They found Mr. Brown underneath the stage among the props with his throat cut. It was a shame, someone (no one was very clear, later, who it was) remarked in the shocked silence, to spoil his silk bow tie.
The Witches had run on ahead, as every female in The Groundlings Theater Company knew about Mr. Brown’s little love nest under the stage. They’d all been invited there. Some had avoided, and some had acquiesced; the size of ensemble roles reflected, in varying shades, the color of their commitment to Sacrificing for their Art.
He had pushed a chaise lounge (used in a production of Private Lives, and still quite nice, really,) into a small alcove made by pushing various bits of scenery and props to the sides to create walls. No one could picture Mr. Brown doing such menial work, so there’d been a betting pool going around as to whether he would hire some of the stage hands for renovations.
It was a shame, one of the women remarked (no one would say whom), that the killer hadn’t used poison, as there was a nice open bottle of wine sitting ready to hand, with one glass half-full, and the other drained.
“But we wouldn’t know, would we, the clever clogs could have used poison, couldn’t ‘e, then slit his throat after. A sort of Red Haddock.” (That was Bessie, Lady Macbeth’s dresser.)
“Herring,” Macbeth’s voice rang out in an authoritative way into the thoughtful silence. He had just roared his way through three hours of Shakespeare, and was most definitely In Voice as a result.
The cast looked to him as he cleared his throat in a decisive way. “Right, then. Someone must ring the police.”
They shrank back from him a bit. His face, still streaked with blood from his battle with MacDuff, gleamed in a sinister way, lit from below by the flickering candles. He eyed the candles, noting that they were burning quite low- Mr. Brown must have lain here for some time – and snatched one up, snuffing out the other.
“The police?” One of the witches,Witch Three perhaps, whispered.
“He’s very obviously been murdered. It’s what one does, you know.”
“No- ring the police. And don’t touch anything. It is all evidence now. Don’t you read novels?”
So back upstairs they trudged, still in costume, the men clanking in mismatched (looks fine under stage lights) armor and the ladies in either quasi-medieval drapery (gentlewomen) or dyed cheesecloth rags (witches), a ragtag bunch with a strange solidarity.
“She isn’t here,” Witch One hissed to Witch Two.
“She wouldn’t be, would she. Superstitious. Always goes back up after her death, and waits for her notes to be given private-like, in her dressing-room.” They nodded to each other, worried faces conveying a proprietary air. This was their Lady, and though she had strange superstitions, her mad scene brought the house down night after night. Allowances must be made. “Nervy,” they had called her, not without a certain pride.
Murmuring among themselves, they sat on the stage, where they were most comfortable. The ghost light was switched on, making interesting shadows as they settled themselves down on the handy bits of scenery, fallen rocks and trees turning into perfect picnic spots with the addition of bedraggled blankets someone (probably Banquo) had dragged up from the storage room. Props puttered over to make a pot of tea, and it became positively festive. They talked among themselves in low voices, for all the world like a murder of crows settling in for a coze, their eyes continually darting to Macbeth, who had his mobile clamped to his ear.
“You’d think in a poky place like Bangor, the police would be leaping on the phone,” Lady Macduff began, only to be shushed fiercely as the quacking of a nasal voice from the mobile indicated the line had been picked up at last.
In a few curt sentences, Macbeth explained their predicament. They all listened, reaching for biscuits and sipping their tea, heads nodding in support, no doubt taking notes on his delivery to help him later.
He hung up and sighed, tucking his mobile away in the empty sheath that hung from his belt. (No telling where his sword had gone, Props thought resignedly.)
“Who’ll go fetch her?” He said heavily.
Everyone looked to Bessie.
“Oh, must I?” she quavered. No one knew how old Bessie was, exactly; she was strong as an ox and stubborn as a steam train, but had a certain knack for appearing frail when things were asked of her that she didn’t wish to do. One can’t hang about the theater for decades, even backstage, without picking up some acting skills, it seemed.
No one said a word; they lifted teacups to lips to hide their smiles, and munched their biscuits, eyes wide and waiting.
“OH, all right. For heaven’s sake. The poor lamb has had two performances today, and she outdid herself in that last one, if it is me who says it. Who cares what I think, I’m just a dresser, just lays her things out as she likes ‘em, makes sure her binocs is ready so she can be with her birds before curtain, irons the paper so she can read her horoscope of a morning; if it weren’t for me, the poor mite would be all over nerves, you all know she can’t perform unless she has her little rituals.” They nodded in time with the speech, having heard it many times before. It didn’t really lose anything in the retelling; that was the thing about theater traditions, they gave one a safe feeling.
Bessie gave one last glare around the company, muttering to herself “Smug as an alley full of cats outside an Italian restaurant,” and heaved herself to her feet, shaking off Prompt, who had reached out an arm to help her.
Of course they all knew who did it, but one mustn’t spoil the show. Not a single person looked at Macbeth, who sat contentedly sipping his tea with the air of a man who has done a job, and done it well.
Off Bessie clomped; they could hear each step as she climbed the stairs to the Lady’s dressing room, muttering to herself all the while. They heard the door open (wonderful acoustics in this old theater; really, most wonderful!) and, clear as a bell, the Lady’s gasp as Bessie gave her the news. That gasp was well done, Prompt murmured, and they nodded appreciatively. Quite well done indeed.
An unfamiliar sound broke upon them. They blinked as if coming awake from a nice dream as the house door opened, spilling moonlight that was bright enough to pick out worn patches in the red velveteen seats and curtains. Jones-the-Law stood for a moment silhouetted in the doorway. They shivered deliciously at the effect (if only there had been a clap of thunder! Sound thought wistfully). Jones-the-Law brought with him the smell of the outdoors, the sea air; nostrils flared and the company drew together slightly, closing ranks.
One of his shoes squeaking accompaniment, a rousing Lilliputian bagpipe, he walked toward them up the aisle. “Coming straight through the house, just like audience,” someone tittered, quickly shushed, as he climbed the side steps to the stage to stand before them, flipping to a blank page in his notebook, pencil at the ready.
Just then, the Lady joined them. Her hands were still slightly reddened; never could quite get the stage blood off in time, you see, they explained, voices overlapping, as she blinked at him, white with shock. Bessie and Macbeth helped her to a chair.
It was a quick change, someone was explaining. One minute she’s telling Macbeth to wash his hands, and oh, you should see them standing there, sir, their hands dripping! It’s a sight to send chills up the spine; they were that good, sir, really they were – the next minute, she’s got to come out again with clean hands. Theater magic, sir. It wasn’t as important for Macbeth to get his hands clean… the explainer trailed off in confusion. They fidgeted, looking everywhere but at Jones. He sighed.
His bright eyes darted around the company, noting reddened hands, costumes smeared with blood. He pushed his hastily-donned helmet back to give his forehead a good rub as they began interrupting each other, jigsawing together a story that didn’t really surprise him. Truth was, he had just been sitting down to his late supper, and hadn’t much liked Mr. Brown, anyway. He’d had so many reports on the man – watched women, he did. A regular peeping Tom. Bird watcher. Jones’ lip curled as he listened. Sounded like Mr. Brown had been at his antics again, no doubt threatening one of the young ladies with firing if she didn’t warm his chaise lounge for him. Really not the sort of thing they wanted in Bangor, and a good riddance to him.
Jones came back to himself with a start as he heard something new. “Dead birds?” he asked, “Horoscope?”
“Yes – terrible,” Bessie rushed to explain. “She’s a gentle soul; doesn’t ask for anything really, no trouble at all.” She looked fondly at Lady Macbeth, who seemed to be in a state of exhaustion, her pale skin stretched taut over the delicate bones of her face. Bessie took one limp, reddish hand and patted it soothingly.
“She has little rituals she needs before curtain. Comes in for breakfast of a morning. I make her coffee and set out an egg and toast soldiers. She’s got her binoculars. She’s as good as a lamb, really, peaceful, watching her birds in the yard out her dressing room window.” She beamed at Jones as though it all made perfect sense.
“We found it’s the best way to get some food down her, poor mite, or she’d waste away to nothing from nerves.”
“Something happened this morning?” Jones prompted.
A shudder rippled through the company. Jones felt it, more than saw it. They drew closer together.
“Yes.” The one word rapped out of Bessie’s mouth like gunfire. Her muscles grew taut; she was a lioness, defending her cub.
