All posts by Rebecca Fegan

Creative Writing: Talking with a Tortoise

Talking with a tortoise


Hello Tortoise.  Nice to see you again!


Happy birthday!  121 years!  That’s quite an accomplishment!


How are you celebrating?


No cake?  No party?


Can I join you at your birthday lettuce?


How many invitations did you send out?

9.  Just…around…this…rock.


Bob?  Call…9…1…1!

Happy Birthday Tortoise!





Turn about is fair play.  Let’s visit Super Villains Anonymous.

Hello.  I’m Thanos.  And I’m a super villain.

Hello?  Hello?  Anyone here?

Hmmm.  It appears that there may be many super villains but none of them wish to be anonymous.  I guess I get all the danish and coffee.  Wait, this smells funny.  Oh REALLY?  Someone put Ex Lax in the coffee?  And is that cocaine instead of powdered sugar on the danish?  Really?!

*Snaps fingers.  A small pile of dust appears in the corner of the room leaving a small bag with a recorded laugh.*


Hi.  I’m Batman.  I’m a superhero.

“Hi Batman.”

The first step is to acknowledge I am powerless.

“Wait, What?  You are powerless?”

Um that’s the 1st step…admit you’re powerless.

“You can’t be powerless, this is a Super Heroes Anonymous meeting.  We all have powers.”

I don’t.

*stunned silence*

Really.  I just have money and lots and lots of training…and bandages.

“I’m Oliver Queen, and I have lots of money and no powers.”

Well, that’s not exactly true, you lost all your money and you kill people (or killed people) so you’re just a vigilante and not a super hero.

“You killed the District Attorney…”

Just in the movie.

“Hi, I’m Mr. Incredible and this is my family, and I am powerless against my son Jack Jack…”

Oh shut up.

“I won’t.  And you can’t make me…you’re powerless, period.  And Queen?  You think you can just go around killing bad guys because you’re a crack shot and green ninja?  Super heroes put guys like you in prison.”

“I’ve been to prison…I got out.”

It doesn’t make you a hero.

“It does to the people I rescue.”

And what’s with all these names.  You’re costume is not good enough to escape facial recognition…The Hood, the Arrow, the Green Arrow (whose bright idea was that?)  Same guy, same costume, new ammo?  Who names themselves after their weapons?

“Yup, and who names themselves after a rodent?”

“People, PEOPLE!  It’s Mr. Batman’s sharing time.  Don’t interrupt.”

Hi, I’m Batman, I’m a super hero.

(Mr. Incredible, Luke Cage, and Superman cough “bullshit”)

“Hi, Batman.”

It’s been *checks obscenely expensive and complex watch* 2 hours and 35 min since my last intervention.

“What happened?”

There was a couple arguing in the snack aisle of the convenience store.  She told him she was going to throw the TV out the window if he bought any more of the caramel popcorn.  He was buying snacks for the Gotham Giants game.  I believed it was an unreasonable threat, so I used my bat-bolo to tie her up and leave her dangling from the ceiling.  The guy bought the snacks, put them in his car and then came back to cut her down.  He was laughing too hard to thank me, but I could see his gratitude in his eyes.

“So she was a super villain you needed to neutralize?”

She was threatening a Gotham citizen with an unreasonable punishment for a trivial crime.

“Isn’t that precisely what you did?”

Yup, so I immediately came to the meeting.

“I completely understand that.  I intervened when a guy ran in to a Metroville Fan store before the Mets played last June and got blocked in.  I lifted his car into traffic, but I didn’t have to tie up his wife, even though she was throwing insults at the guy.”

But she wasn’t threatening physical attacks.

“Mental abuse and physical abuse are still abuse.  It can cause harm.”

Point taken.

“So Mr. Batman, what’s the longest you’ve gone between interventions?”

16 days, 12 hours, and 42 min.

“Good for you!  What were the circumstances?”

I was in a coma.

*Jessica Jones smirks. Danny Rand almost does a face palm, but his hands are glowing and he thinks better of it.*

“What do you think triggers your interventions?”

*they all reply* “Any type of injustice.”

“So you’re going after the referees in the last football game?”

*they all reply* “Yes.”

Danny Rand adds, “and their families and their friends and their secret organization…the flags that they throw with their hands! You know there’s got to be a connection…”

“The Hand?  We’ve been fighting the Foot!”

Shut up Leonardo.

“I’m Raphael, notice the bandanna?”

“Batman?  Who’s your sponsor?”


“Hmmm, maybe not the best choice.”

It was better than Owl.  At least Falcon isn’t nocturnal.  Owl kept picking me up at the worst times.  ‘Oh…I thought you were vermin!’ he’d say and laugh.  Over and Over and Over.  Where is Owl by the way?

“It’s only 4:00, he’s not up yet.”

“So I’m hearing you say that Owl was intervening in your interventions?”

Yes.  Quite annoying.  Especially when he dropped me and I wasn’t wearing my suit.

“Was that when…”

Yes, I was in a coma for the 16 days.  He sent dead mice and crickets to my hospital room.  I guess it freaked out the nurses.

“Wait, you tried an intervention without your suit?  No weapons?  No defenses?”

I can fight without my suit.  Can you fight without your powers?  I know Oliver can, we studied with the same teacher…

Danny Rand stands up, “I don’t need my fists to fight.”

Of course you do…what would you use?  Your elbows?

“Not my glowing fists, just regular fists.”

Why would you turn off your power?

“I have to turn it on by using my Chi”

So you have a remote control?

