So Bad

Just the other night, I got to enjoy two episodes of Star Trek; Deep Space Nine. My mom and I watch it together and so far, we’re on season 3. One of the things I love about Star Trek is how it challenges you to think broader. The two episodes I watched the other night were the Past Tense Part 1 & 2 episodes. If you’re unfamiliar with them, allow me to explain.

The crew of Deep Space Nine was returning to Earth for a lot of formal regulatory stuff. Well, while the commander, doctor, and science officer are beaming down to Earth, temporal particles disrupt the transporter device. Our three heroes make it to their destination safely; but, they end up arriving in San Francisco in the year 2024.

2024!

That’s 2 years from now!

Now, I’ve never been to San Francisco, but I like to believe the Star Trek version of San Francisco in 2024 is vastly different from what it really is. People in the Star Trek version of San Francisco who didn’t have jobs or places to live ended up getting placed in closed off areas called Sanctuary Districts. In fact, if they didn’t have an I.D. card on them, they got processed in those districts. The District our heroes got thrown into had over 10,000 people living it. 10,000 people were promised they would be helped in finding jobs, homes, and a way to sustain their own normal life. Yet, those promises went unfulfilled. The people were even divided by slang terms and demeaned often. A “dim” was someone with mental health issues that could be corrected if they were allowed the right kind of medication. A “gimmie” is someone who’s looking for help (a job or housing) and is making an effort to find it. While a “ghost” is someone inside the Sanctuary who preys on others for their food cards, clothing, you name it. The only person a “ghost” trusts is themselves.

The commander and doctor in our story got the opportunity to see every side of the Sanctuary while the science officer gets to see what life is like outside it. The upper class, the “haves”, or people with I.D.’s and jobs, they all know what happens in the Sanctuaries. Many believe they’re there to help people. To get those less fortunate off the street and back on their feet. Yet, our science officer begs the question that if the Sanctuaries are there to just help people, then why are there walls around them? The Sanctuaries ended up becoming a place for unfortunate people to get thrown into, forgotten, and mistreated like no one deserves.

Our heroes end up discovering that they have to live through a brutal point in Earth’s history (all because they got someone very important unintentionally killed and screwed up the timeline). You see, in Star Trek lore, the only thing that ended these Sanctuaries was a riot that got hundreds of people killed. One man (the guy our heroes got killed) kept hostages safe through the entire thing. He got the stories of innocent victims of these sanctuaries told through the internet so that the world could see what was really going on. All that paved the way for change–and apparently helped pave the groundwork for Starfleet and the Federation of Planets.

As wonderful as it is that our heroes righted history and made all things good again, the episode ended with one pondering question. Our dear, Dr. Bashir asks: “How could they have let things get so bad?”

“How could they have let things get so bad?”

That’s a great question, right? How could things in those Sanctuaries that initially had good intentions get so bad? And with it being the year 2024, it makes you wonder how much of Star Trek is going to be right? We may not have full blown Sanctuaries, but something similar? Something you look at that makes you think: “that’s wrong,” but you don’t do anything about it. Climate change, homelessness, job losses, illnesses going untreated, people going hungry.

There was something else said in the episodes that felt like a wake-up call to society. Our good doctor, Dr. Bashir, is trying to reassure one of the hostages. He tells her that it’s not her fault things are this way and she tells him: “Everyone thinks that; yet, nothing changes.”

I think people these days are guilty of seeing a situation and using that excuse.
“It’s not my fault that person is starving.”
“It’s not my fault the country ended up this way.”
“It’s not my fault those people are dying in a war they didn’t ask for.”
“It’s not my fault. I didn’t know.”
“I’m just trying to survive myself. I have too many problems to worry about. I don’t have time for yours.”

So, tell me: how can you make a difference in the world? How can we stop things from getting so bad that a riot needs to happen for change to occur? How can things get better if society remains in a “Me First” focus?

Imagine how unstoppable humans can be if we banded together to make things better. If we looked out for each other instead of ourselves.

You can tell yourself: “It’s not my fault that person is starving,” but are you in a position to help them? You may not be able to help feed them for life, but you can help feed them for today. Give them strength to keep trying.

It’s so easy to get into that mindset. “The government’s corrupt and that’s not my fault!” But it’ll be your fault if you let it stay that way. If you just stand by and watch problems grow or people starve. You’re still to blame for doing nothing.

OOF. This is a heavy post. Yet, sometimes people need a kick in the teeth to do something about the wrongs in the world. You might be thinking of something now that’s been eating at you, but you’ve stood idly by. Maybe it’s that guy on the corner who begs for food and money or a policy in a workplace that doesn’t help people like it should? My point is: I dare you to make a difference. It doesn’t have to be anything big and extraordinary! Everything starts out with baby steps–even walking! So, I dare you to take a look around during your day to day and look for a way you can make a difference in someone else’s life.

