Unicorns and Dragons

Writing Prompt: What would life be like if unicorns and dragons existed?

If unicorns and dragons existed, I fear they would’ve been hunted to extinction by now. Let’s start with unicorns. They’re beautiful creatures and often regarded as pure and magical with incredible abilities like healing the sick, and providing long life and happiness. Let’s not forget what they’re named after, their horn. The sad truth is that we live in a greedy world. One where elephants and rhinos are hunted due to their ivory. If ivory is so coveted, imagine how envious people would be of a unicorn’s horn. Yet, if people aren’t trying to kill unicorns for their horn, then they’re trying to traffic them for their powers. Large cats like leopards and cheetahs are trafficked for their pelts and sold as exotic pets. Yes. There are people trying to help these animals, trying to stop the trafficking and the black market, but if you consider all of history, would these advocates for animals risen up in time to save unicorns?

Then, there’s dragons. Incredible, large, fire-breathing, flying lizards with razor sharp teeth and claws, and wicked tails. These amazing beasts would definitely fight back against humanity, but I fear they would be too feared by rulers throughout time, that–for the good of the people–dragons would be hunted to extinction. We hear about it all the time in our fairy tales and legends. The knights go off to slay the dragon, save the maiden, and bring glory to the day. Then, you have the stories like “How to Train Your Dragon.” They teach that not animals–dragons–should be feared, but we can work and live alongside them. Well, if you haven’t seen “How to Train Your Dragon 3” stop reading right here, because at the end of the movie, Hiccup and his people give up their dragons because the world isn’t ready to accept dragons. There are too many dragon hunters, and people don’t understand that with mutual respect, dragons are nothing to be feared. I feel like those movies hit society on the nail head with that one.

Perhaps my response to this writing prompt betrays my lack of faith in humanity. I would love to be wrong. I would love for the existence of unicorns and dragons to teach humanity unity and goodness. Strength and compassion. However, there’s no way we could ever know for sure. All we can do is speculate, so your guess is as good as mine.

I would definitely try to befriend a unicorn or dragon though.

Hard to Get to Know

I’ve been watching an anime called One Piece lately. There’s like 1,000 episodes, but I’ve only seen what’s on Netflix and I really enjoy it. It’s about this young pirate captain who builds a crew to chase their dreams. The crew ends up having these incredible adventures and they become more than just a crew, they’re best friends with unquestionable loyalty to each other despite all the times they might not get along. That’s probably my favorite thing about the show.

Fast forward to several adventures later and the crew docks on a small island. While they’re sleeping, a creature on the island steals their memories. The only one not affected is the Bookworm who chose to stay up late and read a book instead (morale of the story: stay up late reading books and your memories won’t be taken). By the time morning comes none of them, besides the Bookworm, remember that they’re best friends. They revert back to who they were before they met each other. The Bookworm tries to explain, but as expected, she’s met with a lot of resistance. My favorite character in the show wakes up last. When the others realize he’s there, some of them freak out, because even though they don’t remember each other, they recognize his name. They know him as a pirate hunter, a renowned bounty hunter, and the most skilled swordsman of the East Blue. They’re wary of him. Before the Bookworm can explain again, the Swordsman bails. He goes overboard and swims to shore.

And no one stops him.

They all let him go, and breathe easier that he’s gone. In fact, throughout the plot they don’t go after him. Though the Bookworm brings it up, the others say he’s too scary, too dangerous, and too much of a jerk to be bothered with.

I watched that episode a while ago and it still bugs me. My favorite character, the one who showed the most loyalty to the crew throughout their adventures got brushed off by the others because he was too scary to get to know. It made me think about the sequence of the story. The Swordsman was the first person to join the Captain’s crew–the very first recruit–so when the others came along, they didn’t have a choice but to accept that he was a part of their crew. Had he not been the first recruited, would the others still have accepted him? He’s a standoffish character, honorable, and tough. He holds himself to high standards and doesn’t give a lick what other people think about him, so it makes him hard to get to know. The best way to get to know him is to let his actions speak instead, the only way to do that is to spend time with him. Time for different scenarios to see those actions. From what I’ve seen of the anime, no one would get past his hardened demeanor to give him a chance.

Now in the plotline of the missing memories, everything works out. The crew finds the creature stealing their memories and with every fight against it, they get their memories back and all returns to normal. The Swordsman rejoins the crew.