“Someone introduced cats into the yard, and when the poor thing took up her binocs…”
“Death,” everyone looked at Lady Macbeth as the word came out of her in a horrified whisper. “Feathers everywhere, blood, the yard full of them – they’ll never sing again, my lovely, lovely birds,” and with that, shudders seemed to wrack her small frame in its bloodstained nightgown.
Bessie took the Lady into her arms, glaring fiercely over her head at the hapless Jones.
“You can see she can’t have done it. She were onstage, acting her broken heart out. Two performances she gave today, even with her little friends lying dead all over the yard, and that horrible horoscope!”
“Horoscope?” asked Jones.
A rusty little laugh came from under Bessie’s arm, and the Lady’s muffled voice faltered, “If it weren’t for the horoscope, he needn’t have died,” and she laughed again. Bessie shushed her and buried the glossy chestnut mop of hair deeper underneath her chin, stroking the hair with one strong, gentle hand.
“Horoscope?” Jones repeated, feeling like an idiotic parrot. All this talk of birds.
“Found it in her dressing room, and her, poor lamb, in hysterics. Mild hysterics, ladylike,” she corrected herself, crooning a bit to the brown head cuddled against her vast bosom.
“Aquarius, she is,” put in Prompt, and was silenced by a fierce look from Bessie. This was Bessie’s time now, her stage, and she’d turn toes up herself before she’d let anyone else have it.
“Yes, Aquarius. Sensitive-like, you know. She needs to read her horoscope of a morning; it helps her feel how her performance is going to go.”
“Only Mr. Brown found out,” Witch Two said darkly, and Bessie kissed the top of the glossy brown head she cradled and nodded for her to continue.
Witch Two cleared her throat nervously. “Mr. Brown found out, and he used it, you see. Everyone knew, but she wouldn’t believe it. She said it was from the stars, but Mr. Brown bribed Jones-the-News to let Mr. Brown write a horoscope. Aquarius, you see.” She faltered to a stop feeling she could have said that better; Witches One and Three patted her supportively, and she turned a becoming bright pink.
“He…wrote them himself?”
“Aye, that’s it,” they all nodded, delighted as if the clever student had finally learned his sums.
“Said it was to protect the show, you see, to write her lovely things, like. Notes that she would succeed in all she undertook to perform, that sort of thing. Only today’s…”
“Today’s,” The Lady pushed Bessie’s arms gently aside and raised her head, her eyes glowing with indignation, two bright spots of color on her cheeks. For the first time, Jones-the-Law experienced the full force of her personality. What a woman! He thought, and tugged his helmet off to hold it in his hands, turning it round and round as if he were a young bobby on the beat again.
“Today’s was a direct threat. If I didn’t meet him under the stage,” she took a deep breath and her voice grew resonant; he could see now that she’d be a powerful Lady Macbeth –
“More of the birds would die.”
There was silence as the company gazed at her, drawn close together, shoulder to shoulder.
There was a resounding silence as Jones-the-Law looked around at each of the seated figures, and realized they were breathing quietly in unison.
Lady Macbeth sat, wringing her faintly red-stained, lovely white hands in her lap. He had never actually seen a woman wringing her hands before, though all the books talked about it.
“She couldn’t have done it,” Bessie spoke up, her voice breaking the spell that had seemed to fall over the company. They blinked, nodded, sipped tea, rattling packages of biscuits as hands grabbed for the last delicious morsels –
She couldn’t have done it.
She was on stage, you see.
“The whole time?” Jones asked, resigned.
“Yes, yes, the whole time.”
“We all can vouch for her.”
“You all, in fact, can likely vouch for each other?” Jones asked, realizing belatedly that at no point this evening had his notebook come out of his pocket – it was as if they had cast a spell on him, he thought ruefully; he had taken no notes at all.
He didn’t need to see their nodding heads to know they would all vouch for each other’s whereabouts during the time in question.
Must have been a vagabond, someone from outside, someone suggested, and they all joined in gleeful agreement like a demented Greek Chorus.
Jones-the-Law suddenly felt very tired indeed, and his thoughts strayed to his delicious supper, likely grown cold now.
“What will you all do?” He asked.
“Do?” They looked at him in astonishment.
“Why, the show, of course,”
“Yes, the show. It’s really quite good. We are just getting into our stride.”
“By the pricking of my thumbs – something wicked this way comes…” Macbeth whispered, and grinned at Jones-the-Law. “…he’s worth no more. They say he parted well, and paid his score,” he continued, his eyes meeting those of the Lady in a strangely fierce, intimate moment.
“Theater folk,” Jones-the-Law shook his head, squeaking his way back down through the audience (he really must see about some new shoes soon), tucking away the tickets they had pressed upon him. He supposed Maisie would love to come see a show. He turned to look back as he closed the door; they looked back at him, strangely dreamlike in their costumes on that warmly lit stage. Slowly, (Prompt must have exited off stage while he wasn’t looking) the rich red velvet curtain drew to a close with a few dismissive jerks.
He jammed his hands in his pockets to restrain himself from applauding.
“Move your eyes to the three o’clock position, please, outside the green light, into the darkness. Do you see?”
“Yes,” he mumbled. His tongue felt a little heavy, sleepy. It wasn’t bad-
“Good. Now repeat after me: I have no shadow.”
“Don’t want to.”
“You must.” the voice held a crack in it now, like the sound of a hand slapping water. Peter flinched.
“You chose this, Peter.”
“Didn’t. Sez you.”
“Yes, you came in one day, and may I tell you, you were a much more appealing specimen than you are in at this present moment.” The sound of papers shuffling. A Susurration, Peter’s mind supplied. He liked that word. A throat cleared. How many of them were there?
He sat in a hard chair, his chin resting on the velvet edge of a black box open on one side. He looked into it- why, it’s just like a theatre, he thought, and chuckled softly. A theatre for his head only.
“I’m not sure what’s so amusing, Peter, would you care to share it with us?”
Peter rolled his eyes. The inside of the box was black, save for a bright circle of light across from his eyes. Today the color they’d chosen was green. It wasn’t unpleasant to look into, so that was a relief, at least.
How long had he been here?
Oh. They had asked him a question. “Theatre, sir.”
“Hm. Okay. Are your eyes in the 3 o’clock position?”
Repeat after me, Peter. “I have no shadow.”
“I have no shadow.”
“I am the best there is, there is no one like me.”
“Feels so stupid.”
“PETER!” cracked the voice. Slap of hand on water. “Say it. Now.”
“I’m the best there is, there’s no one like me.” Peter’s cheeks heated. God, this was so dorky. He shifted. His chair creaked. Cheap jerks.
The voice took on a soothing tone. “I need to crow.”
“Oh my Gosh,” said Peter,
then a hand actually slapped the table beside him, and he jumped, his chin jostling the velvet.
“Okay. I need to…crow. God.”
They continued like this until Peter stopped fighting, and let himself slip into the soothing space of no-space. His chin was comfortable on the velvet. The green light was soothing in his eyes. If the words meant nothing and he just shaped what the man said, he could sort of sleep. They had him move his eyes to the 9 o’clock position, and that was a bit of a pain, but then he could settle in again and relax.
“I have no shadow. I’m the best there is. I’ve got to crow. I can fly.”
It didn’t matter, did it? Just stupid stuff. Theatre, that’s all.
At night, he slept on a small cot in a room that contained only the cot and himself. He could gaze up through a window set very high in the cinderblock wall, and through the lattice of bars, he could see the blue-black night sky, and the stars winking gently at him. Sometimes, there was a moon – oh, she was golden bright! And those nights, it was a little harder to sleep.
That’s all he wanted, in every bone – sleep. Sleep.
It was only on moonlit nights he would have been able to see that his shadow was disappearing. But he was asleep, so he never saw it. Then, one day, (on his fourteenth birthday, as it happened, but he didn’t know that-) it disappeared.
The words slipped easily off his tongue now. They felt good, actually. He noticed that the people in the room seemed happy when he enjoyed the words. Sang them, crowed them, even.
“Good, Peter, very good.” there was a smile in the voice. He liked that much better than the slap of hand on water sound of anger. But he hadn’t heard that in … he wasn’t sure how long.
Time didn’t really mean anything.
He was sure he must have eaten, and …you know, used the toilet.. but he couldn’t remember.
He couldn’t remember what he looked like. Was that important?
