Lighthouse: The Second Flat Upstairs

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In the next few weeks, I discovered I could return to that quiet connected state whenever I wanted, simply by remembering. Paying attention to what I was doing, doing it as well as I possibly could, that helped, too, bringing in an aspect of internal silence like I experienced that moment down by the seashore when I was nothing and everything.

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I continued reading 77 Truths. I aimed to stay with each one until it became tangible within me, though I admit, some had to germinate inside for decades.

The second truth: I am not my thoughts. That one was easy for me. No graduate from University of Windenburg College of Liberal Arts and Cultural Studies escaped with their thoughts intact: we’d all been deconstructed and reconstructed so many times in our search for the foundations of cultural constructs of gender and identity that we were lucky to ever find any thought we might latch onto and call our own, reflective of our true selves. In those days, especially, when I relished the feeling of stopping my thoughts at every opportunity, and, in doing so, found that I felt more and more alive, it was easy to accept that truth.

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The third truth posed deeper challenges: I am not my feelings or emotions. I’d always found something within me that I clung to when I felt lost or sad or lonely. It was a feeling of home, but not one that came from my actual home, one that I simply recognized as me. It consisted of one part love, one part joy, one part mirth, and two parts melancholy. Decades later, as my hormonal balance shifted with perimenopause, I lost touch with that feeling for close to seven years, until finally, coming out the other side, there it was, waiting for me, like the open door to Grandma’s kitchen when the aroma of oatmeal cookies rushes out in welcome. By then, I’d embodied this truth, and that helped the panic to lessen. By then, I’d learned to be curious about what was there when the glass of my familiar emotional cocktail sat empty. At any rate, that was decades later, and during those early weeks, I simply wondered, “If I am not these emotions that give me my sense of me, then what is me?”

The fourth truth presented an even more difficult riddle: I am not my conditioning. Everything I had learned in college was that, yes, I was my conditioning–as each of us were. Gender, politics, bias, musical preferences, prejudices, beliefs, as well as a significant proportion of personality, and nearly all social identity, derived from familial, social, cultural, and educational conditioning. Strip away that, and what is left? I couldn’t even begin to fathom.

Still, I found myself increasingly intrigued by the blog. Clicking around on the various tabs, I stumbled upon the author’s personal blog, Looking for Love. I laughed at the title–what purpose did an extraterrestrial have for love? Weren’t they all emotionless super-brains, like Mr. Spock?

I read several posts. The writing was sweet, sentimental, and endearing. One post, dated a few years back, reflected on the joys of little things, focusing on his baby brother and the brother’s new puppy. It was surprisingly ordinary and startlingly human.

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I began to realize that maybe I’d been wrong to think that someone not-from-this-planet would not be able to relate to me and the specific challenges I faced as a human. I began to realize that this might be the very person who could help me understand how I could be more fully human. That night, I became a fangirl of Septemus Sevens.

Throughout those weeks, my friendship with Max continued to grow closer. He was always there during my shifts, visiting with me, hanging out with the regulars, befriending Mojo, the neighborhood stray.

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Mojo adored him from the start, and when I watched them together, I could see why. I tried not to feel jealous.

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Max often leaned on the counter while I was filling orders, especially if it was one of those times when I was in the zone, watching me.

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“It’s a joy to watch you at work, byu,” he told me.

“Even when I’m like this?” I asked, giving him my biggest, meanest, toughest scowl. He cracked up, and his laughter made a good day better.

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One evening when I was hanging out there during my off hours, he told me he wanted to show me the flat upstairs, not the one he lived in, but the other one.

“Any day now,” he said, “people might be coming to stay here for a while, and if they come when I’m not around, I might need you to help them get settled in. Can you do that?”

“Sure,” I said. “How will I know who they are?”

“If they say they’ve just come from the cookie store,” he said, “then that’s them.”

The exposed brick walls and simple furnishings lent a cozy feel to the place, bringing back memories of college apartments.

He asked me to make myself at home, and maybe find something we could watch on TV, while he went next door to his flat to check his voice mail. I was flipping through the channels, and when he returned, I’d stopped on a sci-fi movie I remembered from childhood.

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“What on earth is this?” he asked.

I’d been feeling remorseful about the insensitive comments I’d made about extraterrestrials during our conversation a few weeks before and watching the film with him didn’t help.

“Quick! U-bot! Protect us before they freeze us all with death rays!” screamed the actors.

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“This is like every bad stereotype ever made against extraterrestrials,” Max observed.

“I know!” I exclaimed. “This is what I grew up with! Is it any wonder?”

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“Is what any wonder?” he asked.

I turned off the film.

“Is it any wonder that I’m so insensitive and prejudiced?” I asked quietly. He scooted closer and looked at me with half-closed eyes, the way he does when he’s really listening. I told him about my dad and his conspiracy theories. I told him about my mom, who wouldn’t let me go to certain parts of the city, “because they might be there, and you don’t want to mix with them.” I told him about how I always thought that I was open-minded, generous, and nonjudgmental, but that, recently, I’d discovered that prejudices loomed behind nearly every thought, waiting to pounce.

“Did you get to the fourth truth yet?” he asked. “That is, if you’re still reading that blog.”

