Poetry 2-24-22

Good morning. I had planned a vibrant book review. But some weeks the flow of energy is a low and staggered and we have to return to center ourselves. This week, it’s all about finding my solid ground again, being my own safe space, and casting away the self doubt that has saturated my soul.

How often are we paralyzed by the expectations we put on ourselves? By what we want to be for others, or because of others. How often are we overcome with despair when we fail to meet those expectations, to garner that acceptance, to find that love?

Here is what I know to be true–

Yours is the only heart you will have for your whole life time. From its very first beat. Until its last.

Lovers, spouses, friends, parents, even children will come and go in your life, in the natural waxing and waning of time and experience. But your heart, your soul, your presence is the only one you get to spend the entire journey with. So take care of your vessel…from the engine, to the machinery, the fuel and the fire. Take care of you. Love you. Believe in you.

And now, this.

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Becoming

Was there ever such a silence as this?
sun warmed skin and the echo of
small chirping voices
amongst the barking magpie and
reverberation of holy time
etched into the sides of mountains
silent, pine needle prayer

I’ve been a complacent wanderer
following the strongest flow
eyes on wayward trails
branching
never forward, exactly
but they tempt places I yearn
to wander

and it feels
like losing my ground
or finding it.

It’s in the din of life
the marked and constant boxes
that we lose our true course
give away our feet on earth
and forget 
silent places to find
ourselves.

I miss these mountains
and cultivating space between
what I dreamed of becoming and
what I’ve become.

What have I become?

Heat Index: What Spicy Pepper is Your Novel?

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Hands down, one of the dumbest blog titles I’ve ever come up with. But what are you going to do? We all have seasons of creativity in our lives, and sometimes I’m in the winter of title production. Today is that sometime. On to the point. What is a Heat Index?

Great question! Well, if you don’t write/sell/promote romance, you probably don’t need to worry about it, but as it’s the month of ‘love’ or whatever made-up hallmark holiday craze February represents to you, I thought I at least owed ONE blog about passion, romance, and how to make sure the right readers for your work find you.

Heat Index is, as in spicy peppers, a way to grade the level of sexual interaction (description of and frequency) in your books. Now, romance has a wide and varying range of heat levels. This blog will help you understand where yours falls, where you might need to edit to keep it in a certain level, and how and who to market it to based on it’s score.

Below is the breakdown of Heat Index. Keep in mind, this may vary from publisher to publisher, but in general the levels correspond pretty closely.

  1. “Wholesome”, Sweet” or “Clean” (I’m not a fan of either of these terms as it denotes that anything outside of this classification suggests that sex is dirty or nasty–and those are ‘bad’?) These are sometimes called ‘inspirational’ romances, and often fall into Christian Romance sub genres. They might have kissing, holding, etc, but rarely is a bodily fluid exchanged and the romance is built heavier in the emotional/ spiritual attachment.
  2. “Sweet”, “Closed Door”, “Off The Page”, “Gentle”, or “Quiet”— This level of heat says that there is sex in your novel, but it happens without the reader being included. The characters may kiss, fondle, make out, and get excited physically but they will shut you (the reader) out in the hall while they get down to business. More mainstream women’s fic will employ this index more often, and there’s something to be said for leaving a few things to the imagination of the reader. I’m not sure about the terms “gentle” or “quiet”–as we don’t know what’s going on behind that door. Ha. Sorry.
  3. “Sensual”, “Sex on Page” and “Minimal Description”–This level the readers definitely know that sex happened, as it’s written down, but not poured over. Minimal description can mean an author uses euphemistic language, very basic terms and ideas, or even is more mechanical in description. They sort of beat about the bush, without getting into it. Ugh, sorry, I had to. Nobody else laughing their ass off, just me? Ok.
  4. “Sexy”, “Sex on Page” and “Explicit” also “Erotica”–In other words, if you’re at your kids karate/dance/hockey/ soccer practice, it would be wise to not let anyone read over your shoulder. These scenes get as close as any good OB/GYN or proctologist might (but in a less clinical way). Sometimes the lines between 3 and 4 are more blurred. My rule of thumb, is that if it makes me blush, feel warm all over, and a bit flustered after reading it (or writing it), it’s probably a level 4. What constitutes “Sexy” might be more based on the female main character’s exploration of fantasy. “Erotica”, has much more to do with the physical aspects of romance and can be broken down by ‘special interest’ (ie bondage, monogamous menage, reverse harem etc.). In both cases, these are not “letters to playboy” books, even with more descriptive love scenes, they still have emotional attachment and a satisfying (nearly said ‘happy’) ending.

Well, there you have it. If you write romance, and especially if you’re looking to query your manuscript, it helps to know what you’re selling and if the publisher is a good match. If you just like reading romance, look for these keywords (often in online descriptions and sometimes on jacket covers) to make sure you’re getting the romantic endorphin hit you crave most.

Happy Reading!

“Saturn Rising” Coming to Audiocast

Hello readers. Today is a special blog!!

In an unexpected turn of events, my audiocast “Saturn Rising” from the amazingly talented Ngano Press Studios Ngano Press Studios will be released sooner than announced. The series will air the third Friday of every month (starting February 18th) for the next 5 months. M

y five-part series follows the adventures (and misadventures) of the brave but cranky Captain Eularia Longfellow and her mangy crew of misfits as they try to outrun both Saturn’s bloodthirsty Royal family, and the fate of their own humanity.

You can download the podcast from Ngano Press Studio’s website and its compatible with most apps for your phone, tablet, and other devices. Remember, it not only will be entertaining and an escape from your daily drudgery, but you’ll be supporting a local business that is doing amazing work and a local artist, who has two kids soon to be in college. The episodes will run about 30 minutes, and I’d love to host a Q & A session if anyone is interested. Maybe we could even do it at a pub. More details on that to come. Hit me up with any questions about it or how to get your ears on it.

Thanks! And spread the word!

Westbury Falls: Episode #7

Good morning! If you’ve been following our little romantic, time-traveling tryst, here is the next installment. Our star-crossed couple find themselves under the strain of propriety. If you need to catch up, please check out the previous episodes here on The Beautiful Stuff. Enjoy!

