It’s been awhile since my last post, and I have some very good reasons for that – and despite what one of my favorite artists would sing, Summerzcool is not where the courses are easy and there are no rules! Read on for a life update! Continue reading “Living and Blogging in 3/4 Time”
As a psychologist, I often am asked questions related to children, child rearing, and development (Despite not being a developmental psychologist!). As a generalist in teaching psychology, I do my best to give researched and nuanced answers. One comment I often get from students and parents alike is that they disagree with most experts on spanking. They believe it’s an effective form of punishment and (in some cases) have told me that they will not change their mind. I figured today I’d take some time to explain the reasons why spanking is wrong, giving you a chance to think about them and debate.
Continue reading “Spanking is Wrong for These Three Reasons”
In August 1986 I started school. I was 2 1/2 years old, and I think my mother figured it was time for me to get out of the house and see the world, or at least the preschool at Thoreau Park Elementary School. In a few short months, that will have been 30 years ago. And while those first 3 years of pre-school (my mother really wanted me out of the house…) may have consisted only of half-days, they did run the entire length of the school year. This means that, as of Spring 2016, I’ve completed 30 school years, as either a student or a teacher.
It had been about 70 years, they estimated, since the first group arrived in Julie’s mind. They now numbered around 100, and the once barren gray land had transformed into a near utopia. A sky of blue, lush grass, and (thankfully) furniture, books, and more. Julie certainly seemed to have grown a much more active imagination than when they arrived, and also seemed more active in general. While the mountains shown brightly for so many years, recently they’d grown a bit less active once more. The core group found themselves sitting in a circle, reminiscent of the early years.
“Well, she is in her 80’s”, G-ma said, “I don’t suppose she’s running any marathons!”
“And here we are, the same age as we were when we arrived!”, Mrs. Corum replied.
This hadn’t been true for everyone. Over the years, Sara Beth had grown into adulthood, however she stopped changing around age 20. They figured this might have been where Sara Beth and Julie parted ways during their college years. Jamie appeared older now as well, although she seemed to have topped out around 60. Perhaps Julie had never updated her mental picture of her younger sister. Ryan had stayed the same age, as did Mara.
Over the years the core group had learned a lot about Julie’s present-day through those they met in her mind. There was the young man, who they later found out had married Julie. There was the young children, who got to meet their great G-ma inside Julie’s mind. There were the work colleagues, and the friends, and more. So many painting such a rich life of Julie McKay, a life that had saved itself with a little help from Mrs. Corum, Sara Beth, Jamie, Mara, Ryan, and G-ma.
When I started writing Cinereous, I felt it would be a fun experience and rewarding. And while I definitely think both of those things were true, it was also somewhat stupid.
The idea of individuals living inside someone else’s mind has intrigued me for many years. As humans, we are capable of simulating many things in our own minds, thinking of the way different events would interact with different people we know. We replay good memories, we imagine what the next major event will be like, and (sometimes) we even imagine what would happen to those we don’t like if we could do anything we wanted to them.
The idea for Cinereous was sound, and I think the idea for writing an entire 50,000+ word novel (Cinereous tops out around 67,000 words) within a month is also a pretty good way to stretch oneself and force oneself to write.
The stupid part? Committing to publish a chapter each day – November 2015 proved to be an incredibly busy month for me, including travel to a conference, as well as the Thanksgiving holidays. While I normally averaged a lead time of 2-3 chapters (e.g., I was writing chapter 13 on November 10), I still found the pace to be grueling to meet my early morning publishing times. It resulted in shorter chapters over time (something I could have remedied by just not calling each section a chapter – a revision of Cinereous would likely see some of the chapters condensed), and it also resulted in poorer writing. Perhaps the most illuminating part of this experience has been the way it held a mirror to my own writing, showing me where I was getting ‘sloppy’ or ‘lazy’. While disheartening, it isn’t a bad thing to see, as it lets one know where to improve.
Overall I hope you’ve enjoyed this strange odyssey into the mind of a 12 year old girl (which I have not ever been inside of myself, so maybe I got some of it right, but I suppose I probably got a lot wrong!). It was a good mental ‘stretching’ exercise for me, and in the end I’ll fondly remember it as that time I wrote a novel in a month and published 1000+ words a day each day. And I suspect I’ll probably do a revision of the book at some point and put it out in e-pub / Kindle format. And heck, maybe I’ll even do up a cover page!
