S-Boys: Episode 12 – Training


We’ve been training. I’m talking pre-dawn dance practice, all-day singing practice, work-outs in-between, and no rest for the idol.


Yeah, training’s important. But the skills, essential as they are, aren’t main benefit of the training. The magic is in the bonding.

You try dancing all morning, every morning, with the four guys you live with, and you’ll find you end up with four close friends, too.


If I’ve learned anything about boy-bands, it’s that it’s the friendships that make the band.

Fans crave that. They want to watch those candid moments and see some genuine affection. That’s what brings them into the magic circle, and that’s what we’re aiming to do. We want to make people happy. Make them feel like they belong. And the only way to do that is with love, and love can’t be faked.

Vee-Jay wants to make music. Of all the guys, he’s the one who puts his heart and soul into it. He works the hardest. After everyone else has moved into the kitchen for vegan tofu breakfast wraps and hot coffee, he’s still on the dance floor, lost in the song he’s writing, feeling it move through him. This maknae’s gonna be our best dancer yet.


Now Joey, he’s focused on being an idol. It’s not the music, it’s the adoration of the fans that drives him.

“I’ve got the look, right, Tony?”


“You gotta nice, smile, bro. Cool mustache. You got the swag. But you could use more definition.”

“Hey, man. I am definition. I am the definition of swag!”

“Not the kind of definition I mean, Joey.”

Tony has taken on the role of fitness coach for Joey.


He’s the most qualified.

But Joey? I’m not sure if he’s got the discipline and dedication his coach demands.


As soon as the scent of fresh popcorn wafts up the stairs to the gym, he runs down the stairs and sits himself behind a mega-bowl.

“I think tank tops are over-rated, don’t you, Akira?” he said. “Where’s the cool? Vest, scarf, sleeves–know what I’m talking about?”

Akira winked at me and began to chuckle.

“Working out is for more than muscle definition,” I told Joey. “You need stamina if you wanna be an idol.”


I heard singing coming from the great room.

“That a new song?” I asked Akira.

“It’s one of Vee-Jay’s. He’s working on a unit for him and Rylan.”


Rainbow Apollo,
Down where
the river flows

You go
where I go
Rainbow Apollo


It was a ballad.

The boys stopped when they saw me.

“Oh, Sierra,” said Vee-Jay. “I’m still working on it. It’s not done. I’m kinda stuck.”

“I’m sure you’ll get it,” I said.

“I’m not. I was kinda hoping… I shouldn’t ask. But, you think you might want to write it with me?”

“Co-write it?”

“It’d be an honor,” he said, shyly.

“The honor would be mine,” I said, and I meant it.


Rainbow Apollo
Sun spots
and ice flow

Iris calls you back
with a message
for the hero.

Will you go
where I go

Rainbow Apollo?


We worked for a few hours. I hadn’t felt that jazz of inspiration for decades, not since writing songs for my own albums.

We’re getting closer. Everyday, we’re getting closer, and Vee-Jay keeps pulling that debut date towards us with his great big stage hook.

It’s gonna take a lot of pots of coffee, but we’re getting there, and quicker than I thought.


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S-Boys: Episode 10 – Honest Assessment


I asked Akira to be team leader.

“You’re  the natural pick. You’ve got the most experience, you seem to be the most level-headed, and mature, even. All the guys look up to you. It’s a no-brainer.”


“I dunno,” he replied. “Should we, like, vote on it or something?”

“This isn’t a democracy,” I said. “It’s a business, and I’m the CEO. Sure, consensus is  nice, but I think the really important business decisions fall to the manager. That would be me.”

He agreed. Not that I left him much choice.

“So, as the team leader, I want your honest appraisal.”

“Honest appraisal? Of what?”

“Of everything! Of the band! How’s everyone doing?”


“Well, they’re all great guys,” he said.

I wanted more.

“Okay, Tony for example,” Akira said. “He’s got the potential to be our star dancer. Every spare moment, he’s working on his body. He’s got the fitness, he’s got good rhythm, and he’s got the brains to learn the moves.”


“And what about chemistry with the other members?”

“Yeah. It’s good,” said Akira. “Everybody likes him.”


