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Passion is Everywhere

Copyright: C. Martin, 2015

Copyright: C. Martin, 2015

I thrive on passion. I think we all do.

I think we do ourselves a disservice by relegating passion to the bedroom. By trying confine it to one person, one relationship.

In reality, passion is everywhere. From the roiling flow of a river to the sound of thunder. From a roomful of excited students to the infatuation between a mother and her baby.

It even lives, I believe, in sadness, tragedy, and fear. There is passion in an earthquake, passion in illness, passion in a panic attack, passion in the way people come together when facing hardship.

When I was a teacher, this was something I yearned to teach my students. I wanted them to find the passion in music, art, poetry, books - and hopefully learn to see it beyond the arts. This was a harder task to achieve than I ever dreamed possible, but every now and then, it happened.

One of my favorite memories of that time was when I worked at a boarding school that served middle-school aged girls who were dealing with mental illness and psychological trauma. I made some headway with a book we were reading, but couldn't quite get them to the point of falling in love with art and literature.

One day, I brought in my DVD of The Phantom of the Opera and we started watching it. Each day, I found a way to work it into the curriculum and we talked about symbolism, and how music, choreography, and well-chosen words could add to the experience of a story for viewers and readers.

Those girls were mesmerized. With the issues they were dealing with, they strongly identified with the Phantom and were able to connect to the story even more deeply because of that. I would get goosebumps looking out at them as they watched the movie, and even more chills when we talked about the scenes we had just watched and they made connections, dug into the meaning of the story, and expressed their desire to write something similarly moving.

They got it. They understood the passion and they felt it.

Imagine if we all felt that the majority of the time. Imagine if we didn't relegate it to moments with a lover. Imagine the ripple effects that reverberate from us when we allow ourselves to embrace this passion for life (and for more passion).

The funny thing is, I don't think the events of life would change all that much. We'd still have the same love, the same tragedy. But we'd go deeper. We'd love deeper and feel deeper and connect deeper. We'd swoon just a little bit more. It would feel so good and so tender.

Our hearts would be broken open every single day. And it would be exquisite.

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The Terror and the Beauty

There is a place about 20 miles north of here that I have always loved to visit. A 300-foot gorge cuts through the earth from west to east with the beautiful Crooked River twisting through its base. For 25 years, I have passed over the Crooked River Bridge that spans this gorge on road trips and visits to Jefferson County. This place inspired me so much that when the vision of Salome (the setting of The Poison Box) came to me, one of the first things I saw was a 300-foot gorge cutting through town with the Two Thieves River running at its base and a beautiful, tall bridge spanning its width.

Copyright: Yancy Lael 2017

Copyright: Yancy Lael 2017

There is a raw beauty to this landscape, both the real one and the fictional one. Steep sides covered with brush and boulders, rushing water at the bottom, running on for miles and miles…

And each place has a dark history - from the young man who threw himself over the edge of the gorge in Salome to the dozens of men who fell to their deaths while constructing the Crooked River Bridge. There are even signs all over the area overlooking the Crooked River Gorge, stating that hundreds of dogs have leapt to their deaths, not realizing there was a 300-foot drop on the other side of the short wall, and reminding visitors to please keep their dogs on a leash to prevent such a tragedy.

Even in its beauty, the landscape is full of peril. Even in its grandeur, there lurks danger and even death.

Just as in life.

Over the past few months, several friends of mine - people in their 20's and 30's - have fallen gravely ill. Just like that. Out of the blue. Beautiful, healthy, young people stricken with health crises that are mostly attributed to people much more advanced in age.

A young man in our community was recently killed in a freak automobile accident. He was 18. We had just attended his graduation ceremony two months before. He was just beginning his life.

And then there are my own freak accidents - injuries and issues that popped up out of nowhere that violently shook my life or brought it to a near complete standstill.

But somehow, there is still beauty in it all. The danger, the threat, the risk cannot displace or diminish the beauty of the human spirit. The friends who weather their hospital stays with grace, who courageously cut off all their hair and keep their hearts open and soft even in the face of terrifying uncertainty. The community members who come together to honor a lost member. The family who stands together, hand-in-hand, to weather one of the greatest losses they will ever endure.

Each person, each soul, cuts their way through this world. We all leave our mark, somehow, just like the Crooked or Two Thieves rivers cut through the earth. In that beautiful way we make our mark, we also somehow find that we cannot escape the vulnerability of being human.

And the realization that that vulnerability is also beautiful in its own way.

Terrifying, but beautiful as hell.

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Writing Taught Me

Once upon a time, not so long ago, I grew up in the dawning days of technology. I was blessed not to have a computer in the house. There were no cell phones, and certainly no DVD players.

I, like all children at that time, had to find my entertainment in books and my imagination.

As much as I loved school, I would rush home every single day, impatient to stuff a handful of crackers into my pockets, grab my newest book, and run out to the backyard to sit on the swing and read for hours. Saturdays were even better - a full day of reading. I'd set up two patio chairs facing each other, and lay a beach towel over them, creating a little bed. There I would sit for 8 hours, oblivious to my little siblings playing around me, the dogs running by, my father mowing the lawn.

I was lost in the world of E.L. Konigsberg and John Bellairs. Witches, magic, history, mystery - I loved it all.

I was lucky to retain my love of reading even as technology began to creep into the house. As a teenager, I often chose a Nancy Drew novel over the latest Blockbuster rental or computer game. I could read through an entire book in 3 hours and I'd greedily dig through the family bookshelf, looking for more.