On one final note, the subject of the book, bullying and mental breakdown potentially leading to suicide is one near to my heart. Over my career I’ve lost 2 students to suicide. It’s a problem that we cannot ignore when we see any potential warning signs in others, and one we must address directly. Sadly the myth that “talking about suicide just puts the idea into the person’s head” is still prevalent – rest assured, if you worry about someone you love thinking about suicide, they probably already have had the idea cross their mind. Look out for each other, because unlike Julie, others might not have a majority of ‘good’ characters in their minds to try to help them out. They may need some good people in real life to reach out.
- Jon Westfall, December 2, 2015.
Well, here it is – the last chapter. These last 10 chapters have been on the shorter side, definitely something I’d expand out in a revision. Sometime in early December I’ll be posting an epilogue to the book, so be on the lookout for that. All told this has been 30 days, and 67,167 words. A 172 page paperback. A bit on the short side, but hey, I wrote it in my spare time – which I’m looking forward to having back again! Thanks to everyone who has taken the crazy journey with me! Continue reading “Chapter 30: Quiet”
They all cried, even Ryan, after the shock had faded. G-ma hadn’t been seen since she fled the group. Jamie’s body lie like Ryan’s had days earlier, with no hint of activity. Around her neck, marks where the old woman had strangled her, were visible.
“I can’t believe it” was the popular phrase uttered. They all knew G-ma had become somewhat of a fanatic regarding her belief. They never imagined that she was capable of this. Further complicating matters, they didn’t even know what ‘this’ was. It looked like death, but could one really die here? So many unanswered questions. Continue reading “Chapter 29: Secrets”
“Let’s do this”
When Jamie and Julie were little, the each had their own unique set of fears. For Jamie, it had been thunderstorms. Each time a front would move in, she’d run and hide somewhere she could block out the sound. Since it was possible, very, very rarely, that storms could be violent, her parents were a bit concerned that they might not be able to find their youngest daughter in case of emergency. So they looked for a solution. It turned out to be the same solution that had worked on their older daughter. Continue reading “Chapter 28: Putting Down The Rebellion”
“What month is it?”
“I think it might be July now”
“I can’t believe that I’ve lost track of time, this never would have happened when I was a teacher”
“It never would have happened when I was a student, counting down the days”
Mrs. Corum and Sara Beth were both about right, Ryan confirmed later in the same day that it was around July 5th. Continue reading “Chapter 23: July”
“Julie is my sister, and all, but I just can’t help feeling what I feel”, Jamie said as the others scowled at her with a look of confusion and shock.
“I just wondered if, now that Julie is thinking more about us in her imagination, we’d have something more interesting than just this gray area with nothing to do.”
The older women supposed that Jamie was just showing her age in her thoughts. They would be lying if they didn’t admit the thought had gone through their minds as well, however more pressing was the lack of activity on the mountain. Julie wasn’t doing much in the real world, and that bothered G-ma and Mrs. Corum especially.
“It’s not good for an adolescent girl to just lay around all day”, Mrs. Corum would fret.
“I wish we knew what was going on out there, but I don’t suppose Julie is going to have any emotional interactions with someone if she isn’t going out.”, Replied G-ma.
Thus the two camps were established in a playful sense – the Wants versus the Needs. The Wants wanted to make sure that Julie was physically, mentally, and emotionally OK. Consisting of Mrs. Corum, G-ma, and Sara Beth, they firmly watched the mountain for any clue it might provide. Little activity was met with frowns and fear for what this may mean.
The Needs, on the other hand, needed something more than what they had here. Led principally by Jamie, with Ryan in tow, they couldn’t be bothered to worry about the mountains, their focus was on the here and now. The rivalry between the two camps seldom boiled over, however it was true that their priorities were different. Mara, for the most part, stayed impartial.
Jamie began to feel frustrated that she was the only one who seemed motivated to change her predicament in this space. She’d seen G-ma get a knitting bag, and could borrow Mara’s hairbrush, but she desperately wanted more. The mental games that Mrs. Corum tried to get her to do seemed foolish and less than exciting after the prospect of free stuff crept into her head. And while Ryan was on her side, he didn’t seem as interested as she was.