I told him I had. “But I think I am my conditioning. All these judgments I have–and they don’t even come from me but they’re so tightly wound up inside of me that they’ve become me! I don’t know what to do, how to free myself.”

He smiled. “I’ve been watching and listening, byu. You’re doing a great job!”

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“Really?” I wasn’t sure. I went on to tell him that I’d found the author’s personal blog, Looking for Love, and that it was helping me to see common ground between us and extraterrestrials.

“Did you know that the author is gay?” I asked.

“Pan,” Max answered.

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Pan? I’d thought he was gay. I had a roommate in college who was a panromantic asexual. Every day, he fell in love in an “Aimless Love” sort of way. It made living with him an adventure.

“Panromantic or pansexual?” I asked.

“I’m both,” Max answered, shifting the focus to himself.

“I’m straight,” I replied, needlessly.

“I know,” he said.

“Cishet.”

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I reflected on the tall ladder of privilege I stood on: cishet, white, upper-middle-class background, educated.

Max looked at me with his earnest gaze. “You’re doing just fine, Mallory,” he said. “Don’t be hard on yourself. You’re my sunshine.”

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I took a long walk that evening along the beach. I felt so much. As I walked, I began to notice how I was not these feelings. These feelings stirred within me, threatening to overwhelm me, but I wasn’t these emotions. I wasn’t the guilt, I wasn’t the remorse, I wasn’t this strange giddiness that rose up every time I thought of Max’s gaze, every time I remembered his voice. I wasn’t my privilege. I wasn’t the prejudiced thoughts that battered me whenever the voice of my father spoke inside of me. I wasn’t the lies that movies told me.

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Maybe, I was the girl that looked at the photo of a little extraterrestrial boy holding a puppy and felt, inside of me, the opening of my heart.

Maybe I was the fangirl who was falling in love with the words of someone not-from-this-planet who happened to be able to see into mysteries that somehow beckoned me.

Maybe I was what it was that was seeing this, feeling this, thinking this, experiencing this–and then, it all fled, and I fell into that silence again, where no thoughts tread.

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As I walked back up the trail, a light shone from the window in the house on the bluff.

Someone sat at a computer desk.

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I recognized him from a photo on his personal blog. It was Septemus Sevens, this was where he lived, and my fangirl heart raced.

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Septemus 50

Septeen1401

Dear son,

The fog is starting to lift, and I remember everything.

Xirra, she’s the one I spent most of the time with, had asked me, “Do you want to remember, or forget?”

“Remember!” I said. “I want to remember everything.”

And I do.

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They all greeted me, all twelve.

“Do you know the history of abductions?” they asked.

I didn’t. Do you? They told me everything. Abductions, not just of people of our planet, but from many planets, have been going on for generations, for centuries. The intentions haven’t been benevolent, traditionally. They’ve been mercenary.

Women were used to provide gene samples–through swabs of skin or locks of hair, mostly, so that they never knew–and the genes were spliced to create new stock.

Males were forcibly, without consent, impregnated. Most of the time, the experience was so traumatic, that the men ended up returning the child to the home planet soon after birth, and these children provided the slave labor that created the wealth of the Mainstreamers.

It’s a practice that the rebels abhor, just as much as they abhor the treatment of bizoobi.

“This is why we fight,” said Xirra. “We cannot support a culture, a society, an economy that rests on rape, slavery, and murder.”

Gotukoda in’i EO!” They all shouted.

“We want to do things another way,” Xirra said. We weren’t on the ship during this conversation–I remember this now. We were–where were we? We were someplace dark, with glowing plants. Someplace purple, with ultraviolet light. It felt like the inside of a flower.

“We are safe here,” Xirra told me. She led me to an inner room. We sat on large plants, purple, soft, like giant mushrooms, only clearly, they were not a fungus. They smelled like cotton candy.

“We want to do things differently,” she said. “That is what we are all about. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

I nodded. So much information, emotional as well as historical, was passing telepathically that I felt that I knew much more than had been said. It was difficult to find words to talk, processing all that was coming in.

She took my hand. “We have been feeling the bonds within your home,” she said. “We know something of love. Do you know, for us, the love of family, of father and pagoto, mother and pagoto, the love that makes a gotukoda–a home–is as close to sacred as anything we know?”

Again, I nodded. I could believe it. It’s sacred to me, too, I tried to say, though I could only think it.

“We want to do things differently,” she said again. “Do you?”

I knew then what she meant.

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I found my voice. “Yes,” I said. “I want this very much.”

It was beautiful, son. It was everything that the creation of a new life should be.

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You are such a romantic at heart, with your crushes and your Big Loves. I know that you have wondered about me and why I have never had much to do with any of that.

I haven’t felt I’ve been missing out. I’ve had no interest. Why should I bother with something that I’m simply uninterested in, especially when that bother could lead to misunderstanding, broken hearts, and misery?

But now I know. There is something in a touch, an exchange, a breath of love that creates a new life–this is more than romance. This is love. This is what makes a family.

What Xirra and I shared during that exchange, I hope you share that with someone sometime!

The way I feel inside–the petals of the blue rose open, and what’s inside? More petals, more opening, on and on, until the edge of me dissolves and the edge of her dissolves and the rose keeps blooming, on and again.