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The summer began its lazy progression into the tepid heat and humidity that made the house restless and the confining clothes, suffocating. Lillian had taken to wearing as few layers as was allowed and working out in the cool dirt of the garden whenever was possible, much to the dismay of the proprieties of the household. But it was Kitty’s suggestion that they have a lakeside picnic at the end of the week, as a way to socialize with the other prominent families in the province, that seemed to lighten her mood. Lillian suspected it was merely an excuse to socialize with Fitzwilliam, which she had no qualms with. They were a cute couple and it was obvious that her this-world brother was quite taken with the bubbly blond debutant. It also meant she might have another chance to see Matthew.

When the day of the picnic arrived, and Kitty was trying to convince Lillian that wearing a bathing suit without her fiancé in attendance may be deemed inappropriate, Lillian nearly didn’t go. Not only was she not interested in wearing seventy pounds of scratchy, wet, woolen material, but she ached to be inappropriate. Was it only days or years ago that she visited the water park in a two piece? Kitty’s insistence and droning lecture nearly made her reconsider, until she looked down through her chambers’ window, and saw Matthew Blackwood arrive with his father via carriage.

“Perhaps you are right, dear Miss Darlingwood, the best option I have is to remain in the shade, enjoying the activities from afar.” Her eyes never left the view of Matthew who had shed his proper coat on the hot day, and talked with the Colonel in jovial tones. Would he be swimming? Did men swim without shirts? Would he, being the rebel he was, do it?

“Right you are! You could use the ample time to work on your embroidery.”

A shudder of loathing went through Lillian and she frowned her pretty mouth into a pout. “Suppose you are right.”

Now, after helping Miriam with the food baskets and reluctantly packing up her hated project, she was settled on a blanket, listening to the other water revelers enjoy the cool water, even as her skin flushed in the heat. To make matters worse, the senior Dr. Blackwell insisted on setting his blanket next to theirs to talk with the Colonel. Matthew bowed demurely and acknowledged her.

“Miss Byrne, a pleasure as always. I hope the day finds you in good health.”

“Dr. Blackwell, the pleasure is all mine. My health seems to be returning even as we speak,” she said coyly as the ribbons from her bonnet blew gently across her neck. Matthew smiled at her, beneath the brim of his hat as he settled on the grass near, but not near enough to her.

“I hope you do not find it disagreeable to share a blanket in the grass?” he whispered and smiled.

“No, good sir. I only find it highly disagreeable that there are so many eagle-eyed chaperones,” she retorted with a quirked eyebrow before turning her wayward attention back to the knots. He smirked and settled in, listening to his father’s conversations intently while still keeping one eye and ear on Lillian’s frustrated curses beneath her breath and the pink heat of her cheeks. When the Colonel and doctor had left to find relief in the water, Matthew settled back on the blanket, hat over his eyes and nimble hands crossed over his trim middle. She wondered why he hadn’t gone in the water with the others. Perhaps he was stealing a moment. She wasn’t mad about it. She suddenly felt nervous, and the silence between them felt pensive. She spoke without really thinking, except to add to the bank of knowledge she was building in order to find a solution home.

“Can you tell me something?” She said, her fingers fiddling with the embroidery and the knots that were impossibly small to work with. She found, even in her nimbleness of finger and hand, it the most frustrating of challenges.

“Hm?” he said, beneath his hat, lying prone on the blanket, shielded eyes from the sun and breath deep and measured in his broad chest. She could stare at him all day and used the excuse of moving the umbrella to protect her skin to shield the others from noticing her study of him.

“About when we met…that is, when you first saw me.”

He grunted below the hat and she saw his mouth turn downward. “Why would you care to know such detail?” She couldn’t very well tell him she was trying to figure out how to get back to her own time.

“I just—I don’t remember except waking in the room with you there and even that is still a bit fuzzy.”

“Fuzzy?” he said and peaked one eye beneath the brim of his hat to look at her.

“Unclear…con—confusing,” she stuttered as he caught her staring at him. Matthew removed his hat and sat up. He studied the children and families playing in the water, squealing in delight and merriment. The gentle warmth of the sun and grass, the way the sunlight lit Lillian’s dark hair, now escaping into shiny wisps around her face. She’d removed the bonnet, and the curls remained in soft circles piled high on her head. Long neck exposed. The gentle bite of her lip between teeth in anticipation. Her long legs folded beneath her and the terrible excuse for embroidery knotted on her lap as though the art was frustrated with her and not the other way around.

“I was passing by, on my way to my father’s estate when I was called into the house by Mr. Fitzwilliam Byrne and hurried at his edict as quickly as possible. I must have smelled quite horrible as I’d been on the road for most of the day, a compellingly rank mixture of horse and sweat.” He shook his head and smiled.

“Well, now I think I’d remember such a detail as that,” she smiled and quirked an eyebrow at him. He smirked back at her. “Yet, I think I only remember—lavender, lavender and dust. And the sound of your voice as if coming to me in a long hallway. You called me angel.” He stared over at her, studying her in a way that made her feel uncomfortable and strange. Lillian cleared her throat delicately. “Go on, please.”

“You were at the base of the stairs, mumbling for your mother, lying face down. I was afraid to move you, for fear the injury had been to your neck. You pushed yourself up and stumbled to your knees, like a newborn foal. Determined and wobbly.” He smiled and shook his head, then his brow turned down and his lips frowned. “The blood was so heavy and had soaked through your dress, down your neck, in little horrible waves that made my body chill to see. You looked at me and staggered into my arms, a most trusting soul. The weight of you felt—warm and—” Matthew now cleared his throat and his eyes fell. “Forgive me—” he paused and continued “I carried you up the stairs to the first bedroom available. The maids helped me to wash your hair and—” he inhaled “neck. After I tended to your wounds.”

“Did you—were you—” she flushed and bit her lip harder. Suddenly all thoughts of trying to find out more about the moment she time traveled seemed trivial to her first encounter with Dr. Blackwell.

“Yes? What is it that you wish to know, Miss Byrne? Did we not agree to never lie or show restraint at the cost of honesty to one another? No matter how startling it may seem?”

Lillian glanced over to where the other people were otherwise occupied. “Did you undress me?” Matthew sat up straighter and looped his strong arms around his bent knees, he studied his thick thumbs and pursed his lips.

“Only one delicious limb at a time, much to the chagrin of the maids in attendance. I had to—” he paused to sigh, “inspect every part you see, to check for abrasions, breaks—” he swallowed. “Right down to your perfectly beautiful toes. I’ve never—” he swallowed and shifted on the blanket and Lillian wondered if he was fighting the urge to not allow his excitement to show. “known a woman to have so little hair on her body,” he said and he smiled with a confused light in his eyes. Lillian blushed.