“Shut up Danny.  He will NEVER get it.  And you can’t explain it without getting all misty eyed.”

*Danny sits down and sulks*

“Well, Mr. Batman, if you feel like you need to do an intervention, you know you can call your sponsor.”

*The Falcon licks his lips and rubs his hands together…*


Jessica Jones leans into Tony Stark and whispers, “I give him 3 hours tops.  $100.”

Tony says, “Even odds…I’ll take your money.  I’d guess no more than 2 hrs.”

Superman says, from across the room, “I heard that…”

Daredevil says, “So did I…”

Tony Stark stands up.  “I have an important meeting to get to.  Batman, you and I should do lunch sometime.”

“What are his powers besides money and tech?” asks Thor.

“It would have to be his enormous ego,” quips Dr. Strange.

“That’s it for this week.  There’s coffee and danish in the back…”






Dipping your cookies

Toddlers’ Cooking show.

Babbaaaabaa duh squeal!  (trans:  Bananas!  YUM!)  Recipe follows:  Take bananas.  Squish them and eat with or without spoon.

You’re an ADULT!  Why are you squishing your bananas?  Duh.  It’s CALLED a SMOOTHY!

Buk Buk Buk  gmy ah ah?  (trans:  Are we having chicken?)  Recipe follows:  Take chicken, boil the crap out of it.  Add copious amounts of salt, cut it up and put it in a jar.

But you’re an ADULT!  Why are you cubing your chicken?  Duh.  It’s called CHICKEN SALAD!

Googie!!!  (Cookie!)  Recipe follows:  anything round gets dipped in milk and eaten by children with less than the required amount of teeth.

You’re an ADULT!  You have the required number of teeth.  Why are you dipping your cookie?  BECAUSE IT TASTES GOOD.

I cannot believe this is the subject of a radio poll.  If it’s food and it tastes good, why does it have to be relegated by age?

Food rules:

  1. Only old people can like liver and onions
  2. Only old snobby people can like caviar
  3. Only 10 year olds can request mac and cheese
  4. No one is allowed to make peanut butter marshmallow sandwiches
  5. Adults must not indulge in popsicles or cotton candy

There comes a time in your life when you do not have permission to eat what you want.  When is that time?  When there’s too much salt, when you have food allergies, when you’re 200 pounds overweight.  What is the limit?  No fast food, no pop!  That ISN’T food; it’s a means of quelling talking tummies until you can get the real thing.  No you can’t eat that whole bag of M & M’s.

But Panera has 3 different macaroni and cheese dishes.  Red Lobster offers a macaroni and cheese lobster dish.  Every health food restaurant offers smoothies…processed bananas, but they add protein powder and spinach.  Chicken cubes and beef cubes are on salads and mixed in with sandwiches.

So if you want to dip your cookie in your milk, that is not a crime, and if it isn’t bad for you, why must it be relegated to the kid’s food category?

Dip your cookie in your milk if you want.

Uh Oh…

Received this:Creepy home invader

12/1  Elf arrives at house with naughty/nice list and Elf’s name is at top of Naughty list.

12/2 Elf empties flour on kitchen floor and makes “flour” angel

12/3 Parent calls 911 about home invasion.

12/4 Elf arrested for trespassing, vagrancy and vandalism.

12/5 Elf posts bail with the money he stole out of Parent’s pockets.

12/6 No sign of elf, but All belt loops on dress pants in closet cut off. Chef’s knife missing from kitchen.

12/7 Tiny foot prints outside parents’ bedroom window and all the left shoes taken from Mother’s closet.

12/8 Parents up all night with weapons of mass destruction getting no sleep whatsoever.

12/9 Parents late to work and groggy from lack of sleep.

12/10 Elf posed on night stand next to alarm clock with very large, very sharp knife.

12/11 Sheriff’s department orders psyche evaluation on parents. Elf poses unobtrusively on mantel. No sign of knife.

12/12 Mother committed for further evaluation. Father commits elf-iside and buries remains in sand box in back yard.

12/13 suspicious hole in sand box, and tiny sandy tracks into back door of house into basement.

12/14 No sign of elf, but seems to be something scurrying in the walls of house…

12/15 Elf, sitting on couch with head in lap turns TV way up and is watching Chucky.

12/16 Family moves to remote Island in the North Sea…

12/25 Package hand delivered by a Giant with a pink frilly umbrella that says: Merry Christmas! See you next year, Signed Elf.

CW challenge

“Write a four line poem about a haunted house. (Do this two times: once where each line rhymes and then again with no rhyming at all.)”
– a prompt for this week’s CW piece.
[Source: @DailyPrompt]

Who was here?

Were they dear?

Are they near?

Should I fear?!


Creaks and groans are normal with these homes

Agents say it’s just a bit of charm

I hear footsteps–round my bed they creep

“Squeeze your eyes shut! You won’t want to see!”

Phish Tales

Why are those that choose to use phishing to get private information such idiots?  Now I know that they’re successful enough of the time to continue in this behavior, but I’m not sure how.

1st of all, when you spend so much time replicating the notices that legitimately come out on occasion, the font, the logos the wording (and I’ll address that next), why do you have a return address like this:

  •  Apple Payment <>
  •  Apple Support <>

That would seem to send up some red flags don’t you think?  Outwardly, these look like legit mails.  But now, I scroll over the senders to see if they have interesting addresses.

Next, when you are attempting to get information from the receiver, shouldn’t you make your message as clear and understandable as possible?  How hard is it to get spellcheck to work?