“Ryan, I don’t get it – you’re no fan of my sister, why would you not want her to give us things – doesn’t she owe it to us for keeping us here?”
“I guess, Jamie. But as long as I don’t feel like my insides are on fire, I’m not too worried.”
“Oh you’ll just go on those magical walks of yours, and then everything seems fine, while I stay here and rot. I love my G-ma, but I can’t take knitting 24-7 here. Maybe I’ll just have to go with you on a walk sometime”
Ryan thought over that statement, carefully choosing how he wanted to reply.
“I don’t think that would be a good idea”, he said, although a nagging thought in the back of his head told him it might be. That confused him.
“Why not?”, Jamie said in reply.
“Uh… because I like to be alone”, was all Ryan could come back with. That afternoon, he sat there, and became more and more perplexed as he thought about Jamie’s request. Why would he ever want her to learn about the light valley? It was the only thing that got him through this place, and he genuinely felt better every time he returned after it. His trips had become less and less frequent – it was almost as if the light was having longer and longer effects on him.
Finally, a voice rang out in his head, clear as a bell
Ryan almost tipped over backwards as he sat on the ground when he heard that. Take her to the light valley?
“Ryan?”, Jamie said as she walked up to him from behind.
“Uh… yeah?”, Ryan replied.
“I want you to take me on a walk… I feel like it would be good for me”. Jamie said, nervously.
“Uh… why?”, Ryan stammered.
“I don’t know, I just do… it’s almost as if something is pushing me to go for a walk with you. I keep hearing voices in my head telling me to go, and if I don’t go, I think I might go insane”.
“Then I guess we should go”, Ryan said, reluctantly.
“Maybe the mountains weren’t about activity”, Sara Beth said to Mrs. Corum and G-ma. Mara sat nearby as well, although she wasn’t too interested in the conversation.
“I suppose that’s possible, but it certainly seems like colors here mean something”, Mrs. Corum replied, with G-ma chiming in “Yeah, colors in the sky are emotions, colors on the mountain is activity”.
“There is just still so much about this place we don’t know”, Sara Beth said, while looking down to make sure Sonic was still at her feet in his ball.
In the days since G-ma got her knitting bag, she had become less and less interested in talking about the world around her. It was almost as if she was in her own little world, delighted and preoccupied. The other two women understood this, but at a time when they both seemed to disagree on the proper way to handle their situation, it had come at a bad time.
Ryan and Jamie had gone off for a walk together, and frustrated, Sara Beth left Mrs. Corum and G-ma and want over to Mara. Sitting down out of earshot, Mara asked Sara Beth what was wrong.
“I just don’t know what to make of any of this anymore”, she replied, “I think I might be getting close to a breakdown of my own”.
“I’ve been there”, Mara said wistfully, “know the feeling well”.
As the two sat together, Mara searched for a new subject to distract her friend.
“Want to watch a movie on my phone? I know it’s the same 3 as last time, but it’s still something”.
“Naw, not in the mood”
“What about Sonic – maybe we could play with him”
“Naw, I don’t think that will help my mood either”.
“We could go learn to knit”, the words burned Mara’s mouth as she spoke them, she really didn’t want to learn how to knit.
“Naw, I’m not in the mood for that either”. Mara felt a sense of relief.
“What do you want to do then?”, Mara asked.
This was very frustrating for Mara. She was trying to be a good friend, trying to help Sara Beth out, but it didn’t seem to be working very well. Was this what friendship was like?
Mara had never really had any friends in her pre-grey life. She’d been close to her parents before the events of the last five years started, and during those years, she hadn’t really wanted to get close to anyone since it always seemed that they simply turned out to be full of eventual pain. Now she had a friend, but couldn’t figure out how to be a good friend. This was just so frustrating.
“I don’t know how to be a friend”, Mara exclaimed.
“What?”, Sara Beth asked quizzically.
“I keep trying to cheer you up, I keep trying to make you feel better, and none of it works. I don’t know how to be a friend”, Mara said once more.