These books influenced me so deeply. By the time I was 10, I knew I was going to be a writer when I grew up. The first book I wrote, at that tender age, addressed what it meant to be a warrior for goodness, purity, and innocence. Reading and writing guided the development of my morality, my compassion, and my soul.

Copyright: Y. Lael 2017

Copyright: Y. Lael 2017

Looking back, I can see that the practice of writing helped me develop into the person I am today. I learned discipline and tenacity through my determination to complete the writing projects that I started. The characters that entered my dreams demanded to be fully realized, and for them, I wrote tirelessly, feverishly. I completed five full-length novels by the time I was 25 years old, honing that discipline, learning what it took to give my all to a project, developing a strong work ethic.

And though it took much longer to cultivate, books, reading, and writing also taught me courage. It took many years before I was brave enough to share my work with others and even more years before I dipped my toes into the process of submitting queries for publication. But just as before, my characters and my ideas were so insistent on being heard, I felt compelled to obey that call, even if only one baby step at a time.

I've remained faithful to my craft all these years later, taking what I've learned from writing to every job I've had. The lessons of determination, creativity, discipline, and courage have served me well across industries - from teaching to program coordination. And in the meantime, while pursuing publication, my writing practice has given me yet another gift: ingenuity. I've learned the very complicated ins and outs of self-publishing for the projects that don't want to wait for traditional contracts. I've learned how to format books, create book covers, and even how to create audiobooks, independently.

I've learned that having a passionate calling is a blessing. Our dreams and talents and the books we read not only make us who we are, but teach us all the lessons that we need to learn in order to become the best versions of ourselves.

And I have lived happily ever after (with many books and my laptop at hand).

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These Are the Trees

Copyright: Yancy Lael 2017

Copyright: Yancy Lael 2017

These are the trees.

 

The leaves of the tree command our attention. They are boisterous in the wind. Cooling and calming in the summer. Riotous in color during autumn. They love to show off. They love to talk to us and to each other.

 

They are the most noticeable – and beautiful – part of a tree.

 

But they are inconstant. Always changing. Subject to the whims of the weather, to the appetites of the little creatures that crawl upon them. Their green goes red, orange, yellow, and eventually brown. They fall off the tree. Die.

 

But underneath the ground, the unseen, unattractive, humble roots remain the same. Constant. Quiet. Always searching for nutrients.

 

The roots twist and turn, anticipating obstacles before hitting them, rerouting to find the easier path. The roots communicate with the organisms in the soil in whispered voices, trying to pass by without anyone or anything taking especial notice. The roots slip one way and then another, creating a web of opportunity and a platform of stability.

 

It is hard to break a root. They are thick, woody, and the moisture from the ground makes their woodiness even tougher. Harder to cut, break, or split. They are strong. Impervious to the whims of passing violence.

 

The roots run deep and wide. They don’t ask for or want attention or glory or appreciation. They do their job, tirelessly. Endlessly. Unflinchingly.

 

In between all of this stands the trunk. The quiet sentinel watching, listening, witnessing. In the middle of the spectacular pageantry of the leaves and the incredible strength and fortitude of the roots, the trunk sits in such determined stillness, you don’t notice his movements until years, even decades, have gone by.

 

Sometimes, he will twist and bend when searching for water and nutrients. As the years go on, he will increase in size, both in length and circumference, adding ring after ring, each invisible to the world outside, only seen in his death (or in very invasive exploration). He proudly displays the leaves above, letting them have all the glory. He is thankful for the roots below that sustain and steady him. He even offers support to those who need a place to lean, or furry creatures who need a way up, up, up, into the branches, safe from the perils that await it down below.

 

Ancient and slow. Green and hardy. Quiet and full of passion. Alive. So alive.

 

These are the trees.

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Giving Goals

Every January, I complete a series of journal prompts to help me get clear about my intentions for the new year. And every January, I get a little stuck on one particular prompt: Giving Goals.

 

I have always had very high aspirations for giving. I immediately think of giving hundreds (or better yet, thousands) to my favorite environmental and social justice non-profits. And in December, an end-of-year bonus, cash in hand, to someone in need.

 

But like many, I don't quite have that much to go around. That statement is not meant to highlight lack because I am certainly not lacking. I’m extremely privileged and blessed, and find myself surrounded by an abundance of possessions, food, and love, which is more than I could ever hope for.

 

Cash, however, is not always available to me, or to many who live in cities like mine, where rent is 55-65% of one’s monthly income. So many of us are just paying the bills and there can be a lot of guilt that comes up when we start thinking about the 10% tithing rule.

 

That’s simply not a reality for me at this time (though I know it will be one day).

 

So when I open my journal and work on these prompts, I find myself frozen on this one…filled with that guilt and a touch of disappointment. And year after year, aside from giving away $5 here and $10 there, with no real plan behind it, I find myself, instead, giving up on the idea of setting that giving goal.

 

As I faced this dilemma again in January 2017, I decided that I had to let go of my extremely limiting idea of what a giving goal should be. I threw away the confining 10% tithe and decided it was time to think outside the box.

 

Giving Is More Than Dollars and Cents

 

I already make an effort to give of my time and love, especially to my family. And that’s something that nourishes my soul, and, I hope, theirs, as well. What if my giving goal could include the letters and gifts I leave in the little mailbox outside my nieces’ and nephews’ front door? Or a goal to spend some quality time with each of them, one-on-one? It’s not a tithing of money to a cause, but is, nonetheless, an opportunity to expand my generosity.