This is what creates a new life.

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I am going to be a father, again.

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When Xirra led me out to the main room, we weren’t bashful. There was nothing secret, nothing shameful, everything sacred.

The others were sitting around low round tables, sipping tart, sweet tea that smelled like green apples, though it was deep red. They made room for us, and without talking, we sat with them.

They all began to sing then, only not out loud: inside, the way you sing to your pagotogo. I could hear them. Xirra looked at me, and I began to sing with them.

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What gift have I been given? I am in awe.

How is it that I came to be your father? What have you taught me? So much! You have taught me love and more. And now. This experience. This is something that I never thought that I would experience. Me, solitary me. I am solitary no more. I am surrounded with gotugo. We are all kin. I never knew this. But now I do.

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I’m going to have a baby!

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I’m going to have a baby, and this new life is the result of the most amazing, reality-altering experience I have ever had. This new life is the result of love.

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You are going to be an amazing big brother.

And I am…

steeped in gratitude,

Your pops

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Author’s note: Sebastion came back from his “abduction” (it felt more like a “visitation”) knowing that he was pregnant. He had all the nooboo-related thought bubbles since he arrived back home.

Septemus 47

Septeen906

Dear Sept,

You’re back from visiting your sister! I tried not to worry. I didn’t succeed. I worried.

But you came back safe.  You smelled like garlic, but you were safe.

Not every community is as friendly towards extra-terrestrials as ours is. I had no idea what you’d encounter out there. But you seemed thrilled with everything you found.

“Panda’s so adorable,” you said. “So smart, too!”

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I had to ask about the garlic.

“It was Harmony’s doing,” you said. “Do you realize that she’s allergic to the stuff? She broke out in blisters. But she got it to keep me safe when I was travelling back home. And to keep us safe here, too.”

We’ve hung the wreath on the front porch and stored the garlands in the spice drawer. Our home smells like the cellar of an Italian deli now.

“She’s got that quality,” you said.

“What quality, son?”

“That same quality you have. The same as our bizaabgotojo. Where you put someone else’s needs ahead of your own. What’s that quality called, Pops?”

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“That’s called being a parent,” I said.

“It’s the luckiest thing,” you answered. “The luckiest thing in the universe is to have a parent.”

You’re sleeping outside tonight. You said you wanted to be out there where you could feel connected to everybody. You’re such a big kid now, nearly a man, but when I checked on you , curled up on the park bench, sleeping out under the stars so you could hook into the dreams of your pagotogo, you looked like that same little kid who was entrusted to me, over a decade ago.

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I often wonder what’s in store for you, for your future. Lucas has been coming by often, and I’ve seen the way the two of you look at each other, and the way you carefully avoid looking at each other.

I won’t ask if there’s something going on between you. It will become clear soon enough, and I’m not one who feels comfortable talking about these types of things.

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You’re as moody as always. Sometimes, you’ll chuckle aloud while you’re writing, as if life is the greatest thing.

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Then an hour later, I might find you looking forlorn.

Sometimes, I ask.

“There’s a lot that’s not right in the world. And a lot that’s not right in other worlds, too,” you said. “What’s the purpose of the not-rightness? Why can’t everybody just be kind?”

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I asked if you’d read any Buddhist texts during your forays through the school and town libraries.

You hadn’t yet. I think maybe you’re ready. I know I’ve tried to protect you from suffering and from learning about hardship, sorrow, and danger while you were growing up. And I know, too, that it’s foolish to think that someone, even a parent, can protect a growing child from that.

That’s all part of life. Sure, a parent is someone who puts the child’s needs first. A parent is someone who will do anything–make any kind of sacrifice, even his own life–for the child. A parent is someone who will do everything to protect the child.

But no parent, not even Siddhartha’s parent, can protect against suffering, illness, danger, and death. Doing so would be to try to pull the child out of life–and even if we want to do so out of our misguided love, there is no way we can pull that off.

Son, you’re going out in the world now.  It won’t be long before you come back with all sorts of tales and all sorts of questions.

I think maybe I’ll get a few of my own Buddhist paperbacks from my college days out of storage and put them on the shelf. I think you might be ready for them.

Septeen907

We’re getting to the time where your questions are the sort I can’t answer anymore.

Love you, son,

Your Pops

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Septemus 28

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Dear Sept,

We made good use of your day off. We worked on your school project. You had me read the instructions silently to practice my sintakoo-lacky-si. You seemed to follow along pretty well, so I must be getting better at transmitting.

I was happy with the effect the mental activity seemed to have on you. I know when I’m feeling shaky emotionally, having something to concentrate and focus on usually gives my emotions time to settle.

You were feeling pretty confident by the time we wrapped up the project and you headed in to bed.

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I went back out after tucking you in and added a few finishing touches to it. This is one fine volcano!

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Ms. Swits liked it so much she gave you extra credit, and when you got home you were proud and cocky. You’re an A student now.

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“Aren’t you proud of me, Pops?” you asked.

Of course I am, but not for the reasons you think. A’s are fine and good. But I’m proud of you. I’m proud of the sensitive, intuitive, caring, quirky, funny person that you are. I’m proud that you’re so full of good you don’t even know what mean is. I’m proud that you’re in touch with your brothers and sisters and sending them comforting vibes every chance you get. I’m proud that you have no clue what a miracle you are.