“You’re doing a fine job”, Sara Beth said. Seeing Mara’s confused look, she elaborated. “Friends don’t just exist to make each other feel better, Mara, sometimes they’re just there to help you out. To be there for you if needed. To support you. You’re supporting me. You talk to me. You help me. That’s all someone can ask of a friend”.
“Really?”, Mara asked.
A few moments passed before Mara spoke again.
“Sara Beth, what do you want from Julie? Jamie seems to want things, maybe Ryan too. G-ma got her knitting bag. What would you want?”
“I don’t know, I haven’t thought about it too much. I guess maybe something to read, or maybe something to wear other than my dress from school. What about you?”
“I only wanted one thing in the last few years, and that was a friend. I’ve got that now, so I guess I’m out of things to ask for.”
The two girls smiled at each other. Mara’s last line may have sounded corny to some, but they both knew how true it was.
“Where are we going”
“I told you’d ya it would take awhile to get there”
“Yeah, but where is ‘there’ – what are we walking toward”
“Apparently somewhere that you’re supposed to visit. Somewhere I ran into a few weeks ago. It made this place bearable for me, maybe you’re supposed to go there too and it will help you”
“Help me? Help me what?”
“Deal with this place. Deal with the boringness of it. Deal with being inside Julie’s head”
“It helped you?”
“I always come back happier, don’t I?”
“Yeah, I just figured that you were going a little bit more insane each time”
“Naw, this thing actually works… I don’t know how, but it seems to”
“How far away are we?”
“We’re actually pretty close – I recognize the sky here. It should be right over that hill”
“Good, So what is it?”
“It’s kinda hard to explain – I think it has something to do with how this place messes with your mind. This place really messes with it, but I guess in a good way.
“Yep, here it is, right over….”
“Where? I don’t see anything”
“It’s right here, or at least it’s supposed to be right here”.
The two intrepid explorers walked into the formerly light filled valley.
“It feels a little warm here”, Jamie said, walking around.
“Yeah… its supposed to be a lot warmer”, Ryan said, as he paced around the valley, “It’s not supposed to be like this. It wasn’t like this last time I was here. That wasn’t too long ago! Maybe 4 or 5 days.”
“What was it like before?”
Ryan described the light valley to Jamie, in the way that he’d always seen it, and the same way that Mrs. Corum and G-ma had found it long ago.
“Look up there”, Jamie said as she pointed toward the sky, “It almost looks like what you described – almost looks like a parting, but it’s really hard to make it out”.
Ryan looked up and saw the spot that Jamie pointed to. He looked down at where it should point to, using approximately the same angle he remembered from the last time. Sure enough, a tiny pinprick of light was still barely visible on the ground.
“Jamie – come over here – stand here”, he said, as he positioned her into the light.
“Whoa… that’s kinda… nice?”, Jamie said as she stood directly into the light’s path. Its power had clearly diminished. Gone was the stream of light that had intoxicated Mrs. Corum and G-ma, and had been the regular source of inspiration for Ryan. Now a weak version remained. Clearly something was wrong here.
“I guess stand in it as long as you can”, Ryan said, “Maybe something will still work”.
As it grew closer to dim, the light slowly faded even more. Finally it appeared to be gone, and Jamie walked out of it’s path.
“I don’t care anymore”, Jamie said, half resigned, half astonished.
“What do you mean?”, Ryan said.
“The whole way here, all I could think of was what wonderful thing you were gonna give me or share with me. I had decided that I was going to take it back to the group, and show it off – I thought you’d found something physical, like G-ma’s knitting bag. I’d imagined all sorts of things it could be – something obviously you would want to keep to yourself. But now I don’t care about it anymore. I don’t even care about getting stuff really. I guess I feel kind of happy, but not excited happy. It’s hard to explain.”
“No, I understand… it’s kinda what I felt each time I’d stand in the light. But now the light’s gone… almost like it ran out.”
They sat in the valley overnight, and the next morning, the light appeared again ever so slightly.
“We have to get back and tell the others about this”, Jamie said. Ryan wanted to protest. He wanted to save whatever was left for himself. But in the end, something pushed him from that. The light had helped him come to peace with this place. Perhaps that was it’s true function. Maybe it should be shared, whatever of it was left.