Copyright: C. Martin & Y. Lael 2016

Copyright: C. Martin & Y. Lael 2016

 

Taking time to engage in national and community issues is another giving goal that’s emerging for me. As an introvert, I tend to lean inward, rather than outward - yet it’s important to put time and effort into building and maintaining a strong community (both locally and as a country).

 

For me, that goal looks like not just writing my representatives more often, but engaging on the phone (a challenge for me). It means attending volunteer events within my community. And it means calling my neighbors, shoveling the snow in their driveway, and engaging with them and other people within my immediate vicinity.

 

Let Giving Challenge Your Fear of Lack

 

As I started building this list of giving goals, I discovered more and more giving opportunities organically arise – things that were exceptionally specific opportunities that would allow me to challenge my perceptions of lack.

 

For example, I have a stash of supplies from my days as a bath and body shop owner worth at least $200. The end of my business was a very challenging, sad time for me and there’s a part of me that wants to hold on to those supplies, out of sentimentality. There’s also a part of me that sees the act of giving those supplies away as a loss – a second loss, which is hard to swallow because the loss of the business, itself, was such a blow.

 

But it has been three years now since I closed those doors. I have not had the opportunity – or even felt a pull strong enough – to re-open the business. So the supplies remain on the shelf, taking up space (both physical and emotional) and the days tick on by…

 

It finally occurred to me that I could add those supplies to my list of giving goals. What if I were to find someone who was just starting out, someone like me who is committed to creating high-quality, eco-friendly, organic bath and beauty products? Someone who is struggling to get her business off the ground and who would receive immense benefit from a couple hundred dollars of free supplies.

 

Suddenly, the act of giving those supplies doesn’t feel so sad, so sentimental. Suddenly, it doesn’t feel like a loss. In this light, it is expansion and abundance – a huge blessing to another person...and maybe even a blessing to myself, to be able to let go of these items in such a loving, positive way.

 

Giving goal: Bless others by turning your forgotten dreams into someone else's bright future. 

 

What if there were other ways to recycle my pain into another person’s blessing? After having to give up my home when my partner left a couple years ago, I have come to realize that I can gift some of the items I made for that home (table mats, decorative pillows, etc.) to someone else, making their home more beautiful and cozy. Perhaps I can even find a way to use my resources, time, energy, or money to help those that don’t have a home, at all – a critical issue in our area during an unusually harsh winter.

 

For the first time in years, I am excited about my giving goals. I’m no longer stuck in my self-made prison that defined giving as 10% tithing, or even occasional cash donations. Now I’m looking for those very specific things that are literally waiting for me to notice the giving opportunity…those things that came into my life that need me to use them as a blessing for someone else…those very particular qualities I have that will benefit others.

 

I feel no more dread, no more guilt, when I hear the phrase “giving goals.” It’s a game now, asking myself what treasures I can unearth to benefit another. This act, miraculously becomes a gift to myself, as well.

 

What giving goals did you set for yourself this year?

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The Fine Line

This is it. The moment we cross the boundary from darkness back into light. A time of life, of activity, of busyness.

 

There’s always a fear in me when we’re at the opposite side of this event – the autumnal equinox. While I love fall and the onset of the holiday season, I don’t do as well in the darkness, especially if the weather is particularly bad (as it was this year.) It is my instinct, as I think it is with most people (since we were biologically designed this way) to sleep more, rest more, listen more.

 

Unfortunately, I don’t feel like I have that opportunity when we’re in the dark side of the year. Schedules don’t change. Demands aren’t altered to make room for these seasonal and biological needs. The world keeps moving along, as fast as if it were the hot, long, busy days of summer.

 

But at this time of year, my energy matches the expectations of the world out there. I’m excited. I’m energized. I’m ready to hit the ground running.

 

This is such an exciting time, with all the plants in the world waking up, reaching toward the sky, getting ready to put on one of their two big events of the year – The Great Blossom. I love the air in April, when it’s filled with perfume, when every breeze carries a whorl of fallen petals on its breath. It’s like the earth is reaching out a hand to us, telling us how much it loves us, and how much it longs for us to love it back.

 

Copyright: Yancy Lael 2017

Copyright: Yancy Lael 2017

We’re just at the threshold now. Everything is suspended in one perfect moment of balance. But just one. After that moment (Monday, March 20th, 3:29 am Pacific Time), we’ll be barreling toward action, drive, production, creation. Gardens will be growing, the ground will be warming, rivers will be running high with snow melt. And it’ll keep going until we hit the next equinox and watch the earth go back into sleep.

 

This is our dance. It’s certainly a nice thing to remember at a time like this, when some of us might see the world as so wildly out of balance.

 

But we only get one moment. Then the pendulum swings again. Spring comes to the earth now, but some of us feel that we are just entering a long winter. We can look ahead, though, with hope, because we know that moment of balance will return, eventually. The air will be filled with perfume again, blowing those petals all around.

 

For just a moment.

 

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The thin line between seduction and destruction

Most people put plants into a category of inanimate objects. If they don’t move, they aren’t seen as “alive.” Plants, however, are very much alive, very active and even, you might say (I certainly do), very conscious.

 

Copyright: Yancy Lael 2017

Copyright: Yancy Lael 2017

What seem like random characteristics and qualities are actually very deliberate designs of survival. The smell and colors of flowers make them attractive to bees, thus ensuring their propagation. The way a plant leans and the way the bark of a tree twists indicates its attempt to move toward light and water. Poisonous plants developed toxins as a defense mechanism to keep browsers from killing them.