The Past Tense episodes of Star Trek; Deep Space Nine aired in 1995 and their prediction for 2024 isn’t a great one. We may not have Sanctuary districts, but wouldn’t it be neat if future generations looked back at our 2024 and thought: “that was a good year. That was a year people truly cared.” We could inspire them and make a difference to last through the millennia so no one ever has to ask the question: “How could they let things get so bad?”

For the Escape Artists.

Playing a game. Casting magic. Exploring.
Or reading a book of adventure, not boring.
Watching a movie of a place far away,
Or writing out demons to keep them at bay.

What magic there is to be flying the clouds.
And wishing you never have to come down.
Be a swordsman, a ranger, a solider in space.
Something else besides your own race.

There’s lessons in there, a story of wonder.
And details and details to make you ponder.
An artisans work, a craft from the heart.
All for the stories so you can take part.

Whether a game, a movie, a book, or a play.
There’s something to keep reality at bay.
With decisions and bills arising such stress.
You realize the real world is kind of a mess.

So, thank the author, the director, the playwriter too.
And the game designer with worlds so brand new.
For the escape–for a moment–to keep stress at bay.
When reality comes to ruin your day.

Such artists offer their hearts and their souls.
To build an escape you can tenderly hold.
The pressure of life weighs on your shoulders
And expectations from others rolling like boulders.

You run and you run, an Indiana chase.
Until an artist comes in to break up the pace.
They reach out their hand, pull you out the side-door
And show you new worlds of wonder galore.

And reality, for a moment, has to take a sit
And wait for you to get your fix.
Then you can face reality and its dreadful scorner
With all of these artists backed in your corner.

So thank the designer, director, and all the plot twists
Delivered to us by our escape artists.

The Hour of Doom

This was it, I realized. This is how we die. All our efforts, all our sacrifices, all our near death experiences. They all led down to failure. My friend, Mini the Mouse, is bleeding out at my feet. We were supposed to hold out until Norman the Hedgehog found the Polaris, an ice staff of ancient power. I’m Nuray, of the noble barn owl House of Solana. Who did we think we are? To enter the Fire Domain and challenge Achazar, the primordial being of fire? Mini’s just a bandit. Norman an old miner and me? I should’ve been a warrior like the rest of my family. Maybe if I was, we wouldn’t be down on our knees waiting for Achazar’s growing fireball to kill us. I’m just a bard with nothing left to give.

It’s a chilling feeling when you finally greet death. Here I am, in a land scorched and burning and all I feel is cold. I lost count how many times we almost died, but none of them felt like this. I suppose that means this time will finally take. Too bad I’ll be dying untrue to myself.

To enter this domain of fire, we had to become blessed by the element. If not, we’d be dodging Achazar’s fireballs from the time we stepped in to the moment we were finally in range to fight him ourselves. But, you see, I was already blessed by Reya or Altus, gods of the wind. My life was devoted to following them and the way the wind blows. I gave all that up. Everything about who I was, just so I could enter this domain and try to stop Achazar from burning the kingdom to the ground…

Mini’s not getting up. I can see the fight fading in his eyes and it brings me to tears. If I had one more spell…One more song to inspire…One more something! I could save him, but my magic is spent and all my instruments were burned. There’s nothing I can do except watch him die.

Where was Norman?! Had he found the Polaris yet?! Though, I know my questions will go unanswered. Achazar lobs his fireball at us. I could try to fly away, but then I would leave Mini here to die and he’s my friend. So, I watch as the fireball comes like a meteor in the sky. I will not look away. I will face death like a warrior and hope the wind will accept my spirit in the afterlife.

The strongest gale I’ve ever felt suddenly whips through the air. Achazar’s fireball redirects and pulverizes the ground thirty feet away. I hardly believe it! I was sure death would’ve…but why hadn’t it?!

“Rise Nuray! The fight is not yet done!”

The divine voice echoes throughout the domain. When I turn around, I think my eyes are fooling me! The great owl god Altus, and hawk god Reya are flying twenty feet above me. The gods of the winds themselves! Altus has his wings spread wide in full control of the tempest that redirected the fireball. Reya lands down at my side. Where Altus was the mighty warrior, Reya was the steward of nature. She stretched her wing over Mini and healing magic sealed his wounds.

“Achazar belongs not in this world,” Altus speaks surely and it makes me believe victory could be possible. “Continue the fight, young, devoted one, and banish the primordial back where he belongs!”

The wind picks up and it has never felt so good on my feathers. The fire blessing on my hand fades away and I feel new energy strengthen my veins. The wind patterns on my feathers returns and joy wells inside of me. Altus and Reya restored my wind blessing! There’s still a chance to defeat Achazar.

“And, for the little mouse,” Reya speaks. Her tone is as nurturing as a new mother. Mini regained consciousness, but was staring up at the two, giant bird of prey with fear in his eyes. He twitched when Reya held out a pair of winged boots to him, and–for once–he was speechless.

