SYWTBAW II: “I Want to Write a Book”

Maybe you finished reading a great book, but couldn’t help thinking you could have done it better. Or perhaps you have this fantastic idea for a story you wish someone would write. Or possibly you don’t know why, but you’ve always just wanted to write a book.

For whatever your reason, you’re in the first stage of being an author, which is, simply, that you want to be an author.

Now, I’m obviously putting a focus on books specifically, but there are all sorts of simple variations on this. Like wanting to write a screenplay, or a stageplay, or maybe even, you want to start a blog. And honestly, this could stretch even further to other things like learning a new language or how to play an instrument, but we’re going to focus on the book aspect for simplicity’s sake. And so, whatever you want to write, you’ve found yourself with the itch. The Writer’s Itch. The itch that can really only be scratched one incredibly time-consuming and patience-testing way.

The first thing to realize is that you’re not alone. The number of people who want to write, but simply don’t get started are infinitesimal. Just take a look at the sheer numbers of books, blogs, screenplays, etc. being produced on an hourly basis and think about how there are, unquestionably, far more people who never even get started.

In fact, the whole concept of the National Novel Writing Month (better known as NaNoWriMo, and happening every November) is to get people who want to write, to write. This program had over 450,000 participants in 2019. This alone should show you that you’re simply not alone in your position of wanting to write.

I, myself, spent a number of years in the position of thinking I should write a book, but feeling that the sheer enormity of the concept was too much to handle. The simple idea of writing 1,000 words felt like an insurmountable task, much less the 50,000 words it takes to crest the lower word count for a novel.

I remember taking a lot of time, even after my wife convinced me that I should write a book, doing those things which I recognize now as being procrastination tactics, like hours upon hours of character background studies for even the smallest of characters. I read a whole lot of books about people with superpowers to get a grasp of how they were being used in long-form prose, as opposed to the comic books and movies where they are more traditionally found. And while that research was incredibly useful, it was unquestionably something I used to procrastinate getting started.

And I’m not going to lie to you. When you actually start putting those first words to the page, it can be quite painful. There’s all the self-doubt that comes into play almost immediately, as you wonder whether you should even attempt such a feat when there are far more competent writers already in existence, not to mention the questions about whether or not its even worth is because how in the heck do you even find readers. And then you start reading what you’ve written and want to throw your computer in the trash, never to see this type of bs again.

And you probably actually step away from writing again completely, still sitting with that urge in the back of your mind that you should write a book. And you start thinking about all of the things you could have done differently. And after a period of time, you consider that there was just a little bit of enjoyment you had for at least a minute while you were working on those early pages.

And you start over from scratch.

And you do that routine another dozen times.

You will inevitably go out and seek information on the rules of novel writing and find such great missives as “Write what you know” and “Show don’t tell” and so many other things which are supposed to be the rules of writing while being incredibly vague in their meanings. And you’ll find yourself questioning if you’re actually following those rules correctly. And you’ll fret over the fact that you are most definitely not following those rules correctly. And you will ultimately fall into a state of severe anxiety that this whole thing is a huge mistake because you simply don’t know how to write a book, even though you’ve read thousands of them over your lifetime.

And it’s at this point that you need to head that absolutely none of that matters. First, there are no real rules to writing anything. Heck, even the rules of grammar are questioned by some of the greats. And besides, you’re still on your first draft. And, regardless of what rules you follow, there’s one you’ve been ignoring. First drafts are crap. Hemingway himself is quoted as saying “The first draft of anything is shit“.

The importance of the first draft isn’t to develop an absolutely perfect piece of artwork, it’s to create the bones by which you can mold something beautiful.

We’ll get into the first draft more in the next section, but I know that one of the biggest things that kept me from actually starting writing, and keeps many people from starting their way along the path to creating their masterpiece is the simple idea that everything they write is terrible. And, well, it probably will be. That’s what editing is for. And if you’re going to be a writer, you should realize that you will spend far more time editing that you’ll ever spend writing.

Which means, if you are struggling with getting started because you think what you write is crap, CONGRATS! you’re in a great place. Because if you ever hope to edit your book into something worthwhile, you have to be able to see its failures. And if you’re already seeing them before you’ve even completed the first draft, then you’re well on your way to becoming an amazing author.

So, if you want to write a book, just get started. Write something. Put a few words to paper. If it helps, consider it a test scene for the book you’re going to start writing, just so you start to get something out there. I often do this when starting work on a book, where I just write a little bit of a section of somewhere in the middle so I can get an idea of where I want to go, to develop the voice and tempo a bit. And the best part about this is that I write that knowing I’m going to throw it away.