“Well, I have hair in some places—”she said inadvertently, forgetting herself and quickly covered her mouth. Matthew’s eyes shot to hers, the blush of her cheeks, the way she looked like she might burst out with laughter or die of embarrassment at any moment was charming and melted him into a confused puddle of want and giddiness.

“I imagine it is as soft and raven dark as that which resides in those maddening curls on your crown,” he whispered. Lillian gasped and her hands fell to her lap. Her breath quickened. “Have I shocked you?” he said with a voice gravely and needful.

“No. You have not. You have, however, bewitched me. My thoughts are—” she swallowed and her hand trailed up her thigh, shaking. “Complicated and exciting,” her hand clenched in her lap.

“Where does the angel’s hand seek to rest,” he whispered wantonly. “Surely it is in the heaven of where my centermost thoughts lie.” He watched as her long fingers unclenched and squeezed the gentle flesh of her thigh. He growled low in his throat, and brought his hand to his mouth.

What was it about this woman? He had certainly had no shortage of beautiful young women showing interest, and those that were more accommodating, refined and available. But she seemed to turn him into a torrent of need and anger, coupled with the desire to keep her safe, to heal her, to listen to her strange accent and her new and interesting ideas. To lose himself in her eyes. To bury his face in her breasts. To steal her away from a highly respected member of the Provence like nothing more than a soulless cad.

He closed his eyes and he seethed beneath his breath. Perhaps it was she who had bewitched him, and was either imprudent for not understanding her own power, which he knew she was not, or she was purposefully trying to drive him insane and do them both a great disservice that would end in not just social suicide but quite possibly the damage of his career. He needed to rectify the situation.

“I am—a horrible—a terrible excuse for a gentleman,” he said softly. “My apologies. The things that I have said, to you, on this day and every day, since we were misfortuned to meet, were not respectable, nor were they acceptable. Please excuse me.” He rose to leave.

“You have lied!” she yelled suddenly after him.

“I beg your pardon?” He turned back to her.

“You have lied to me, Dr. Blackwell. When Miss Darlingwood asked about my engagement you lied and said men didn’t remember details of moments as women do, but you—you remembered every detail from the moment we met.”

“Miss Byrne,” he said, wishing he could protest, but she was, as usual, keenly right.

“You remembered my fall, my waking… you remember—”

“If you please, Miss Byrne!” Matthew interrupted harshly, as the moments played over and over in his mind. He wanted to remember her forever; he knew he should forget her immediately. Matthew sighed and looked to the heavens for the strength he felt he lacked so terribly.

“If I recall such details so clearly it is only because you are quite unforgettable. It seems my heart stands little chance of disregarding you even when my head and all demands of social constraint tell me to do so.” His voice was strained.

“Matthew—” she began and he looked down at her at the sound of his name. He took in a deep breath, sighed it out, looked to the crowd of friends and family now coming up from the water in laughing and jovial waves.

“Miss Byrne, ever coming to your aid is the paramount regret of my life.”

He pulled his hat on, tipped it out of habit, and left in a hurried walk towards his carriage. Lillian watched him go, her heart seeming to beat out of her chest with every one of his steps, aching to follow after him. Never in her life had a man said something so cutting and so understandably true. She wanted to collapse into a fit of sobs.

“Where on earth is Dr. Blackwell gone in such a hurry? Is there a medical emergency?” Kitty said exhilarated with the cold water and wrapping a blanket demurely over her woolen suit. Lillian didn’t know why she felt like crying or why the tears had already formed. She was surprised when a tear fell to her thumb and rolled onto her mottled cloth. Her chest felt heavy and thick and she tried to breathe but air only came in quick gasps and she felt as though she might faint.

“My dear! You are quite vexed! What ever could it be? Has something happened? Is it something concerning Dr. Blackwell? Has he offended you? What has he said? Tell me I must know, so that I may give him adequate reprimand!”

“Kitty, please—I—” she whispered and shook her head, trying desperately to wipe her eyes before the others could see. Colonel Maynard shuffled up from the shore, water dripping from his walrus mustache and joy in his red cheeks.

“I dare say, that may have made me both simultaneously older and young as a colt!” his smile fell as Lillian caught his gaze. He looked around at the milling groups now drying off to begin tea. Kitty handed her a damp kerchief but she politely shook her head.

“Miss Lillian, what on Earth is wrong. Has something happened, even on a day as fine as this?” he asked with utmost care, keeping his voice low so as to not alert the other party guests of her distress.

“I’m afraid I’m not feeling well, is there some—” she paused to sniffle and wondered how she could extract herself from people without seeming rude or arousing suspicion that Dr. Blackwell had anything at all to do with it. She quickly folded her work and stowed it away in the basket. “I beg upon your good mercy, Sir, could you please excuse me. I think I shall walk back home.”

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Poetry 2-3-2022

It’s been awhile since I regaled you with a little verse. Okay, to be honest, I don’t know if I’ve ever ‘regaled’ anyone with anything I’ve written. But here’s a poem I scribbled down and now it’s part yours.

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Misjudged

have you ever
thought you knew everything
about a human heart
only to find out,
in clips and phrases
the everyday
exchange of words,
those priceless commodities,
that you didn’t, in fact, 
like them at all?

With every volley of
thought-provoking ideals
and self-doubting forays 
trying to figure out the complexities
of life
and love
and sex
that every one of those micro chasms of worlds
in their lit-up brains
from the sadness to the fury
the senseless damage survived,
the deep, erotic bites hungered after
and the sweet forgiveness
you discover,

layer by layer

that you didn’t like them

not at all.

No—in all,

and all along,

you, in fact,

loved them.

Call For Submissions 2022 Anthology: “A Beautiful Twist”

Good morning, readers and writers. I can’t believe we’re already one trip around the sun from last year’s submissions call! The previous years have resulted in two wonderful poetry anthologies with a variety of contributors across the globe. This year, I’m changing things up.

The theme for this year is “A Beautiful Twist”. I will be looking for work that surprises and delights, causes a reader to pause and do a double take if you will. For instance, some of my own work will be myths retold in modern times (what if Bacchus was a recovering alcoholic, or Snow White was a dominatrix?) For poetry, think about a split between how it begins and how it ends. You start out thinking its about love but turns out to be about laundry. Twist a fairytale, turn over old paradigms and genre expectations, dust off any speculative fiction because that’s a goldmine for twists. Surprise me. Surprise yourself. Give yourself freedom to dabble in the ridiculous.