“Thank you.” I bowed to the two gods. With a pair of winged boots, Mini would have an easier time dodging Achazar’s fireballs. We could both take to the skies and attack Achazar like starlings on a hawk. We could buy the time it would take for Norman to get here with the Polaris.

Reya and Altus gave a single nod. Once Mini had the boots on, the two gods folded their wings. The air stilled and Mini and turned to face Achazar. “Are you ready?” I asked.

Mini bobbed his head. He was used to flying with me and not on his own. I hope he gets the hang of it quickly. He raised his sword. “For the people of the wood!”

We took to the sky, flying straight toward Achazar. I raised my own battle cry: “For the honor of the wind!”

Wow! What a Word Count!

I like to believe every writer struggles with word count. Whether you don’t have quite enough words to fit your genre or you just have WAY too many. For my non-writer friends, allow me to explain:

Word count is kind of a big deal in the writing world–especially for debut authors. Agents and publishers want to know how many words are in your novel right off the bat and if its an acceptable length for your genre. Too little words and, well, you don’t quite have a story. Too many, and your book becomes too expensive to take a risk on. It may not seem right. I mean, a story is a story, who cares how long or short it is? BUT, would you want to read a novel that’s over two inches thick? There’s a lot of judgement that comes from readers. People look at the size, the cover, the summary on the back, and one wrong thing can make them put it back on the shelf. If a brand new book is too thick, less people will be willing to read it and agents and publishers will be out of money.

So, what’s the ideal word count? Well, for my genre: Young/New Adult Fantasy, the ideal is anywhere in between 75,000 and 95,000 words. It can vary, depending on who you ask, but the range typically hits the same ball park. For epic fantasies (which is my playground), the word count can get up to 150,000 words, but that is not ideal for debut authors.

You might be thinking: “Wow that’s a lot of words! But is that really?” Let me give you a little context. Consider J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. It’s 76,944 words long which meets the lower end of the YA fantasy ideal word count. Then, you have J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. At 95,356 words, it meets the upper end of the YA fantasy ideal word count.

“Yeah, but Nikki, J.K. Rowling and J.R.R. Tolkien ended up writing books longer than that!”

You’re right. They wrote longer books after getting these first ones published. From the research I’ve done and the trends I’ve seen, once an author establishes a fanbase and gets readers interested in their stories, it doesn’t matter how long your next books are. I mean, Harry Potter and the Order of the Pheonix was over 257,000 words! And Fellowship of the Ring, Tolkien’s next book was over 187,000 words! The point is that people will read stories they enjoy and if they correlate good stories to an author, they’ll follow that author regardless of what they write.

“So, Nikki, I’m a writer and I can’t get my word count to ideal.”

I can’t either. I’ll be honest, I’ve struggled with word count for as long as I’ve been writing! The first draft of my novel was over 300,000 words! That’s as long as George R.R. Martin’s A Feast For Crows. But, I also had a lot of filler in my novel. There was a bunch of scenes that didn’t help the story, I didn’t have my characters following the best arch possible, and my descriptions were WAY too long. I still cringe at the thought of my first draft. It’s like looking back at your high school yearbook, seeing what you were wearing, and asking yourself: “What was I thinking?!”

The first time I did a word count edit on my novel I was able to knock it down to 137,000 words. I rewrote the entire thing just to get it there. It was tough. I mean, I spent a lot of time building that first draft, it hurt to think it wasn’t perfect, but that’s what it means to be a writer. You have to rewrite your story over and over again to make it a masterpiece. It’s a long journey, but if you keep applying what you learn, its worth it in the end. You’ll start to look at your story and think: “Wow, I wrote that!”

“So, if you can’t get it to the ideal word count, what do you do?”

Get it the best you can. My opinion may be unpopular with agents and editors, but–to me–the story comes first. The characters come first and if its going to take me 125,000 words to tell that story through the eyes of the characters, then I’m gonna do it. If you’ve been following my webposts, you know that my New Year’s resolution is to complete my novel’s current draft and I’m about halfway through it. 2021’s version of my novel was about 127,000 words. I compared the word count of where I’m at currently to the word count of where I’m at in my old draft and I’ve decreased my word count by about 6,000 words!

“Nikki, that doesn’t seem like a lot and aren’t you cutting story content with that?”

You’re right. It may not seem like a lot when you compare it to the ideal word count, but it’s encouraging because I’m only halfway through! I’ve got more cleaning up planned and I’m proving to myself that it’s possible to improve a story while decreasing word count. I’ve gotten feedback from my trusty, alpha readers that the new chapters are preferred over the old ones. I’m not cutting story content because I did that already with the 300,000 word draft. What I’m focusing on now is cleaning up descriptions and rewording sentences to fix fragments and boost clarity. My problem with descriptions is that I often give too much. I want the reader to see exactly what I’m seeing down to the tiniest detail that I don’t give the reader the chance to build the setting for themselves. That’s one of the best things about reading, right? Being able to craft an author’s world and characters that when the book becomes a movie, you furrow your brow at the screen and think: “That’s not how I envisioned it, but alright.”

