking her head and rolling her eyes) He’s an idiot, but for some reason people prefer to talk to him instead of me.

KJ: Yes, that is shocking.  So Stella, have you seen the new Mel Gibson movie, The Beaver?

The Beaver (2011) - IMDb

The Beaver (2011) - IMDb

Stella: No!  And I’m not going to watch it either.  It’s disgusting, that’s what it is. (Looking totally appalled)

KJ: What?!  It’s a heart-warming movie about a man using a puppet to deal with severe depression.  How is that disgusting?

Stella: Well for starters, I can’t tell if the movie is a documentary, discriminatory, or porn.

KJ: What!?!?

Stella: Maybe you haven’t seen the news the last few years, but Mel Gibson hasn’t exactly acted like a stable man.  I think they might have just paid Jodie Foster to follow him around and then they made a “movie” about it.

KJ: Now Stella, that’s not being very nice.

Stella: Pff!  Who said I was nice?  I’m honest.  It’s not easy to find an honest person these days, you know!  I’m just saying that if he’s already mentally disturbed, how do you know if he’s acting?  If I’m going to a documentary, I want to know up front that it’s a documentary.  That’s what I’m saying.

KJ: Would you watch it if it was labeled as a documentary?

Stella: Absolutely not!

KJ: Why not?

Stella: Documentaries are boring.  I don’t want to fall asleep in my popcorn and accidentally suck a kernel up my nose!  Besides, even if it isn’t a documentary it’s still discriminatory.

KJ: Stella, I really don’t think the movie is a documentary.  I might be sorry I asked, but why do you think The Beaver is discriminatory?

Stella: How thick are those classes you’re wearing?  Are you blind? (Stella leans forward and gets uncomfortably close to KJ’s face)

KJ: No.  But apparently I don’t share your unique view of the world.

Stella: Don’t be giving me attitude!  (She points a wrinkled finger in a threatening manner, before continuing) If it were you, me or any other woman…well, can you imagine them making a movie about how playing with our beaver and talking to it makes us feel better?  But let a man do it, and it’s okay to show it in normal theaters!  That’s sexual discrimination at its finest!

KJ: Stellaahh!

Stella: What? Are you Marlon Brando now?

KJ: (Exasperated) The beaver is a puppet.

Stella: (rolls her eyes) Just because it’s a puppet doesn’t mean it isn’t porn.  Hookers let their beavers talk for them too, but that doesn’t make them talk show hosts, now does it?  I know you aren’t very bright, but they could have used a lot of other animals for the puppet.  Well, not a lamb.

KJ: (hoping to salvage even part of the interview) Why couldn’t they have used a lamb?

Stella: Hello! Jodie Foster is the one they’re paying to follow Mel Gibson around. Silencing the lamb isn’t going to make him less crazy.

KJ: (Taking a deep breath) Stella, it isn’t a documentary, and it isn’t nice to say that Mel Gibson is crazy.  It isn’t porn either.  It’s just a movie about a man using a puppet beaver to reconnect with the people in his life and be the successful man he’s capable of being.

Stella: Oh!  I think I see where you’re going with this.

KJ: You do?

Stella: Yeah.  Mel Gibson just needs another puppet.

KJ: (Looking confused) Why does Mel need another puppet?

Stella: (Shaking her head at KJ’s ignorance) Well if they put another beaver on Mel Gibson’s other hand, they could call him a winner.  It worked for Charlie Sheen.  Well, at least until he got fired.  But hey, Charlie’s still got his beavers!

KJ: (sits in stunned silence)

Stella: Oh God!  They’re going to fire Mel Gibson, aren’t they?  Instead of having one foot out the door, he has one hand up a beaver.  What a shame.  He was a looker in his younger days!  I’d have let him play with my beaver.

KJ: Stella, this interview is over.

Stella: Fine by me.  I didn’t want to be here in the first place!  But I do have a question for you.

KJ: (Knowing the interview is ruined anyway) What’s your question?

Stella: Well, theoretically, if Mel was wearing a woodchuck instead of a beaver…how much wood would a woodchuck chuck?

KJ: Goodbye Stella.

Stella: (As KJ walks away) Remember to send that thank you note to my agent!  If you word it nicely, he might make me come back for another interview.

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