It makes me wonder of how many incredible and unique people do we miss out on knowing just because they’re too standoffish, quiet, distant, or just plain hard to get to know? Can you think of someone in your life? If you took a minute to get past their walled exterior what kind of person would you discover beneath? The Swordsman from the anime has a terrible sense of direction. When he isn’t training or defending his friends, he can be a bit of sloth, choosing to sleep a lot. He takes his commitments very seriously, and holds others to them as well. Nothing is fake or pretend with him, and as long as someone apologizes for their wrong, he’ll forgive them, and he gives them plenty of chances to apologize.

People aren’t always what you see on the exterior. You may see someone as quiet, standoffish, or reserved, but someone who got to know them might see someone passionate, kind, or even goofy. What you see from someone depends on how much you’re willing to get to know them. Maybe they’re like the Swordsman and don’t want to open up to start, but from my experience, a little patience and kindness can go a long way.

Featured Image snipped from the actual One Piece episode on Netflix.

Happy World Hippo Day!

To those of you who are unaware, today is World Hippo Day! A day we celebrate the incredible animal known as the hippopotamus. There’s a lot of different days celebrating different species. Two days ago was Love Hornbill Day, World Chimpanzee Day is on the 14th of July, and there’s many more out there. These are days to help us pause and be thankful to the different amazing animals on the planet–and it gives us, zookeepers, more reasons to provide special enrichment for our animals.

In the spirit of World Hippo Day, I wanted to share a bunch of awesome photos of the hippos I take care of. If you’re interested in learning about hippos, check out my Hippo Chat post. If you have any free time coming up, I encourage you to visit your local zoo, and see the Earth’s incredible species of animals for yourself!

Happy World Hippo Day!

The Dark of Night

It comes in the dark of night
Makes you toss and turn in bed
It slips right into your room
To whisper fears inside your head

That mistake you made?
It was costly
You should be very afraid
Everyone sees you quite crossly

It breaks your dreams like snapping limbs
And hides within the dark
It fights to make your light grow dim
So you can’t produce a spark

The moment that you’re alone
It pounces for the chance
To remind you of what you’ve blown
You’ll never truly advance

No one can see it
Not all knows it there
But heed my warning
So you’re all aware

The Darkness will come after you
No one is the exception
It’ll tell you your dreams won’t come true
And make you hate your own reflection

When the Darkness comes to bring you down
and pull you in it’s pit
I hope you’ll stand upon the sound
That it’s lies aren’t worth it

It’ll steal your worth
Create scenarios to make you afraid
It’ll steal your sleep, heighten your stress,
And make you forget all mirth

But be not afraid
For I know a Way
All you need is to remember is Truth
You’re worth more than the Darkness
Don’t feel like a carcass
There’s a Light to pull you through

So in the dead of night
When Darkness takes flight
Remember what I said to you
You’re worth more
You’re more than loved
And that I know is true

Please Watch Your Litter

Every morning, on my way to work, I drive through a park. It’s a beautiful park. There are so many trees and a lake where a lot of people fish in the summer time. Well, it’s winter and there aren’t a lot of people around. The leaves have fallen and everything is bare.

Yet, to me, it’s still beautiful. As I drive I like to peek through the undergrowth and search for the hidden treasures within. Like an old stone wall that was forgotten about or a trickling creek. If I’m really lucky, I spot deer or other wildlife. You normally don’t see these things in the summer since the leaves cover everything up, but when I take a look in the winter, when no one else is around. It feels like those little treasures were placed there for me to find.

As special as those treasures are, I did see a lot of something else that ruined the beautiful scenery. All throughout the woods was litter. Plastic bags. Discarded trash. Wrapper. Tires. Dumped trashed bags. The whole park was filled with them. They scattered across the ground like wine stains on fabric. It was saddening. This beautiful place was defiled by the carelessness of humanity.

So, the next time you go outside–it doesn’t have to be a park–anytime you go outside, please mind your trash. If you leave something in the street or even your yard. You never know where it’s going to end up. The wind could carry it to a park and spoil someone’s view of nature. Or it could wind up in the ocean, choking a sea turtle.

The Earth is precious and beautiful, but it isn’t going to stay that way unless we take care of it. So, please. Help care for our parks and environment by minding your litter.

Aching Dreams

Have you ever wanted something so badly it hurt? Maybe not something like a piece of pie sitting on the counter, but a goal or a dream? Have you ever had a moment where you see someone living your dream and you just feel an ache because you want that too? I can list off several times I felt that. Whenever I see someone releasing a new book, as excited as I am for them, it nags at my desire to get my own published. And there was my time volunteering at the zoo a few years back. I’d help with cheetah enrichment and talk to the cheetah keeper. I remember thinking how much I wanted her job.