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“Oh, we’ve got someone coming over,” I told you when you pulled out your homework. The school had called. Because you’ve been doing so well, you qualify for a special program where they match gifted kids up with mentors, and your mentor was due to come over for his first visit that afternoon.

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Your mentor is Gunther Munch, Lucas and Wolfgang’s older brother.

I asked him how his brothers were doing. “Wolf made any progress on his college apps?”

“Wolfgang. You two know Wolfy? ” he asked. “I’m sorry for you. Don’t hold it against me, all right?”

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“Wolfgang’s my friend,” you said quietly. “He’s teaching me a lot.”

“Ah,” said Gunther. “What can my brother teach? How to skin a cat? Possibly. Where to pawn ill-gotten gains? Likely. Five ways to explain to Mother where you were all afternoon when you should have been at school? Most definitely. I think, perhaps you learn from Munch Boy, senior, yes, my young friend?”

I’manequalopportunitylearner,” you said real quick. “I learn from everybody.”

You turned back to your book, and Gunther began telling you about Goethe and the The Sorrows of Young Werther.

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“I think one day I will love to fall in love,” you said.

There’s no hurry, son.

–Your pops

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Forgotten Art: Jasper – Alina 2

A reply to: A letter from Alina

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Dear Alina,

What joy to receive your letter! So you’ve come through your trial and made it out the other side.

Not many get the chance to live through the mythic experience of Orpheus and Eurydice–but then, not many of us travelled through the eras past to step into the present day. Nor do we have step-fathers returned from the grave!

And not many of us possess your bravery, Alina, for surely, it’s in finding the strength to trust even when in the grips of fear that true bravery lies.

So now your curse has been lifted, a gift from the strength of your mother, Robin, and your own brave heart.

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What is next for you and Robin?

And how does it feel to have the curse removed?

You asked what it was like to be a professor of literature.

It was my life for a very long time–over thirty years, and before that stretched a decade of preparation.

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There were things I liked, things I loved, things I tolerated, things I rejected, things I railed against, things I professed, things I chafed at, things I adored.

In that way, it was much like any job, I suppose.

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The finest moments centered around the catching-hold of an idea. One year, we all went mad for Thoreau; I nearly lost eight students to “The Walden Effect.”

When a certain type of sophomore first reads Walden, something dangerous can spark. Once it does, this bureaucratic life that muffles our everyday becomes intolerable. And when that happens, the susceptible sophomore turns to me with a bright eye and declares, “I must do something meaningful.” I came to recognize the signs.

“Fine, yes, you will do something meaningful, but AFTER writing this term paper.”

“No! I need to experience life directly!”

Before I lost too many students, I tossed in a lecture on Thoreau’s life: He was a student before he dropped out. Then he ran a pencil factory. He taught. He found meaning in the quiet and loud tasks of a single day: And then he dropped out. But even then, he didn’t really drop out.

His cabin was short walk from Emerson’s home, and nearly daily, Thoreau’s old crowd dropped by to visit, to read, to play chess, to wonder at his quaint life. While all along, Thoreau was studying, reading, writing. He lived deliberately, yes–But one needn’t drop out to live deliberately.

I suppose my quest as a literature professor was to craft my own deliberate life. Literature forges my path through beauty.

jasper02

Perhaps that old aphorism applies: You can take the professor out of the university, but you can’t take the university out of the professor.

My academic eye has become native by now.

My greatest joy still lies in the alchemy of spirit and word. The other day, a friend dropped by.

‘You know I’ll be thanking you forever,” she said.

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“For what?” I asked.

“T.S. Eliot,” she said.

Four Quartets?” I asked. I recommended it the last time we spoke.

“‘At the still point of the turning world,'” she quoted. “‘Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards…'”

She found Burnt Norton online and we recited together:

“at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.”

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My friend laughed. “To think I’ve lived this long without knowing these words!”

“Oh, but you have known them,” I replied. For that is the mystery of literature: that is what makes the sophomore rebel when first reading Thoreau, that’s what makes the old one rejoice when reading Eliot. It’s the words we’ve known and lived and heard echoing through our souls. Only it has taken these writers to express it in words that we can share with another, and even with our own inward heart.

Alina, my bookworm friend, may you also know many happy moments hearing your soul’s whispers echoed in the literature you read!

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Wishing love to you, Robin, and whatever whispers may be stirring now that your curse has been lifted!

Your steadfast correspondent,

Jasper

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Aimless: Take a Breath!

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One year ago, I was put in charge of a big project at work that would take this entire year to complete. On the one hand, I felt inspired: It was a project we’d been wanting to do for over fifteen years, and we finally were able to! On the other hand, I felt some dread: This project would demand most of my organizational and creative energy.

My mixed feelings stemmed from realizing that to give the project what it needed to succeed, I’d have to scale back my creative activities with SimLit. It wasn’t a matter of time so much as energy. Before embarking on this project, my work days were filled with detail-oriented work that asked for a tiny portion of my brain power–so while I coded and posted and proofread and resized and optimized, most of my mind was free to wander, and that wandering is how I create my SimLit stories.