Much like a first draft in general. You will throw away most of what you get out for your first draft. But, you’ll at least have something to work with.

When people ask me about what they should do to get into writing, my answer has always been to just start writing. And then the next day, you write some more. Because you can always go back and change things when you realize you screwed something up.

In summation, the TL:DR for today is “If you want to write, just start writing. The worst thing that could happen is you decide you don’t actually like writing and you’ll finally get that urge to write out of the back of your mind. The other thing that could happen is you find an incredible hobby which you can maybe turn into something more than a hobby.

And I hope you do start writing. There’s nothing I like more than to find more people passionate about crafting a story.


So You Want to Write a Book?

While in the midst of writing the first few chapters of a new book I’m working on, I’ve been reflecting on the past 10 years, since I first decided to actually sit down an write a book. And, in those 10 years, I’ve had a whole host of experiences that I feel are fairly unique to that of an author, or at least of an artist trying to find recognition for their work. And since I’ve had countless people come to me over the years asking my advice about what they should do with their desire to be an author, I thought it might be fun/interesting/hyper-depressing to start a little blog-series which goes over the process a typical author goes through from the moment they decide to write a book to, well, at least the 10 year point after that.

And, of course, the first step on wanting to write a book is to get that little weird niggling in the back of your mind that you want to write a book.

If there’s one thing I’ve heard most over the years, especially after I started letting people into my world of writing, it’s tales from people who simply know that they want to write a book. I don’t have enough fingers or toes to count how many people have told me they want to write a book, that they are proud/jealous of me simply for doing something they want to do so badly.

This started happening long before I ever actually even considered taking the time to write a novel. Back when I was writing little sketches, short stories, poems, and feature-length films. Back when writing was just something I would do quickly and with very little finesse or editing. I would just put words to paper and figured that was good enough.

And because of the fact that I enjoyed writing so much, people, even then, would tell me about how much they wanted to write a book someday. I remember a boss I had back when I was working at a place that developed photographs from film (which, I guess, ages me), who loved to tell me about how much he wanted to write a book, and how he had this whole fantasy epic in mind, and he would give me these great big details about the world and the plot that he had already developed, without writing a single word of it down. He had obviously spent countless hours on his idea, thinking through how he could tell this story he had envisioned.

And me, being the guy who liked to jump in, regardless of whether I had any idea of what to do with the art after I completed it, would always tell him that he should just sit down and write it.

He, being much more pragmatic than I, would always talk about how he had no idea of how he would even sell the thing if he put in the effort, and that alone was enough to keep him from moving forward. While I would always give him my ideas on how he could possibly build a brand for himself (things, I’ll admit, I’ve never been very good at following through on for myself), he never actually moved forward on this dream of his, at least not while he was still in my life. I should honestly check up on him, find out if he’s alive or has written that epic fantasy.

I’ve also known numerous people, outside of my actual author circles, who did take the leap and did do the writing, and ultimately, just wrote for the sake of writing. These are people whom I’ve never seen make any attempt to market or sell their stories, just that they had a story they needed to get out, and so they did.

And then there’s the people who have countless stories they’ve started to write, but just give up on for one reason or another.

And finally, there are those few success stories. People who not only wrote the book, but figured out how to market it, and have actually managed to make something of a name for themselves.

The bottom line is that there are so many novelists out there, even if just basic friend circles, whether aspiring, accomplished, or in-between, that it really feels like there’s a solid story to be told about the ultimately heartbreaking and patience-testing industry which is that of publishing.

And so, I’m going to it to you.

And maybe, just maybe, you’ll find a part of yourself somewhere in the midst of it all, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll recognize that you’re not alone in your feelings throughout this process. Because, based on the hundreds of conversations I’ve had with authors over the years, this industry is a painful one, but also one that can cause amazing joys.

So, let’s dig in and see what I can come up with. Because writing is one of my absolutely favorite things to do. And since I struggle to find more readers, maybe, instead, I can just find some more writers out there. Because you guys I understand.

Dobbs v Roe

While we’ve known it was coming for weeks now, this past week The United States Supreme Court overturned the court case from the 1970s which served as the primary framework for allowing women to terminate pregnancies in this country. And while this decision doesn’t outright ban abortion in America, it turns the decision over to each state, meaning that in a majority of states, something that was legal just days ago, is suddenly illegal.

Many organizations here in Wisconsin have already cut off options they have offered for decades, with little to no warning.

Now, I’ll admit, I’ve long had struggles with the topic of abortion. And, as a man, I’m honestly not the best choice of person for trying to make any sweeping statements about how women should be allowed to do what they consider best for their own bodies.