Your membership has reached ilJKO6fnG3qtlJKO6fnG3qslJKO6fnG3q lJKO6fnG3qexpiry daYTYMDJUXNMIIBCEtYTYMDJUXNMIIBCEeYTYMDJUXNMIIBCE YTYMDJUXNMIIBCEiYTYMDJUXNMIIBCEnYTYMDJUXNMIIBCE YTYMDJUXNMIIBCEsYTYMDJUXNMIIBCEpYTYMDJUXNMIIBCEiYTYMDJUXNMIIBCEtYTYMDJUXNMIIBCEeYTYMDJUXNMIIBCE YTYMDJUXNMIIBCEoYTYMDJUXNMIIBCEfYTYMDJUXNMIIBCE YTYMDJUXNMIIBCEtYTYMDJUXNMIIBCEh9292Qn3832XWMORe9292Qn3832XWMOR 9292Qn3832XWMORr9292Qn3832XWMORe9292Qn3832XWMORm9292Qn3832XWMORi9292Qn3832XWMORn9292Qn3832XWMORd9292Qn3832XWMORe9292Qn3832XWMORr9292Qn3832XWMORsytymdjuxnmiibce ytymdjuxnmiibcesytymdjuxnmiibceeytymdjuxnmiibcenytymdjuxnmiibcedytymdjuxnmiibce ytymdjuxnmiibcebytymdjuxnmiibceyytymdjuxnmiibce ytymdjuxnmiibceeytymdjuxnmiibcemytymdjuxnmiibceaytymdiytymdlytymdlytymd
T9292qn3832h9292qn3832eZQMM6MFA1Vr9292qn3832eZQMM6MFA1Vf9292qn3832oZQMM6MFA1Vr9292qn3832eZQMM6MFA1V, wZQMM6MFA1VeZQMM6MFA1V mZQMM6MFA1VuZQMM6MFA1VsZQMM6MFA1Vt9292qn3832 l9292qn3832oZQMM6MFA1VcZQMM6MFA1VkZQMM6MFA1V yZQMM6MFA1VoZQMM6MFA1VuZQMM6MFA1Vr9292qn3832 AZQMM6MFA1Vp9292qn3832p9292qn3832l9292qn3832eZQMM6MFA1V IZQMM6MFA1VD9292qn3832 t9292qn3832eZQMM6MFA1VmZQMM6MFA1Vp9292qn3832oZQMM6MFA1Vr9292qn3832aZQMM6MFA1Vr9292qn3832iZQMM6MFA1Vl9292qn3832yZQMM6MFA1V f9292qn3832oZQMM6MFA1Vr9292qn3832 sZQMM6MFA1VeZQMM6MFA1VcZQMM6MFA1VuZQMM6MFA1Vr9292qn3832iZQMM6MFA1Vt9292qn3832yZQMM6MFA1V r9292qn3832eZQMM6MFA1VaZQMM6MFA1VsZQMM6MFA1VoZQMM6MFA1Vn9292qn3832(sZQMM6MFA1V).
iytymdnytymd ytymdoytymdrytymddytymdeytymdrytymd ytymdtytymdoytymd jYHtDoOAEjgjYHtDoOAEjrjYHtDoOAEjujYHtDoOAEjajYHtDoOAEjnjYHtDoOAEjtjYHtDoOAEjejYHtDoOAEjejYHtDoOAEj jYHtDoOAEjtjYHtDoOAEjhjYHtDoOAEjejYHtDoOAEj jYHtDoOAEjcjYHtDoOAEjojYHtDoOAEjnjYHtDoOAEjfjYHtDoOAEjijYHtDoOAEjdjYHtDoOAEjejYHtDoOAEjnjYHtDoOAEjtjYHtDoOAEjijYHtDoOAEjajYHtDoOAEjljYHtDoOAEjijYHtDoOAEjtjYHtDoOAEjyjYHtDoOAEj jYHtDoOAEjojYHtDoOAEjf18535274514776245523 18535274514776245523y18535274514776245523o18535274514776245523u18535274514776245523r18535274514776245523 18535274514776245523d18535274514776245523a18535274514776245523t18535274514776245523a18535274514776245523,18535274514776245523 18535274514776245523y18535274514776245523o18535274514776245523u18535274514776245523 18535274514776245523w18535274514776245523i18535274514776245523l18535274514776245523l18535274514776245523 18535274514776245523n18535274514776245523e18535274514776245523e18535274514776245523d18535274514776245523 18535274514776245523t18535274514776245523o18535274514776245523 18535274514776245523c18535274514776245523o18535274514776245523m18535274514776245523p18535274514776245523l18535274514776245523e48.253.168.96t48.253.168.96e48.253.168.96 bjropnxcdeybjropnxcdeobjropnxcdeubjropnxcderbjropnxcde bjropnxcdeAbjropnxcdepbjropnxcdepbjropnxcdelbjropnxcdeebjropnxcde bjropnxcdeIbjropnxcdeDbjropnxcde bjropnxcdetbjropnxcdeobjropnxcde bjropnxcderbjropnxcdeebjropnxcdebjropnxcdeabjropnxcdecbjropnxcdecbjropnxcdeebjropnxcdesbjropnxcdesbjropnxcde bjropnxcdeabjropnxcdesbjropnxcde bjropnxcdeubjropnxcdesbjropnxcdeubjropnxcdeabjropnxcdelbjropnxcde bjropnxcdebbjropnxcdeybjropnxcde bjropnxcdecbjropnxcdelbjropnxcdeobjropnxcdecbjropnxcdekbjropnxcdeibjropnxcdenbjropnxcdegNX84 NX84tNX84hNX84eNX84 NX84lNX84iNX84nNX84kNX84NX84bNX84elJKO6fnG3qllJKO6fnG3qolJKO6fnG3qwlJKO6fnG3q lJKO6fnG3qalJKO6fnG3qslJKO6fnG3q lJKO6fnG3qsNX84oNX84oNX84nNX84 NX84aNX84sNX84 NX84yNX84oNX84uNX84 NX84rNX84eNX84cytymdjuxnmiibceeytymdjuxnmiibceiytymdjuxnmiibcevytymdjuxnmiibceeytymdjuxnmiibce ytymdjuxnmiibcetbjropnxcdehbjropnxcdeibjropnxcdesbjropnxcde NX84eNX84mNX84aNX84iNX84lNX84.NX84.