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Below you’ll find the details for the anthology, submission guidelines, and publishing dates. Please follow the guidelines. They exist for a reason…mostly to make sure I don’t pull my hair out whilst trying to read and format them. You are always more than welcome to contact me via this website with questions (Please use subject line: QUESTION ANTHOLOGY 2022). Some changes this year will include the length and type of content I’m accepting, and a monetary prize for the top three entries, as well as publication. Good skill to all of the writers out there, newbies and old hats.

SUBMISSION GUIDELINES

  • Dates: Submission will open January 28th and will run until September 16th
  • Winners will be notified September 19th 2022
  • Publication Date: TBA Early November
  • Submission guidelines: The Beautiful Stuff will be accepting, short stories (2000-5000 words), Flash Fiction (200-1000 words), Poetry (up to 5 poems allowed per submission), novel excerpts (up to 3000 words), Personal Essays (up to 2000 words) all centered around the theme. I’m pretty lenient as far as genre. I will accept non fiction, fiction, speculative fic, western, sci-fi, fantasy, romance, erotica, historical, hysterical, time jumping primates, talking frogs, brains in jars, and ANY combination thereof. Submissions translated to English are preferred. Contest is open to domestic and international writers but awards will be paid in US dollars. Please submit your work as an attachment to your email which will be a lovely cover letter about you (name, email, job, what you write, what you love to do, your submission’s title, and the secret of life–haha, just kidding we all know its 42). Email subject line should read BEAUTIFUL TWIST SUBMISSION_name (not just ‘name’–use your name). The submission file (please use .doc, .docx, or another Word friendly format) should be the title of your submission and your last name i.e. “Merry Krampus-Reichert”
  • Top 3 submissions will earn prizes as follows: 1st–$30, 2nd–$20, 3rd–$10 paid via PayPal or Venmo (or check if need be). Runners up will be published in the anthology with a chance to compete in the Colorado Book Awards.
  • You may submit in multiple formats, multiple times (ie poems and flash, or novel excerpt and essay) but each submission must be in a separate email. You can copy and paste your cover letter…I’m not going to make you rewrite that thing, they’re a pain in the ass.
  • PLEASE DO NOT submit anything that has been previously published or that you no longer own the rights to. I can’t even begin to process the legalities, so just don’t. Don’t double dip. Simultaneous submissions are absolutely fine but LET ME KNOW if your work gets accepted elsewhere as soon as possible.
  • Prohibited subject matter includes: overtly violent or gruesome content that does not further the story, non consensual sexual acts, racist/homophobic/misogynistic/hate filled writing, violent or hurtful actions against children or animals, and anything that judges, stereotypes, or seeks to harm another human being based on their human being-ness. I’m cool with erotica done tastefully and along the lines of the theme. I’m also cool with expletives if they fit the character and scene and you’re not just using them like a 7th grade boy to look cool. Cool?

Well, that’s it! Start writing! Hopefully this will provide you the experience and drive to get some submitting done. Let me know if you have any questions. I will contact you to let you know your submission has been received and as we get near to September 16th I will keep you in the loop about your submission’s place in the anthology.

I’m so flippin’ excited to read your stuff. Truly. Don’t leave me hanging.

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Diversity in Fiction: Crafting Characters Respectfully

I’m not one to go seeking out hot-button issues, but the truth is when we don’t address underlying, systemic problems of all the ‘isms’ in our culture (from government programs, to housing applications, to writing fiction–) they continue to hold power over and harm other human beings. So, I’m discussing today how we, as writers, can be not only sensitive to the characters we create but the effects of their existence on our world. After all, stereotypes exist because we fail to see them in all the subtle ways they permeate our lives. As ethical and compassionate people, we should work towards burning down those untruths as much as possible, even in our own work.

I’m not going to stand on a soap box and preach without starting with myself. I’ve probably, in my ignorant and un-learned past, created characters that simplified the complexities of a human into certain traits. I’ve tried not to. I tried to craft my characters as strong, independent and powerful, more tuned to their personalities than their physical traits. But there were still subtle things, I wasn’t even aware of at the time, that filtered from my limited white experience. As I look into rewriting this character, I am constantly questioning how I can do better.

We all should. We owe it to the character, to the reader (and to the world) to examine our writing and go forward with an eye to our own hidden (and not so hidden) biases or ideas.

The best advice I can give you is to strip yourself of any cloak of magnanimous “equality”. Start by reading some real, hard to stomach, but necessary soul-exploring books on the complexities of race and gender equality, the reason systemic problems exist, and how we can best eradicate them. Talk to people from every background, attend classes, lectures, and forums, open discussions of others’ experiences. Do it with an open heart, and a willingness to accept your part in the system. Have the dedication to do something about it.

When we are invested in writing characters different from ourselves (race, gender, religion, sexuality, age etc) one of the best things we can do is RESEARCH. In the expansiveness of the Internet, so much good information, written by diverse voices, can be found. The ones most important (and really the only viable ones) are those written in their own voice, about their own experience.

I also encourage you to talk to as many other people of all walks of life as you can. (And not just to research for your work…do it for the benefit of your humanity and compassion.) While I DO NOT advocate for you turning your ‘one black friend’ into your go-to for all questions about a diverse, varied and culturally rich part of our world (it’s not their job or duty to educate you), don’t shy away from respectful and honest conversations that come up, especially when they happen from immersing yourself in different situations and events from a standpoint of open mindedness and learning.

Above all, when you are writing diverse characters DON’T, for the love of god, assume that by describing their skin color/religion/orientation that you’ve described their character in total. DON’T stereotype them. DON’T include diverse characters just for the sake of checking off a box.

DO make them unique to their upbringing, their experience, and their situation. DO describe all of your characters equally and in rich and expansive ways.

I’ve always believed that good storytelling is universal. And in our connected and dynamic world, it would be a shame to only write one kind of person. But care for your characters and the people they may or may not represent. Here are some good resources that may help:

Good luck and don’t be afraid. Just be respectful, compassionate, and educated.