I’ve watched first-hand as my wife has gone through at least five different pregnancies (two of which were ended prematurely through unfortunately natural means). Each one had its own impacts on her body. And each one had me terrified at one point or another that I could lose her to the impacts those pregnancies had on her. I have personally spent long periods of time in my anxiety-ridden pre-dad brain trying to think of how I would respond if the decision were left to me to choose between my wife and my unborn child. And I feel lucky in many ways that as a man, I’ve never had to make that decision.

And while I believe in the idea of the sanctity of life, I’m not sure that this is what the discussion actually ends up being about in our current debates regarding abortion. It tends to be far more political than that. And in so many situations, especially now that we have changed the rules of termination, we find ourselves considering the life of the unborn is more important than any other life, or their life after birth. This isn’t about the sanctity of life, this is about power. This is about control.

For ages now, we’ve seen the poor in this country cut off from the education, the support, or the finances necessary to A. Have better ways to keep from getting pregnant in the first place or B. Support the child after it is born. Our foster care systems are overwhelmed with children born to parents who simply can’t or won’t be responsible for them. In 2020, over 38 million Americans struggled to feed themselves or their families. Over 10 percent of our country spent at least a portion of that year not knowing where they were going to get their next meal. 1 in 7 households with children could not buy enough food for their family that year. In America, a country known for its wealth and enormous farms, a significant portion of our countrymen struggled to live because they couldn’t find food.

If life is sacred, surely that includes the life of those outside the womb as much as those inside of it, doesn’t it?

Planned Parenthood has been the target for anti-abortionists for as long as I can remember because of how they provide options for terminating pregnancies, but are completely overlooked for all they have done to try to limit the amount of pregnancies that occur in the first place. Anti-abortionists have bombed these exact locations which have been actively working to decrease unwanted pregnancies because of the fact that they also have given options for people who simply can’t take care of a child on their own.

The debate about abortions is far more nuanced than simply about whether we should kill babies or not. There are health issues for mothers that come into play, health issues for fetuses, as well as the overall questions of incest and rape which often get completely ignored because there aren’t easy answers. Pregnancy is not like some simple common cold condition that will go away soon with no real lasting impacts. You don’t just wait 10 months (or 9 if you want to count the way we used to when I was a kid) and eat a bunch of ice cream and pickles until the baby’s out. That’s only the beginning, not the end. Especially for that child.

Out of all of the people I have known to have gotten abortions, not a single one of them took that decision lightly. I have never had a discussion with someone who was eager to end the life inside of them. It was a weighed decision which took time. If anything, with the fact that we’re decreasing the time people have to make decisions about whether or not to terminate their pregnancies, we’re looking at a probable increase in overall abortion rates.

In short, I think everything about this was short sighted. And this is coming from someone who cringes at the idea of ending any life short.

But then again, our country is long past the ability for nuanced discussion about any politicized topic. It has all become a black or white question of morality.

And that’s terrifying to me.

But my fear doesn’t end there. Because considering this is primarily a religious/political discussion, this feels like only the beginning of something far larger. For more terrifying.

While there are plenty of places in which the Bible talks about the sanctity of life, there are really only a few places that are typically applied to the discussion of abortion. The primary one used by many folks is in Psalm 51:5 where the writer mentions being conceived in sin. Now, the main takeaway many take here is that this means we are alive at conception because we are sinful at conception. However, considering the idea of original sin, that the sins of Adam are passed on to his entire lineage, it’s pretty simple to see that this could simply be a statement that once you exist in any form, you exist in a world of sin, not necessarily a statement of when life begins. In fact, there are places such as Jeremiah 1:5 where God is talked about as knowing a person before they are even formed in the womb, which would presumably be even before conception, presenting the idea of existence prior to existence in the womb. Although, the Jeremiah verse is also often used as a statement against abortion.

The other big thing which comes into play here is the concept of every sperm being sacred, which ultimately comes from the story of Onan, whose favorite method of finishing relations with his wife is known today as the pull-out method. God put Onan to death, in fact. Of course, there was a bigger issue here in that he was told by God, through Judah, that he was to impregnate his wife, so, there might be something here about disobeying an order from the Almighty, more than that he was wasting his seed.

But, even more importantly, there are only a handful of Biblical verses Christians have to support their reasoning behind their thoughts. Mostly Old Testament verses. On things people of the Jewish faith typically don’t see the same way.