That’s what happens when you copy and paste the message.  The actual message that shows up is this:

Your membership has reached its expiry date in spite of the reminders sent by emaill Therefore, we must lock your AppleID temporarily for security reason(s).  in order to gruantee the confidentiality of your data, you will need to complete the renewal of your details.  Please update your AppleID to re-access as usual by clocking the link below as soon as you receive this email.

Thanks you

Apple Support Team

Wouldn’t it be an expiration date instead of an expiry date?  How many emaills did they send? It seems that someone who is not a native English speaker sent the mail or they wouldn’t have used reason(s) either.  What is a gruantee?  They get confidentiality spelled right, but mess up guarantee?  How do you Clock a Link?  Thanks you?

I know, this is a weird thing to rant on, but for heaven’s sake, I get 2-3 of these a week from Apple, and from PayPal and FaceBook and a nearly every service you can think of.  All of them are badly done with incorrect capitalization, misspelled words, awkward syntax, and horrific grammar.  AND!!!!  They can have all these abominations of English in only 3 sentences?!!  At least the Nigerians have a legitimate reason for foreign-sounding mails!  So yes it seems weird to take such care to spoof messages from legitimate companies and then screw up the message.

Don’t get me wrong, I do not want to HELP them get better, but goodness gracious, it hurts my brain to read them!



Love and other mysteries

“Unless it’s mad, passionate, extraordinary love, it’s a waste of your time>  There are too many mediocre things in life.  Love shouldn’t be one of them.” ~Dreams for an Insomniac

I read this and looked at the background picture of two very pretty people laughing and kissing each other and I thought…wait.

Now I’m not a prude.  I’m just old.  I know a few things.  That kind of love is unsustainable and destined for failure.  You may have good memories for a while, but those fade.

Love is

Holding hands in the theater

Snuggling on the couch

Making love in the tent

The hug and kiss at the door

Giggling in the car

Going to the concerts

The band contests

The conventions

Love is

Not defined by a scale

Not defined by prowess.

Love changes the lovers.

You become a better you when

you are with the one you love.

Love, by definition, IS NEVER


It’s dynamic and ever growing

and changing.

Love is

Better than any scale

Because it’s the true expression

of your deepest self and

your response to your

lover’s true expression.






He looked into the Abyss.  It looked back.  He leaned in a bit closer and it spoke.

“Come,” it said calmly. “You needn’t jump, just lean in and glide.  It isn’t cold or hot.  You won’t feel the wind rushing past your face.  It will not suck the air from your lungs.  You will feel enfolded like a child with a blanket.  You will feel soothed.”  It had a woman’s voice.  It was cool and unhurried.  At the same time it was warm and inviting.

He leaned in a bit more.  He felt big, strong hands ready to catch him, welcoming him, holding him close, and he didn’t fear the dark.  He knew if he leaned in just a bit more, this pain of life would just melt away.  He understood that his life wouldn’t end unless he ended it, and he could do that any time.  But for now, just slide into the abyss.  Remove the anxiety.  Let the loneliness float away.  Let go of the panic.  Quit fighting.  Just be.

It started to feel like sleep–weightless and care free.  When you sleep, all you see is what’s in your brain…and if you don’t like what you see, you wake up and change your picture.  Wait, no.  Your brain is against you.  It brings up painful memories and twists them into nightmares.  Your brain tackles an impossible task and keeps working and thinking until you’re more exhausted from your sleep than you would have been wide awake for that time.  It remembers all your failures and throws them in your face until you jerk awake with tears in your eyes.  Real Life sleep isn’t weightless and care free…it is a descent into madness.  But the abyss…  The abyss is like sleep should be:  nothingness and rest from life.  He smiled to himself.  “Now I know what Rest in Peace really means.”

He leaned in a bit closer.  He felt his consciousness rising like dust in the sunlight.  He felt the harsh heat of failure begin to fade.  He could feel individual hairs on his arms.  He could truly experience his breath going in and out and feel the blood whoosh from his heart to his fingertips and find its way back.  But then he felt tethers, as fine as spider’s silk holding him.  What were these?  He located one and felt along it, following it to its source.  It was an unfinished book.  He couldn’t read the title, but he knew by the bookmark that he hadn’t finished it.  He followed another tether and its source was a person.  She (he was pretty sure it was a she because her hair was long) had red hair but he didn’t get a sense of what she looked like.  Her facial features and her body shape were fluid and changing.  She laughed and he recognized her, his childhood friend.