 

Strategy and Survival

 

The poisonous plants are the most fascinating to me. It’s amazing to think of the strategy involved in the evolution of those plants. Some plants are very direct, scaring off threats with things like thorns and brambles. But others take it to the next level – toxicity and even death.

 

Most animals can detect these toxins and as such, the mechanism works perfectly, keeping the plant in question safe. But humans aren’t equipped with this sophisticated sensate awareness that most other animals have. Humans are often fooled by appearances, mistaking hemlock for parsley, or narcissus bulbs for garlic.

 

What we don’t know can hurt us. Our lack of understanding of the wild green world makes our relationship just a little bit dangerous. (And maybe a little bit thrilling.)

 

The Seduction of the Plant World

 

Add to that the seduction of the plant world – bulbs that burst from below the dry earth reaching with an endless hunger toward the warmth of the sun, the pure satin of flower petals against the skin, the riot of color that flowers display every spring, the intoxication of a plant's perfume, the taste of nectar on the tongue… Humans are much like bees, drawn to the plant world, flowers in particular, yearning to run our fingers along those pollen-encrusted stamens.

 

Isn’t it interesting, then, that so many toxic plants are flowering plants? The elegant trumpet of Datura. The sleek, exotic purple flowers that mature into the shiny blue-black berries of deadly nightshade. The exquisite milky white petals of frangipani and the voluptuous bell-shaped foxglove.

 

How utterly fascinating (yet not at all surprising) that we should be so drawn to that which could hurt or even destroy us. It’s that “pretty poison.” It’s that oh-so-thin line we walk between sex (life) and death.

 

It’s nothing new in the archetypal journey of the human soul. And it’s not even necessarily bad.

 

The Tension of Opposites

 

We are always living in the tension of opposites. Creation and ecstasy might always involve just a little bit of risk, a little bit of danger. Maybe even a little bit of destruction.

 

I don’t think our culture tends to think of it like that. We tend to blame the plant. The seductress. The poison. We don’t blame the one who was seduced. The seducer manipulated them into risk, into danger. There’s only one side to that story.

 

But I believe there’s another side. I believe the pretty poison got the short end of the stick. Really…what about the seduced? What’s their story? And does their story make the pretty poison’s story look any different?

 

Remember, the development of poison is a defensive tactic, created by an organism to protect itself from danger. The one seduced by that poison is the very thing the organism is defending itself against. The one seduced is the danger.

 

So which story is true? Who is the hero and who is the victim?


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Pretty Poison

There is a popular myth that female murderers choose poison as their weapon of choice. Why? My theory is because it’s quiet. Clean. Introspective. It doesn’t require brawn (which many women biologically do not possess in the same quantity as their male counterparts). It requires creativity and a little bit of wile.

There’s a seductiveness to poison, as well. Think DC Comics’ Poison Ivy with the lethal, but irresistible lips. Or the gleaming, succulent red apple offered to Snow White from the jealous queen. Or sexy Gillian Owens mixing belladonna into her violent boyfriend's liquor each night so they can have all the passion she wants without the angry bruises inspired by his temper. Or the stunningly vengeful Ingrid Magnussen of Janet Fitch's evocative novel, White Oleander.

In the old days, poison was often the only way a woman could maintain any sovereignty over her life. Women knew their way around the dark magic of the forest because they had to. They might need a slightly toxic plant to abort a pregnancy that threatened their survival (financial, familial, or literal). Or even to sicken – or permanently silence – the man of the house if his will bruised and battered her body, or the bodies of her children.

In medieval times, women would conspicuously hide powdered poisons in rings or necklaces with hidden compartments. As the keepers of the kitchens, this would give them easy access to whatever went into their husbands’ mouths, and one with one little shake and one little stir, they would have the chance to protect themselves from further violence. And for some, maybe even feel the satisfaction of revenge. (Maybe you're picturing Lady Gaga poisoning Alexander Skarsgard in the Paparazzi video right now…?)

Copyright: Yancy Lael 2015

Copyright: Yancy Lael 2015

It’s no surprise then, that as time has gone by, our culture has learned to identify certain kinds of women as “pretty poison.” Beautiful. Seductive. But bound to destroy the man they give their attention to. They pull a man in with their raw sexuality, but underneath those batting eyelids, those undulating hips, lies a vengeful wildcat. And you never know when she’s going to strike.

That’s the story, at least.

But who is to blame for the powdered poison whisked so stealthily into the violent husband’s beer? The versare alla traditora? Who seduces whom? What’s really underneath that pretty poison?

It’s easy to point the finger. It’s easy for women to say it’s the fault of men because they lead with aggression and possession. It’s easy for men to say it’s the fault of women because we deceived and entrance – the seduction of Eve, bringing Adam to his knees.

The truth is, there is so much more to this archetype than meets the eye. Pretty poison reflects the imbalance of power between genders and the dark pathways that a woman might follow in order to get her power back. There is so much more to her than the façade she puts on, or even the supposed wildcat that lurks within. There is even so much more to the man who is raised in a society that teaches him not to partner, but to dominate, not to hold space, but to take it.

Pretty poison is one of my favorite archetypes to explore in my writing. (Have you met Mary Raedwolfe yet?) I want to examine it, peel back its layers, look deep down inside. I am, I admit, seduced, and I don’t mind getting a little Datura or wolf's bane on my hands. I’m not afraid.