The big fear I see here then is with the concept of what happens when these Christians in power start realizing there’s actually one theme repeated throughout the Bible more than any other one. That of faith. That faith is the most important thing for humans to be saved. Jesus himself says it all the time. If we’re using legislation to enact the will of God as we see it, what do we do with the knowledge that his greatest will is for all men to be saved? Create a new Holy Roman Empire where it’s literally illegal to believe anything outside of the government’s official religion?

Yeah, sure that’s a wild example, but the point here is that it terrifies me to think that our legislation could be so focused on the faith of one group. And, even the religious among you should be terrified of that exact same thing.

Peach Fest 2022

2022 has already been a wild ride for the Oster household. And it feels like, in many ways, we are reaching a threshold for that craziness. And that threshold is what we’ve been referring to as Peach Fest. For the past 2 years, we’ve been bringing up fresh peaches from South Carolina, selling them to family and friends, and taking the proceeds to donate to some worthy causes. Last year we sold an incredible 45 cases of peaches, and raised over $1000 for a local group that supports the homeless population.

This year, next week, in fact, we’re picking up 450 cases (that’s 10 times what we got last year), and setting up outside our little bakery, and hoping to raise quite a bit more. We’re actually splitting the proceeds for this year’s event across 4 different non-profits, all providing some amazing good for our local community’s less fortunate population. Bolton Refuge House, Sojourner House, The Community Table, and the Chippewa Valley Street Ministry are all groups that we love and are incredibly eager to support.

But this also means that next week, we have a fully packed week of me getting down to South Carolina and back with a U-haul full of peaches, while my wife and kids prep everything in town for the bakery to be ready to take on this (hopefully) large influx of people. We’re so excited to do something this big (although, it was almost far larger of an event, and if this year goes well, will definitely be a larger event next year), but, also a bit anxious.

It’s one thing to provide something cool for family and friends, while doing some good. It’s another thing entirely to invite the public.

Not to mention that I’m still a little nervous about those peaches getting far too hot in the back of the truck, even if I have a few ideas on how to keep them from spoiling.

So…next week…I’ll be something of a mess. But I’m pretty excited about what all could be done. And…if you guys help us make this a success, next year will only be more spectacular. Believe me. Let’s make that one happen…even if it breaks my brain to get there.

Flash Fiction: Summer!

The house was dark that morning, as should be expected at 6am. It was also quiet, except for the light patter of footfalls as they made their way across the hardwood floors of the hallway, followed by the faint creaking of a door opening to a bedroom.

A couple more footsteps before they again stopped. The woman in the bed felt a finger poking her in the middle of her back. She stirred and gave a groan as she rolled over to look at the face of the young child who was eager to greet her with the morning.

“Good morning, Jack,” she said groggily. “You should go back to sleep.”

“But it’s summer!” the seven-year-old cheered. “Aren’t you excited?”

“Summer means we don’t have to get up early. Go back to bed.”

“But I can’t sleep,” the boy said as he tried climbing into the bed with his mother. Although there didn’t appear to be enough space for him to fit, he managed to make the space, pushing in close to keep himself from falling off.

“Come on, Jack,” his mother muttered. “Go back to sleep.”

“Okay,” Jack agreed as he shifted his body to snuggle in closer.

“No, in your bed.”

“But I want to sleep with you.”

“Fine,” his mother relented. She shifted her body deeper into the bed to try to keep her son sliding onto the floor. She nudged her husband in the process, causing him to grunt before rolling over.

“Are you excited, Mommy?” Jack asked in a whisper.

“I’m excited to go back to sleep,” she answered.

“But it’s summer. That means no more school!”

“It should also mean that we get to sleep in late.”

“But the pool, Mom! The pool is open today.”

His mother opened her eyes fully for the first time, recognizing her attempts to fall back asleep were a lost cause. She hugged her child tightly, happy to have a kid who wanted her attention so badly, even if she wished it would happen at a time more suitable to a full-night’s rest.

“I’m excited, Mommy. Aren’t you excited?”

“But, Jacky, Mommy still has to work. I don’t get to go to the pool.”

“Oh, that’s sad.”

“Yeah, I guess it is.”

“What about tomorrow? Do you have to work tomorrow?”

“Yes, I have to work tomorrow.”

“And the next day?” he asked, suddenly shifting his body around to look his mother in her eyes.

“Yes, I have to work until Saturday.”

“And then can we go to the pool?”

“Yeah, sure, then we can go to the pool.”

“And then will you be excited?”

“Yes, and then I’ll be excited.”

“Me too, Mom. I’m excited.”

“Great,” his mother answered. “Now let’s get up and make some coffee.”

Flash Fiction: A Thousand Conversations

“Good morning,” Jeremy said, greeting the first customer of the day. “What can I do for you?”