There was another tether leading from his chest.  It seemed to pulse in rhythm to his heart beat and appeared thicker than the others, though still fragile and fine as sewing thread.  He followed that one.  It was very long and seemed to rise above him.  He was beginning to wonder if it had a source and was becoming less and less interested in its source when he felt something cool on his face and could see brief glimpses of color.  He looked at the thread and noticed it wasn’t a single thread, it was twisted.  There were multiple strands, but they were too fine to see how many.  He continued to follow the thread.  There was something hot on his face.  It wasn’t painful.  He reached up and brushed at it and realized it might have been a tear.  There was another glimpse of color.

The color flashes were coming closer together.  He looked down at the tether.  It didn’t look as fragile as it had.  Were there more strands?  He stopped to ponder this.  As he looked to his chest, the tether was fine and hair-like.  The one in his hand was almost the weight of crochet thread.  Why did that description come to him?  What was it about crochet thread that he thought was important?  Why not wire?  Why not dental floss?  He looked at the tether and realized that now it seemed to be taking on a color, pale and vaguely yellow.  It sparked a memory.  Memories are bad though!  They made him think of bad things he’d done, people he’d hurt with unkind words, missed opportunities, unfinished jobs…  This memory though, it seemed different.

He looked at the tether again.  He pictured a hand holding cloth, and the thread, vaguely yellow, being pulled by a needle.  He heard the conversation:

“What are you sewing?”

“It’s a sun.”

“It isn’t round.”

“That’s right.  It’s just that particular color in the sun.”

“The sun is yellow.”

“The sun is many shades of yellow.”

“But it isn’t round.”

“It will be when I finish.  As in everything in life, you must see with your eyes and your heart, not your head.”

“I remember, draw the space between the leaves first, then draw the dark green and the other greens and all the shades of brown, one at a time.”

“Then you will see the tree as it is and not as you know it to be.”

He felt another tear forming and brushed it away.  It was a comforting memory.  Then he looked down at the tether and decided.  He continued to follow the thread.  He looked at the tether that had led to the book.  He grasped the book and put it into his pocket.  His childhood friend laughed again and whispered in his ear, “Let’s go on an adventure!”  Her voice echoed through his body.  She wasn’t with him, she was in him.

The abyss whispered, “Why follow the thread?”

He replied, “To see where it goes.”

Then the abyss seemed a bit agitated, though still in a calm voice it asked, “But don’t you already know where it goes?”

He stopped, floating in time and space, looking for the source of the abyss’ voice.  “How would I know where it goes?”  There was no answer from the abyss.

“It goes back there.  It goes to where the pain and the loneliness is.  It goes back to the hopeless situation I’ve been avoiding.  It goes back to the impossible task.”  There were more tears.  He reached into his pocket and took out the book.  He broke the tether and let it float away.  He found his friend, hiding in a closet in his brain.  He opened the door and let her out.  Then he cut her tether.  She floated near him and started to cry.  Her tears didn’t move him.  She slowly started to fade away.  He felt helpless, then he felt hopeless and turned his back on her.  He could still hear her sobs.  Then he looked down at the tether from his chest.  The part in his hand was as big around as his little finger now.  He couldn’t cut it, let alone break it like he’d done with the book and the…girl?  He could hear no sobs now, but got the feeling of a presence near him.  He looked down at the broken tether that had gone to his…object, thing.  What was it?  Square.  He felt some regret.  Then he looked at the tether he’d cut to release that, um… person?  He felt some twinge of pain like a pin prick.  He thought to himself, “Would I really like to cut this last tether?”

The abyss replied, “Does it tether you to something you love or something that brings you pain?”

He thought.

“Only those things you love can give you the deepest pain.”

The abyss then whispered in his ear like the hiss of a snake.  “You have to decide if you want to face certain pain with a small possibility of love or stay here surrounded by nothing that can hurt you.”

Then he heard another voice.  She laughed, and the tether from the person seemed to be growing back.  Not like a hair grows, not like a web strand, just…reappearing.  “She’s right you know.”  Then she laughed again.  She seemed to be rematerializing.  “Nothing CAN hurt you!  Absence of sound and light and color makes you disappear like I did.”  She let him think, and then she continued.  “Look at all these strands, how they’re twisted together, how strong they’ve become.  They don’t come from all different places, they come from one place.  It isn’t just one person, or many persons, one location or many.  That place is Love itself.”

He thought.  He couldn’t bring himself to speak.

The abyss insinuated herself into the conversation.  Her voice was lower, and it seemed it was sneering.  “How did you feel when you were outside the abyss?  How do you feel now?”

The friend stopped laughing.  He could see her face now.  She was smiling as if she knew she’d won the argument.  “Why does the abyss ask you how you feel if the purpose of the abyss is to feel nothing?”

It hissed and drew back.

Suddenly he felt afraid.  He looked to his friend in panic.  She held out her hand and indicated the tether he still held.  “We can go together,” she said.  They headed off, following the thread.  He started feeling like he was walking instead of floating.  He could feel solid ground beneath his feet and his friend’s hand in his.  He had the impression that something was coming up behind him.  He looked back to see…eyes closing the distance between them.  His friend seemed unconcerned.  “It is nothingness.  It can’t bite you or grab you or hurt you.  It is something that everyone sees and has learned not to fear.”

The glimpses of light were now a dull glow…reds, yellows, just a hint of green.  Colors were swirling around him like dust when walking down a country road.  He could smell the warm grass, hear the bugs and the bird calls.  He could hear the sound of the leaves in the breeze.  “Come,” she said, “It’s close now.”