I’d noticed he was popular.

“Especially Joey,” Akira added.


“They look good together, don’t they? Cute smiles.”

“You could say that,” Akira said.


“And how’s his singing?”

“He looks good behind a mic,” Akira said.


“And does he sound as good as he looks?”

“Well, when he looks goofy, yeah,” said Akira.


“But do you think he’ll get there?”

“Oh, yeah. I do. He’s got enthusiasm and drive, so yeah. He’s teachable.”

He did have enthusiasm.

He practically ambushed me in the kitchen after one of his rehearsals.

“Did you hear that song?” he asked.


“I did,” I replied. “I couldn’t really recognize the tune. Is it something new?”

“Yes! Vee-Jay wrote it! What do you think?”

I hadn’t been able to understand the lyrics or decipher a melody when Tony sang it. But not long after, I heard Vee-Jay practicing it.


You’re so freaking special
Do you know it?

I’m just happy near you
Dare I show it?


“I want to know what you think,” I asked Akira. “That song that Vee-Jay’s working on? ‘Dare I show it’?”

“You mean ‘Special Snowflake’?”

“Is that what it’s called?” I asked. “Is it any good?”

“Heck, yeah,” said Akira. “He’s got parts for all of us.”


Akira (rapping): Daddy always told you
never did he scold you
said you were his princess–
can’t you take a hint, sis?

Joey: Boom–sis!
Catcha boom, sis!


Akira (hard singing): But do you know it?
Dare you show it? You’re so special
Freaking special!

Joey (sweet singing): Like a snowflake
take my heart babe
Like a snowflake
Piece of cake babe!


(In unison)

Akira and Joey: Freaking special
ain’t no joke.
They call you joking
Let ’em choke
Cuz you’re a snowflake.


I wasn’t so sure. The mix of voices sounded off to me.

Earlier, I’d heard Joey and Vee-Jay practicing.


Now that had more potential.


Joey: When you were a little kid
It was all about you.


Vee-Jay: You thought it was just a joke
But little snowflake, it was true.

(In unison)
Joey and Vee-Jay: It ain’t no pejorative
I know all that only
you can give.

Special snowflake
Babe it’s true.
No one else
Just like you.


They looked OK dancing together, too, actually.


Vee-Jay had been working so hard, and I guessed he’d already lost about ten pounds. Still, he had this quality of innocent geekiness, like he was dancing as if no one was watching. And I hoped he would always keep that.

As for Joey, he thought he was cool, but he was as big a dork as any of them. He just made dorkiness look cute. So, geeky and dorky, it was a really good mix.


During our team-appraisal confab, I asked Akira what he thought about Rylan.

“He’s good with the guys,” Akira said. “Like, for example, if they start getting too high-strung, he brings this calm.”

“He’s pretty focused,” I added.

“That he is.”


“And his singing?”

“Let’s just say… he’s pretty focused,” said Akira.


I liked the way he looked with Joey and Vee-Jay.  They didn’t sound good together yet, but there was hope.


“So what do you think are our chances?” I asked Akira. “What’s our greatest strength? What’s our biggest weakness?”

“Who can tell about chances–that’s why they’re called ‘chances.’ But weakness? No offense meant to him at all, but it’s Joey. I’m just not convinced he’s got the dedication to hang in there when the work gets tough.”


“And strength?”

“Without a doubt, Vee-Jay. Man. Vivaan has been putting in the hours, working out, dancing, singing, composing. He lives and breathes this stuff, man.”

“Plus, he’s kinda cute.”

“Yeah. That’s a plus,” said Akira.

They were all cute, in their own way, without a doubt. But Vee-Jay, he could lose himself in the music, and sometimes, when I watched him, I found myself thinking, “Dang! I wanna feel like that.” And, I know, through experience, I know this thing: If there’s one quality that makes a star, it’s that ability to get the fans to want to feel what they feel, especially when they’re feeling something akin to bliss.


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Septemus 66


It was a good thing that Xirra had me write my list. All-the-good-things saturated me, offering some protection for the bad things I would learn.

“Come then and listen,” she told me when I’d finished the list. “Don’t worry. Your brother can hear, too. We want him to know the truth.”