So, I’m learning is to trust my reader with descriptions. They’re clearly more than capable of imagining what an alchemist’s shop or a castle looks like. If you’re also a writer struggling with word count, I encourage you to take a look at your descriptions and decide what’s really needed. Do you need to go into the details of all the beakers and test tubes on your scientific scene or can you say you’re character enters a laboratory and leave the rest up to the reader?

“What if you still can’t reach that ideal word count?”

It’s not the end of the world, but you’re going to struggle with publication. Cassandra Clare’s first novel was City of Bones and it is roughly 128,000 words. Sarah J. Maas wrote The Throne of Glass. The first time she submitted, it was at 240,000 words. She got rejected. She then got it down to 145,000 words and got rejected by editors. Finally, at 104,000 words, she got published. It isn’t impossible to get published at a higher word count, but it’s definitely tough. You’ll see a lot of articles out there telling you to “Be the rule, not the exception.” It definitely increases your odds of getting published if you do. You could try querying at your high word count and if rejections start coming in, you might have to take another hard look at your novel. Or, you might just have to write a new novel to be your debut. I know that sounds like starting over, but if you feel you can’t shorten your story anymore without hurting it, you just might have too.

In the end, word count is important and it can make or break you. My advice for a brand new writers ready to get their first draft on the page is to not worry about it yet. For your first draft, get every little detail, every scene, and character your heart desires on that page and save the word count struggles for later drafts down the road. It’s a lot easier to clean up a story than to write one, so enjoy the writing in the first draft. Enjoy the characters, the setting, the story’s twists and turns. Then when you’re done, set your heart aside and let your brain go to work in figuring out what’s helping the story and what isn’t. If you manage to write your story in the ideal word count range, congratulations! You’re ahead of the game!

For those of you working on decreasing word count: I know how daunting it can be. I know how much it hurts to remove scenes or characters from the story that aren’t helping it, but in the end you’ll be better for it. You can always save those scenes and those characters for other novels you write. Maybe a side character in this story would be better main character in your next one? Never throw away your ideas. Just stick them on the shelf for a while. As time goes on, you’ll get new ideas to improve scenes and you may end up cringing at your first draft like I do. You just have to keep at it. Writing is an art and a muscle. You have to keep working it to improve. Someday, word count might be the last thing you think about when writing. Who knows? You may end up with a series over 1,000,000 words long. What a word count that would be.

A Hero or a Villain?

Everyone is a hero in their story
And everyone is a villain as well.
The villains think themselves the heroes
and the heroes tell the villains “Go to h***”

But whether a hero or whether a villain there’s something everyone should know.
The heroes and villains are quite frankly just people with hurt they dare not show.

A writer writes heroes. A writer writes villains. A writer puts thoughts on a page.
When the thoughts line up and the feelings come out, it’s the pen that takes their rage.

A thousand tears and a hundred fears. It’s the pen that makes no judgement.
But when the feelings are shown and all is known, it’s the people who give judgement.

So when the die is cast, you’re made an outcast and the villain in your story.
Who cares what you think? Who cares if you’re hurt? People just want you to say sorry.

But who’s really the villain? Who’s really the hero? No one will ever know!
Because from both sides the hurt runs deep like an unforgiving blow.

Reach out and get slapped. So, you always hold back.
You’re afraid they’ll say “she snapped.”

They only reach out when you need to pout and space to clear your way.
When you don’t respond–so you don’t come undone. Their whispers ruin your day.

Try to reach out, but nothing changes, so here’s where I can’t stay.
Minds are made up. Judgement cast. All that’s left is dismay.

I’m marked the villain and forgo the hero. Let the crowds display their leer.
Let them spread their whispers for everyone to hear:

“The villain is petty. Her heart is ugly.
Don’t forget, she walks quite smugly.
We all agree. It’s crystal clear.
Wherever she belongs, it’s certainly not here.”

So, I’ll be the villain in your story and mine.
I just hope you’ll let me go. We shouldn’t waste anymore time.

Let me fade and be forgotten. So your heart can mend.
Then, when someone comes around the bend,
So shining and brand new.
Your grudge with me is at an end and to them you can be true.

I’m moving on since I’m already gone and I hope that you can too.
May you peace and prosperity and all sorts of clarity and may you never be blue.

Then down the road when troubles unfold and you find yourself a new villain,
May you do better than we and focus on glee and positives for trillions.

May you always be the hero and see others as one too, I know I’ll certainly try.
May we forgive and forget and move on to what’s next until the day we die.

So, hero or villain depends on who’s asked and what’s their point of view.
Yet, moving forward, there’s one thing we all know that’s true.

Whether the hero or whether the villain, everyone now knows:
Heroes and villains are quite frankly just people with hurt they dare not show.

In the Mirror

Take a look in the mirror.
What do you do you see?
Are you someone you like to be?