“She takes you to a place of pain,” the abyss whispered.  It sounded more like a hiss than a voice now.

“Do you remember that trip to the mountains?” his friend asked.  Her name was… S something.  Sharon?  Shelly?  Sheri?  “What do you remember?”  He thought.  He didn’t remember the mountains.  “Can you picture the campfire?”  He did.  He remembered the crackling of the wood, the sting of smoke in his eyes.  There was an owl.  It was so quiet.  “I can see what you’re thinking.”  He was startled.  “How?”  “Remember that room you found me in your brain?  I opened the door.  I can see what you see and hear what you hear.  It’s nice in here.  It’s not a closet, more like a cabin with a porch and a view of a lake.  Where is this?”  He smiled.  It was a postcard he’d picked up.  “You’re smiling.  She said there was only pain there.  You don’t smile at pain.”

The abyss hissed angrily.  “She’s trying to fool you.  Remember the sprained ankle?  Remember the fight in the car?  Remember the sunburn?  Remember throwing up for 4 hours?  You never even went to a place like that post card.”  His smile faded, and he felt the dull ache in his ankle.  His sunburned shoulders started to itch.

Shelly said, “Did you feel that ache before you came into the abyss?  Were you sunburned before you came to the abyss?”  Shelly was her name.  He nodded.  Shelly continued, “Didn’t it fade away?”  He nodded again.  “With growth comes pain, right?” she went on.  “You Know that, but what have we learned about ‘knowing?’  He thought and then said, “You have to see things as they are, not as you know them to be?”  “That’s right.  So you know pain, but what is it really?”  He and Shelly stopped moving.  The glow was not as vague as it had been, and there were more colors.  He hadn’t even noticed when it changed.  He closed his eyes and felt his heart beat again and felt his breathing.

He pictured the campfire.  He pictured the postcard he’d bought on the trip.  He remembered leaning over a stump to empty his stomach.  He remembered having to sleep sitting up so his shoulders wouldn’t hurt.  He remembered his harsh words in the car.  Then he remembered drinking the water from the edge of the lake.  It was so cold.  He remembered the hike up the trail and the riot of color in the meadow…thousands of tiny mountain flowers.  That must have been when he got the sunburn.  He could remember feeling that he was getting burned but he couldn’t pull himself away from that beautiful view.  He remembered that someone had said they had to leave and he was mad.  He didn’t want to leave these smells, these sounds, these views.  He must have been very young.  Someone said it was good he wanted to stay, but he shouldn’t keep these experiences to himself.  He needed to tell his friends about them.  He remembered starting to cry.  Then a deep voice said, “Every time you repeat your stories, you get to live them again.  You can take this vacation any time you want by just telling someone about it.”  He remembered someone noticing he was very red in the face and asking him if he’d taken some water with him on his hike.  Then he remembered getting out of the car and running to the stump.  He must have been dehydrated.  That was the cool on his face…the wash cloth.  The ice chips.  It wasn’t the POINT of the story, it was just a detail.

She said, “That’s right.  It was a detail of the trip.  It wasn’t the point of the trip.  The view of the flowers came with a sun burn and an upset stomach.  Why remember the sun burn and throwing up and not remember those amazing flowers?”

He pictured the field of flowers.  Yes, he could see them any time he wanted without getting the sunburn or losing his dinner.  The growth was the vision, the vision would not disappear.  The pain was only temporary.  It was permanent because he chose to focus on it.  It was like looking at the trees and seeing green blobs on brown sticks.  He was seeing pain as he knew it instead of what it truly was.  He and Shelly with the long red hair and overalls and t-shirt started moving.  He pictured the wild flowers again and looked down to see tiny flowers along the path of the tether.  The tether now was nearly as big around as his wrist.  When did that happen?

The abyss was still hissing behind him.  Suddenly he felt something grab his ankle, the one he’d sprained.  It hurt.  He cried out in fear and pain.  The abyss’ voice was low and raspy now.  It didn’t sound like a woman’s at all.  “Boy?” it said harshly.  “If you think the worst pain you could have was a sprained ankle and a sunburn, you are in for a world of hurt.  People you try to love won’t love you back.  People close to you will die or leave you abandoned.  You will be rejected and mocked and hurt over and over and over again.  You cannot escape that pain once you leave the abyss.  You will fear for your life.  You will have so many regrets.  You will never have that ideal life you keep clinging to.  It’s hopeless.  Better to just slide into the abyss and feel nothing than to be tortured.”  He cried out.  “Stop!!!!  I can’t face it!  I deserve no love!  I will always be abandoned and left alone and in pain!”  He sat down and began to sob.  Sh… Sh…  What was her name?

She came and sat next to him.  She tried to hold his hand but he couldn’t feel her.  “Shhhhhh.  No one deserves love.  Love isn’t something you earn.  Think of how you love.”  He was still whimpering.  “Do you give someone a test before you love them?”  He shook his head.  The abyss said, “Maybe you should.  If they cannot pass this test, you know they won’t stick by you.  Don’t waste your love on those who do not deserve it.”  He started to cry again.  She patted him on the arm.  He didn’t feel it.  “There is no test for the heart.  There is a connection.  You can decide to love someone, but it has to be more than just a decision.  It’s the same for everyone in the world.  People love you because you’re you.  You don’t earn love. You earn respect, you earn admiration, you earn disdain and fear, but you don’t earn love.”  The grip on his ankle weakened.  “What does she know?” the abyss whispered.  He said, “Shell?  Do you love me?”  “Of course,” she answered quietly.  He hugged her and she hugged back.  She was solid again.  The grip weakened.  He pulled his foot free.  They stood and started walking again.