“And my pops?” I asked. Pops, tired from his trip last night, was taking a nap.

“Maybe not,” she said. “You can decide what he knows and when. I am not sure how his tender heart will bear what I have to say.”


Much of what she told me, I already knew, having sorted it out from the pieces I’d downloaded from them throughout the past several years, combined with what Pabatuotuo and Whisper shared.

The Kfvico’kyastorr are evil, breeding clones for body parts, enslaving others, colonizing the galaxy, invading, raping, destroying, polluting, clear-cutting their way through the universe.

“They aren’t evil,” Xirra said. “They are misguided. They took the old teachings and perverted them, and now they are lost. We don’t fight them because they are evil. We fight them because they are lost.”

“Find me!” shouted Octy.  “Hide and seek! Olly, olly in come free!”


Xirra told me an old myth.

Salatiyu, salaliyu, a daspa foigoikwe, a dark worm, emerged from the depths of the universe, drawn by the golden light that surrounds cognizant beings. In the early times, the worm found plenty of light to lap up, and it grew fat and multiplied. Through the years, the beings learned evasive maneuvers, for they wanted to keep their light.

But the worm was crafty. The worm learned that if it inserted a piece of its teesko, its tail, in a being’s brain stem, the f’goinitskee, or worm-tail, tickled the being’s pleasure center. It felt good to have one’s light devoured.

Generations passed, and the worm-tail became a part of the biology–each new person was born with the f’goinitskee firmly lodged in place. And so, through the generations, the cognizant beings’ energy-light kept the predator-worm fat and happy.

The f’goinitskee began to morph, and as it did, it affected the behavior of the beings. Nothing was more important than them, and in particular, nothing was more important or more special to each being than that person him or herself! Only others like them had souls, so they believed. And each one believed that his or her own soul was the most special.

“And if a being is believed to have no soul, it ceases to be a being and becomes ‘thing,’ and ‘things’ can be used.”

“Are you saying it’s not the fault of the Kfvico’kyastorr?” I asked. “That they’re not to be held accountable for their actions because of the f’goinitskee?

“Oh, everyone is accountable for his or her own actions,” she replied. “Even the F’goinitskee have no excuse. The fault is one-hundred-percent predator, one-hundred-percent individual.”


Octavius ran off to play.

“It’s not just a myth, is it?” I asked.

She shook her head. “The Kfvico’kyastorr have been infected.”

“Wouldn’t it make sense to attack the predator?” I asked.

“In a sense, that is what we do. Most of our energy and all of our practices are focused around protecting ourselves. First, we need to wither the f’goinitskee. That can take years. Then we need to continue, with discipline, so that it doesn’t sprout anew.”

“Why don’t the Kfvico’kyastorr take up your practice?” I asked.

“They could. Some do. Not all who are born Worm-tails remain Worm-tails.”

I shuddered. I felt the strangest sensation running through me. It was as if each cell, each molecule had become awake, buzzing at high frequency, throwing off any heaviness, any density that had collected in me during our talk.

“Are you all right?” Xirra asked.

Yobaska!” I groaned.


“Breathe,” she said. “Do you have the cone on? Remove it. Let it flow. It enters from the crown. Now let it flow through you.”

I stripped away the cone. For the first time in over a year, I let my energy flow freely.

“Keep breathing,” she said.

That high frequency vibration continued, until each molecule danced.

“Oh! You are glowing!” she said. “That predator doesn’t stand a chance around you!”


It was the strangest, most blissful feeling. I felt very whole, very alive, and at the same time, I felt I had no physicality, no actual body. I was pure energy, vibrating.

“Do you know your source?” Xirra asked.

I said I did. I could feel it in me. But she said that wasn’t what she was referring to.

“Not the source of your energy,” she said. “It’s clear you know that! The source of your container, your body, your cells. Do you know your original?”

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Vampire Code: Dark and Light

“A practitioner has the right to suffer, but a practitioner does not have the right not to practice.”

Thich Nhat Hanh, “The Moment is Perfect

This chapter written with Xantheanmar, who graciously volunteered Aylin to join the story.


After she finished her homework, Sylvia fired up the computer.