Do you focus on the outside?
Or does the inside matter more?
Do you listen to others?
Or just talk, talk, and bore?

Do you put first your own heart?
Or heed the hearts of others?
Do you notice who is hurting?
Or what you get from another?

When you look in the mirror,
You see your own history.
Have you ever considered others’ histories?
Do you think of yourself as less?
Or do you think of yourself less?

Take a look in the mirror.
What is your focus?
Or is everything just fake and bogus?
Reject the world.
People are disappointing.
Or embrace the world,
And find a cause worth joining.

A lot can be said in that mirror’s glass,
From what’s in front to what you look past.

Look in the mirror
Through a smudge or two
And find there’s worth about you.
Inside. Outside. All around.
In every silence and every sound.
A smile. A frown. The beauty within.
Deserves to shine and be alive again.
For you. For others. For a world anew.
There’s a lot that old mirror can teach you.

So, take a look at yourself and the world beyond.
Look hard as if it’ll all soon be gone.
Note the details, the pride, the mess throughout.
And see what you can do without.
What could can you bring for others that’s true?
Everything’s there. It’s all inside you.

Take a look in the mirror
And who do you see?
I hope its someone you like to be.

Stuck on a Dream

A cool breeze rustled the leaves and Willowtrix was thankful for it. He rested his ax on his shoulder as he flew up to another apple. It wasn’t hard chopping the apples down for Vinifree to catch below, but since he’d been doing it all morning, he was quite ready to be done. Tree Garden had the largest apple orchard in the kingdom after all.

“That’s another basket full!” Vinifree called from below. She stood up straighter to wipe the sweat from her brow as she smiled at their collection of apples. “We should be able to fill one more basket by the end of the day.”

Another basket?” Willowtrix flew down to one of the lower branches so the faun could see his disapproval. “Haven’t we filled enough already?”

“I don’t know,” Vinifree flushed and awkwardly scratched up by her horn. “I lost count three baskets ago.”

Willowtrix groaned and plopped down to sit on the branch. Heaven bless Vinifree. She was his best friend, but she enjoyed her job a little too much. “I say we call it for the day. My wings are tired and I’m sick of dodging the leaves and branches. Not to mention all the bugs and birds! I almost got attacked by a sparrow in that last tree!”

“I remember, you screamed like a child.” Vinifree sighed. “Come on, Willowtrix, this is one of the best jobs a fairy like you could have. At least you’re not working compost.”

“I’d rather not be working the orchard at all.” Willowtrix rested his head in his hand. “It’s easy for you fauns, all you have to do is carry the basket, catch the apples, and bring the full baskets back.”

“It’s not that simple, I have to sort the apples when I get back too.” Vinifree furrowed her brow. “This is the best part of the job, Willowtrix! We’ve cared for these trees all year and look at this beautiful harvest!” She picked up the reddest apple in the basket. “I bet some of these even make it to the king’s table all the way in the Capital because of how delicious they are!”

“Hooray,” Willowtrix said dully. “If we sell apples to the King then they’ll plant more trees, hire more workers–which means we’ll be stuck training them. More workers and bigger orchard means more work to be done!”

“It also means higher pay.” Vinifree planted her hands on her chocolate furred hips. “Which means you’ll be able to support you and your mother. Good, old Egriton is thinking about leaving the orchard which means there could be a promotion up for grabs!” She danced her hooves upon the ground in giddy glee. “I’m certainly going for it!”

“Good for you,” Willowtrix sighed and shook his head. He looked down at his callous hands. He was a brown fairy which meant he blended well with the forest. It was all well and good for childhood pranks, but people often missed him in the daylight hours. “You may be content working the orchard your whole life, but I’m not.” He looked down at Vinifree. “I want to see more of the kingdom than just Tree Garden!”

“Oh, don’t start that again, Willowtrix.” Vinifree shook her head. “You know how unrealistic it is for a fairy to be a storyteller? You’re too small and your voice will never be loud enough to speak over a crowd. Besides, if people don’t like your stories, they’re not going to pay you.”

“That’s why I’ll have many different stories!” Willowtrix clenched his fists. “And I’ll have ways to make my voice louder. Alderwood said I only need a horn to help with that.” When Vinifree shook her head, Willowtrix flew down in front of her. “I have a story I think you’ll like.”

“You said that about the last one you told me.”

“This one’s better, I promise! Come on! Let’s take a break from apple picking for at least a few minutes!”

Vinifree rolled her eyes. “Fine. What do you got?”

“Alright.” Willowtrix grinned from ear to ear. “Once upon a time, there was this mother and son–”

“Do you always have to start with ‘once upon a time?'”

Willowtrix nodded. “That’s how Alderwood starts all his stories.”

“I think you should change it up.”

Willowtrix lightly tossed his eyes. “Thank you for the feedback. May I continue?”

“Fine.”