In addition to the excitement of the project, I felt a bit of grief: How much of my writing would I have to let go of?

I reached out to my friends on the EA Forums who frequent the Kindness Bench.

The advice and suggestions I received from them filled me with hope, enthusiasm, and faith that I’d be able to make it through this, keep up with my writing as much as I could, and return when the project allowed.

I probably read more SimLit this past year than previously because reading was something that kept me going and fueled me before I headed into the office for the busy, stressful afternoon.

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And I made it through it! Often during this past year, when I was feeling frustrated by the stories inside me that wanted expression–but which I didn’t have the right energy to express–and even by those seed that were waiting to be watered, I remembered my friends and their advice.

If a busy high school student can balance her academic, creative, personal, and interscholastic activities with her writing, I could, too. If some of my friends gained energy and enthusiasm when they had to take forced breaks, maybe I would, too! If one friend is able to take advantage of the little moments that appear for writing each day, maybe that would work for me. If another friend assures me that readers will still be here if I need to take a break, I’ll trust her.  If yet another friend can manage to balance grad school with her creative SimLit activities, then surely I can handle this! And if my virtual sister is there to offer support and step in to help with our forum activities, then I knew I could get through it.

It was a tough year–especially the last few months.

But we made it. I kept writing. I found projects that worked with the quality and quantity of energy I had and that didn’t demand the energy I lacked.

And now, here I am on the other side!

For a year, I’ve been looking forward to this particular weekend! And here I am!

The project is a success overall–still tons more to do with it, and a million-and-one details to attend to, but it will work out, and I will likely not be fired, and the support from a handful of coworkers comes close to making up for the lack of support from the administration. And it makes a lot of people’s lives a lot nicer and it helps families and our organization, too. So, a success overall.

And that leaves me… here. I don’t yet know what I’ll focus on with my writing. My plan is to continue with Forgotten Art (which is part of the Pen Pal Project) and Vampire Code, while circling back and finishing a few projects that are close to completion, like Drifter. I’ve also begun a Murkland Starter Challenge, Through a Glass Murkly, which is hosted on its own blog.

I can feel that my creative well has been pretty well drained, but I can also feel vernal springs bubbling to fill it up again.

What a time for thanks! For gratitude for friends, and creativity, and life, and opportunities.

What a time to pause and breathe!

Vadish!  I look forward to whatever is next, and I hope you’re here to read with me!

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Forgotten Art: Norman – Newt 8

A reply to: A letter from Newt

Hey, Newt.

So, read your letter. And I’m writing back.

While I was reading, I kept flashing on this story my uncle told me when we were hiking at the bluffs.

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It’s about the charnel ground. Have you heard of that?

It’s a burial site. But for Buddhists. It’s also a literal place for transformation. Figurative, too.

See, according to my uncle, that’s where the bodies would be left–above ground, so that vultures and jackals could feed on them and all the flesh and stuff would decay and then the sun would bleach the bones. So when the process is done, all that’s left are clean white sun-bleached bones. But the way there stinks.

My uncle had way too much fun describing it:

“Vultures descending, tearing the sinews, gulping down eyeball. Entrails stretching across the plain. Jackals sneaking in after dark, howling with their strange laughs that sound like a child’s cry, grabbing the muscles, gobbling the rotting fat. Hair, loose, dry, brittle hair, flowing everywhere.”

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My uncle is strange. I never know what he’s trying to say. Growing up, I called him “Uncle Obtuse.” He wasn’t going to volunteer the point of the story. So I asked him.

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He shrugged. “Life is messy,” he said.

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At one of the first group sessions I went to at HoH, they showed a film. The purpose of the film was to show how PTSD is PTSD, no matter from what or experienced by whom. So, they interviewed war vets. They interviewed witnesses of 9/11. They interviewed people who experienced domestic violence. They interviewed refugees.

Afterwards, the group talked about how they felt watching the film.

When it was my turn, I started analyzing the camera angles, which were generally really low, looking up at the person, or really high, looking down, and so the effect was one of disassociation, and then I started analyzing the lighting, which was weirdly bright, and then I started talking about the effects of digital film vs. celluloid. Everyone listened. I thought I was doing pretty well.

Then the group counselor asked, “What did you feel watching the film, Norman? What do you feel now?”

“I don’t do emotions,” I replied.

One woman spoke up, “If you don’t do emotions, emotions do you.”

I stopped doing emotions when I was was a kid. It was a day that started out as the best day of my life, and ended up as the day I stopped doing emotions.

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My dad took my sister and me out to see the wind turbines.  It was a big day–Dad was featured in all these articles for bringing wind power to Windenburg, and he was making a name for himself.

At the time, I kept half an eye on the sky. I was a big fan of raptors and other birds of prey. When we reached the field below the turbines, I spotted an osprey. At the time, they were my favorites. I had this idea they were lucky. I watched it soar. I was about to point it out to Meadow when it flew too close to the wind-blades. There was a white explosion of feathers. And then–nothing. Not even a trace.

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I didn’t know how to respond. Dad and Meadow were talking, facing the other way. I didn’t know how to tell them what had happened.