All that mattered was that the movements in the room behind and around him while he sat in the chair were pleased. He could hear their breathing; he could imagine their smiling. He started to get more elaborate. It was a theatre for his head, after all-
He imagined them, one day, handing him an award.
“You’re the best there is, Peter, there’s no one like you.” People clapped and cheered for him, in his visions. He couldn’t see their faces, but that didn’t matter at all. The award mattered – it was solid and heavy in his hands.
“I can fly,” he said, happily.
He didn’t notice when he got bigger, or the chair got smaller.
He didn’t notice when his voice deepened.
He noticed when they were pleased, and he noticed when the very air around him held the hush of disappointment.
But he was the best there is, he’d rail in his head, they couldn’t possibly be disappointed in HIM.
One day, on the day everything changed, they simply turned him out. “Good job, Peter, it’s time for us to move on to the next.”
“What…wha?” He had been so enjoying his new rhyme, “I can fly, I’m the best/ so much better than the rest, I can fight/ I can’t grow/ ’cause I have no shadow!”
“We’re done with you, Peter. Go to work.”
and the man, whom he could now see for the first time wore a grey suit and had grey hair and grey eyes and a tired, thin smile, shut the door in a wall and that was that.
Peter stood outside.
Eventually, he found his way into the world. That’s another story.
Eventually, he found Wendy – many wendys, if we’re being honest.
“Wendy, tell me I’m the best,” he would plead, tears gleaming in his eyes.
But when one Wendy started to wonder where his shadow was, or why he seemed to be looking through her, never into her eyes, or why he behaved as though he was continually standing on a stage somewhere, waiting, straining his ears for applause, or why he was so impatient with her, or anything to do with her, his behavior snappish and cruel, sometimes, as if he was frantic for her to be silent, because he might miss the sound of the applause –
he’d drop her and find another Wendy. But he had to keep tabs on all the Wendys, as they were strange beings whose hearts, once worn out, would regenerate slowly over time.
Delicious. What he needed the most. Those hearts.
His only requirement was that he had to find ones who were still trapped in childhood too, somehow. Ones who dreamed, or believed, or maybe didn’t feel confident, and the girls who had kind hearts.
“Wendy, tell me I am a hero.”
He knew the time would come when he’d have to make his way back to the building, and pay the men so they’d find young him – at a very young age- and gather him up, and take him to their treatment center.
He wanted that treatment. He was glad for it. It was incredible, being the most amazing – pan- in the world, and being able to fly, and knowing you were the best. Even if it did get a little lonely, as everyone was inferior, and anyway, they all seemed to live outside that velvet box in his head,
it was still the best thing in the world. The very best.
He knew he’d have to go back soon. His time was almost up.
He had to make sure, you see-
that he would never, never grow up.
Sometimes it is as though someone has come and laid an anvil on my chest- foomp. There’s a near-unbearable compression, and it is difficult to breathe under the weight.
As my boy coughs and struggles with the thing growing inside him, choking out his life, I pet his forehead. “Mama’s here,” I say, and he gives me a few threads of a purr and subsides.
He nuzzles my hand. His breathing is labored.
He looks up at me with those innocent, trusting copper eyes of his, and I say, “We’re on a rough road this time, love, but I’m with you every step of the way.”
His chin drops to rest on his paws, and he drifts into sleep, and that anvil comes again to settle on my chest, merciless and unyielding. It’s so damn heavy. How many days, God, I ask-
but this grief is clean. The last and most recent loss was tangled; a devious, impure, cruel, dark monstrosity of a toxic Mirkwood forest, and it needed a fucking forest fire to clear it from my life. The loss was better than that thing that grew, then, a thing I deliberately built with love and pure intention, or so I thought. The pain there was good, because the thing itself was a growth just like the one killing my beloved boy.
There are good losses, and then there is this-
Self-abandonment, caretaking others at the expense of self, oh yes, I did that in my past unknowingly. Now, I do it intentionally.
Every time he chatters or cries, I drop whatever it is I’m doing – anything at all- to find him. “Mama’s here,” I say, because it calms him, and because it’s all I can do.
He ate voraciously tonight- the thing inside him demands more food, and I swear, if someone told me: “take this scalpel. You have to cut into him, and it will hurt your little love, and he will cry and not know why you’re hurting him. It will hurt you worse. You’ll bear the scars for the rest of your days, but there’s a slight chance you can cut out that thing that is clawing through his chest, crowding his lungs and devouring his life; there’s a chance you can get it out if you are fierce and brave enough, if you do not hesitate-
I would do it. I would not hesitate.
I don’t cry.
I sing to him because he loves it, and I read a daily card of loving words and affirmations, chosen at random. “It’s time for our card,” I say to him. He likely knows one word in thirty, but he watches my face intently and purrs until his fur vibrates.
Somewhere in my chest, there’s a bewildered grizzly bear howling in pain, striking out blindly, with no idea where the source of its agony can be found. It tears its way around, under my ribs, up to my throat, sometimes into my stomach, and I’m not sure how many more blows I can hold until its claws break through my skin.
I can see future me, now- she’s in my apartment too. Sometimes she’s hazy, like a shadow, or like she’s on the other side of a fog that’s slowly clearing; other times, she’s so clear, I can almost hold her hand. Her arms are empty of his weight forever. She can no longer smell the sweet smell of his forehead.
I can almost reach her when it’s 3 am, and I’ve awakened to the sound of the coughs that wrack his small frame. I can almost touch her hand, then. I feel how empty her chest is- it’s been torn open by the bear- and I lean over, touching my nose to the whisper-soft fur beside his ears, and I breathe in the sweet new-hay smell of him. I feel his breath on my neck, each tiny puff so infinitely precious.
I have lived a double life for six months or longer, hollow, savage with grief. I have mustered my energy to go be around people, laugh and play, then I’ve come home and collapsed like a marionette with my strings cut. I haven’t spoken outside the walls of therapy or a few- very few- close soul friends, the closest of the close, about what kind of torment I have endured for years. What I’ve concealed. What I’ve protected and taken on myself. What I forced myself to believe; toxicity made a liar of me.
But now, I can’t run.
Loss is inside my home, and I don’t even know how long this will go on.
But future me has no more days left. This innocent boy, who has gazed into my eyes with love and trust for fourteen years, is gone forever from her world, so she looks at me with hollow eyes and empty arms and bereft heart from the other side of a hazy wall that is growing thinner by the hour. I can hear her now, she’s close enough – “hold him,” she says, “hold him for me.”
And I do.
I tell him I love him so often;
I remember a past human “love” who was deliberately stingy with the word “love”- who said, “if you say it too often, it loses its meaning,”
and I think, no. He’s got it all wrong, and he’s missing out. Because, while love is infinite, the ability to connect is finite – There will come a day – it marches toward me with jackboots- ruthless and inevitable, clack, clack- I can hear it in every labored moment his lungs struggle, bubbling with poison, to take in the precious air-
There will come a day when I won’t ever be able to say it to him again, so it gains meaning every time I say it. Every time I am able to. It is the richest thing in my life, to be able to tell this sweet angel how much I love him, and how grateful I am that he chose me. Saying these things to him feels almost self-indulgent, luxurious, as vital to me right now as the food I can’t seem to swallow.
I see it in future me, on the other side of the smoky haze. She’s drawing even closer now, and I see her reach toward me, closing her eyes that will never be delighted by his sweet face again and moving her lips with me soundlessly as I say it to him for her,
“I love you,”
and I think she can hear his answering purr,
and I feel his trust and love as his sweet furry little face slips into my palm to nuzzle me,
and I think maybe she’s a little comforted.
We called ourselves The Lost. There was no mending our breaks; even I, timeless, didn’t know where the horrors began. Who remembers the early days of childhood? All we had was darkness; everything in our world was smoke. Despair smells like this: sweet, cloying, close, and never-ending. Only the broken shards of sunlight on the floor filtering through the cracks in worn floorboards let us know the time was passing, day waning into night. In the shifting, dim world of the room below the tavern, the men we served were trapped in prisons of their own- lying on the floor or sitting on their red cushions, they’d be away in opium dreams, their bodies left behind, tossed any which way like foul-smelling luggage. They weren’t really our jailers, though.
He was: Master Hooke. We just called him the Master. He wasn’t always here-some days, he’d lock us in, and wander the streets with his cart, honing blades and mending metal, a front for his real, hidden trade. Smuggling trade. He traded in secrets, he traded in opium, and other things: lives. He had taken us from lanes where we played, from prams while our nannies were too busy chatting with their friends to hear a sharp wail, abruptly cut off.