Perhaps that ache you feel is the “thou shalt not covet thy neighbor” warning we hear growing up. Or, perhaps that ache is a guide, letting you know where your path will lead. What goal you should shoot for. But, you have to be careful. As much as that ache can help push you toward your dreams, you can’t let it push you toward bitterness. As much as I want my novel published, I’m not going to be bitter and angry with all the people already achieving that dream. I’m going to celebrate with them and let their success inspire my hope that one day my novel will be sitting on the shelf next to theirs.

Same goes for the cheetah keeper. I’m not going to begrudgingly follow her around because she has the position I want. I’m going to learn from her. Get her insight into the position and what skills I can improve to help me get to her point.

I guess what I’m saying is that you shouldn’t tear others down for achieving a dream you’re also pursuing. Don’t let bitterness creep in and ask the question of “why them and not me?” but let hope inspire by saying “Yay for them! Next is me.”

So, what dreams are you pursuing that make your heart ache because you want them so badly? How are you pursuing them? How are you letting that ache guide you?

Communication Dies

It festers in the ground
A word here
A whisper there
Who knows if its true
Or if its a lie
But it’s enough to make families die
A bond so strong
Cousins, friends, or coworkers
A rumor comes out to commit murder
Lies. Deceit. Your own fabrications
Bitterness and grudges. No communication
No hearing the story
No seeking the truth
No understanding one another so we might make it through
Through all the pain
Through all the falsity
Through the fakes and gossip
And the misread hostility
“Let it go”
“Move on”
“Just forget it”
But still it lingers for you to regret it
Someone remembers
Someone can’t forget
Someone there can’t let go yet
They’ve decided their trust was regrettably misplaced
They’ve decided their efforts were all a waste
Trust not the one who believes they did no wrong
Trust not the one who makes you feel you don’t belong
A simple mistake could be easily fixed
If ears were open and all hearts were selfless
But the rumors have spread there in the dark
Not everyone sees them. Not everyone’s a part
Of the gossip, the judgement, the envy, and grudges
The Darkness that corrupts everything it touches
Now a bond once so strong is now bitter and weak
To the point where some simply refuse to speak
Pride slips in. “It’s not my fault”
You close yourself in just like a vault
“They’re the one who brought this on themselves”
“They’re the one sitting upon their shelf”
“Looking down on the others in our tree”
“Thinking they’re somehow better than me.”
The lies sneak in. You eat them right up
And everyone else decides to just give up
Then the distance sets in
And time is to blame
“I’m simply too busy to call out their name”
“Communication, anyway, is a two way street”
Both parties think that, so they’re both in defeat
A bond once had, now destroyed by lies
This is what happens when communication dies

Winning Pitch

This year, it’s my goal to pitch and query my novel to literary agents. This is a skill I’m still developing, so I’ve been reflecting on my notes from previous writing workshops to help me craft the best kind. I thought I’d share some with you today.

Back in 2020, one of the classes I took at a writing workshop focused on pitching. When you pitch your novel, you’re trying to get someone (literary agents, editor, publisher) interested in it. Pitching is super stressful. You need to sum up however long your novel is (in my case 100,000 words), in a few short sentences. It needs to be enticing. You can throw out a quick summary, but if it isn’t engaging, whoever your pitching to isn’t going to swing.

According to the workshop I attended, you want the focus on your pitch to be on your main character. What are their goals? Intentions? Wants or desires? When you think about it, readers are going to be spending hours with your main character when they read your book. So, why should they want to?

For elevator pitches–pitches short enough to entice someone on an elevator ride–you don’t want to waste time on character names. Instead, you should focus on description:
“Girl wanting to be seen as herself…”
“Princess desiring peace…”
“A peasant’s son hoping to be someone…”

With the desire of your main character in place, focus on description. More adjectives add to setting, character, genre, and plot. You need to be judicious. Be specific and as unique as possible without using words from story that people won’t understand. By that, I mean anything in your world that you would have to explain to someone. If you made up a race of people called Vamato, you don’t have time in your elevator pitch to explain that the Vamato are vampire tomatoes with green skin. With descriptions, your pitch evolves:
“The daughter of a wealthy scientist wants to be seen as herself…”
“A crippled princess desiring world peace…”
“The son of an alchemist wants to prove to his father he isn’t useless…”

Then, you want to introduce your main conflict. Who’s the antagonist or the antagonistic situation? How are they keeping your main character from achieving their dream?
“Daughter of a wealthy scientist wants to be seen as herself, but she dies and her spirit is engineered by a techno-cult as a living host.”
“A crippled princess desiring world peace must face a prince of an invading country in one on one combat.”
“The son of an alchemist wants to prove to his father he isn’t useless. He joins the King’s Army, and gets his chance when tasked to find an ancient legend.”