There was a pool.  It was upright like a mirror, but it was liquid.  As he got closer he could hear laughter beyond the surface.  Shelly was smiling.  She had one thumb in her overalls strap and she was barefooted.  He looked down and saw he had one shoe on and one off.  “Where’s my shoe?”  “Oh!” Shelly laughed, “the abyss grabbed at it like that deep mud in the little creek.  You wore your creeking shoes so you don’t have to worry about losing it.”  He looked at the pool and there were two hands reaching through it, one man’s and one woman’s.  “Should I grab their hands?” he asked.  “You don’t have to,” replied Shelly.

“They can’t have you.  They don’t love you or you wouldn’t be in the abyss.  You’re MINE.”  The gravelly voice seemed quite close.  He felt jerked away from the pool and from Shelly.  “Do you really want to go back there?  How could you?  It’s just as dark there as it is here, but you don’t feel it here.  I can cut that tether for you.  I have the edge that will slice that.”  He looked at the razor edge, then he looked at the pool and Shelly.  The razor edge was easing closer and closer to the tether.  “Don’t,” he thought.  The edge moved closer.  Then instead of cutting the tether, it started slicing his arm from wrist to elbow.  He looked in horror and screamed.  Someone grabbed the back of his shirt and pulled him through the pool.

He was on the floor.  The room was too bright and he closed his eyes.  His arm was on fire.  “Make it stop!  Make it stop!”  In his head, he was screaming, but his voice was faint.  “We got you, we got you.  Help is on the way.  Don’t go.  We love you!  Come back!”

The faces he saw as he opened his eyes were all sad and worried.  All but Shelly.  She was smiling.  Then Shelly started to melt away.  “SHELLY!”  “We’re here, hon.  We’re here.”  “Where’s Shelly?”  “Don’t worry about that now, hear the sirens?  You’ll be ok soon.”  He closed his eyes.  The abyss said, “You’ll be back.  I’ll always be here.”

He woke.  He was in a bed with a long bandage on his arm.  His mom and dad were sleeping in the chairs next to him.  They both had their hands on his chest.  “Mom?  Dad?”  They woke up and smiled.  “Welcome back sleepy head.”  “Where’s Shelly?”  “Oh, honey.  She’s been gone for years.”  “What happened to her?”  “Don’t you remember?  She was in that accident?”  “It wasn’t an accident was it…”  “What?”  “I could tell.  She seemed too comfortable in the dark.”  There was silence.  Then his dad said, “She…she took some pills.”  There was more silence.  “You saw her in the dark?  Was that yesterday?” asked his mom.  He nodded.  Then he started to sniffle.  “How am I going to make it without her?  If the only way I can see her is when I’m in that…that…abyss?”  His dad, nearing tears himself, wiped his eyes and asked, “Remember the trip to the mountains?  You were 5.”  “What about it?”  “Remember that I said you could go on vacation anytime you wanted by just repeating the stories?”  “Yes?”  “Tell us about Shelly.”





Measuring progress with a contest

Well that sounds intriguing…

Do people do that?

  • How fast can you run?  Last week I beat you by 2 min; can you beat me now?
  • When you started, you only knew 3 notes on the instrument.  What can you play now?  How would you compare to others with the same starting point?
  • How well does your band march?  Can you hold your own in a city-wide contest?
  • Your fire department let the fire house burn down.  How fast can you put out a fire now?  How well can your members climb, carry, work the hose and the axes…let’s have a contest.
  • So you think your Barbershop chorus is good huh…

I went to a Toastmasters Convention in Chicago.  There are always the educational sessions and the inspirational sessions, but the most anticipated sessions are the Semi finals and Finals of the World Championship of Public Speaking.  There is only one winner every year, and people from 116 districts, each with 5 Divisions, each Division with 5 Areas, and each Area with 4-5 clubs competing for that spot.  That’s weeding down about 13,000 speakers to about 100 or so.  Each Semi final has 10-11 speakers competing, with 10 competitions weeding down 100 speakers to just 10.  The finals consist of 10 of the best speakers.  Those who crave recognition and speaking in front of 1000’s of people are drooling at the chance to be on that stage and getting crowned World Champion.  Once you’ve achieved this amazing goal, you cannot compete again on the International Stage.  One of the competitors this year had made it to Semifinals 12 times, and had been a finalist 4 times!  He didn’t win this time either.

Here’s the thing.  Even if it isn’t an official contest, people judge their success by comparison.  Our school districts have more children in the top 10% of the country on ACT/SAT scores than any other school!  We have a larger percentage of graduates placed right after graduation than any other university.  We have more rich people in our city than any other in the country.  To aspire to be the best, we resort to self improvement classes, personal coaches and support groups.  We then tend to look at the finals and derive the formula  that will give us similar results.

There’s the 10,000 hour rule.  There’s the gimmick of the year (onstage costume changes, props, even themes for speeches!)  There’s teaching to the test.  Then there’s over-prep.  In Bands of America, the winning bands often practice 1 routine with 3 songs for a year and begin their preparations for the next contest 1 week after the finals in the previous contest.  At the speech contest, many contestants hire former world champions to mentor them and coach them to victory and will pay upwards of several thousand dollars.  They will sacrifice vacation times, neglect their jobs and families, and practice for hours to perfect their entries.  In their quest to have the winning performance, they will study hours and hours of previous performances by winners, analyze second by second recordings of their own performances and compare them to the winners.  What are they doing?  They are looking for the differences between 1st and 2nd place.