The customer smiled, but her focus was not on Jeremy. Instead, she was focusing on all of the pastries held within the case which served as the focal point of this small café and bakery.

“Oh, there’s just so many to choose from,” she said, leaning closer to the glass partition keeping her from directly touching any of the freshly baked goods.

“There sure are,” Jeremy answered. “That’s why I always just take one of each,” he said with a joking smile.

“Don’t tempt me,” she replied. Her focus finally turned to Jeremy. “How long have you guys been here? I live in town, but have never managed to make it down.”

“We’ve been open for just about three months now.” Jeremy shrugged, wishing he had a more fun answer to give. He’ll have to work on coming up with something better.

“Well, I’ve definitely been missing out then, haven’t I?” she asked, walking around the corner of the case to see the rest of the items on display. Her eyes darted left and right as she took in all there was to see. Between the macarons, the croissants, the tarts, and all of the other sweets that had been baked in house that morning, there was plenty for her to take in. As she did, a family of three walked through the door, a man and a woman and their daughter who looked to be about five years old.

“Good morning,” Jeremy said to them.

“Good morning!” the father said loudly. “What have you guys got good today?”

“It looks like everything,” the first customer said as she smiled at the family.

This was Jeremy’s favorite part of working at the bakery. It seemed like everyone who came through the doors were happy to be there and wanted to share that happiness with everyone else who happened to be sharing the smells at the same time.

“Oh, we know that,” the mother of the family joined in. “Although, if you’re looking for a recommendation, I’d suggest the souvenir beaune. It’s the one with the pear right there,” she added, pointing in the case at a small square-ish pastry filled with pear halves and raspberry jam. “That’s Bella’s favorite, isn’t it?” she said, asking her daughter. The young girl nodded her head enthusiastically.

“Oh, well, if you suggest it, then I have to take that,” the first customer said happily. “And I’ll take one of each of the flavors of macarons, if I could.”

Jeremy laughed. “I guess I’ll let you.”

All day, it seemed, his conversations were variations on this same theme. And he would play his part, primarily as a third wheel to discussions about the goodies his wife and staff had been baking, interjecting well rehearsed quips and comments to try to aid in the atmosphere of pleasure that his wife’s business had managed to present.

Another customer walked through the door as Jeremy boxed up the first customer’s order. A tall man, with a long white beard hiding behind the mask he wore.

“Robert!” Jeremy shouted as he saw the familiar form of one of the shop’s regular customers. “I’ll make sure they get your order started.”

“Sounds good, Jeremy. I’m going to pick up something tasty for the wife as well.”

“I’d be surprised if you didn’t,” Jeremy chuckled.

He finished packing up the order and entered the order into the register. As he completed the transaction with her, she smiled while gathering her packages.

“Thanks for stopping in,” Jeremy said as she started toward the door.

“I’ll definitely be back,” she said proudly.

“Glad to hear it,” Jeremy smiled back.

And he was. Not because he needed the business to make money so he didn’t lose the house, but because he loved watching all of these customers come in and enjoy the things his wife and staff slaved over. He adored the positive attention the fruits of his wife’s long years of wanting to open her business was now garnering. And he loved the way he felt as he helped people through the process of deciding what they wanted to eat immediately and what they wanted to take home with them.

And although he could definitely use another coffee to drink to help him get pepped up, he was ready to have this exact conversation another nine hundred ninety-nine times today. If only he could figure out a good quip about how long they’ve been open. Maybe something about how he’s still new here?


This past weekend, I celebrated the graduation of my goddaughter/niece, as well as a couple of cousins. I probably also shouldn’t ignore that this was my own graduation weekend, but since I decided not to travel down to Milwaukee and put on an ill-fitting dress and hat to be allowed to sit in an uncomfortable chair for multiple hours (even if Willem Dafoe was being given an honorary degree from the same school at the same time), I allowed that to take a back burner. Besides, I feel a little weird about the whole graduation thing anyways.

But that’s not the focus of the story. The focus is that at this graduation, which is from the same high school that I’m an alumnus from, it is quite the common occurrence to come across a large number of people I went to school with back in the day, seeing as this school is filled with a large number of people who are related to each other through marriage and the like. It’s not an uncommon joke about how difficult it can be for students to find a relationship partner in this school due to how interconnected it is. I even came up with a genealogy/dating app idea this weekend which was already starting to gain some traction, for all my angel investors out there…

And so, since I have a ton of family members who are regularly graduating from this school, I find myself attending graduation here almost yearly. And that means that I then wind up seeing people I haven’t seen for over 20 years. And it also means that I have to take on this persona that I don’t generally use in my daily life. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has this persona. I’ve been calling him “Showtime Adam” as of late, although I’m really hoping I come up with a better term for him soon.