“On a small farm on the far outskirts of a village, lived a mother and son. They were very poor. The last harvest was not enough for them to have enough food through the winter, so the mother told her son to go into the village and sell their only cow.”

“Why sell the cow? They could use it to till their fields and produce milk.”

“Uh…” Willowtrix furrowed his brow. “Well, the cow wasn’t strong enough to plow the fields and its milk had run dry.”

“Well, that doesn’t make any sense.” Vinifree crossed her arms. “Who would buy a cow like that?”

Willowtrix huffed. “Someone who doesn’t know what kind of rotten deal they’re getting! Can I continue?”

“Fine.”

“The boy starts heading into town with the cow, but he gets there, he meets a cloaked woman on the side of the road. She offers him a trade: his cow for her magic beans.”

Magic beans?!” Vinifree blatantly looked like she thought he was nuts. “There’s not such thing!”

“So? It’s said that fairies and fauns are magic so why not beans?”

“The only magic, Willowtrix, is what the mage at the Capital can do.” Vinifree huffed. “I doubt he would approve of your story.”

“I don’t care?” Willowtrix squinted at her. Why was she being so finicky with his details? She never treated his stories like this before. “It doesn’t matter if magic beans are real are not. They are in the story.”

“So you’re going to go around convincing children there are magic beans out there that all they have to do to get it is trade their worst cow for?” Vinifree shook her head. “This is why you fairies shouldn’t tell stories. Fairy’s tales are make believe!”

“That’s the point!” Willowtrix stared at her in utter shock. “So they’re not real! But the lessons in them are real! The escape they provide is real! Just think about how nice it is to go home from a long day at work and escaping into another world?”

“I’d rather escape into my bed.”

Willowtrix threw his hands up. “Well, maybe you do! But some of us out there like a good story now and then! What is going on with you? You’ve never scrutinized my stories before!”

“I just think you should have more realistic stories.” Vinifree shrugged and wouldn’t look at him. “Maybe you could tell the history of Tree Garden? Or our orchard? You could get Tree Garden on the map!”

Willowtrix furrowed his brow. “Tree Garden is already on the map. Besides, our history is pretty bland. Fauns and fairies settled here. We planted a garden. It grew. End of story.”

“Willowtrix! Vinifree!” The two jumped when Egriton’s sharp shout sounded from further down the orchard. “What are you doing standing around for?! Get back to work!”

“I’ll take this basket to the front.” Vinifree winced as she hauled the full basket over her shoulder.

Willowtrix felt a bit guilty. She wouldn’t be in line for that promotion if Egriton saw her as lazy. “I’ll start on the next tree,” he muttered quietly. He flew up to the branch to retrieve his axe. He wasn’t going to bother trying to tell the ending of his story to Vinifree. Maybe he could catch up with Alderwood later? Get feedback from a real storyteller instead of a faun who didn’t want to hear it. That confused him, though. Vinifree always listened to his stories. What changed? He looked back in her direction when he landed on a branch in the next apple tree. She was talking with Egriton as she made her way back to the front of orchard. I’m not going to stay stuck here, he promised himself. I can make it as a story teller. I know it!

Trusty, Old, Page

Every writer hurts.
Every writer cries.
Many writers don’t know how to speak why.
When emotions boil up.
The valve is under pressure.
You can’t give a word and hold it all together.
If you can’t speak and you can’t explain.
Just turn to the one thing to help you maintain
A calm and maturity similar to a sage
That dependable, reliable, old friend: the page.
A single blank page. No judgement it casts.
To bear all your burdens and you don’t have to ask.
Write it all down: the emotions, the rage.
It can handle it all, that trusty, old page.
Shed tears. Scream anger. Grind in the words.
In written form and not to be heard.
Keep it in shadow. Not to see the light of day.
Or share it to others who relate in a way.
Regardless, there is one thing for certain.
Leave it there. Don’t let it be a burden.
Leave the emotions, the hurt, sorrow, and distrust.
Right there on the page. This is a must!
Walk away free from the anger you shed.
Walk away free to try trusting again.
Leave it on the page and worry no more.
Leave it there to not corrupt your core.
Every writer has struggles they need to get out.
Every writer knows without a doubt.
When troubles come to bring boils and rage.
Every writer can depend on that trusty, old page.

Well, I’m Great Because…Uh…

Tell me about yourself. What are your pros and cons? You have an impressive resume. Tell me something that’s not on it. Give me an insight into you. Why do you want to work here? What do you hope to gain? And on and on it goes.

We’ve all been there. When you’re looking for a job, you have to go through the interview process. You have to talk about yourself, boast your best qualities, and raise your pedestal high. You gotta answer that question of “I’m great for this position because…” and if you’re like me, you bite your tongue and your mind goes blank. I’m currently seeking a new job and I’ve undergone a couple interviews already. It’s safe to say I’m reaching my limit. I’ve had interviews that were super stressful. There’s a lot of pressure and judgement. I’ve also had interviews that have floored me with how laid back and causal they are. Yet, no matter which type I endure, I still struggle, because I am not good at talking myself up.