I decided to not say anything. I stacked the emotions. I didn’t know what else to do. My dad was my hero. He was this big environmental leader guy. And his big project that was getting all the attention was killing birds of prey. The dissonance was too much.

When I took over his business, I still had my emotions shelved. I knew ethically that I wanted us to find a way to do wind power without killing birds. Did you know that some years up to 250 birds of prey were killed? That’s owls, osprey, falcons, kestrels, eagles, vultures, and raptors of all kinds.

After I met Ira, I decided I had to do something. That’s why we switched to solar. It’s gonna cost us. It’ll cost the business big-time. If we encounter any delays or set-backs, we’ll probably have to issue bonds to see the project through. But even if it bankrupts us, it’ll be worth it. I can get a job as a chemist.

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We’ve been learning in group about the ways that trauma and stress change the brain. It’s true that if you don’t do emotions, emotions do you. Something got split off in me when I turned away from what happened to that osprey. That’s what allowed me to run the company for so many years.

We’ve also been learning that the heart has its own mind, and just like our brain can influence our heart, our heart can influence our brain. It’s a two-way path.

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Ira, Aari, and me, we each learned the same exercise in our groups. It’s called “heart breathing.” For a slow count of five, breathe into your heart. Hold it and rest. Breathe out for five. Pause. As you do this, start breathing from your heart, as if it is your heart breathing in, breathing out.

Don’t think about how it doesn’t make sense. Just do it.

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Aari does it when she starts getting mad. Pretty soon, she’s laughing again.

The trick is to remember to do it.

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I took Meadow up to the hills the other day. I wanted us to look out and see what it was like without the turbines.

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Yeah, I shut the turbines off two weeks ago. They’ve been dismantled.

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I looked at the sun. That sky stretched. Next time I see a falcon or osprey cross that sky, I won’t have to turn away. It’s safe. I can let myself feel the thrill of watching those wings spread.

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So, here I am writing. Newt, I think it’s probably best if you don’t count on me to help. I honestly don’t know how. I am not the kind of guy who helps other people or who even knows how to be helpful, especially when it comes to emotions and feelings.

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You’ve got your therapist for that, thank God.

I’m a friend. I stick. Maybe you can share with me what you learn about doing emotions. I got a lot to learn in that area.

Keep writing, buddy! Keep hanging in there through messy life.

–Norm

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<< Norman’s Previous Letter | Norman’s Next Letter >>

City Tales: My Lovely Landlord, 4

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By the time the bonsai outgrew its windswept form, CT had stopped indulging in the sweet yearnings of homesickness. She discovered she no longer wished to be anywhere else: she found plenty of inspiration exactly where she was.

Dozens of canvases lined the walls, waiting to be filled. She specialized in the flotsam of urban commercialism, finding perfection in the color and form of shapes that might otherwise be overlooked. Through her years in the city, she learned to discount nothing. Everything formed a worthwhile subject.

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She showed each canvas to Atharv. He appreciated them all.

“One day,” he said, “you will create something that will stop the heart. Not for long! Just an instant.”

“An eternity.”

“And then when the heart starts to beat again, the viewer will feel that life has changed. Nothing will be the same again.”

“I’m not that kind of artist,” she said.

“I wouldn’t be so sure.”

“My paintings don’t mean much. They’re just pleasant to look at. Something to fill an empty corner! Maybe something that brings a smile.”

“It will happen,” Atharv said. “I have great faith in art and in the artist.”

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In spring, she included natural forms in her subject matter. She loved the juxtaposition of brick and leaf, petals and metal, wood and steel.

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Things kept breaking in the apartment. Every month or so the fuse box would spark or the pipes would leak.

“I’d think you’d find a different place, my friend!” Atharv told her. “I have properties all through the city, and many are not in need of repair.”

“But do they come with furry friends?” she asked. “And how could I get through a month without a visit from you?”

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It was a joke, for Atharv was as likely to drop by on any Tuesday as he was to come in response to a repair call.

While CT painted, Atharv cooked a meal. He seldom ate it himself, but he would carefully pack up the leftovers and store them in the fridge.

“Artists must eat!” he said. “And if they are too busy painting to cook for themselves, then someone must cook for them!”

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Winter again, and CT prepared for her first big show in the Art Center.

“So the critic will have to review her own work!” Atharv joked.

“Hardly!” she replied. “Will you come with me to the opening?” she asked. “I’m nervous. It’s silly. But I am. If I were there with someone I felt safe with, then I wouldn’t be so scared.”

“Do you feel safe with me?” Atharv asked.

“Yes,” she replied.

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In the weeks leading up to the opening, Atharv dropped by daily.

“I’m feeling so unsure of my paintings,” CT confessed.

“But why?” asked Atharv. “They are you! They show how you see the world!”

“But they’re not relevant,” CT replied. “They don’t mean anything. They’re just pleasing to look at.”

“That is not such a bad thing,” Atharv said. “If you can show beauty where it might not be seen, that is not a waste.”

“I can hear the reviews already,” CT said. “‘Derivative mish-mash of style and form, CT’s work leaves one wondering about the future of two-dimensional art.’

Atharv chuckled in spite of himself.

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“Do you remember the night we spoke of the tiger?” he asked.

She did, of course.

“You told a story that night, too.”