He’s this chipper, friendly, full of jokes kind of guy who definitely isn’t incredibly exhausted from life and certainly could never suffer from crippling depression. I actually like Showtime Adam, even if I’m not sure he comes across quite as likeable as he thinks he does. I also like being him. He brings me back to this far older version of myself who everyone believed was an extrovert. He’s this version of me who can push past the anxiety and run up to someone and have a good ol’ regular conversation with them like it’s nothing. He is, actually, everything I wanted to be growing up.

But he is exhausting.

Like, I don’t know how legitimate extroverts do it? How do they go about their day being themselves every dang day and not have to take a week-long nap?

I’m really glad Showtime Adam exists, because if it weren’t for him, I’d never be able to catch up with these people who were really important to me for at least a brief portion of my life. He’s the Little Engine That Could for interpersonal relationships. He’s the guy who says, “Screw that little voice in your head that says no one liked you in high school and go talk to that person who used to give you hugs every morning.”

I thoroughly enjoyed getting to catch up with these people whom I’ve really only had the most basic of Facebook interactions with since high school. I’ve actually been quite lucky over the past year in that I’ve been finding myself in the presence of countless people who I’ve lost contact with and being able to regain some level of it again. I’ve joked with my wife that it almost feels like my life has become the final season of a beloved TV show, where all these people who had supporting roles over the years show up for one final hurrah.

She doesn’t like that joke.

So, thank you Showtime Adam, for allowing me to get to say hi to these people who used to be such an effortless relationship. For allowing me to reconnect with people I love. Someday, maybe, we’ll find a way to be more of the same person so I don’t have to hide behind a computer screen typing out my feelings about how much I love these people and just tell them to their faces. But for now, I’m really ready for a nap, because even four days later, the effects of Showtime Adam are still wearing on me…

Flash Fiction: Grounded Magic

“Okay, now close your eyes,” the wizened old man said to the young woman. The two were standing in the middle of an ancient forest, the trees reaching high above them, into the clouds. It was dark in this small clearing, although the sun was high in the sky due to the shadows of this prehistoric wood. The power of this aged wood ran through the area, creating a sense of purpose and place the young woman had not felt before.

When her master told her he was taking her to the middle of this sacred land, she felt hesitant. She had only known him for a brief period, having him appear at her door only a week prior to tell her she was destined for great things. Yet, there was something in his eyes which told her she should trust him. With all she had learned in these past seven days, she had started to wonder if this feeling of trust was some charm he had placed over her. Whatever the reason, his comforting aura gave reason enough to follow deep into the darkest depths of this uncharted portion of her country, to a place she wasn’t sure existed before she walked into it.

She closed her eyes.

“Do you feel it?” he asked.

The woman searched her mind. His question was so vague. Feel what? The cold air brushing against her cheeks as it whipped through the trees? The shaking of the ground as the trees creaked in the breeze? The warm energy rising up from the ground, first covering her ankles and now slowly making its way to her knees?

“Yes,” she answered in awe of the intensity of experience. She realized she had stopped breathing as her body became enveloped in the energy, her heart raced with the sheer power now running through her from the earth below.

“Now, reach out, see if you can feel around you, perhaps there is something hiding within this forest that cannot be seen.”

The young woman attempted to do as requested, but found herself incapable of feeling anything outside of herself. The rush of energy around her was strong, and felt as though it were building up to levels higher than she would be able to maintain. She pushed and pushed to seek out the area around her, the heat from the pulse of power rising.

“I can’t do it,” she said as the heat burned within her. What originally had felt empowering, now felt as though it were taking her over, that it was destroying her from the inside.

“You can, I know you can.”

She pushed harder still, trying to reach past the pain, but still struggling to feel anything outside of herself. One more attempt, she strained with all of her mental might, screaming out in agony as the fire burned within, before finally collapsing to the ground, the heat rushing out of her hands into the earth below.

“I’m sorry,” she said through tears. “I’m not strong enough.”

She looked up at the man she had declared to be her master, who now had a wide smirk plastered across his face.

“That was spectacular,” he said as he offered her a hand to help her to her feet.

“What do you mean? I failed, master.”

“Failed?” he said with a laugh. “Failed? I’ve never seen such a connection with the planet as you showcased here just now.”

“But I couldn’t find what you wanted me to look for.”

“Oh, no, of course not. Take off your shoes and try again.”

The woman looked to her master in question, but did as he requested, again closing her eyes and immediately feeling the warmth of the energy filling her body once again. However, as opposed to before, where she felt filled with the energy, she now felt it flowing through her, as though she had become part of some greater power.