One day, we will have to acknowledge that true seduction is a dance between two people – not a manipulation of one party by another. We will have to take responsibility for what intoxicates us and what intoxicants we willingly choose to imbibe. And we will have to learn how to remain in our full power, swelling with, but mindfully containing, all the passion and destruction inherent in the soul of a human being.

 

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What I learned about communication from the process of recording an audiobook

As I write this, I’m in the middle of the process of recording The Poison Box for its audiobook debut. I have always wanted to do this. I work so hard, in my fiction writing, in particular, to make my prose as poetic as possible, and the act of speaking those words aloud, in the tone and rhythm that I intended, gives me such a wonderful sense of completion. I love hearing my world come alive, and hearing the sound of my characters’ voices even though those voices are only my own (I’m not an actor, and as such, I thought it would be a wiser decision to just use my own voice with an attention to tone and timbre that would match the character and his or her emotion.)

 

This project has also taught me so much about myself and communication that I did not expect. For one thing, I learned that I do not enunciate very well. (Who knew?!) I had to record so many retakes, and later, it was discovered that there were even more enunciation issues that had to be fixed.

Copyright: Yancy Lael 2015-2017

Copyright: Yancy Lael 2015-2017

 

The culprit, I think, is talking faster than I’m thinking. There have been many times in my life when I felt that I was on a timer the moment I opened my mouth – as if I’m either actually being timed or I only have a certain allotment of words that I can use before I run out. There has also been the influence of my introversion, which eschews the spotlight, and as such, wants to finish speaking as quickly as possible so I’m no longer the focal point of someone’s attention.

 

But…what an absolute pleasure it is to experience holding that attention with my words for such a prolonged period of time. What a pleasure to learn to speak every word slowly enough to hear every phoneme. Slowly enough to taste each sound.

 

This attention to detail – to clear speech – has also brought other lessons to light. It is so important, I realized, to speak clearly and with incredible attention to detail and intention. What are we trying to communicate? Why? Is the tone clear? Are the words enunciated? Is there sufficient context?

 

Communication is so vitally important. Whether verbal or non, it is the bridge that connects us to another person. Words, whispers, glances, expressions, touch. I realize more and more as I work through this project that we should always be so mindful, so careful about how we communicate. All our forms of communication are literally the threads that bind us to one another. Unclear communication creates barriers that weren’t meant to exist. And worse, careless communication creates fraying at the threads of our connections.

 

Lastly, I am reminded of the importance of seeking and speaking truth – something that’s incredibly relevant to American culture right now. The Poison Box circles around a set of stories – “facts” that are carelessly (one might even say vindictively) circulated by people who were not witness to the events and who, as such, don’t actually know the truth. The reader has no reason to question these accounts, trusting, like we all do, their narrators (in this case, the characters who tell those stories) until, a few chapters later, I revisit those stories from the perspective of the person who was actually involved. Suddenly, the reader discovers they don’t know what actually happened, at all, and that everything that was taken as fact by other characters was either entirely untrue, or was true but with a very important piece of missing information that made the event look a whole lot different once that piece of information was gleaned.

 

Misinformation and assumption have been weighing heavily on my mind, thanks to the state of the media and politics right now (and honestly, for a long time). It’s so easy to listen and believe whatever we hear, forgetting that there might be an agenda behind the information that’s being spread. There might be falsehoods or, at the very least, interpretations that create inaccuracies.

 

It’s so important to go straight to the source when we want factual information. It’s so important to question what we hear, to recognize the filters that information travels through. It’s so important not to react to information until we’ve done some solid investigating. And it’s critical that we don’t share it until we know what we’re sharing. Inaccurate information is like a virus – it’ll spread quickly and destructively if we aren’t careful to keep the germs at bay.

 

As a writer, I’ve always known our words are a great gift. So much more so than I think we realize. The chance to communicate in any way is such a blessing. But we were given even more than that – the ability to paint pictures and evoke feelings with words. The ability to share our stories with each other in any way we please.

 

This is a gift that deserves to be honored for the privilege that it is. We cannot afford to keep throwing words into the world without forethought or intention. We have to be the stewards of truth, of thoughtful, considered speech, of impeccably researched information.

 

It’s easier and far more dramatic to let our mouths (or fingers, if you’re a writer) run away with us. Sloppy communication and incendiary information boosts the ratings. Because of this, I think it’s safe to say that the media will not change this trend. Politicians will certainly not change it.

 

The change is up to us. We don’t need to be writers or public speakers or journalists. Even in our small circles, being impeccable with the information we share will create huge ripples of change. In a world this full of noise, this full of incisive inaccuracies, people will take notice of deliberate, intentional communication.

 

So thank you, Poison Box, for a million gifts, including the reminder of how beautiful words are, how important it is to speak precisely, and how much this world longs for truthful, intentional communication.

 

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Support the Arts and the Artists

We live in a time of rapid change where our systems and culture are going through major evolutions. Even the way we create and consume art is changing faster than we can process. Who knew, for instance, that CDs would become basically irrelevant someday, thanks to streaming technology?

There are so many new doors open to artists now than ever before – publishing on e-book platforms, whether you have a big-publisher contract or not, making your own musical CDs, recording audio books, creating online classes, digitizing (and mass producing from home) your artwork… We artists are incredibly blessed with these new options for creative expression and distribution.

However, there are iterations of artistic expression that I fear are being pushed further and further to the edge. Reading books – real, paper books – is one of those arts that seems to be wandering dangerously close to the path taken by CDs. (Why read and store a paper book when you can store all your reading materials on an electronic device, or listen to the audiobook, instead?) Letter writing comes to mind. (Who needs letters when we can email and text?) Even the practice of buying original prints seems to be dwindling in favor of mass-produced art.