Next is the plot synopsis. What makes your story unique? Show the world its set in.
“Daughter of the scientist meets polar opposite, key to immortality.”
“Crippled princess from an underground colony.”
“An alchemist’s son is tasked to uncover an ancient legend that may not exist.”

The most important thing you can put in your pitch is the emotional hook. Why should the reader be interested in your main character?
“Daughter of a scientist dies trying to get her father’s attention…”
“Crippled princess must face childhood love in combat…”
“Son of an alchemist loses his best friend in their dreams to prove their worth…”

Finally, you need your stakes. What will happen if your main character DOESN’T get what they want?
“If the daughter is captured, cult will make an army of shifters capable of taking over everyone.”
“Crippled princess’s people will rot in the sun.”
“Alchemist’s son must race against monsters to find an ancient legend else the kingdom will fall under Darkness.”

Good thing to remember is that tension and urgency keep people reading. Whenever you’re pitching in person, you want to talk about your book like you were talking to your friend. You LOVE your book. Tell the person why so they can love it too.

There is an easy way out with pitching if you can’t decide the best way to pitch your story and you find yourself in an spur the moment pitch session. You can always use this formula:

“When [inciting incident] occurs, [main character] must [objective] or else [stakes].”

Now, I have to be honest. The first two of the examples I used when going through the pitching elements were taken directly from the Writing Workshop I attended. The third was me experimenting pitching with my novel. As you can see, it’s not as exciting as the other two. When you throw it all together, this is what you get:

“The son of an alchemist wants to prove to his father he isn’t useless. He joins the King’s Army, and gets his chance when tasked to find an ancient legend that may or may not exist. With a dark mage hunting for it as well, the alchemist’s son must get it first or Darkness will corrupt hate and fear throughout the kingdom.”

Not bad, in my opinion, but it could be better. I’ll keep researching pitching and querying and share my findings with you guys. That way, we can grow in this skill together.

I wish I could tell you who gave the class at this writing workshop from 2020, but I didn’t write down their name. For information on how to sign up for upcoming Writing Day Workshops (both online and in person), follow this link: Writing Day Workshops.

You Gotta Believe Me

Write about a time when no one believed you.

The first thing that comes to mind when I read this prompt is high school, senior year. Us seniors were a part of a class wide English game involving the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. It’s a popular dystopian novel. Most of us had to read it in school. It’s where the phrase “Big Brother is watching you” came from as the population in the novel is constantly controlled through surveillance. Personally, it wasn’t my cup of tea, but I did enjoy the game my senior class had to do because of it.

In the book, there are these people called Thought Police. They’re normal members of society who make sure everyone else is following the rules of society. Your neighbor could be one. Your family member or co-worker. If they caught you breaking a rule, they turned you in, and you faced punishment. My senior class did something very similar so we’d understand the kind of world in Nineteen Eighty-Four. We had rules we had to follow and here were a few of them:

  • Don’t talk about the game to anyone–ESPECIALLY UNDERCLASSMEN. If asked about the game, say a specific phrase that I no longer remember.
  • Greet your teachers by saying: “I am eager to learn today.”
  • No chewing gum or eating during class.
  • No looking at your phone during school hours.
  • No passing notes in class.
  • No having earbuds in during school hours.
  • No talking during class unless called upon by a teacher.
  • Don’t be tardy or absent.

The game lasted for about a week and at the end of it, we may have had to write an essay. Here’s the kicker. The word count for the essay started at 500 words–no big deal. However, if you got caught breaking a rule by the Thought Police, 500 more words would be added to your essay. 500 for every rule you broke. Pretty sure some of my classmates got up to 10,000 words. There was a way out, though. By the end of the week, if you could correctly identify a Thought Police, you didn’t have to write the essay at all.

So who were the Thought Police? They were other members of my senior class. My fellow students, and you know what? I was one of them.

I was a Thought Police. The very first day the game started, I got the email. To be a Thought Police and stay a Thought Police, you had to turn in at least five rule breakers each night. I didn’t like it. I didn’t like the idea of turning my friends in for silly rules. I’m a loyal person, not a snitch. The idea of turning my friends in and increasing their essay word count felt like betrayal to me. I wanted to decline. I didn’t want to be viewed as the ‘bad’ Thought Police, but then I realized something. If I became a Thought Police, then there would be one less for my friends to worry about. If I declined, the job would go to someone who would likely be more than happy writing me and my friends up for breaking the rules. So, I accepted with the vow that I wouldn’t rat out anyone I considered a friend.