“Do you feel the difference?” the old man asked.

“Yes, master,” she said breathlessly. The power before had felt incredible, but this time was completely different. It wasn’t the scope of the power she was filled with, but the scope of what it was connected to. She could feel everything around her. She was now one with the world. The trees of the forest spoke to her of tales long lost to time, of their youth when the world itself was still young, of the hundreds of men who had attempted to travel this way before, only to lose their way. The history of the entire planet flowed through her and she now realized that she was a part of that history. A part of that world.

“And do you see what’s hidden?”

“Everything, master. There’s a whole world hidden from our eyes. A world of history. A world of…”

“Of truth,” the master finished. “The world most humans live in is filled with trying to avoid the truth of this land. They live in their homes away from the nature which provides the very means of existence. They don’t see what is truly present. They don’t see what is truly real.”

“I see,” the woman replied, eager to return to the state of oneness with the earth, but also having so many questions she needed answered. “But the planet, it said it is dying.”

“Yes,” the man said sadly.

“And what did the planet want you to hear?” he asked, true curiosity covering his face.

“That it’s sick. That all of this power, it’s being taken away.”

“Ah, yes, that’s what I expected you to hear.”

“What do we do about it? How do we help?”

“The first step,” the man said as he turned away from the woman, “is to hear. To listen.”

He stepped into the thickness of the trees, disappearing into the darkness.

“What does that mean?” she shouted after him. After receiving no response, she ran in the direction he had left in. She quickly realized how impossible it would be to find him. She closed her eyes and allowed the energy to flow through her once again, seeking in all directions for the man who had disappeared from her life as quickly as he had appeared. In every direction, the only human she could find was herself.

She was alone. And she was starting to wonder if she had always been alone. But now that she had found her place in the world, she was also wondering if she could ever truly be alone again.

Flash Fiction: The Graduate (no, not that one)

Adam sat alone in his dark basement, considering his options for the future. He had recently finished school, at the young age of forty, and knew he needed to use all the effort he had expended over the past two and a half years to propel his career forward, even if it would primarily be for money, instead of a passion for his work. He opened the job site, sighing as he realized that he still felt the weight of waiting for the final confirmation that he had, indeed, graduated.

Not that he hadn’t received certain forms of confirmation, such as the email he received from his university that he could pay an additional fifteen dollars in order to download a digital version of his diploma. Or the email he had received from the honors society telling him that they wanted to hear his story. Or the message from his advisor saying that he had, indeed, graduated. Summa cum laude, even, which made him laugh because of how much he knew he could have tried harder and that this was probably more of a commentary on the level of schooling he had received, in opposition to the actual effort his had provided.

Yet, even with all of these definitive versions of confirmation, he still didn’t quite feel like it was real. This thing had worked on for so long, that he had stopped working on for so long after having his initial time in college end with him being frustrated at failing a class for inconsequential reasons having nothing to do with his academic performance, this thing he started again mere years later only to learn he would have to start at the beginning because his credits from the unaccredited college he had originally attended wouldn’t transfer, this thing he dropped out of again because he simply couldn’t stomach doing it all over again, this thing that had become more of a unwanted requirement than something he cared for, had happened, yet he didn’t still feel the relief he had hoped would come with the completion.

He couldn’t understand why the relief wouldn’t come. On why he, after working so hard (even if he knew he should have worked harder) on fitting in his coursework between all the requirements of life with a wife and three children and a day job, simply didn’t feel like he had accomplished anything.

As he sat staring at the job opportunities he could apply for, he still found himself feeling like none of them were quite what he was looking for out of life, that they weren’t things he could truly feel passionate about. And, remembering his past history with job hunts, he felt truly concerned about the idea of getting excited about a job he could be passionate about, only to never receive any sort of message back.

With yet another sigh, he decided to remove himself from his computer for a moment and find some other way to fill the time. He walked up the stairs and out into the crisp fresh air of the still-frigid April Wisconsin morning. While taking in a deep breath, as though to try and fill his body with the newness of spring and wash away all of the stress he had put himself under these past thirty months, he saw the mail truck pull away from the mailbox at the end of his driveway.

He walked to the mailbox, mind still stuck in the world of what to do about his life, feeling that he was far too old to still have questions like this. Retrieving his post, he walked back to the house, sifting through the documents in his hand. The most apparent piece was a large white cardboard envelope addressed to him from his university. When they had emailed him a few days prior, they had said his diploma would take six to eight weeks to arrive, so he girded himself against the idea that this parcel was somehow the harbinger of bad news.