Copyright: Yancy Lael 2016

Copyright: Yancy Lael 2016

Thankfully, I don’t think any of these “old school” art forms will ever truly disappear, thanks the conscientious people of the world who believe in supporting fellow human beings over corporations. It’s these people who gave us Small Business Saturday, these people who encourage us to visit the locally-owned coffee shop rather than…well, you know where.

Let’s remember a few more ways in which we can support all those who are trying to create more beauty in this world. Do your best to support artists, local or not. Buy original prints, attend art fairs, and share your love of your favorite artists’ work with others.

And of course, some special (and not at all biased) tips for supporting indie writers:

::If the small writers you love are selling their work via Kindle, Nook, or other e-reader services, support it. Oftentimes, this is how indie writers get started because it’s an easy platform to break into. Yeah, it’s digital, but every download helps an indie writer build an audience.

Copyright: Yancy Lael 2016

Copyright: Yancy Lael 2016

::If they have print books, please consider buying the print books. Buy copies as gifts for friends and family, too. It can be extremely challenging to get the word out about indie books – and there is no better way to spread the word than giving the book to others with a personal recommendation.

::Give an honest and clear review of the book. Reviews help enormously, whether it’s for a book, a podcast, or an Etsy shop. It’s okay if you hated the book – just explain why. Don’t give a book 1 star without any explanation.

::Get on your favorite indie authors’ newsletter lists and encourage those you think would enjoy that type of writing to do the same. This makes it so much easier for us to keep in touch and share our work with our devoted readers.

::If your favorite indie author is producing “slow literature,” do your best to support them in some manner. There are a lot of amazing writers, illustrators, and poets out there doing subscription services via the mail – and I mean the mail. Not email. I think this is incredibly original and fun, and it’s important to keep these types of offerings alive.

::Attend local events. It can be challenging for indie authors to put themselves out there. Give them a boost – fill up the room when they promote a reading/signing or other event. Bring some friends and smile a lot from the audience. And buy a book on your way out.

::Consider buying an extra book when you purchase your favorite indie author's latest release and donate the extra copy to the library. Indie publishing doesn't always have the same distribution capabilities, which means it's often harder to find an indie author's books at your local library unless they are donated. 

Let’s keep the art of paper books, storytelling, and intimate readings alive!


Many beloved programs supporting the arts and community service are in danger of being cut (again). If you support the National Endowment for the Arts, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, AmeriCorps, and other such programs, please call your representatives and let them know!

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Say Something

There is a stunning, almost Dali-esque dream sequence in Gilmore Girls in which Lorelai, after finding Luke wants some time to think about their relationship, finds him in the Black, White, and Read Movie Theater. There, the two watch a scene from their past, sitting at her kitchen table, Luke telling her he is "all in."

Lorelai just sits there, staring eerily into space.

The dream version of herself watching this movie version says, "Say something," then, more forcefully, "Say something!"

 

Copyright: 2016 Yancy Lael

Copyright: 2016 Yancy Lael

 

There's more to it (that blue ribbon…gives me the chills every time), but that's the basic story, and I often think of that scene whenever I witness a situation in which people stay silent even when silence is dangerous.

Say something!

I have written recently about how important it is that we think before we speak and that we don't litter the world with an endless stream of thoughts, words, and opinions. So often, we allow ourselves to default to reactionary behavior that ultimately doesn't help anyone or anything. We argue endlessly on social media, for instance, forgetting that our personal accounts are not actually public platforms, and that posting and sharing isn't a substitute for our civic duty as citizens of arguably the most vibrant, powerful democracy in the world.

However it's also important our intentional communication includes speaking out against what threatens our country, our lives, and, ultimately, the state of the world. We need to communicate this not just to the people who make and protect our laws, but to those in our immediate vicinity. Our children need to see us lay down a firm boundary.

 

::It is not okay to persecute (in any way, even subtle ones) a whole group of people just because of their religion.

::It is not okay to hold the highest office in the nation and to use that position to spread blatant lies, generate suspicion of the media, and promote family businesses.

::It is not okay to silence a woman (two women, if you think about it) on the senate floor, based the selective enforcement of an obscure rule that doesn't appear to apply to male senators. That is absolutely NOT OKAY.

::It is not okay that the leader of the free world has publicly made incredibly sexist and misogynistic comments about women on multiple occasions and has never addressed that or apologized.

 

I find myself perplexed these days, watching very carefully what is and is not being said. I see a lot of backlash from the left, predictably, on social media, in the news, and even in my everyday observations out in the world.

Yet there is silence in places I didn't expect to find it. An almost deafening silence. I'm not sure where those voices are or why they are remaining silent.


So yes, we need to be careful with what we say, intentional, responsible, and compassionate. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't say anything, at all. Now, like never before, we need to speak.

Say something.

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I don't want to be afraid

One of the biggest points of contention Lee and I had in our relationship was that he insisted on carrying a loaded gun with him wherever he went - to the grocery store, to the movie theater, on a romantic date. Everywhere. He did it legally - he had a license to carry a concealed weapon - but I felt uneasy and sometimes downright afraid knowing that a gun was strapped to his belt right there in the produce department.

Why? I would ask him. Why do you need to carry that thing everywhere?

His answer was very simple. He told me he was terrified he was going to be mugged someday, maybe attacked and killed, and having that gun made him feel safe.