Judging is subjective.  They TRY to make it objective…this many points for that sound, deduct this many points for this infraction…but the bottom line is still a subjective opinion.  Do you have that same type of judging on the local level as in the International finals?  Of course not!  So something that would win on the Championship stage or field might not even place on the local level.

I went to an area speech contest where all of the speeches that placed concerned dead pets.  I saw a local band contest where one of the finalists of the Bands of America didn’t place in the top 3 because they sang and didn’t march in straight blocks.  We understand that you cannot advance to the next level of the competition if you don’t succeed at the local level.

As a member of Sweet Adelines, sometimes the difference between 1st and 2nd place is 4 points.  The difference is the sparkle on the costume. The difference is the choreography for the lady in the 3rd row 14th person over.  The difference is the intonation of the slide between chords on the Tag.  These are things that are so minute and so specialized that a normal person wouldn’t even notice it.  So you work on those incredibly small details, then your chorus gets rejected on the initial contest because one of the judges didn’t like your choice of song, or because one thought it was too gimmicky to have props such as hats or fans.

One Football team did a statistical analysis of the winning super bowl teams and discovered a higher percentage of this type of offense and that type of defense, sooooo that’s what they used.  They lost 50% of their games.  A high school team perfected a trick play, and then became famous for it.  Oops!  Isn’t it supposed to work because it surprises the opponents?

You must discern what wins on the local level.  That’s a problem because in the case of Toastmasters Speech contests, what wins the club might not win the area because of the way the judges are chosen.  Who’s here?  Ok, take this ballot and vote for your favorite! Or you might encounter this:  We, as judges, have been studying all the Semi Finals contests for weeks and have been well trained on what to look for in an international speech.  We are 15 minutes early and have chosen our seats trying to look as anonymous as possible.  If you win in the area, even if it is the caliber of Convention competitions, you may not win the Division because these particular judges may LIKE dead dog speeches and vacation pictures.  And if you do give your dead dog speech on the District level, they will shoot you down because the message isn’t clear.  And if you win on the District level, and you do not use onomatopoeia, alliteration, or parenthetical phrases, and have no props and no funny lines, you may not win at the Semi-final level.  If you do win at the Semi-final level, YOU MUST USE A DIFFERENT SPEECH FOR THE FINALS.  Wait…The speech you used and perfected throughout the club, area, division and district levels is thrown out and you use an untried, imperfect, alternative speech for the final?  Does that make any sense whatsoever?

What would you do?  I’d have 1 speech topic and 3 different approaches to it.  “How to survive the Hard times” would be a good topic.  It has universal appeal and can be tailored to each contest.

  • Club level:  “You all know me:  I’ve been a toastmaster here for years!  What you don’t know is that I’ve been in witness protection for 22 years and now, now you will learn about the real me!”  5 1/2 min later…  “In conclusion, if you find me at your back door with beer in hand, don’t let me in!  Mr. Toastmaster.”
  • Area level:  “You all know me:  I’ve been a toastmaster here for years!  What you don’t know is that over the past 4 years, I’ve lived a Country/Western life!”  5 1/2 min later…  “In conclusion, if you get divorced, lose your house, your car gets repossessed, and your dog dies, you can survive, and even thrive!  You can survive the Hard times!  Madam Toastmaster.”
  • Division level:  “Some of you know me:  I’ve been a toastmaster for years!  What you don’t know is that I didn’t always look like this.  I used to weigh 700 pounds and have had extensive surgery!”  6 min later…  “In conclusion, you can look this good without surgery, turn down that cupcake!!!  Mr. Toastmaster.”
  • District level:  “Some of you may recognize me:  I was at the registration table this morning!  What you don’t know is that I’m a Person of the Poetic Persuasion.  (That’s alliteration folks.)  I’ll be walking and suddenly, ‘Poof!’ A Poetic and Poignant Phrase within the Perfect Parameters will Present itself!”  6 1/2 min later… “In conclusion, should you find yourself hopelessly staring at that blank sheet of paper, Perambulate and Ponder the Paradoxical Points of the Present epoch!  Mr.  Postmaster…I mean Toastmaster.”
  • Semi Finals Level:  “You don’t know me:  I’ve been a toastmaster for years!  Have you ever found yourself staring at an unfamiliar ceiling surrounded by beeping machines and smelling of disinfectant?  I have.  Myocardial Infarctions  are sneaky little buggers and can Defy the Destiny of the most Determined and Deliberate of Dignitaries.”  6 min 28 seconds later… “In conclusion, don’t procrastinate, prevaricate the possibility of pernicious effects of heart disease!  Mr. Toastmaster”
  • Finals level:  “Madam Contest master, fellow toastmasters and guests and esteemed judges, let me tell you about my dog, Fluffy.”  6 min later, stage is littered with dog toys and speaker is sobbing into an over-sized hanky…  “Yes, he was 700 pounds and black as a moonless night.  Yes, he had 3 heads, but he had the soul of a poet and he especially loved harp music.  And after I lost my wife, my truck and my house, he was the only one that stayed with me.  I visit him every day at the pet cemetery… *sobs* Madam Contest  *sob* chair.”  *blows nose*

And the winner…(drum roll please) is the agoraphobic woman who got assaulted in the parking lot by some wild woman in a white SUV.