Hannah Fry’s chapter on the mathematics of love got her thinking. Fry wrote so well. Maybe a mathematician could be a writer, too. Mathematics was another language, after all, and if she was good at math, maybe she could translate that skill into writing.


Sylvia had an idea for a novel. It would be a series of interconnected stories, each one reflecting a mathematical concept.

The first one would be about duality. She didn’t think it would be a love story.


She wrote through twilight until it was time for her lesson with the Count.

When she arrived at the Straud estate, she found a bookish-looking woman standing near the front steps.

“Whoa!” said Sylvia. “You look like someone I could maybe, actually, talk to! Are you, like, a librarian?”


“In a way,” said the woman. “Nice to meet you. I’m Aylin. And you are?”

“Sylvia! Sylvia Zoranto!”

“Zoranto. Lady Miranda’s daughter. My apologies. I amend my greeting, Lady Sylvia.”


“Oh, not Lady,” replied Sylvia. “I mean, yes, my mother is Miranda Zoranto, formerly De Suena, but we’ve dropped all that. Or at least I have.”

Aylin raised an eyebrow. “Heritage is not something easily dropped,” she said.

“Tell me about it!” groaned Sylvia. “Ever since we moved back, there’s been so much pressure. Ma wants me to learn everything, and Papa–he’s been dark for days.”

“And how are the lessons progressing?” Aylin asked.

“Well, some of it is fascinating,” Sylvia replied. “I mean, I love to learn. The book stuff, that is. It’s the practicing stuff that’s kind of weird. Here’s the thing: I love to meditate. I’ve been doing it every day for, I don’t know, maybe three years? But this dark meditation–it just feels weird. Isn’t that like the opposite of what meditation is supposed to be about? I always thought that meditation is about, you know, unity and stuff. That meditation was light.”


“Darkness is not evil,” Aylin said.

Sylvia looked at her askance. “I like sunlight better, truthfully, though I can’t be in it anymore.”

“Difficulty with darkness is something all people have,” Aylin continued, “but never is it so clear as it may be for us vampires. I encourage you to make peace with your darkness, Sylvia, or you may end up like me.”

“But I’d love to end up like you!” Sylvia said.


Just as she was about to tell Aylin that she found her the perfect role model for the type of vampire she wanted to mature into, the Count joined them.

“Ah!” he said in his nasal tenor. “You’ve met my new pupil!”

“Excuse me, Straud,” Aylin replied. “I didn’t realize she was studying with you. I assumed Lady Zoranto was teaching her own daughter.”


The Count scoffed. “Don’t be ridiculous! Look at where home-schooling has got her. Hillbilly,” he hissed, under his breath.


“Maybe you could teach me,” Sylvia suggested to Aylin. “I think I might progress quicker under a woman’s tutelage!”

Aylin smiled, and Sylvia felt her heart open. It would be something to learn from her! Why, under Aylin’s guidance, she just might be able to accept her heritage!


“Enough!” said the Count. “She is my student! I’ll have none f your interference, Missbibliothekar!”


Je vous avez averti, Straud,” Aylin said. “We’ll meet again, Miss Zoranto!”

Sylvia smelled tar smoke, and two bright eyes were all she saw where Aylin had stood.


She felt the wings of the bat, before she saw them. And then Aylin flew above her head, darkening the moon.


And Sylvia was alone with the Count.


“So easily impressed!” he said. “That’s nothing! Watch this!”

He contracted into a smokey haze, shooting her with his intense stare. Sylvia chuckled. Such a show-off!


When he landed, it was her turn.

She rose a few feet, feeling the tarnished wings of coal spreading behind her. What had Aylin said? “Make peace with your darkness.”

She felt calm inside, with the stillness of night gathered into a ball at her solar plexus.


She let the dark center pulsate, pulling her back into the contraction. All this power! If she released the spring, she’d shoot forward. The Count would need to be quick to escape her!


“That was not the worst,” the Count said, when she landed, “nor the best, neither. It was the middlin’ power.”


He took a deep breath, and she waited for his final pronouncement.

“And there is truly nothing worse than a middlin’ hillbilly!”


He turned and walked up the steps.