CT thought back to the story she had told. She had been twelve. It was a few weeks after her cat had had to be put to sleep. That was her first experience with grief and betrayal. The cat’s illness came about because of additives in the pet food that caused liver failure. Her rage and sense of injustice threatened to overwhelm her. She lost trust in the world, trust in her parents, trust in the vet. How could shops sell something that caused harm? How could pet food companies produce it? How could her parents not know this and buy it? Why hadn’t the vet warned them? How could it be so senseless?

She took long walks in the hills around her house, sometimes following them deep into the woods. When her tears stopped, sometimes, her thoughts would stop, too, and she walked for hours in a silence that was deeper within than without.

One day, after hours of silence, the trees around her began to glow. She had no words for what she saw. It was light–but it wasn’t the sunshine. It was the light of life, in each growing thing. The world around her was vibrating in light.

She watched for an instant–an eternity–until the everyday forms returned.

When she got back home, she didn’t know how to express what she had seen to anyone. She kept the story a secret within her. Atharv was the first person she’d told, after he shared his story of the tiger.

A few days before the opening, Atharv stepped into the studio. There on the easel was a painting of the light of life.

When his heart began to beat again, Atharv wrapped her in his arms. “This is the painting that does it for me,” he said. “Now nothing is the same.”

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He laughed while she fixed a pot of tea for them.

“Someday, they will say, ‘This is the apartment where ‘Light’ was painted!’ We will have to erect a plaque!”

“Nonsense,” she said. “That you like it. That’s enough.”

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She had two more paintings to finish for the opening. After they finished their tea, she returned to the easel, and Atharv stepped out onto the balcony.

He left not long after, and CT painted through the night. Shortly before sunrise, she headed to the balcony to catch the changing colors of the sky.

Atharv had trimmed the bonsai, and her own heart stopped when she saw it, for an instant. And when it beat again, nothing was the same.

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New World Symphony: Three Wishes for Tomas, pt. 3

The wishing well heard the thrush welcome dawn with a bright song. Over the bay, clouds settled, spreading sweet whispers of mist into the meadows. Some mornings were made for benevolence.

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Tomas had wanted to surprise Redbud with his return to life. He harbored a wish to come home solid and real and embrace her in warm arms. But Cathy’s message from onezero’s thousand mothers about the power of two caused him to rethink this. Some wishes need to be shared.

So that morning, Tomas told Redbud what he hoped to accomplish through the wishing well.

“Let’s do it,” Redbud said. “Do you think it will work? I think it will! And we’ll just keep trying until it does.”

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So, early in the morning, Tomas and Redbud came to Cathy Tea’s. onezero came along. “She is my best friend, after all,” onezero said.

While Redbud and onezero sat inside with their cups of coffee, Tomas walked out to the wishing well. One look at the benevolent half-smile on the wishing well’s face, and he kept his bag of coins. Instead, he pulled out a single coin, bright with hope, and tossed it into the well.

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The light shot up white and bright.

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Rays of light arced to Tomas, lifting him and shooting through his translucent form. His fingers tingled first.

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And then a jolt shot through where his spine would be, if he had a spine.

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The pain was intense as nerve-endings formed and energy consolidated.

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But it was the type of pain that Tomas wanted to moves towards, not away from, for he knew that as he moved through that pain, he would come out the other side in his old, familiar form.

His first breath brought joy. The air was so moist–he could taste the sea! Oh, his back ached, and his pulse beat so hard his chest felt about to burst, but he was solid.

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When he held Redbud, he could feel her heart beat, he could feel her breath on his shoulder, he could feel her warmth.

“You’re so warm,” Redbud said. “I’ve missed this,” she whispered.

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Cathy busied herself in the kitchen, and onezero was upstairs at the chess board, but Florinda was fascinated by this reunion of the man who used to be a ghost with the woman who was his wife. These were Sempervirens’ grandparents, after all!

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Soon, the atmosphere became too mushy for a kid, and Florinda joined Cathy outside for a snack, leaving Tomas and Redbud alone to rediscover how they made each other feel.

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And then it was time to include the others in the celebration.

“He did it, onezero!” Redbud told her aunt.

“I knew he would,” onezero said. “Wishes are just a matter of time!”

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Cathy had baked fresh bagels and lemon bars. While Tomas carried his snack out to patio, he thought about what this new extension of life would bring. He realized that it wasn’t so much a matter of doing things as being with others.

He wanted to be with Redbud, with his grown children, with his grandchild, with old friends and new.

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“Does it feel very much different?” Redbud asked.

“Oh, yeah,” said Tomas. “I’d forgotten all of this! Hunger. That stiff crook in my neck. How hard it is to chew a bagel with these old molars!”

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“Oh, I forgot about your stiff neck,” Redbud said.

“I love it!” Tomas said. “Every single ache and pain, what my granddad used to call ‘the usual aches and pains,’ I love every one. If it means I get to feel breath in my lungs again, and to feel your warm skin, I’ll take these aches and pains!”

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“You look handsome,” Redbud said. “I mean. Wow.”

“I’m not some old bag of wrinkles?” asked Tomas.

“Oh, you’ve got wrinkles! But remember. I was there for every one. All those years I remember when I look at your face.”