The rift between what might have been and what actually is sounds like a single child’s cry, and is a vast chasm, too wide to cross. I think about them sometimes: my lost family. I dream of climbing in the windows of the safe, comfortable homes, searching for the right home. I’ll fly on silent feet, unseen, through attics and cracks in the wainscoting; through every firelit living room, past the sleeping children in their nurseries, until I find them. They’ll take my shadow self and sew it to the real-boy me, who has perhaps been living with them all along; then I’ll be flesh and color again, warm and alive.
When the Master went to bed, when all grew quiet and we had nothing but our thoughts, the terror set in. Even I felt it clutching my throat like a crocodile that wouldn’t let go. My fear was for them. It always will be. Thinking of how we were all trapped here in this dark place, my heart would pound so fast, I would have to tell the other kids stories so they wouldn’t hear it. Stories brought sanity. Tales of sunlight and kids like us playing games in the park, cookies and tea…the dreams I spun had no danger and no end. We needed those stories. We huddled together for warmth, the smell of terror as familiar as the sound of our breathing. As I told the stories I could feel them shift against me in unison, the ocean sound of their breath a soothing backdrop. Over the months, my stories began to take the shape of the sea. The sea, far away from our shadowy world with the jobs that were a waking nightmare.
Why don’t you get more comfortable? This might take awhile. I’ve not told anyone this before; it was so very long ago.
We served as errand boys, pipe boys, and scrubbers- that’s what we called the littlest kids, the kids who had to clean up the customers who had been in their dreams for too long, or tell the Master when it was time to clear away the bodies of the ones who had died.
We were taught how to take the lumps of precious, amber-colored stuff around and hold it over a flame just right, a luminous, glowing jewel skewered on the end of a pin. Sweet, dreaming, death-road. Taught how to ignore the pleading from men who could not afford any more, who watched the opium shrinking with panicked eyes, counting the dreams they had left.
Yes, the Master had come into our lives one day and ripped us away from our families. All except Belle, who was probably born in the Opium den, or traded very early by a father who could not afford to buy his dreams in any other way.
Belle, pretty Belle, lost in a dream- Tinker’s daughter. That’s all she would say: “I’m the Tinker’s daughter.” Then she’d laugh her musical, lilting laugh and say “Tinker Belle, Tinker Belle.” She spoke in riddles and rhymes, when she spoke at all. Pretty, fragile Belle, smallest of us all; shining Belle who grew silent- not a word will she speak now. Belle, Belle. Pretty Belle, lost in a dream. Belle had been brought up on the stuff- opium. She just wasn’t there anymore. We tried to protect her, but she followed the Master like his shadow, flitting around him, no matter how harshly he cursed her away.
The Lost. I made it up; I thought if we had a name and a purpose, we could survive. Together, we could be stronger. It began so long ago, you see. Before telephones. Before they put our pictures on milk cartons and somehow guessed our name: 1-800-The-Lost. I was mighty chuffed when I first started seeing that, let me tell you. I knew then that I could never stop my work, because there were people out there who understood. There were helpers somewhere.
We couldn’t fend off the beatings, but we could hold the broken one afterward. We could talk at night in the basement, a ring of dirty, pale faces lit by a single candle stub. Our words and stories were balm, and gradually the eyes around me in the flickering light reflected a new thing: hope.
Down in the cellar where we met at night, we had found tunnels under the stones- tunnels where the opium was smuggled. It waited there in large chests; hunks of gleaming amber resin, waiting to take people away – it slept in blocks, to be scraped into pipes- sweet, lingering poison.
That night, the night I changed, the full moon was the color of bones. It slanted bright daggers into the room, through the broken floorboards of the room above, through the barred windows, making shadow-crosses on the floor.
Master Hooke grabbed me; his hard hand circled my entire upper arm, a stone vise. “So, you want to hold meetings in my cellar, boy?” he rasped. “Let us do so, then. Come along.” My feet slipped on the stairs and he lifted me up, my feet stumbling on wooden stairs and air. “Pete, you can fly,” he laughed, and threw me to the stone floor and filled me with smoke,
filled me with smoke -you can fly you can fly you can- he knew I was their hope, you see.
He filled me- filled me with other things- needles like crocodile teeth – I fought it; I fought him.
I fought until my arm became a sword, until the ground went away and I was flying,
I was on the sea. I could smell it, salty, bitter, the metal tang of rusting sword and sea. And blood. I was fighting, but I couldn’t see him any more. I heard his boots, and the slamming of the door.
No sound, just the shushing of the sea. Hushing in and out, and a tick tock; a loud, pounding tick tock.
Tick tock – it hurt; I was afraid.
crocodile? Clock. It slowed. I was safe. It was slower, it was going away.
I heard Belle scream, “No!”
Belle came out of her dream- I have never heard her sound like that.
Perhaps she heard the clock and it woke her up-
slower now, more slowly still, tick…tock; I waited for the next sound anxiously.
“Peter, it’s your heart – Peter!” Belle battered at the door, clawed until her nails were gone, fingers bleeding.
Then she got clever- think like Master Hooke- and she found the key.
She came to me, Belle, clear as the last light of the sun, a tiny golden fury breaking into my dream.
Belle screamed, “Peter,” and slapped me. My head flew to the side; I watched her from the ceiling. Couldn’t she see me flying up there? Didn’t she know I was discovering how to be never-ending? “Peter!” She slapped me again. “Listen to me. You will die. you must wake up- try. You have to fight.” She called me back to her, our dreaming Belle. She said, “Peter. Clap. Clap your hands.”
I saw my body’s hands twitch, but they didn’t move. How funny, she couldn’t see the real me up there by the ceiling. Look at me, Belle, look up here!
She kept crying, “Clap them. clap your hands. I will die unless you clap them. Save me, Peter.” How did she know? Could any of us have predicted? Pretty Belle, leading the way to Never never land. I fought then, I fought. The more I clapped, the more I woke up. I was a shadow now, though, and real-boy me was still dreaming with a silly smile on his face.
I was so busy looking at myself, I didn’t see- we never heard the Master’s silent feet. Belle, behind you. Belle, he’s behind you. She can’t hear me, now. I didn’t see him- just
-heard the blow. Heard it when – oh, Belle- a dull, wet smack; her head moved sharply to the right, golden hair flying in a last dance. She made a soft sound, her breath coming in as though she was going to speak, and her eyes went blank. Pretty Belle, never to age, her light gone out.
She saved me. She saved us, and still – still – when we meet in the cellar by candlelight, in the new faces of the newly lost, and the familiar faces of the ageless boys, I see her light. It’s hope – she gave us that.
I guide them out of this place, but I always return, because this is my task. Belle will never leave either – Master buried her in the cellar where the smuggling tunnels are. He took up the stones and buried her, then he put them back again – I don’t know where real-boy me went; I covered my eyes as he slowly put the heavy stones back again. Belle’s grave is marked with candle wax, and the ashes of my life that might have been. I mustn’t talk like this. They are depending on me.
Things have changed so much. The roads, the cars, the phones, and our name on milk cartons; but the look in the children’s eyes hasn’t changed. The way they gather close when I tell the stories hasn’t changed, either. I vow this: through the centuries, the children will come to Never never land when grown-ups fail to protect them. When grown-ups hurt them. I will always be waiting to bring the Lost children home.
And now, for something completely different.
I am rewriting someone else’s book, so I decided to come here for a moment, and tell you what I’ve learned about how to go about the revision.
I find it really effective.
First, you’ll need 11 colors of sticky notes. YES, ELEVEN. I am doing this particular job with only seven.
Second, you’ll need to print out four copies of the book.
I’m only printing out one, as this is a short book, and I feel I can read my own writing. haha. (we’ll see if I regret that.)
You’re going to take a color of sticky note, and read through it with one focus each time, per color.
First read: mark the things you like. Moments that speak to you. Moments the voice feels strong, the story coherent; whatever your reason, just mark them. If you have moments later on (you will) of feeling discouraged, you can come back and look at these things you’ve marked.
Second read: take another color, and mark the things you do not like. Look for places where the storytelling falls flat, there’s too much explanation, exposition that doesn’t arise out of action, stilted language flow, voice not matching character, character’s voices sounding too alike.
Third read through: Mark big picture issues.