Westbury Falls: Episode #6

Great day in the morning, it’s time to get back to our little time traveling Lillian. If you need a refresher of what happened last time, you can find it here.https://thebeautifulstuff.blog/2021/12/02/westbury-falls-episode-5/

If you are lazy, like me, and don’t want to go back that far, we left our characters with Lillian running out into a storm, pissed off that she was stuck in a different time and about to marry some shady-ass-muthaf*&#ker and the good Dr. Blackwell, worried for her safety, because she’s too damn stubborn to take care of herself dashes out after her.

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And now–Episode #6

“Perhaps some other time. I am running quite late for meeting with my father and should not dawdle further.” He politely bowed, careful to lean back as to not come too close to the skin she so graciously offered up for perusal. She curtsied and Dr. Blackwell rushed from the room.

He indeed had a meeting with his father that afternoon, and so it was not a falsehood that allowed him to escape Kitty. But it was not his true reasoning. Acquiring his hat and gloves from the porter, he walked casually out the front door to the sound of thunderous clouds and the quickening rain drops that fell from the storm above. He looked in both directions, knowing that he should acquire his horse and go back to his father’s estate. He could, as Miss Darlingwood had advised, give Lillian the space she needed to ruminate over her “anticipated happiness”.

Only everything about her face indicated that she was not in the slightest way anticipating the impeding nuptials with happiness. Everything about what he’d observed felt that she was not at all pleased with what had transpired before her fall. Marriage was not always a cause for happiness but it would secure her future and she should not feel so passionately against such an advantageous situation. And he should not care that she was contrary to the idea. But from the moment he had taken charge of her care at the base of the stairs a week ago, he felt, deep in the soul of his person, that he was responsible for her safety. She was his patient. And she had just run out, unaccompanied, into the rain.

“Ridiculous,” he grumbled under his breath. How could he take care of a woman who so blatantly went against his good and sound advice? There was only so much he could control and she, with her strong will and stubborn countenance, did not make even those things easy. The rain began to fall in earnest then. Soaking his jacket and hat and making it difficult to see much past the gates of the estate.

“Blasted,” he cursed. Nodding to the stable hand who had brought his horse round, he mounted quickly and tore off in an expanding circular path around the grounds.

She would be wet and cold. Perhaps having damaged her stitches. Perhaps slipped and fallen in a gully. Bones broken, head split open, any number of horrifying injuries. Had she not a mind for the worry it set within his poor heart? His poor heart—he scowled and pushed the horse faster. His heart had nothing to do with wanting her to maintain her health and her reputation. Through the rain and wind, the rushing growl of thunder above, and the distant echo of it in the hills surrounding Westbury Manor he listened for a cry for help, but only the sound of distant gulls resounded.

His eyes scanned the horizon as his heart sped up with every moment that she evaded him. True worry, real and hard, began to seize hold of his good sense. He gasped and wiped the rain from his eyes. Matthew’s thoughts circled around in his head, just as his path circled through the gardens and expansive fields of Westbury. Why would a young, poor woman scorn an advantageous marriage?

Why would a young doctor refuse a prestigious seat on his father’s board?

Some things were simply not meant to be.

What would his strait-laced cousin think of her antics now? He could not fathom how a man like Fredrick would have considered her a suitable match. But knowing his cousin as he did, Matthew thought it must have everything to do with her being exceedingly beautiful. And his cousin had always been drawn to the shiniest, most sought-after things. She would, indeed, be a stunning trophy on his arm. A trophy that he barely made effort to get to know, to spend time with, to dote on. To even visit in her convalescence? Did she mean so little to Fredrick?

While Matthew, on the other shaking hand, could scarcely stay away even for the sake of the delicate propriety that dictated their strange and sudden relationship. Suddenly, he felt a pit of sadness open in his chest at the very thought of never seeing Lillian Byrne again.

“Blast, it all. Damn fool idiot!” he said again, not sure if his words were meant for her, his cousin, or himself. His eyes scanned the horizon ferociously.

Then, out in the south pasture, he saw her cresting the far hill. A sodden bonnet in one hand, an unused shawl in the other. Her hair, coming down in waves around her shoulders, out of the carefully constructed updo that hid her wound. Paled and soaked, she stomped determined up the hill. He urged his stead forward, down the first hill, and quickly up to intersect her path. The wind tore between them, swirling the rain round in a cacophony of sound and drenching water.

“Miss Byrne, I demand you stop this foolishness at once!” he yelled from behind her. Lillian, deep in thought, took two more striding steps with her skirt lifted, dropped the drenched and heavy material, and spun to face him. She pushed the hair from her eyes.

“What are you doing here?” she said. “You’ll catch your death!”

“Oh? Is that a matter of fact? But you are perfectly safe to be out in such a torrent?” He dismounted from his horse.

She scowled in response.

“Miss Byrne, I insist that you allow me to accompany you back home.”

“That is not my home,” she sobbed and pointed to the gray manor in the distance that was harder every passing moment to see. “Those are not my friends, that is not—” The wind stole her words and Matthew had to take off his hat and stomp nearer to hear.

“I don’t understand,” he said and stormed closer. Lillian stared at him as the rain fell from his nose in droplets and soaked his blond locks so they plastered to his head. He, in turn, watched the rivulets of it pour down her cheeks, drip off the shelf of her top lip, and its perfect pink peaks. The fullness of her bottom lip, wet and tender.

“Please come back,” he said as he came close, unable to take his eyes from her lips. Lillian’s fingers lost their hold of her bonnet and scarf and they fell in wet heaps beside her drenched and muddied feet. “This is no storm to be walking in. There is scarcely any air to breath with all the rain. We are worried over your well-being.”

“We?” she asked.

I am worried,” he said and hung his head. For all of the desperation to take her back and make her fit in the space and place a woman should, he did not try to touch her, nor did he force her to follow him.

“You—you were?” she said softly and tried to peer below the blond lashes that touched his cheeks as he gazed down.

“I was…much concerned,” he said softly and he knelt to pick up her belongings. When he looked back up, he noticed that the stitches of her wound had come loose, and a small trail of blood was now joining the rain to trace her cheek. He grunted and hastily took a handkerchief from his breast pocket, quickly pressing it to the cut and causing her to take in a quick breath. His fingers were warm as he put pressure to stop the bleeding.

“See now. You should have listened to me. Look what has happened,” he said, feeling relieved for having changed the subject and being able to reprimand her again instead of admitting to her effect on him. He took the cloth away and she stared at her blood.