Entering the house, the pulled the strip of cardboard across the top of the envelope to open it, and pulled out a thick piece of card stock. His heart leapt into his throat as he saw the piece of paper he had been ridiculing as being meaningless since he had first rage-quit from college twenty years prior.

But there it was, his name, on an official document, stating he had, in fact, received his bachelor’s degree with the highest of honors. And although he would never reveal this next fact to anyone, he felt tears well up in his eyes.

He had long ago decided that he had no actual interest in receiving this piece of paper, outside of, after deciding he should finally finish school to make him more valuable to prospective employers, as a marker of his completion. But at this exact moment, just briefly, it felt as if the world was slightly less heavy.

And he sighed again. This time, a short sigh of relief. It was over. Now he just had the rest of his life to contend with.

Everything, Everywhere, All at Once

The past week has been a bit of a whirlwind, which is why things have, again, been a little quiet on here. I was going to put another piece of flash fiction out to try to express this, but I didn’t think it would do things quite the amount of justice they required for expressing just exactly how much this past week has been too much.

While it started well before last Friday, with my wife being stuck at the bakery all week due to some time off for our kitchen staff and I had an overnight shift that Tuesday and just a whole lot of things going on at work, things really took a whole new level of effort starting Friday, where, not only did I start my morning off at the bakery helping out where I could, but then I took a four hour drive south to Galena, IL. The boy scouts had an event in Galena, which both of my kids who are in the BSA were set to attend, but the middle child had an event at school that day as well, which meant he couldn’t leave with the rest of the group. I felt bad for him, because he had worked so hard on the event, but this Galena trip is such an important part of the BSA experience, so, I made the decision to drive him down there after he got done with school.

Since the wife was set to be busy at the bakery all weekend, I took the youngest with me as well, which means I then had to come up with some method for this drive to be a worthwhile experience for him. He decided we should take the three hour drive the following morning to Six Flags, which, although we managed to have some fun, was a mess of an experience of broken down rides and lack of staff meaning that we had to wait over an hour simply to even order food.

And then we drove back home that night, meaning I was on the road until 1am after spending 9 hours running around a theme park.

But we got back home, got a few hours of sleep, and then I had a day filled with trying to keep a 7 year old busy, while also doing some necessary running around for errands for both the house and the bakery, until the other two kids got home around 3pm. Sunday evening was then a brief respite in the crazy that has been the week, because right away Monday morning I had to be back at the bakery to meet the guy who was going to fix our espresso maker, which then led to that being a day for completely rearranging the front end of the bakery (because we’ve been wanting to fix the flow through the establishment for customers since before we bought it), and getting home to take kids to karate and other such things.

But things went into a full tilt on Tuesday when my wife had to leave early so she could go to Minneapolis for two days for an in-person work thing for her actual job, which meant that now I had to hustle through the workday and transfer kids through three different places, including the dentist which happened at the same time as my daughter’s softball game, leading to a dash across town so I could finally have all three kids in tow, bringing us to 5:30 without a dinner strategy, which was resolved when my daughter told me there was a fundraiser for her school at Culver’s.

With dinner in our bellies, I got the kids home, put them to sleep, and I had an actually fairly quiet night, where I got to sleep before 10, which is quite early for me, and would prepare me for the rock show that would be Wednesday, with yet another busy day at work, a karate lesson that took 30 minutes longer than usual because the middle kid was testing into his yellow belt (he got it), leading to my wife having to transition immediately from getting home into making dinner so that we could get everyone fed before we all collapsed.

And then yesterday…Yesterday I took off from my day job, because it was the first open day for the bakery since I rearranged the front end, so I wanted to be there if there were any issues with the new arrangement, had to onboard a new employee, found out that the espresso maker still wasn’t working, figured out a way to fix it that, fingers crossed, may actually keep, ran a few more errands, went to the clinic for my allergy shots, had a meeting with my boss at work, even though it was my day off, picked up the boys from school, ran a few more errands for the bakery, helped do some prep work at the bakery while the boys hung out at the library, nabbed them, picked up the daughter from softball practice, dropped them all off at home before heading back to the bakery to help with getting an enormous order to the ECCT’s Purses with a Purpose fundraiser, before finally picking up some pizza at 7:08 (about 40 minutes later than the latest my kids normally allow us to eat), and getting home and feeding the children before getting them to bed just a little after their normal bedtime.

It was a lot. And I’m finding myself quiet eager that today’s schedule claims it to be a far quieter day than the past week has been. But all the same, I could really go for a nap. Or a vacation…or both.

And I definitely needs a drink.