Fourth: mark craft issues
Fifth: mark flow issues
GENRE: Mark everything that doesn’t suit the requirements of your genre. (this does *not necessarily fall into a rewrite, as sometimes we can blend genres or break the rules, but we really have to be aware we’re breaking them, and do it wisely.*)
Conflict & tension: a sense of urgency drives ALL fiction, regardless of genre. Especially these days, we need to write everything as though it is a thriller, and make sure readers want to keep turning the page. Mark places where the air goes out of the scene, or where you make a predictable choice.
In your structure, make sure the story has a thread, a through line that drives the reader through the story.
keep things personal. Exploit your character’s weaknesses and feelings.
Add time pressure, if you can.
Add a sticky note where you feel you can create more urgency.
Clear Conflict/ Dilemma: Describe it in one or two sentences. Write it down on a post-it and mark the book in the color you choose as soon as that conflict appears. If the note doesn’t show up until a quarter of the way through, revise it to be sooner.
the “holy grail” must become increasingly difficult for the characters to attain.
PLOT: take a sticky note and summarize plot twist. mark the places where this occurs.
Character: don’t let one character have the upper hand all the way through. who are the main characters, and what do they want? What is in their way? What are they willing to do to attain what they want?
MOTIVATIONS: mark spots where this shows up, and see how you can make it more clear.
Scene: if you come across a scene that does not add to or move the plot forward, mark it
Dialogue: characters must have different voices, motivations, points of view, reactions,
another read through: Bring your characters to life:
give us first impressions.
add small details (glance at the watch, etc) that capture important details of character in the way they react to things. What they say or don’t say.
more sticky notes: mark sections where you dump a character’s history and CUT THEM ALL. Instead, add a sentence or two, tops, and only if it’s important.
Think about your relationship with your reader as a new relationship – one in which you would not discuss your exes, being a savvy and caring person who wants to keep your new relationship a healthy one. You’d only mention things about your exes *if it somehow applied to your current relationship, or was something your new love needed to know.* don’t jeapordize your relationship with your readers by dumping character details on them!
rather than telling, show who they are in how they interact or react. And taking a reaction as an excuse to dump “this reminded her of the time her father…” blah blah is HORRIBLE – just don’t do it.
make sure the details make your characters relatable. Not every character can be the best, the youngest, the top, the smartest…we hate them already.
Take more post-its and find spots where you can add depth to your character.
more post – its: hunt down stereotypes and get rid of them, revise them, or use them to your advantage.
Something has to affect the characters in order to make them do something. MOVE THAT PLOT.
Another color: normal world. Do you have it? Mark it.
Inciting Incident? Mark it.
Middle: do events deepen the conflict?
Is there a mirror moment/ point of no return/ all or nothing? Mark it
A dark moment when all seems lost? “Pinch point” – mark it. if you don’t have it, mark that TOO.
Do events speed up or delay the moment of conflict?
END: is it in line with the setup in the beginning?
Is it in line with the character’s motivation?
If it is a happy ending, did you have a moment in the middle where all seemed lost?
If it is a tragic ending, did you have a moment in the middle where all seemed settled and won?
Main plot ought to be able to be summarized in cause and effect.
Fiction is not haphazard as life is.
so. Steps 1-4
5) tighten manuscript : 80,000 words – 100,000. for YA, 60,000.
if manuscript is 20k off, trim it.
Take out post-its and find things to cut. Are you getting to the point as efficiently as possible?
-Make us wait for revealing character’s background/ story until it is relevant.
– Until it is relevant, show it slightly in behavior.
CUT: transitions/ detailed background information:
*no history lessons, and no science lessons!
Do your worldbuilding within scenes. With action.
Don’t introduce or lead into every scene. Begin and end in the middle, it creates momentum.
Skip descriptions of the mundane.
Make sure every scene contributes to overall plot & conflict.
AVOID purely transitional dialogue to put information forward.
Hunt down non-dialogues and mark them to be cut.
Tension is vital. Characters can argue, tease, flirt, etc… just don’t let them stand around explaining things to each other.
MARK ALL ADVERBS AND PASSIVE VOICE.
Whose story is it?
How might the reader relate to the character? Intimately, or from the outside?
First person: World through the character’s eyes.
Third: we see the world over the character’s shoulder
Omniscient: as a reader, we don’t identify, but remain at a distance.
There are shades of these, but I don’t feel like writing about them, as this is already too long! ( Do you see why I rarely edit my blog? xD)
Don’t break POV. Don’t show things the character couldn’t possibly know, if you are in first person. Mark all places this kind of thing happens.
Don’t confuse 3rd person and omniscient: don’t “head jump” from character to character. If you are in omniscient, you CAN’T share the characters’ thoughts.
Mark slip-ups with yet more sticky notes! These slip-ups hide, so go carefully here.
7) VOICE & STYLE
the narrator is NOT the same as you.
It’s a voice, a stance you take to tell the story.
Writing style must serve the story. Mark any place where the language is more YOU than the narrator.
Use sticky notes to mark where you can improve your imagery. If we are reminded we’re reading a story, we put the book down.
Step 8: Storytelling
You’ve all heard it. “Show, don’t tell.” Observe, rather than comment. Give detail, rather than summarize. BUT if the “showing” is slowing down the pace, tell some things. Tell the things that can be throwaways.
Telling is on-the-nose explanation; showing gives the world in details that allows us to experience it.
Try to involve all our senses in narration. Watch & inhabit the world around the character. Using “dead time” (like at bus stops or something) to do this is a good trick.
Use stickies to mark places where you can add more detail.
Use stickies to mark places where the pacing seems to get bogged down, and needs to speed along.
Steps 9- 10: Structure
9: Read the work out loud to find missing and misspelled words. You’ll notice your “favorite words” that you use too often.
Mark sentences that are just too complicated.
You’ll learn where your language makes music, with variations in sentence and word length, and where it doesn’t.
Check for : characters missing/ descriptions off
Timeline off or not tight enough
Give sense of urgency, again, it needs to sing on every page.
First page needs to foreshadow the last: work on the first page LAST.
step 10: THE BEGINNING
The first page and a half are one unit
The first 30 pages: one unit
First page has to have a “hook”
First 30 have to get the story going and reel us in.
If 30 pages do nothing but explain the premise, REVISE.
The beginning has to firmly ground the character and reader in a time and place, establish and transport us into the world immediately. In the beginning, certain promises are made. Promises of : voice/ genre/ character/ possible goal/quest. We have to be really mindful about breaking these promises, or we risk reader betrayal. It can be done, but it’s a deliberate choice to make.
Urgency drives fiction
Sticky notes are your colorful road map.
Start revision with big picture things, then work your way into the small ones.
Repeat the process until you 1) can’t improve it any more or 2) can’t behave like a human anymore.
I’m sure you’ve heard by now the saying
“What you focus on, grows.”
or “Energy flows where attention goes.”
This is so true. I look back through my blog, and for YEARS – yearsandyearsandyears – I think probably since my self-imposed near-decade of singleladyship ended in around 2009 – I have been focusing on relationship.
Specifically, on what is “broken.” What “isn’t working”
Okay. That’s no longer helpful, so I’m going to close this out with a few final lessons, and shift this huge ocean liner to head toward what is having me wake up each morning with joy bubbling in my heart and soul. It’s got nothing to do with relationships (not romantic ones!) and everything to do with connectedness. With ALL relationships. With life purpose. With the reason I am here in this funny, crazy old life.
But first (the tranya-) the last two lessons (for a while, until there are more…because you know me, I simply cannot stop tinkering and trying to figure out the human psyche. I can’t. We fascinate me so!)
Lesson 1: It isn’t broken.
Oh dear sweet hearrrrrrt … your relationship is not broken.
Whatever we are attracted to, whatever we attract, that person is resonating within our life patterns. We are drawn powerfully to that which we feel we either needed to repair early on, or need to learn. Or maybe it’s familiar. Maybe that person who is “just not that into you” is reflecting the way you feel about yourself, and you need to be more “into you” before you can even accept love! Ever thought about that? If we meet those who truly care about us with a feeling of dismissal or even contempt, and then we find ourselves scrambling after that which rejects us, there’s kiiinnnnnda something important to be learned there. Don’t ya think?
So: say you keep meeting really critical, nitpicky partners, and there’s a small ache in your heart that draws you powerfully to fix, strive, anxiously check, and strive mightily to please that person. Their actions toward you become almost an obsession. Not much else in life seems as important… and then sometimes there’s a powerful flood of goodness when you’re rewarded with a smile or words of affirmation or a gift…well.