She waited until the door slammed closed behind him. Five seconds, and the strains from the organ sounded faintly from within.

It wasn’t anger that Sylvia felt inside, but it was a disturbance.

It was disdain. And then she felt ashamed for feeling the disdain, because she really did believe in the value of respecting her elders. And she felt resentful that the Count was her mentor, and not Aylin. She felt envious of Aylin–so independent. So self-contained! So powerful! Willing to stand up even to the Count!

All this conflict inside!


As she rose into the dark meditation, she let the conflict be. She had the right to suffer, after all.

“Difficulty with darkness is something all people have.” She heard Aylin’s words again.

She had the right to suffer, but she didn’t have the right not to practice.


Darkness has energy of its own, and it swirled within, neither good nor bad, just there, lifting her above her concerns, rising on the tumult of feeling.

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Shift 20: Practice


This is what I see when I wake up. I got new clothes, a purple hoodie that I love and some t-shirts. I feel happy to see my hoodie hanging there, on an actual clothes hanger. And then when I look across the divide and see Marquise’s gray hoodie hanging on an actual hanger, too, I feel so happy I can’t stay in bed any more. I gotta get up and bounce!

This is what I hear when I wake up: Xavier murdering racoons. He says he’s gotta practice if he wants to make orchestra, and he’s got to make orchestra, because have you seen the first violinist? He says she’s gorgeous.


Amy Guajardo practices every morning, too. Even though she’s learning the keyboard, her music sounds good. I guess it’s easier to play something that you just push keys on, rather than having to draw a horse-hair bow across tiny metal threads.


When I wake up early enough, I like to shoot a few hoops before school. I suck at basketball. But with practice, right?

So far we’re all pretty bad at it. I’ve got this idea, though, that we can make a team and compete in Five on Five.


Since YOTO is run by actual yogis, we’ve got yoga classes all the time. They open up classes for the community, too, when we’re at school, and they make a lot of money that way. But the morning and evening sessions are reserved for us. Aadhya, the coordinator, usually teaches them. I like her classes.


Amy asked me once why I thought they had yoga here. I mean it’s obvious: We learn focus. And that helps with everything.

She said, no. That wasn’t why. It’s so we stop rebelling.

“We accept, right? And then, when crappy stuff happens, we accept it. It sounds like selling out to me.”

I was about to say something when she continued.

“It sounds like selling out. But it’s not, really. See, Vivaan told me that the only way you can really change anything–yourself, other people–well, you can’t change other people–but the world–is by accepting first. Accept, then change.”


I guess we all get something different out of yoga. We get what we need.

I asked Aadhya about that after class one day.

“Can yoga be different things to different people?”

She got real still and looked at me for a while.

“Yoga involves looking within to meet the true nature of the mind, body, and emotions. Are your mind, body, and emotions different than those of other people?”


I didn’t know how to answer her. At first, the answer was “Yes!” But then, the more I looked at the question, the answer mutated into “No.” So now I wonder if our minds, being in a body, and having emotions makes us more similar than different.

I don’t know, though. I was still thinking that over when I had a weird conversation with one of the volunteers there. This lady was telling me that she usually just contributes money. But that lately, she’s been contributing time and money.

“And taking classes, too!”


“Yoga does me good,” she said. “It keeps me young. It helps me understand what they mean by ‘inner riches,’ you know?”

She droned on and on. I stopped listening. Next thing I knew, she was offering to get me a make-over.

“You’d look real pretty with a new hair-cut, a little make-up, and a nice new wardrobe . You’ve got a rocking bod–might as well show it off!”


I closed my eyes and breathed.

In me was a little ball of rage that wanted to explode out and hurt somebody. I was triggered. My uncle used to say stuff like that to me, before Gran forbade him from coming over. “Put on a dress, why dontcha? You’d be real pretty. You’re a pretty girl. Show some leg!” I wanted to punch him. After he started doing stuff, I wanted to kill him.

Now I felt that rage stirring up from the back of my brain, down through my spine and out to my fingers. My fists were clenched. I simply noticed it.

I breathed.

Acceptance. Yeah, I can see that maybe yoga does teach that. It beats useless anger, at any rate.

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