“Perhaps your stitches were faulty,” she said and smiled up at him. He scowled at her snark and began to formulate an argument from his shock at her suggestion until he saw her smile.

“Why, you ungrateful little child,” he said and a smile played unwilling on his lips. She watched it grow with the speed of her heart. She liked that she got under his skin and so did he.

“I am no child.” She pressed further. He looked down at the wet, thin fabric across her breasts and the skirt that clung to the fullness of her hips.

“You certainly do not look like a child,” he whispered. Lillian swayed closer and he swayed backward in equal parts. “But your behavior suggests otherwise.”

“Well, perhaps you should have found a switch along your way to rescue me, so that you could take it to my backside and teach me a lesson for such immature petulance,” she countered.

“Miss Byrne!” He blushed profusely, shocked not so much that she had spoken such suggestive words but that the thoughts immediately occupied his mind. “I could not–could do no such thing! I would never strike a woman!”

“No?” she whispered and took his hand in her cold fingers and pressed its warmth to her face. If he would allow, she would show his hands all of the cold and drenched skin that now ached for his touch. He took in a deep breath and she could feel him pulling away.

“That would be the right of your husband, to dole out such punishment for your ill-mannered behavior.”

“And if you were my husband, would you?”

“Would I what?” he asked, his frown deepening with the effort to not allow his brain and heart the luxury of such a fantasy.

“Take a switch to my backside in punishment for my ill-mannered behavior?” she asked. His eyes sought hers, his breath quickened and she could tell he was in the throes of trying not to think of it. “Or perhaps, simply your hand to my backside would suffice.” Visions of her creamy skin, naked over his lap before a warm fireplace, his broad hand against the curve of her backside flooded his mind and his breath came in gasps as his eyes closed.

“Miss Byrne, that is a most improper thing to—”

“I am yet un married,” she said and looked up at him, into his eyes, showing the dark depths of her own desire by pressing her wet skin closer to him.

“You are soon to be.” He reminded, but his hand stayed for a moment and he looked as though he wanted to pull her in for a kiss. She leaned forward. “Lily, please—” he interrupted. “You must come back with me so that I may mend the stitches before you bleed out or catch your death of cold. I shall write my cousin this afternoon to let him know that you are in need of his company.”

“I am not—”

“Do not—” he sighed exasperated and reached out, “argue with me, Lily!” taking her by the hand he pulled her to the patient stead.

“Lily?”

“If you are determined to act like a spoiled child, then you shall be addressed as one,” he growled. “Does my cousin even know what kind of trouble he has set himself up to inherit?”

“Perhaps it would be best if he were to just call the whole thing off!” she yelled back and struggled against his strong hand that held fast despite the pouring rain.

“The arrangement is made, do not jest so boldly to undermine your promissory words. It is most unbecoming of a young lady and will only serve to ruin your family’s good name and your reputation.” Lillian felt as though she might throw up as he lifted her easily onto the back of his waiting horse.

“I can walk damn it!” she burst out.

“You will do as I tell you!” he yelled back and with a grace she’d never seen possessed in any person, he swung up on the horse behind her. “And I will see to it that you obey!”

“I will not obey you!” she argued and squirmed against the strong arms that held her fast. He tightened his grip and his chin sunk down firmly into the crook of her neck and shoulder. His hot breath on her neck, his voice in her ear.

“Please, Lily, I only ask to protect you. You would not survive the financial ruin. You would not survive the poverty I have seen in young women who have fallen out of society’s good graces. And, as if you did not know, let me patiently remind you that even a simple rainstorm has been known to cause life-ending fevers. Especially for those who have been exposed to great trauma. Please, for the sake of my heart, come home.” His voice turned desperate and he placed a delicate kiss to her neck, just below her ear.

“I do not like men telling me what to do,” she said back to him, though the warmth of him, the way his lips shook against her skin, and how his hands gently caressed her waist, felt as though he were trying to apologize in touch.

“I do not blame you. And I’m sorry if I seemed—too forceful. I am not used to a—a woman like you. You’ve quite befuddled me, Lily, in ways I don’t know how to recover from.”

“I just can’t marr—”

“Please do not say it. Please, my dear Miss Byrne, trust that you will find happiness, in some way, some form by staying the course of this engagement. I believe you will. I must believe it for I cannot bear any thought that it would be otherwise. And so, you must believe it too, for my sake.”

Lillian stopped her struggle, sobbed, and wrapped her arms around his, leaned back into the warmth of his strong chest and allowed him to guide the horse back to the manor.  What were the chances she could find a way home before she was forced to marry Fredrick Sutton? What were the chances she would be able to stay away from his cousin until then?

Both seemed very bad odds.

She held still and quiet, unusually quiet for her, while he stitched up her cut. She had been watching his steady fingers and hard, unflinching eyes as he worked, but it only served to make her fall more deeply in the trouble of affection with him. He glanced once down to her eyes, to see her staring at him and his brow fell.

“Does it not bother you to watch? I know this must—” he paused steadying his hand as he knotted the delicate thread.

“Hurt like hell?” she asked quietly so Kitty would not hear from where she sat on the settee beside them, watching her like a hawk. Instead of shock he simply smiled out one corner of his mouth and nodded. She spoke more loudly to dissuade suspicion on Kitty’s part of her curse and her blooming feelings.

“I’m hoping I can learn to improve my embroidery skill by watching you. Kitty tells me I am quite dreadful and wonders who must have been responsible for my instruction.”

“Who indeed had that pleasure?” he asked distractedly as he cleaned the remaining blood from the wound and that which had trailed down her cheek in the rain. Miss Darlingwood looked over at them.

“Yes! Who in deed, I think I would very much like to reprimand them.” She chimed in.

“I do not recall,” she said softly and looked back down at her hands, knowing very well that she had never in fact been taught the art as all respectable young women of the age were.

“Well, failing at one thing, I am well aware that you have many other talents,” he said, tossing the bloodied cloth into a pan of water. Miriam collected the first aid materials on a tray and left in the stealthy manner of a woman who runs the household without ever being seen.

“And how can you be so assured of my talents?”

“My cousin tells me you are quite the accomplished at the piano forte.”

Lillian’s head was not up to the challenge of puzzling through how she’d pull off living up to such a reputation.

“Oh that’s right! Why I’ve heard from Mr. Bryne that you play quite beautifully and are quite the accomplished singer.”