Interviewing is a skill and an essential one if you want that dream job. Like all skills, some are better at it than others. In regards to everyone I’ve spoken to about interviews, the truth is: everybody gets nervous.

Take a friend of mine. She recently interviewed for a position she really wanted. I knew she was going to get it. She has the skills. She has the smarts. The passion. There was no doubt in my mind that she was going to get picked. In her mind, though, she was jittery and nervous. She saw all the outcomes: if she did get picked and if she didn’t get picked. She wanted this job, because she knew she could grow in a field she really enjoys. If she didn’t get the job, she’d be stuck spinning her wheels and looking for something else that offered the same kind of growth. The morning of the interview arrived and she dressed to impress and show her seriousness toward this position. I don’t know what all was said in her interview, but she ended up getting a tour of the facility and the assurance of explanations saved for later. That, to me, confirmed they were going to offer her the job, but she didn’t want to get her hopes up and I completely understand that.

Disappointment is a heavy feeling. If words could die, that would be one of the first ones I’d off. Nobody wants to fly their hopes too high in fear of getting struck by the lightning of disappointment. I’ve been there. I’ve done that. I’ve thought for sure I’d get a job and then I wouldn’t hear back or the rejection comes two months later. It can mess with your self-worth when you often get:
“Thank you for your interest. Unfortunately, we’re going with someone else.”
“Thank you for applying, but we’re going another route.”
“We realized we’ve offered you this position; however, in light of COVID, we’ve had to take budget cuts. So, your position is now no longer a thing. We wish you the best.”

Yeah. It sucks. Makes you feel like you’re not good enough for anything despite what your resume says. It highlights what you’re not so good at. Your personality flaws. That little voice in the back of your mind tells you you’ll never be good enough. Unfortunately, that little voice attacks at every process of job searching. While you’re scrolling through jobs. While you’re applying. Before the interview. During the interview. After the interview. It’s relentless and it wants to see you fail. To give into your doubts and fears and not rise to your full potential. My friend had that little voice come after her in the form of worry and anxiousness after the interview. She was waiting days for a response from the company and was trying to keep herself busy so she wouldn’t fret over it too much. After those few days, it came to no surprise to me when she happily sent out the message that she was offered the position and she accepted it.

It was curious, to me. Here I was in the sure faith that she’d get the job and yet she was like a boat on the waves, hoping and not hoping, fretting and pushing it off. Why is it that when the interview came, she admitted to having a hard time talking about herself, but I could sit here and write a book on how hard working and such an awesome person she is? Why is it that we can say all these great things about others, but struggle to promote good things about ourselves?

Turn the page to my latest interview. It was scheduled for later in the week. I had days to prepare. Yet, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. I got up the day off, planned out my outfit, did something relaxing, thought over some answers to potential questions, and that little voice came knocking in my mind. It started asking:
“Why are you even bothering to prepare? You’re not going to get this job just like the last couple that rejected you.”
“What makes you think you’re qualified for this position? You have no experience in this field.”

“You think you’re good enough? Please! There’s hundreds of people better than you!”
“What are you going to tell them when they ask your pros and cons? You’re too quiet, remember? Your personality won’t clash.”

On and on it went. That little voice killed my morning and got me to a point where I didn’t even want to go to the interview. I’m so tired of being told: “We’re going with somebody else.”

When the interview finally came, I did my best. I’m better at written words rather than verbal communication, but I tried. It just sucks when you’re in the moment. You get an off the wall question and you lock up. When it’s all said and done, you walk away realizing that you could’ve answered that better. I walked away from that interview feeling okay about it. I decided I really hoped they’d pick me because the people were nice, the facility was fantastic, and they showed a lot of care in what they do. I dared to let myself consider how it would go if I got it. It’s closer to home. The pay is higher. They said they were willing to teach me everything I didn’t know and I knew I could learn a lot. There would be a lot of possibilities if I got.

Unfortunately, I didn’t.

I got the email early the next day saying they were going with someone else. It got me thinking that they only interviewed me out of courtesy. They already had someone in mind. That would explain why they were so lax about the interview and didn’t have many questions prepared…bummer.

So, here I am back at the beginning stages of searching and applying for jobs. That little voice I wish I could ignore keeps hanging around. You know it affects your interview answers. How can you talk yourself up when that little voice keeps reminding you how much you suck? And rejections go and add fuel to its fire. You hear other people tell you: “don’t worry the right thing will come along.” And that little voice scoffs and asks: “will it though? It’ll take too long.”

How do you combat that voice? How do you shut it up and stand in confidence? How do you bring your worth to that interview without seeming arrogant? How do you keep your hopes manageable?

Well, in regards to that little voice. Argue with it. If it says you’re not good enough, demand to know why? Make it list its reasons. Because you’re too quiet? That means you’re a good listener, you’re observant. Because you don’t have the experience? You’re willing to learn. Tell it why you’re worth the investment. There’s somebody out there better than you? That’s true. There’s always going to be someone better, but you’ve got a passion for this. You’re willing to fight for it.