It’s not broken. That ache, that pain, that thing that you think only their presence, their happiness can “fix” – if you feel a little pang of incompleteness when that person is distant, and feel a powerful joy when they are happy with you? That’s a signal right there. If you find yourself saying “If he would JUST -” (anything. fill in the blank. For me it was “JUST be honest, present with me, and appreciate what we are and have together” – well that JUST is a reaaaaally tall order, for some people, actually!-) These things are signs that the “incompleteness” is a wound in you, that YOU can heal and make whole.
If you sit with it (Gosh, it hurts – soooooo uncomfortable, because it doesn’t really want to be looked at, you know- it’s like Moaning Myrtle.) sit with it, be with it, and just listen. Put your hand on your heart and say “what do you need?” Learn what it has to teach. Listen to what your heart has to say. That is what is drawing you to someone, if that other person cannot fully be with you for some reason.
You’ve unearthed it! It’s a dark gift, yes, but it’s a very important and life-changing gift. You can now heal it. This was just an example, but you get it, yeah?
How do you heal it?
By making a vision board of love, first of all. What images just have you prickle from head to toe with joy and completeness and the feeling of love and celebration? Don’t overanalyze them- just slap ’em on a vision board, and put it somewhere where you can see it every night and every morning, and for top-up moments when you slip into old habits of “incomplete” feeling. Even say to yourself, aloud “I am so excited to know my love.” Feel it. Believe it. We all deserve wonderful, healthy, loving relationships. There is nothing to stop that from coming into being. You can have that with yourself, first. (I’m not of the school of “you have to love yourself completely before you can love or be loved by someone else,” but I think it sure would bloody help.)
Second: affirmations. Our minds are simple. They actually believe and create what we state. If I say “I am asleep,” I am not kidding you, I fall asleep better than with any sleeping pill.
So if I say “I am in love,” it starts to work. I feel in love. I feel in love with my own life. I’m in the same state being “in love” with someone else gives- I’m deep diving into the beauty of each moment as I’m in it.
Of course we can’t live that way all the time. But wow, does it feel good to be in love.
Try it! “I feel good.” “I am focused.” “I feel all is well.” It just really works for me.
Third: We’ve all heard it a hundred times, but that’s because it’s true: self care. Self care meaning, make yourself some healthy food and enjoy it. Take yourself for a walk. Move your body in the world in whatever way you can move. Meditate. Set a timer for 15 minutes, and clean one part of your house for just that 15 minutes. Make a small promise to yourself, and keep it daily. Give yourself a star on the calendar when you do.
Why? Because it feels good. 🙂
write this on a piece of paper, and stick it on your bathroom mirror. Say it to yourself (out LOUD) every morning:
I love myself.
I believe in myself.
I am capable of achieving any goal I set.
I feel great.
I look great.
Today will be an excellent day!
I could go on and on about this stuff.. but the main thing I am finding really eye-opening and healing right now is the book “Getting Past Your Breakup” by Susan J. Elliott. (there’s also another great one called “Restart Your Heart: how to love like you’ve never been hurt” which is scripture-based, and contains prayers for each day, if that works for you.)
It’s not about forcing yourself to “get over it” or “Forget about it.” In fact, practices of sealing feelings off and shoving them down will actually ensure that they simply do not heal.
No- it’s about transforming it.
It is important to get free and clear, and see what *really* is. This involved, for me, letting go of a “friendship” that was one-sided, and mainly consisted of me being backup emotional support for a vampire.
It’s not easy, and it has to be revisited over and over and over, until it begins to feel like having food poisoning.
I got tired of it, and it began to feel a bit wallow-y and self-indulgent, and I realized I would much rather just go play and enjoy the beautiful sunshiny day – and that’s when I realized, somewhere around December 27, that I was not just going through the motions anymore: that I was healing. That i LOVED my new life. Loved it! That I was able to be present fully with the people who are with me. That I feel easy and open, happy and somewhat excited about all that is showing up in my beautiful, beautiful, life.
(I *strongly* do not advise doing what I did, though, to get here, which is: I took NO time to myself. I did way too many things, until I was so depleted and exhausted, I wound up being ill off and on for two months. DO take some downtime. Do not be afraid: You won’t sink. You won’t be locked in a tower and never able to come out again. It will be okay.)
Do I miss him as a companion in all things? No, actually. No. I am relieved to be free of the exhausting circus.
Do I wish I hadn’t fallen for a web of lies? Yes. Without question.
Do I wish I could Eternal-Sunshine-Of-the-Spotless Mind This person from my brain and existence? Absolutely.
Do I wish my beloved cat were not dying? I sure as HECK do. But these things are what is. My old love has proven himself a complete lie, The Not-So-Greatest Showman, and is gone out of my life, and my cat has a tumor that fills his entire chest, lungs and liver.What, within that, is good and real? What, within that, would be lost unless I can be fiercely present, or gently present, and focused on what IS, rather than howling about what I wish the story looked like?
Oh my gosh, there’s so much. Every morning I get to have with Figaro on the deck in the sun, seeing him bask and purr, luxuriating in a good moment of belly full of delicious food, sunshine and birds singing..I’d miss that entirely if I were railing against the fact that he is dying.
Peace and true, deep joy begin with acceptance of what is.
Connection and Love that has room to breathe and evolve as separate lives begins with forgiveness and true release.
Which leads me to the Second Lesson:
something I had promised last blog post: How to physically heal from the pain of rejection.
Rejection. It feels like a bruise in the heart, doesn’t it? Or maybe tears prickle your eyes, or you gasp, like someone punched you in the solar plexus. However it hits you (even if you go numb/cold and shut down, or feel immediate anger – do know that those reactions are secondary, and are even deeper than the first. These reactions are protections, and the pain will show up for you much later and maybe even come out sideways in behaviors you’re not proud of, unless you’re able to notice your reaction, and name that you feel rejected, and go deal with it. Don’t beat yourself up. Practice noticing.)
Okay. So. However it hits you, don’t do what is called in buddhist teachings “the second arrow.” Do not shoot yourself with “I shouldn’t be hurt by this.” “I’m a grownup.” “It’s nothing. Stop taking it personally…” etc.
Know that it has been proven that the same place in our brains light up as when we have physically injured ourselves. If you sprained an ankle, would you say “I’m a grownup, this should not bother me.” No – you’d assess what needed to be done, and you’d apply remedy. You’d give it some time to heal.
When rejection hurts, here is how we heal the part of the brain that feels injury:
Think of a list of good qualities that you are certain you possess. It *has* to be things you really believe about yourself. (not something like “I’m the most beautiful person in the world.” hyperbole will not work, as our brains simply shut it out.)
Once you have a list of qualities, choose one to focus on, and write a paragraph or two about why this is a good and useful quality to have.
Important: in order for this to work, you actually have to write it with pen on paper. Do not just sit there and think it. Don’t type it. Write it, old school style.
You can write it as a letter to yourself, or you can write it stream-of-consciousness; whatever works for you, as long as you use complete sentences and write it thoroughly.
This has been proven in a scientific study to actually begin to heal the part of the brain that has been injured. Do it as often as you feel you need to. If you keep replaying the rejection moment in your head, it will keep re-injuring. It does diminish over time, but it will take longer if you just keep stomping on that sprained ankle.
There: those are my last two heart lessons for a while. I’m tired… I feel like it’s all become a bit self-indulgent, and I no longer wish to wallow in “what is going wrong?” Because I no longer feel like this mindset is true for me.
I also am feeling like “Romance” for me consists of friendship with physical affection. I’m just not feeling that the other stuff is authentic to me. The height of romance, for me, is knowing someone really well. Glove to my hand. Hand to my glove- whatever. Shared jokes, songs and knowing someone’s love/detests/ texting him when “Africa” is playing on the radio “turn on the radio RIGHT NOW” and having him actually do it and text back “that was so awesome!” THAT is the height of romance to me. 🙂
Now that I am evolving toward health and heart awareness, (guys- news flash – we will *never* be perfect, so don’t wait for it -) I feel I’ll make life partner choices that are in positive alignment. No longer seeking that which needs me to improve! That gave me my momentum in life; working to please, working for that prize of approval gave me my purpose.
Well, whew. Enough of that. I have a different purpose here now.