“Is that so? I would very much like to hear that someday. When I visit Mr. Sutton and you that is.” Dr. Blackwell said as he cleaned and put away his instruments, throwing small glances her way as if to remind her.

“I assure you; rumors of my talent have been greatly exaggerated.” Lillian said dryly. While she may have indeed learned and played the piano at the insistence of her mother for most of her life, she knew that the two were separate and different instruments.

“In such cases as this I would normally argue that such modesty is becoming of a young lady.” He smiled but Lillian did not return the smile.

“Finally, I am acting becoming,” she said and rose to put space between her and the doctor. Kitty looked up from her sewing as Miriam cracked the door

“Beggin your pardon Miss Darlingwood, but Master Byrne has asked if he could join you all later for tea and I wanted to ask you about the menu,” she said quietly from the door way. Kitty rose with a huff, not sure she wanted to converse with Mr. Byrne over tea, as he’d teased her mercilessly just last week about a curl that had escaped her carefully tended styling and made her feel quite self conscious. While she hovered at the doorway to talk to Miriam, Matthew caught Lillian by the wrist.

Normally, I said.” His finger gently traced an arch over the delicate skin. “But we both are aware that you are too honest to be concerned with other’s opinions.”

“I beg your pardon, Sir,” she said quietly as to not gain Kitty’s attention even as a fire lit her eyes. She moved to storm away, but he held her by her wrist.

“Feel, the angel’s heart as it beats faster,” he whispered and gauged her pulse. Lillian stopped; the world hung on his lips at the endearment. “Let us agree, Lily, to never be dishonest with one another. Though we are merely friends, it would do my heart much good, and give my soul ease to find an honest woman in my small social circle.” He spoke the words only realizing afterwards that they were, in themselves, more honest than he’d ever spoken to a woman. In the strange and misleading world that was always evolving around them, women and men stood in constant foreplay of truth and deceit, one always vying for the power over the other. Such an arrangement of honesty with Lily in particular would benefit not just himself, but her as well.

“I’m sorry that you’ve found no such honesty from my counterparts so far into your life. Though do not be misled that men are more upstanding. They have their share of plays for power through falsehoods I have sadly learned in my short time here.” She moved to pull her wrist away but he stood up and took her other arm in his as Kitty was now quite engrossed in the exact ingredients for the scones that would need to be made precisely in a certain way, despite the fact that Miriam had been making the most scrumptious, light as a feather scones since the time she was nine.

“Then I will make you the same promise,” Matthew said quickly. “To always be honest with you, even when the questions and subjects you bring forth to me are difficult to broach. Even if I am frightened of what I may divulge, I will always allow the truth to win out.”

Lillian raised her hand suddenly and offered it out to him. But instead of the customary delicate touch and curtsey, she held his grip fast, as if shaking the hand of an equal and he smiled to feel it.

“It is a bargain, sir. One I swear I will always try with every ounce of my being, to execute.”

“As will I, Miss Byrne.” He smiled and dropped her hand, just as Kitty turned back to them.

“What a horrifying ordeal!” she said with exhaustion and went back to her work going on to lament how Lillian’s brother had gravely affronted her with the tease. Lillian wanted to tell her it could be much worse. That her actual brother would prank her mercilessly even going so far as to cut off sections of her hair while she slept the night before school pictures. She opened her mouth to defend the goodness of this alternate Will but closed it again and sighed. When she looked back, Matthew was staring at her strangely, as if he’d been studying her. He pretended to inspect his new stitches while he stepped closer as Kitty continued in her own conversation of previous vexation.

He looked at her lips and, as if testing the deal they had struck, he leaned forward. “In our new arrangement of honesty, I feel it is my place to inform you that I would much rather seal our new contract with a kiss,” he whispered.

“I would prefer that as well, but I know that it would sully both our reputations should we be found out and I would not make a dishonest man of you, as you once so deftly lectured me on in the middle of a rainy hillside. Not twenty minutes past to be exact,” she whispered back.

“Ah, see, your memory is improving already,” he teased and moved back and away from her.

“Wonderful! Perhaps I will one day remember why I agreed to an engagement.”

“Don’t all young women want to be married?” he said and went to stand beside the window while he rolled his cuffs back down. Lillian watched him from the corner of her eye, while Miss Darlingwood sat in the other end of the couch and looked up periodically between them.
            “Yes of course,” Kitty chimed in without even thinking. Lil rolled her eyes. She could think of no way to control her features and now that she’d agreed to be honest with him, she didn’t feel it would be right to agree so readily.

“Some women are much in want of adventure. We surely don’t want to sail in calm seas all our lives,” Lil said, recalling one of her favorite Austen sayings. Kitty gasped. Matthew turned his curious blue gaze on her.

“Miss Byrne! What an awful thing to say, indeed!”

“Not at all—” Matthew spoke.  “Calm seas make for dull years. Storms build character and strength, even surprises and happy stories sometimes.”

“Surely you jest, Dr. Blackwell.”

“The best stories often come from our—wildest adventures,” Lillian agreed. “We’ve only one heart. One body, one life. Why would I want to spend it in only one place?” Matthew looked at her with quickening breath.

“Why indeed?” he whispered, falling into a trance that led him to believe that there could be no other woman for him in the world, than Lillian Byrne. And damn his cousin or the consequences that came from the realization. He could not take his eyes from hers. Kitty tittered nervously between them.
            “But what of safety, security? Home life?  Surely you would not want to tempt starvation and death all the days of your life.”

Lillian couldn’t look away from Matthew. “To some, marriage is a cage. A starvation of self, a death of soul,” she whispered softly.

“What a horrible thing to say, Miss Byrne!” Kitty struck out suddenly with a sharp reprimand. Matthew smiled strangely at her uncharacteristic poeticism.

“Perhaps—” he interrupted in calming tones, “the right marriage, to the perfect match, would be a feast of adventure, a finding of self, a life—made whole.” he whispered and looked down at her lips. Lillian nearly fell to her knees and ached to rush into his kisses, his arms, his bed.

Begin Again

So here we are, at the precipice of a new year and probably, in some part, still reeling from the last two. I recall, vaguely, that at this time last year I was filled with hope that things were about to get better. Then, events in the first week of the year reminded me that the calendar rolling over didn’t wipe the slate clean on the world’s troubles. It’s just a date. Not a miracle.