That little voice isn’t going to go away easily. You’ve got to put the effort in to fight back. Believe in yourself despite the negativity. When it comes to doing the actual interview, always be kind. From my experience, kindness goes a long way and can offset the arrogance you feel for talking yourself up so much.

So, how do you keep your hopes manageable? You could lay out all the facts. Be logical about it. I mean, there’s a gazillion jobs out there. Odds are your going to get one. Or, you could expect disappointment, because then you’ll never be disappointed. But, I gotta ask, how many movies or books have you seen or read where the hope was the main theme? You get these down on their luck societies, prisoners, or children. They could be under the rule of a tyrant, lost in the wilderness, or facing the unbeatable odds, yet the villain is constantly trying to drown all hope because just a spark is too powerful to contain.

Why can’t we have hope like that in the job search process? We see those characters from those inspiring stories get knocked down to their knees. They reach their darkest hour where all hope seems lost and yet when you turn the page, there’s salvation. Hope again. They’re heroes, victorious, and all is well. Why don’t we view the job search like those stories? With every rejection, you’re brought to your darkest hour, but you have to keep going. Turn that page, and victory is right around the corner. The right job will come.

No matter where you are in the job searching process, I hope this article brought you some encouragement. I’m not going to give up finding the right job and I don’t think you should either. The next time you get an interview, I hope you really consider your answers and believe them. You are great for a number of reasons and no little voice in your mind is allowed to tell you otherwise.

Just Dance

The world’s kinda falling apart right now, isn’t it? Or at least it feels that way. I mean, political debates, wars, the environment, etc. Etc. Etc. Or maybe your own personal world is falling apart? Drama at work. Lost your job. Family member passed away. There’s a lot of heaviness going around and, unfortunately, heaviness breeds heaviness.

Things haven’t been going quite my way these past couple weeks. I put my two weeks at my job and I haven’t any idea what I’m doing next. I mean, if you throw in all the variables, I could amount to a lot or nothing at all. It should be stressful. It should be heart crushing, suffocating, what am I doing with my life, pull your hair out type of stress. Yet, I’m not worrying about it. Something will come along. Something will give and provide direction. In the meantime, I’m not going to sweat over it. I’m not even sweating over things at my job anymore. I’m still doing the work, but I’m not going to break my back over it. Matter of fact, I’ve been trying to have fun with it.

I’m a cleaner. I clean kennels at an animal shelter. Every morning when I go to work, I deep clean different rows of kennels and I honestly hate deep cleaning. Now, I could grind and moan about the work like I used too, stress about getting it all done before we open, but my team is amazing. We do a pretty good job knocking everything out and we’re even short staffed! So, knowing that we’ve got each other’s back, there’s no reason to stress about doing it all. There have been days, lately, where I take my time to do a good job and I still get done at a reasonable time. What’s more is that I’ve been cranking up my tunes each day and that’s made a big difference.

I listen to Pandora while I work. I have four different stations that I cycle through–two more than most. I’ve been trying to tailor the stations better. Tailor them to more uplifting music. Yesterday, I was listening to a station I hadn’t listened too in over a year (because it has a bad habit of only playing slow love songs–ugh). Tailoring out some of the songs that I could do with not hearing again, I started hearing songs that I haven’t heard in probably years. These were songs that I grew up with. Songs my brother and I had our dances to and surprisingly enough, I still remembered the words! When I deep clean at work, I deep clean my rows by myself and it’s a very loud environment with all the barking dogs, hoses going, so on and so forth. So I’ve indulged myself lately by singing and dancing along with my tunes. By the way, I’m not a good dancer, I just bob and sway along. It’s been relieving to say the least and it’s making deep cleaning much more enjoyable.

So, when life gets heavy or you’re faced with an unbearable task, give yourself a moment to dance. Or dance through it. Sometimes you even have to force yourself. I am not a morning person. So when I get in at 6 am to deep clean, I’m not in the best of moods, but I’ve been trying to find the right song lately to change that. Something I can dance along to and help myself get in a better mood. I heard recently that forcing yourself to smile when you’re in a sour mood, helps you get to a better one. The muscles it takes to smile end up releasing something in your brain to lighten your attitude–I’m fully sure of the science behind it. Isn’t it nice to know there’s a way to trick yourself into a better mood? It does wonders for you and everyone around you.

So, I dare you today to pull yourself up on your feet, give a smile, and dance. You don’t have to be good at it. Just let your body loosen and let the stress go through tapping feet, head bobs, or hip sways. It’s helping me. I thought I’d share it to maybe help you too. We all need some escape when the world gets heavy.

On that note, if you have a story or a comment about dancing in public or to relieve the stress, feel free to share it in the comments below or on my Facebook and Twitter! Thanks everyone!