But here's the thing: we didn't live in Oakland or New York City or Boston. We lived in a rural town in the middle of Oregon where crime rates are very low. Having lived in the suburbs of Los Angeles and Albuquerque, I could not comprehend his fear. The chance of someone getting mugged, raped, or murdered in this county is statistically pretty low.

However, as I thought about it over the course of our relationship, I realized I have had a similar experience. I spent over 10 years of my life being terrified of men. After experiencing sexual harassment, assault, and bullying on a regular basis at school, I grew up feeling like my body was not my own. I felt helpless and powerless. I was so certain I was going to be raped that when I lived alone in my twenties, I always kept knives in the drawer by my bed, a baseball bat behind my front door, and I barricaded the bedroom door with a chair before I went to sleep each night.

I realized that my baseball bats and knives and barricades were the same as his gun - a symbol of my overwhelming fear. I had, thankfully, grown out of that particular fear by the time Lee and I started our relationship. He, however, was still in the middle of his journey.

When our relationship ended, I immediately felt a release. I would no longer have to see that gun on the night table. I would no longer have to feel it against my hip when Lee hugged me. I would no longer have to pretend that I thought it was business-as-usual to carry a gun into a grocery store.

I didn't want to be afraid the way he was. (And coming from someone who has extreme anxiety, that statement is saying a lot.) I didn't want to look at everyone as a potential mugger or murderer. And looking back, I didn't want to be afraid in my twenties, either. I didn't want to fear that every man was a potential rapist. I didn't want to live behind a barricade with a baseball bat in my hand. And I sure as hell didn't want to have a gun with me everywhere I went.

And today…I still don't want to be afraid.

Yet, in a world this scary, that is a tall order. Terrible things can happen. We can come upon a friendly dog in the dark woods, only to discover later that it's actually a vicious, rabid wolf.

In the fairy tales, the heroes and heroines are required to confront the scariest possible enemy. Baba Yaga, Ereshkigal, dragons, the devil, etc. Not just any random murderers or rapists - the ultimate "big bad wolf." The heroes and heroines don't have weapons. They don't get to hide behind a barricade. They don't get to stay home and tremble under a blanket.

These heroes and heroines have to do exactly the opposite of what we try to do in real life - they have to disarm themselves, completely. Inanna had to literally strip off all her protection, ornamentation, and clothing in order to face her enemy sister. Only her vulnerability saved her. The Handless Maiden had to submit to the devil's every demand. Only her virtue saved her.

Granted, this life isn't a fairy tale, and leaving our front doors wide open at night isn't the answer. We must demonstrate prudence, of course. The evolution of the soul demands us to learn discernment, to develop our intuition enough to be able to identify and avoid potential danger.

But walking around with a gun strapped to our hip and barricading our doors at night is not helping, either. Actions like that literally summon and cultivate the energy of fear.

I don't have an answer. I don't know the right path. I only know what feels right from one step to the next.

I know we all have our own big bad wolves. I know we are all trying so hard to light up our space with our lanterns and that so many of us don't feel like the light stretches quite far enough to assuage our fears.

But somehow, it feels like there's an answer in that, in the knowledge that we are all afraid. There are so many of us in the dark woods, and our lanterns not only illuminate but cast shadows, too. We see the shadows cast by others and our eyes cannot give us the truth about what we see because the shapes are always shifting. Our eyes allow our fear to make up other stories - stories that aren't always accurate.

I'm trying to remember that behind the shadows is the light from someone else's lantern. And that the shadows they are casting might only be a reflection of my own fear.

All I really know is that I don't want to be afraid. And maybe…no one else does, either. 

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Underneath it all...there is grace

I am grateful that there are so many people in this country, on all different places of the political spectrum, who so obviously care about the state of the nation, and the state of the world.

I am grateful to know that most of us have each other’s backs.

Copyright 2015 Yancy Lael

Copyright 2015 Yancy Lael

I am grateful for the challenges that have reminded me and others that we’ve been lazy and that it’s our duty to participate in our government and communities.

I am grateful to be reminded of what is truly important.

I am grateful for the chance, renewed each day, to make a contribution to this world. 

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Prepare the space for inspiration

There is a stretch of time between the winter holidays and February that is dark, quiet, and bitterly cold. I often struggle in the days after Christmas, when the tree comes down, when all the pretty lights get put away. My soul knows it's not time, yet. We're still in the darkest days of the year and removing the evergreen, the illumination from our homes at that time is just too soon.

Thankfully, 33 days later comes the moment when the ember of warmth and light that we hold close to our chests during the winter solstice becomes the tiniest flicker of a flame. Candlemas (or Imbolc) is here. In pre-Christian times, this holy day fell between the winter solstice and vernal equinox, marking the halfway point of winter - the tipping of the scales when spring finally started gaining strength and crocuses were starting to push through the snow. The day was often associated with the goddess of inspiration, Brigid, who was later incorporated into Christian tradition as St. Bridget.

As Christianity overtook the cultures of the Great Mother, this day became a celebration of light, when baby Jesus was held by Simeon and declared to be the light of the world. The churches blessed their candles on this day (hence the name), and many people would leave candles burning in their windows throughout the night to commemorate this sacred time.

This is one of my favorite holidays of the year. It feels like such a deeply sacred time to me, a time when I long to keep the world at a bit of a distance, a time when I want to spend the evenings with family members and hold them close. Truthfully, and I mean no disrespect by this, I'd rather have a paid holiday on Candlemas/Imbolc than on President's Day.