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All those years! It had been a lifetime. It was easy to forget sometimes, looking at Redbud and onezero, who had chosen to remain young, that together they had lived a whole lifetime and more! That was a lot to be thankful for.

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Sparkroot joined them.

“How come you’re not a ghost anymore?” he asked Tomas.

“I wanted to breathe again,” Tomas said. “And to crunch on your mom’s bagels with these old clickers.”

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As evening fell, Tomas found himself in conversation with Florinda.

“I’m glad that Little Green gets a real grandpa,” she said. “Did you know that Sparky and I don’t have a grandpa? Or a grandma, either.”

“Well, we’re practically family, aren’t we?” Tomas said. “Why, you just live up the hill from my little grandchild. And I’ve always wanted to have a whole pack of kids to think of as grandkids. You can all me Poppa, if you want, little Flor.”

“And will you play games and tell stories?” Florinda asked.

“Of course!” said Tomas. “That’s what Poppas do!”

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Soon, it was time to head home. Redbud sought out Cathy before she, onez, and Tomas left for Cradle Rock.

“Thank you,” she said.

“I’m so happy!” said Cathy.

“Me, too,” said Redbud.

“Me, too!” said Sparkroot.

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For Cathy, at that moment, the old wishing well seemed to have brought everything good! She forgot about her confused feelings for Brennan, the man she loved who could bring such pain, along with such joy, and she remembered only her love for Brennan, the joy their two kids brought into this wide world, and now, this gift for Redbud and Tomas and all who loved them.

That wishing well–it brought life, and with it, the complex brew of feeling and emotion that living brings.

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<< Previous

New World Symphony: Three Wishes for Tomas, pt. 2

Tomas stood at the last grave in the long row of tombstones that lined Cradle Rock: his grave. He was the last to die here, so close to making it to the new era when time would shift. He regretted nothing: not one aspect of his long life with Redbud. But he mourned the loss of that long life.

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He spent the day wandering Cradle Rock, visiting all his favorite spots, watching Redbud as she went about her day, and then, as night fell, he returned to Cathy Tea’s.

Sparkroot greeted him.

“Where’s your mom, little bud?” Tomas asked.

“Not sure, exactly,” Sparkroot said.

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“We were playing outside after dinner, and we heard this weird whirring sound,” Sparkroot said. “You ever see one of those big lit-up frisbees in the sky? It was one of those!”

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“Ah, I see!” said Tomas. “I don’t suppose your mom headed over to check out the lights.”

“Yeah,” said Sparkroot. “That’s just what she did. She told me to go inside and wait for her, and she went out front to take a look, and then the whir noise got louder, and then by the time the noise was gone, I couldn’t find Ama! You think she’s OK?”

“Yes, I do,” said Tomas. “Not to worry. It’s happened to a lot of us. She’ll be back safe and sound and all the wiser. Where’s your sister?”

“She’s at Little Green’s home in the big meadow.”

Tomas smiled to think of his granddaughter Sempervirens playing with Cathy Tea’s child. Thinking of Little Green made him want to return to life all the more! How incredible it would be to be an actual part, not just a spiritual part, of his granddaughter’s life.

“Think I can use your Wishing Well again?” Tomas asked Sparkroot.

“Sure thing,” said Sparkroot. “Just be careful what you wish for. That’s what Ama always tells us.”

Tomas had a good feeling about his wish this time. He felt so much more sure.

He tossed in the bag of coin for his donation, and as the white light of gratitude shone up, he felt confident. His intentions were set: they were right.

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He knew this wish was for the best. Let it happen!

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Green light shone out: green, the color of life, living, and growing things. His hope grew.

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He felt the white helix surround him. The tingling was less extensive than before.

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And then it faded. No change? After all of that? After the pure setting of intention and the clarity of thought and wishing? And, nothing?

There was something. He felt a round bump in his pocket, like a pebble. When he took it out, he saw a seed in the shape of a skull. It looked like something he’d seen in an old illustrated book: the seed of the death flower.

It wasn’t what he’d wished for, but at least his wish left him something in his pocket.

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He didn’t want to leave the the children while their mother was still gone, so he found a book inside and settled down to wait.

Late at night, Florinda straggled in.

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“You’re home, I see!” he said. “And how was Little Green? How is my granddaughter?”

“You’re Little Green’s arsa’thair?” asked Florinda. “She’s my really good friend!”

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Tomas heard all about the mischief and games that Florinda and Sempervirens got into that day. While Tomas was tucking in Florinda for the night, he heard the whirring sound.

The saucer circled, then hovered over the house, sending down its beam of light.

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And Cathy Tea slid down the beam, landing without even a wobble, as if she’d done this a thousand times before.

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“How was it?” Tomas asked. “Safe trip?”

“Yeah,” she replied. “It was fine. I was just catching up with onezero’s thousand. They left a message for me. In fact… oh, forgive me. My mind’s a little groggy. All that travel. I haven’t caught up with myself yet. Let’s see. They said… Oh! They had a message for you!”

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“For me?” Tomas asked.

“Yes! For you! They said, ‘If at first you don’t succeed, don’t at first give up!’ And then they said something about the power of two and all of that. It’s a little beyond me at the moment, but there you have it!”

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