I LOVE men, don’t get me wrong – I loveeeeeee men. Seeing the ones I care about pleased and happy, hearing that they’re proud of me or glad I’m in their lives will always bring me such a glow. I can’t change that about myself, I simply adore good men!
But my purpose, the one that’s bringing me joy, is to create stories. I spend pretty much every waking moment with a book in my hands, reading (when I’m not doing other life stuff, of course-) and have done since I can remember. I read about three books a week, maybe, minimum.
My passion is fiction. My passion is uncovering things that we humans do that others can read/ watch/ learn from , laugh at, cry with, fall in love with, and just in general be entertained and walk away with the warmth of connection, that we’re all human after all, and maybe having seen something of themselves in my work. Maybe having a new appreciation for their own flaws, a new love-light and compassion to give to their shadow.
This is my drive as an actor, as a writer, and now, as a baby-yoda-filmmaker.
Soooo yeah. this blog is going to take a wee shiftie, but the lessons I learn will still be gifted to you here – they’re just going to be in (hopefully) more entertaining form.
Look…I have two agents waiting so fracking patiently for my stuff. I have to get the fiction out there. I hope you’ll enoy it – it’s just so much more fun to take in a life lesson when it’s in the shape of a character we are getting to know. At least – that’s how I feel.
(yeah, this one’s unedited. People. I cannot edit this, I have places I’m supposed to be. Read what you want to read! Leave what you don’t.)
I spent years trying to put down roots in a family that absolutely did not want me.
I tried to give more love, thinking eventually they’d see my heart and value me. They didn’t. They flat out rejected me. I do not bear their name, and I never will.
I spent years agonizing. Bringing my heart and more love, more kindness; crying out my hurts and then renewing my hope every week, every single time. Hope/ rejection. Hope/rejection. For years. I never knew why I wasn’t good enough and didn’t measure up – I just knew I couldn’t. It was indescribably painful.
This played right into my childhood wounds, and awakened the modus operandii of past-me; If someone dislikes me, rejects me, or is in some way critical or unkind, let me just give more love and be even more kind and understanding. Let me scramble to explain myself when I am misinterpreted, to fight against perceptions that don’t feel like me; let me then take ON those perceptions and “fix” myself. It’s an endless cycle of self-abandonment, when we make others’ criticisms our truth, and keep trying to “do better.”
Young me grew up believing that Love was the act that would heal, and that if people were unkind to me, it was just that I had done something wrong; I hadn’t given them enough kindness yet. Jesus, I believed, said Love was everything. Therefore, it was incumbent upon me to love those who threw stones at me. Both metaphorically and literally (yes, I have been surrounded and pelted by stones, while my brother stood by, and then asked me what I had done wrong that i deserved that. How…biblical.)
Wow, is this ever faulty.
Let me save you years of therapy: don’t do this.
If someone doesn’t like you, rejects you, seems to be seeking ways to find fault or criticize, smile, and walk away.
Forgive them. They don’t know what they just lost.
Forgive them, for they know not what they do.
I forgive the people who didn’t want me in their family. They got their wish, their prayers were answered.
I forgive them completely. I still carry sadness that my value wasn’t seen, but I don’t need to mourn long. Why should I?
I lost people who didn’t love or even like me. They lost someone who loved them.
Just a reframe, if your heart is hurting. Especially at this time of year, the old things come up. I think they come up so that we have the opportunity to shine light on them and maybe heal them at last. Don’t jump through hoops trying to figure out “why” people reject you. Just go where you are seen. Go where your heart is welcomed and appreciated. Go where you are liked. Go where people are grateful you choose them.
If you don’t feel such places or people exist, clear out the old. allow a space of nothing to exist – like the barren trees in winter. Keep loving yourself and doing what you are called to do in this world. Keep noticing what it feels like to be loved, wanted, and appreciated, by giving yourself affirmations. Then, the new blooms will creep in, and you’ll be able to recognize them, because you’ll know what it feels like to be loved, wanted, and appreciated, given the benefit of the doubt, given compassion and lovingkindness.
abundance will come, if you are courageous and don’t just fill the emptiness with relationships that continually ask you to apologize, prove your worth, or “buy” your entry with service, gifts, changing yourself, or any of the other ways we try to negotiate our worth with others.
Your worth is not negotiable with other people.
I am sending you love. We are all a team. Some don’t want us. And that’s okay- they just deprived themselves of an amazing, loyal, loving, person. Their lesson to learn (or not), and their loss. Pivot! Whatever rejects you, redirects you.
I’ll do a part 2 to this post, which will be a more practical, how to heal the pain of rejection post. It has been proven that rejection lights up the same places in our brain as physical injury, and there is a way to heal that.
We all deserve to love and be loved.
it is Day 123 of my Becoming Ahsoka Project.
I actually was able to put this character together and get her approved much faster than I had anticipated, because of a last-minute find, someone selling their full Ashoka set including Lekku.
Otherwise, I would still not have my headdress. The man who makes them is slammed, so my official Lekku still have not arrived.
I have strung beads and attached them to this headdress with earth magnets; I have sourced a Padawan “braid” (Ashoka’s is beaded) from a wonderful Ahsoka cosplayer in Italy; I have strung yet more beads, and repainted this headpiece 3-4 times… suffice it to say, I am very fond of it now.
When my official one comes, I will repaint this one to permanently be “Darkside” Ahsoka. (She can be seen in the “Mortis” episode of Clone wars. She only makes one appearance.) I have been approved for the 501st now with her. (yay!) I am going to hold off trooping with the 501st until I can permanently paint my Lekku. It is time-consuming to dress it for Mortis, then re-paint again to be Ahsoka.
So. All that having been said: if you’re a cosplayer looking to build Ashoka, get approved with the Rebel Legion or the 501st, and begin trooping, the chances are slim that it will only take you 123 days.
I was reeeeally fortunate. Also: I think the force was in play here, as this has kicked me right into a new life, and helped me keep my head above water.
I got TOO busy, though, and have been ill off and on since Nov. 1. I think a bit of rest might be in order, now that the dust has settled.
So here are some FAQs that mostly policemen, paramedics and firemen (oh hiiiiii, adorables) have asked me during my troops.
1) Are you a Star Wars fanatic?
– No. Really, no. I am a Lord of the Rings fan, a Gail Carriger/ steampunk fanatic, and I’m utterly mad about manymany books. Star Wars is something I grew up on, and was reintroduced to by my ex. We shared it, and it has a new place in my heart as a result. I discovered Ahsoka with him. In her I found out WHY I have always loved Star Wars primarily in all sci fi. (see #2)
2) Star Trek, or Star Wars?
I never could quite define why, but Star Wars. All the way. When I discovered Ahsoka Tano, she solidified it for me. The women of Star Wars are simply extraordinary. They are full human beings with ambitions and fierceness, who don’t shrink into “yes sir/no sir,” pleasing-to-men, mini-skirted little servants. Which…yes…is the message a very young me got from Star Trek. The women were not role models to me. I focused on Spock…but it was still all about men. That is my experience acting in the Star Trek world, as well. I have ZERO space for the women-are-pretty-little-inferiors conversation, even if it’s subtle. nope. next. Then there was Leia, firing blasters, rescuing herself, asking for help when she needed to, sassing back, kissing whomever she wanted to kiss, (even if it was a mistake. nooo leia, that’s your bro.), defeating baddies even when she was humiliated in a bikini and only had the chain around her neck to work with. Leia. unforgettable, unstoppable, and always my hero. Star Wars, all the way, and every time. (and, of course, add John Williams, and there really is just no question. what was the question?)
2 1/2) What are you?
I am a Togruta, from the planet Shili. I was discovered by Jedi Master Plo Koon when I was three years old. (Yes, a fireman grilled me about my planet. First person who has ever asked me that. Thank Goodness I am a researcher.)
3) How long does this take you?
I give it three hours. I’ve gotten quicker with the prep process, but there are a lot of little bits to remember. I cover my eyebrows first, and I want to have plenty of extra time in case that doesn’t go smoothly. It needs to be done well. Then, I apply sticky stencils to my face. Then, I cover my body with makeup. Body first, so it can dry. Then, I take my time painting my face – i use a few different shades. Then I remove the stencils and do the white markings. Then, I do regular “glam” makeup.
The costume has a lot of little pieces. I’ve had to go back home once, when I forgot the necklace or the contact lenses.