If you look closely, there is such a beautiful magic in this time of year, even though it seems that we are still locked in the harsh embrace of bitter winter (which, itself, is an illusion - I'm convinced that winter is a gentle lover that some of us have yet to learn to appreciate). It's a perfect time to kindle the flames of inspiration that have been smoldering in our hearts all winter long. It's a time to appreciate the magic of the earth, the energy of the sacred feminine that is on the brink of succulent fertility, and the innocence of childhood.

Did you know that in the old days, people celebrated this day much like Christmas - by setting up a tiny bed near the hearth and leaving an offering of milk and honey for the goddess who became weary on Imbolc Eve, visiting everyone and touching them with her inspiration? Sound familiar? A little Santa-esque, right? This tradition of setting up a Brigid's Bed is so charming and magical, it makes my heart smile. Can you imagine living in a culture where our children were as excited about setting up a Brigid's Bed as they were about hanging stockings on the mantle at Christmas? What a wonderful thought.

It's a beautiful lesson for us all. Inspiration has been smoldering in our hearts and souls all winter long. It is waiting to flicker into a flame. But we have to set out a bed for it, first. We have to make a space for it. Whether that is literal or metaphorical, let this celebration of light, of inspiration, be our preparation for whatever is waiting to be born within us. 

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How Facebook Reminded Me of My Civic Duty

I am so fascinated by the way we express ourselves on social media – why we post certain links, why we share certain opinions. There is no more fascinating time to study than the years of presidential elections. On Facebook and Twitter, in particular, we endure month after month of political rant from our friends and family, as well as the in-your-face memes and articles that circulate.

There are times when many of us have to step away from the fray to keep our tempers even and our hearts clear. I, myself, took a week-long Facebook sabbatical after the election, and I have friends who closed their accounts, altogether, in an attempt to escape the vitriolic political conflict.

Image credit: Christopher Burns, Creative Commons Zero License

Image credit: Christopher Burns, Creative Commons Zero License

When I finally returned to Facebook, I found myself in a state of amused curiosity, particularly whenever I was tempted to share a political article or opinion.

Why am I doing this? I’d ask myself (something I think we should always ask ourselves every time we post something to social media). And come to think of it, why is anyone doing this?

As lacking privacy as it can be, an individual Facebook account (as opposed to a business or public figure account) is not a public forum.

Our Facebook-posted opinions, in general, don’t affect change. The links we share are not going to change anyone’s minds, nor are they going to improve the state of the union.

What’s really happening is that we’re turning the microcosm of Facebook into the illusion of a public forum. We’re bombarding our friends, relatives, and schoolmates (and whoever else is on our friend list) with opinions they already know we have. And then we argue about it, sometimes quite aggressively.

It’s so important that we are thoughtful and intentional with our words and opinions. I’m not suggesting that we should silence ourselves or cease expressing ourselves on social media platforms. It’s our right and privilege as Americans to speak up. But we also need to be clear about why we are speaking, for what purpose, and to what end. And we need to remember the diversity of our people, which requires us to create a balance between speaking up and listening.

We also need to stop being lazy citizens who use social media to meet our quota for civic action. If we want to see change, we have to engage where it counts – and that isn’t on Facebook.

What if, instead of posting incisive political links on Facebook, we did something like this:

·         Write to or call your senators and representatives. If you’re going to take the time to write a political rant on Facebook, why not make it more useful and send that rant to your senators, instead? Just be sure to make it respectful and succinct – your words will get a lot farther that way!

·         Volunteer at an organization that is working toward the kind of social, environmental, or political change you want to support. Don’t wait around for lawmakers to make this country better. Get in there and do the work.

·         Align your spending with your values. Support businesses that you believe in. Donate money to non-profit agencies, politicians, and causes that you want to support.

·         Write editorials. If you have a lot of opinions and really love sharing them, there’s no better way than the editorial. Don’t just stick with local papers, either – branch out to national publications both online and in print.

·         Organize an event. The Women’s March was a huge wake-up call for many of us. The people of America are still engaged. They still care. This is not the politically and socially apathetic country we have been accused of being. Hundreds of thousands of people took a precious weekend out of their lives to stand up for what they believe in. If you felt an alignment with the movement, organize follow-up events in your own community. If you felt it didn’t represent you at all, start your own march.

·         Create beauty. This may sound unimportant, but we need to create the beauty in the world that we want to see. Share beautiful pictures. Write beautiful blog posts. Go out of your way to thank people you wouldn’t normally thank. Turn your Twitter feed into poetry. Spread beauty wherever you go.

 

We cannot afford to be lazy or thoughtless about our political and social beliefs. We must strive for action in unity – and we cannot achieve that by spouting Facebook and Twitter rants that drive wedges between us and do nothing to create sustainable change.

It is long past time now to be thoughtful and intentional with every word that passes our lips and every word we share online. We can’t wait for the media to change. We can’t wait for politicians to change. We have to be the ones to hold the front line. It has to start with us.

And if we want to see change, we have to realize that all our sharing, linking, and commenting on social media is not going to accomplish that goal. Only focused, deliberate action will get us to that point. And if we’re not willing to put in that effort and participate in this democracy, then we really don’t have the right to comment on it, at all.

Let’s take our own oath of office right now, as Conscious and Conscientious Citizens of the United States:

I will think before I post.

I will use social media as a method to unite with my fellow citizens, not as a tool for conflict.

I will spend as much time taking genuine political action as I spend sharing my political opinions on social media.

So help me God(dess).

 

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