Yet, I had to be careful. I couldn’t let anyone know I was a Thought Police else I would have to write the essay. Thought Police had different rules from normal students. If you got outed, you wrote the essay with the word count to however many rules you broke. If no one pegs you as a Thought Police, you’re off the hook. You write nothing. I remember the day before the game started. My classmates were either hoping to become Thought Police-or making alliances to out the Thought Police. No one wanted to write the essay no matter how long their word count was. I knew when I became a Thought Police I had to be EXTREMELY careful.

I lost count of how many times I lied to my best friends about being a Thought Police. I remember being in my history class with two of my animal science friends. We agreed we would look out for each other. We’d be the three musketeers against the Thought Police. Help each other out them so we wouldn’t have to write the essay. I felt terrible. Here I was, a wolf among sheep. Neither of them suspected me. They broke rules right in front of me, and it was my obligation as a Thought Police to turn them in. But, they were my friends. I took the job to protect them.

I wish I could say I soared through that week without anyone realizing I was a Thought Police, but one of my friends did figure it out. He cheated, really. We were outside of school, in church, and he asked me. Of course, you can’t lie in church, so I had to tell him the truth. Thankfully, he promised not to out me as long as I racked up the essay word count on a different student. That other student was a bit of a bully to my friend, so I obliged.

Throughout the week, more Thought Police were added to up the stakes. The list of rule breakers grew over a page each day. One of my best friends came to me in English class a few days into the game and admitted she became a Thought Police the night before. She said she had no intention of writing me or our other friends up for breaking the rules, but she wanted me to help keep an eye out for other rule breakers. I could’ve admitted my guilt to her. Told her I was a Thought Police too since she was trusting me with the knowledge of her being one, but I didn’t. I played the part of an innocent non-Thought Police because I didn’t want to be overhead by potential eavesdroppers. My friend bought it, and I informed her of all the students I saw breaking rules. Students I turned in as well. Students that were not my friends.

It was a fun week, playing Thought Police, but I remember being thankful when it was over. No more lying, no more sneaking about, and no more trying not to get caught breaking rules. I remember when the list finally went up outing all the Thought Police. I lost count of how many of my friends and fellow students got mad at me seeing my name up there. No one had a clue I was a Thought Police. Which meant no one turned me in so I didn’t have to write the essay (and my word count definitely reached over 3000).

As good as it felt to get away with being a Thought Police, it bugged me when my friends didn’t believe why I did it. I told them I did it for their sake. I didn’t write any of them up, but I got a lot of doubt in return. I then, found out one of my close friends was also a Thought Police. I had broken a rule right in front of her and she wrote me up for it. If she was willing to do that to me, then others believed I would do it too. I’ll admit I was hurt. The loyalty I felt toward my friends didn’t quite go both ways, but I wouldn’t change how I handled that week. I got away with being a Thought Police and I stayed true to my friends. That’s a victory in my eyes.

Hard to believe it’s been over ten years since then. It makes me think of all those stories where someone plays the bad guy for the sake of good. You see it in Star Wars, in Harry Potter, and much more. Those characters always get a bad rap. Their friends and family hate them because they “betrayed” them, when in reality, they did it for them. I got a little taste of it with our Nineteen Eighty-Four game.

That’s what I think of when I recall a time no one believed me. What about you?

Tribute to Songs

Owed to the boat built in sand, believing for rain
To the ones who touched and went their separate ways
To the one saying “Hello Darkness, my old friend.”
And those dubbed Unforgiven
To the reminder to serve while in the waiting
Knowing I just haven’t seen it yet.
To little miss one big mess and never rest
And the ones asking why you’re so mean
To the one who feels like a Monster
And the one falling through the black
To the one who just needs a reason
To finally come back
To the group who’s not going to die
Because it’s too good to be alive
To the ones in shame
Never to be called babe
And the ones accidentally falling in love
To the Renegade, running away
And the one who wants to be known for centuries
To the one at the mirror, asking who’s the loneliest
And the warrior who only wants what’s just
And most importantly to the Unstoppable One
Making a way
And let me just be proud to say
To my main character, he’s mine. That one
Got a wild-hair side and handsome
He’s fooling himself and he doesn’t believe it
But he’s got everything he needs to achieve it
And we wait, serve, and believe
For our dreams to finally be achieved