The only comfort I had, and still have, as we again sit at the top of 2022, is that I have control over at least one thing in the world, and that’s how I live in it. So no matter where you are, in physical or mental space, take an opportunity to day to think about what you would do if you could begin again. The date may be arbitrary, but the idea is sound.

Everything you’ve lived through up to this point has prepared you for the challenges ahead. Everything that you’ve seen, learned, failed at, succeeded at, has built in you a resilience for the journey ahead. So while we shouldn’t dwell on our pasts (whether it be to regret–terrible thing, or to relive glory days–also unhelpful) we should remember the value they have given us. Every experience, hardship, joy, failure, and triumph has added to your soul-resume and will give you what you need for this next year. I believe that whatever it is you set your sights on, whether its finishing a book, starting a new job, getting out of an abusive relationship, or giving yourself more grace, you will find success. But don’t just throw vague intentions out. Make a map.

Now how detailed you want to get depends on your level of focus, your own acknowledgement for order, and what works for you. I like to start with a general goal list, break it down by quarter, month, and week, and hang it up where I can see it. So when I find myself caught up in pitbull puppy videos, its looming over me, reminding me to focus.

That’s a shit-ton of bullets…*sigh*

At the beginning of the year, it looks daunting. So I have to remind myself, even if it’s on paper, it’s still fluid. Just because it’s all there, listed out, doesn’t mean it all gets done today. Like any journey, goals are a series of steps, one after another.

This year, I’ll be trying a few different things, and I only squawk about them here as a measure of accountability.

In the spring (March-ish) I’ll be releasing my Western Romance Series and planning some tour dates in my home state of Wyoming to promote it. This will include book signings, readings, and Q and A sessions. I’m aspiring to submit short stories, poetry, and flash fiction to at least 100 different publications (aiming for 100 rejections but my hope is they aren’t ALL rejected). In May, I’m hoping to finish up a collaboration with a local press for my Sci/Fi novella “Saturn Rising”. The blog will continue with weekly writing advice, poetry, guest blogs, and a special series on local charities, the work they’re doing, and how we can help keep them running. This year’s Anthology is not yet themed but I’m shifting over to include short stories, essays, and excerpts. Stay tuned for more details. This year, winning entries will be published and receive a monetary prize.

I’ve got my first co-authoring project in the works (a fun romp and homage to my love of 80’s pop culture) and will be working on my next series (I’m getting all Urban fantasy this time).

Outside of writing, I’ll be teaching a few more classes, continue advancing towards my next degree (Sensei Sarah has a nice ring to it), reading more, I’ll climb a few more 14ers, and work this old body into more flexibility through yoga. It all feels like a lot, but days are made of minutes and you can do a lot in those minutes….once you choose to begin.

Good luck out there. Come back and visit to keep updated on the anthology submissions and so we can check in with each other on our new starts. Above all, let’s just be better people this year. The best versions of ourselves we can be.

Lessons From The Year

It was a goal heavy year. I talked briefly a few weeks ago about how to set up your own yearly goals in a manageable way, but today I want to talk about you. That’s right…not some bullet list on a webpage or a chart of tick-them-off boxes. I want to talk about the beautiful human on the other side of the screen. Stop looking over your shoulder, it’s you. I mean you.

Now maybe I know you, personally. Maybe we’ve never met. The point is, I think you’re amazing. You may not believe me. It’s okay. I’ve talked A LOT about not believing everything you read…and my words are no different. So allow me to offer proof.

This year has been tough. Hell, the last two have been a raging dumpster fire…for nearly everyone who wasn’t making a personal rocket ship to go play Spaceman Spiff while countless other humans suffered in poverty, starvation, and lack of medical care on the Earth. No wonder they were so anxious to leave for ten minutes and show how awesome it is to have money… but I digress…

The point I’m trying to make is that you’ve survived 100% of all your worst days.

A moment of silence for 2021...

At the start of a new year we have a tendency to look back (sometimes like Indian Jones on the destructive explosions of warplanes and tanks going over cliffs, shaking on torn knees, dirty, bent, beat to hell, and wondering how we survived, still clinging to our favorite hats) and worry that the next year will only be worse—Nazis, aliens…Shia LaBeouf—it could get a lot worse.

But it could get a whole lot better.

And we have some say in that. Now, we don’t always have a say in the bigger things of the world. I’ll never change the inequality of women or be able to change the mind of every little girl who’s been told, (like her mother and her mother before her…and so on) that being skinny is the height of desirability and beauty.

Photo by Daria Obymaha on Pexels.com

But I can shift the way I speak around my daughters. I can shift the way I talk to my friends (and speak up for them when they cannot speak well of themselves). I can shift the way I talk to myself.

I can’t fight capitalism. But I can support companies that  pay their workers a living wage. I can’t change lobbyists, or billionaires, or any number of corrupt, societal ruining forces. But I can lend a helping hand. I can volunteer. I can protest. I can stand up and use my voice, I can vote…

When we look at the battles ahead of us in this new year, let us pick ones we can charge into wisely. And please, for the love of mental health, let us start with the ones in our own heads.

The direction of your life, the ability to lift yourself above old and destructive habits has everything to do with how you speak to yourself. Your voice is the only one in your head 24/7. Your body is the only one you live in. Your voice, your mind, your heart, your body—every single one of those things is beautiful. Every one of them is enough. And they (read: you) deserve to be taken care of, loved, and respected.

So when we look into this new year, I only ask that you change one thing.

I want you to change how you talk to yourself. Be bigger than what the world wants you to be. Take up space and use that space to spread compassion and acceptance. Be outspoken with your understanding, your need for justice, and most of all, be outspoken with love.

Life is short. This could be the first year of a long and beautiful rest-of-your-life.

It could be your last year on Earth.

You simply do not know, so spend it with your heart and passions in mind. Draw and hold boundaries where they need to be and do not apologize for cutting out the people who are hurtful or refuse to acknowledge that you are enough. Speak well of yourself. Speak kindly to yourself. Accept every soul-bump as part of being beautifully human. Don’t be cruel, but take no bullshit.

We humans–we’re a beautiful mess. Falling in and out of love, drunk on passion and enthusiasm one minute, and stumbling into the gutter of disappointment the next. I say, just do your best, little human. Until you know better, then do the better. Be kind to yourself, be kind to others. But don’t give away your light and energy to people who don’t appreciate and return it.

It’s just that simple. And just that complex. It’s just. that. human.

Stay safe until the new year and beyond.