Sometimes I save the lenses for right before a troop, and other times, I put them in at home.
3 1/2) What is that on your head?
The kitty-cat ears are called Montrals, and the three long pieces are called Lekku. The Lekku are like my antennae; they are very sensitive. Yes, you can touch them if you ask first.
4) Can you see?
Yes. I can see perfectly well in the blue lenses, and they are very comfortable. I can’t see as well in the sith ones, so I will be applying those before a troop, at the location.
5) Can you hear?
…No. I can’t hear much. If I smile and nod, and the question or statement wasn’t a smile-and-nod kind of question, chances are I didn’t hear you, but am growing self-conscious about leaning my lekku next to your mouth, or saying “ehhh?”
6) Are you single?
I am not single, in the sense that I am absolutely not looking for partnership at this time. Thank you. I also probably wouldn’t date someone who first met me when I’m wearing nothing as Ahsoka. No matter how handsome and kind you seem, (yes, I’m looking at you, firemen of the world), you don’t know me. When it’s right, I’ll probably wind up getting together with a true friend. I am uninterested in partnership for the sake of partnership. I’ve had enough romantic love. I’m kinda done, for a while. I’ll let you know if that changes. In the meantime, there is no such thing as “Friendzone,” I think friendship is valuable. But I’m going to be clear and reiterate that, if you push for more in the guise of friendship. thanks!
7) Do you work out?
Yes. That was the point of Project Ahsoka. I didn’t want just a numbers goal (not to knock those. they are difficult. but they didn’t motivate me) or a goal like “I will run a marathon.” I wanted something that would fire me up. This was it. I do crossfit, although I haven’t really been there for two months (see paragraph 1), I do pushups, jump rope, situps, squats and work with weights at home, and I do solo sessions on the heavy bags at a gym right down the street from me. Exercise is therapy to me.
8) Why are you here? Did Disney hire you?
No, I do not work for Disney. We are volunteers. the 501st and Rebel Legion are strictly volunteer organizations, unless hired under our agreement with Lucasfilms (that was added with the Mandalorian, I believe.) I do this because when I *did* work for Disney, working with the Make-a-wish program was my favorite aspect of it. Also the charity shows and meals we did for those in need. I learned that giving love to others who needed some brightness makes me feel happy, and feel like my life has a little more purpose to it. I am here (at any given troop) because it has saved my life to focus on embodying a character I love and admire, who has heroic and brave, confident qualities I wish to develop in myself – and bringing the joy of the story world she lives in to others and to causes that need support. Woo-hoo, run-on sentence, go you!
9) Will you come to my house?
No. I would not feel safe. But you can bring your household to a troop 🙂
10) I saw you on youtube/ at the Disney opening of Galaxy’s Edge!
Hmmm… you saw Ahsoka? Well, that is wonderful. I am sure I was there. ❤ 😉
11) How can I help the Resistance?
Keep hope alive. Also: If someone says “Ignite the Spark,” to you, your response is “Light the Fire!”
Just pay it forward. Tell people about charity troops, find a way to get involved, support, or just be extra kind to people even if they’re acting like Vader. They’ve got an Anakin somewhere inside, and maybe a little kindness will remind them. Or maybe not, and that’s when you can be extra kind to yourself, too, and remember that no one else’s unkindness belongs to you- even if it is directed at you at the time. It’s not yours to carry. Walk away from something that makes you uncomfortable, be clear in your boundaries, respect yourself and be respectful to others. Be like Ahsoka – ask questions when you need to, and do your best. Believe, be strong, and keep the hope alive that humans can keep learning to be better to each other. We are a team! May the force be with you…always.
“Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.”
“I tell you this
to break your heart,
by which I mean only
that it break open and never close again
to the rest of the world.”
― Mary Oliver
What do you do with your anger?
I am making friends with it, as I think it has been shamed enough, and has something it has been trying to tell me all my life.
Codependent people see boundaries as abandonment.
Setting and keeping boundaries can feel “mean,”
if we have been taught from a young age that our life purpose is to please other people.
But you and I are not slaves. So let’s toss out that bullshit and consider anger for a second.
Anger is my fence – it tells me when I have violated my own well-being by allowing, accepting, that which I do not actually like.
Anger is extremely painful for me to sit with. I’d rather do just about anything else. I would rather distract myself, dance, put on a show, build costumes, paint, or people-please into the wee hours of the morning,
and if Anger comes in my sleep to try to knock on the gates of my heart,
I’d rather not sleep.
There was a man named Quentin who passed away in April, a few months before my own homeworld imploded. I had a complicated relationship with Quentin. I loved him. Anger was somewhere he lived. I wanted to rescue Quentin from his own despair, from his bitter stories about how unloved he was. I wanted to love him into knowing he was worthy, into seeing his own goodness. This is a lifelong practice of mine. I seem to find the most unhappy man in the room, the one who is usually standing alone, and go love him. Try to love him into healing. (Yeah, working on changing that practice. It’s exhausting, and people build their own shadowy islands, and don’t necessarily want to be welcomed on a boat back to the sunlit lands.)
Yesterday, Quentin came to me in my sleep. I had been contemplating a new relationship; I had been wavering on the edge of – I know I am not ready, but I wish to believe what someone is saying to me, and I wish to be held. I am so, so weary, and I wish, above all things, to rest. I wish peace – I wish to love and be loved, and really, what I really actually want is a good, heart-connected, solid, hug. 🙂
And so Quentin came to me. In my dream, we were playing a game. I had taken a sort of mystical chip-thing (probably Mandalorian-influenced, cause whatever, I’m addicted to the props and costumes of that show) from him, dared him to catch me. This was the sort of game Quentin and I played all the time I knew him. Dare and double-dare, hide and seek; he was the Loki in my life – he was not healthy for me and he intrigued and drew me. Quentin was a dangerous dark fire I did not understand.
So in my dream, he finally caught me- I laughed,
and he held me.
He held me a long, long time. Just held, like the best and longest hug from a friend or family member you are completely safe with, like the most important kind of heart to heart cuddle.
And I realized when I woke up (too soon) that I would not harm another with my unreadiness. I will keep my boundaries solid, though I do long to love and be loved-
I won’t be bringing my toxic minefield with me into someone else’s life and heart- until I clear and heal this energy, I have to reinforce certain walls.
Healthy people do not dance with unhealthy people – water seeks its own level- so what happened in relationship with me was something I co-created. Toxicity, misunderstanding, distrust, abandonment – these were the ghosts that haunted something that could have been healthy and beautiful.
No more. No. More.
I am evolving toward the primary relationship I envision; I can feel what it will be, to be healthy and in good communication, mutual autonomy, support, individual freedom, trust, respectful choices, honoring each other, and also – affection generously shared. Shared adventures and work, joys and yes, sorrows and lessons. Abundance, not lack.
I’m not made to walk in this life alone. I love people too much, and I have too much love and care to give.
But until it is as darkness-free as it can be, I will not be passing on this gift to another.
So I sit with the box of darkness. I accept it. I invite it to teach me what it has to give.
I am so weary – so very tired of learning and growing – and I’m trying to shift this into an adventure of sorts, because I need to love my life;
but sometimes Strider is just fucking sick of sleeping rough, and being on the lone path, and remaining silent while the Jolly Old Inkeepers whisper stories about her, and insist that she is dangerous. Sometimes she just wants to pull her tattered cloak aside, and say “I am the lost king, you stupid, silly, reactive, gossiping peasants,”
but she can’t.
She’s got to wait for the Gandalf who will write the note that says “all that is gold does not glitter;
not all those who wander are lost…”
(unsurprisingly, I was obsessed with Strider as a child. I loved him beyond reason. The man alone? Check. The misunderstood one? Check. The gold that only the wise would see? Oh, I thought *I* was that wise rescuer, to see the good in Strider – I’ve been looking for him all my life, and little did I know, I actually AM Strider.)
To stretch a metaphor until it squeaks like an irritated Hobbit: Strider has to bide her time and do her work, and pray that she’ll live long enough to stand beside her Arwen and lift her face to the sun at last.
(but you know what? What if we were each our very own Arwen? She refuses to leave Aragorn. She gives up immortality in order to stand by his side. I think being as loyal as that to ourselves would have us be able to create boundaries with a little more ease, and enforce them with steady grace, and fierceness if it became necessary.)
Dreams. (thank you, Quentin)
and, of course, the stories, that somehow make it all a little more bearable.