Brief Hiatus is Ending!

So . . . this was a much longer hiatus than I anticipated. I’m in the midst of taking down some web serials, revising some stories, and planning more in-depth Meta Mondays. Right now I’m on track to be up and running by Labor Day weekend. See you then!

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Tarot Tuesday: Strength

rws_tarot_08_strengthThe Rider-Waite-Smith deck calls this card Strength. Older decks sometimes name it Fortitude, linking it more firmly to the four cardinal virtues: Fortitude (or Courage), Justice, Temperance and Prudence. Three of these virtues (counting Strength) show up in the Major Arcana. Only Prudence is missing, though it appears in a 16th century deck called the Minchiate.

Strength has a new number as well as a new name. It’s number eight here, but number eleven in older decks. Basically, the RWS deck switches the places of Strength and Justice.

But no matter. This card is a beautiful example of inner strength, regardless of what you call it our how you number it.

A woman and a lion tower over their landscape. Why are they portrayed as giants? Even the mountains look tiny compared to them. Maybe their size lends them—or the lesson they want to teach us—a sort of cosmic significance? And look at that infinity symbol above the woman’s head. We’ve seen that ‘lemniscate’ halo before, floating over the Magician.

The woman seems to be gently closing the lion’s mouth. And the lion doesn’t seem to be fighting it. So is the lion some shadow side of herself? That’s how I read it.

The lion has lots of good associations: in Judaism, it’s the symbol of the tribe of Judah, representing strength and leadership. (Jacob, while on his deathbed, had words for each of his sons. He called Judah a young lion and predicted the dominance of Judah’s tribe.) That’s in tune with heraldic views of the lion: it’s a symbol of courage and kingship.

But the lion is also linked to a fierce, fiery passion—and a fierce, fiery temper. (Just look at the way astrologers view people born under Leo.) Maybe this woman has some unexpected rage in her? If so, she doesn’t beat herself up about it. She just gently, but firmly, closes the mouth of her, um, ‘inner beast.’ She can draw on its positive aspects, but she won’t let its teeth harm anyone.

I’m working on a story now about a character who’s learning this lesson. He’s all too aware of the anger burning up inside of him, eating him alive. But getting angrier and angrier at himself for it—well, let’s just say it doesn’t help anything. He needs to find a better way.

What do you make of this card? Do you see it representing an inner struggle, or do you have a different interpretation? What kind of character does this card suggest? Let me know in the comments! And, as always, if the card inspires a story, poem or meta of your own, please leave a link.

Okay, we need a card for next week: the Ten of Wands.

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Meta Monday: Go Watch The Good Place!

screenshot-2017-02-27-20-24-27

Marvelous Cast: Manny Jacinto, Kristin Bell, William Jackson Harper and Jameela Jamil

Go watch The Good Place. It’s a quirky, funny, twisty, thought provoking show set in the afterlife. Telling you anything else would give too much away! Trust me on this. My friend forced me to watch it without saying even that much. She kept me in the dark, and I’m grateful for it.

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And Ted Danson!

Yeah, yeah. Season one is over, so normally I wouldn’t worry about spoilers. But this is a show on the bubble, still searching for a wider audience, and I really, really don’t want to ruin it for anyone.

Down the road, I’d love to talk about some of the ethical and relationship issues the show brings up. But for now, just stream it and see for yourself.

And yes. This is my whole Meta Monday today. Just go watch this show!

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Tarot Tuesday: Six of Pentacles

6-of-pentacles

Rider-Waite-Smith

There’s something ugly about this card. Look at the way the merchant measures out precisely how much he should give to two people reduced to begging on their knees.

Yes, it’s a good thing to share with those in need—no question. But this man seems to have no respect for the basic human dignity of these two people. Shouldn’t he find a way to help them out without humiliating them?

There’s no indication, to me, that this man is supposed to be some sort of holy figure—and therefore I don’t see him as a fitting subject of worship. And this isn’t three consenting adults exploring ideas of dominance and submission for the fun of it. There are two people here who seem powerless, and a third who seems to accept power as his due.

Perhaps this is the dark side of the suit of Pentacles. Pentacles represent earth and everything that suggests: hard work, prosperity, craftsmanship and family. So perhaps we shouldn’t expect the sharp, bitter blades that can cut us in the suit of Swords—the suit of air and the mind. Or the angst that can drown us in the suit of Cups—the suit of water and of emotions. Or the anger that can explode in the suit of Wands, the suit of fire and ambition.

No, when Pentacles presents us with a problematic card, it usually deals with greed (as we see in the Four of Pentacles) or what we have here: a trite sort of superiority. The idea of noblesse oblige gone terribly wrong.

Is there a way to rescue this card? To give it a more profound meaning? In Tarot and the Tree of Life—still my go to book on the Minor Arcana—Isabel Radow Kliegman certainly tries! She acknowledges the ugliness of it and then offers other ways to look at it. But none of those ways satisfy me.

On the other hand, as much as I hate this card, I know it’s good for me as a writer. I sometimes write stories where a power imbalance, for one reason or another, exists between the protagonists. And sometimes not in a bad way—sometimes it’s temporary and situational; sometimes it’s consensual and healthy enough.

But that only works when the people involved do have that basic respect for each other’s inherent dignity. So this card reminds me of how ugly power imbalances are when that respect isn’t there—and it reminds me to include examples of that in my stories.

What do you make of this card? Do you see a way to redeem it? If you’re a writer, what sort of theme or characters does it suggest to you? As usual, if it happens to inspire your own meta or story, please leave a link here!

Meanwhile, we’ll need a card for next week: Strength.

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Meta Monday: Lost Weekend

MetaMondays5I had four days off this past weekend. Four days!  And no particular responsibilities. That should equal lots of writing, right? Nope. I think I wrote a grand total of about 400 words–and that’s counting this post.

So what happened? Not sure. I spent a little time doing some housework, a little time reading and the rest of the time playing Skyrim. (My first run-through as a Khajiit! Loving it so far.)

And, weirdly, I regret nothing. I’m not berating myself or crying over lost words. I’m at peace with my  lack of progress. Does that mean I’m getting more zen, or just more comfortable in my laziness?

Either way, I think I’m okay with it. My brain translated “vacation from work” to mean “vacation from writing” too. So I guess it needed the break.

How often do you take time off from your writing (or the art form of your choice)? If your art is your day job, do you schedule vacations? If it’s not, do you try to dedicate some of your vacation time to it? How does that work out for you? Let me know in the comments.

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Meta Monday: Help Me Tackle These Edits! (Please.)

crevlock-coverAs I’ve mentioned before, my web-serial Crevlock Tower needs some major edits before I publish it as a novel. In fact, I’m feeling daunted.

For one thing, I wrote the story in the first person, which would have been fine if I’d stuck with Aric’s point of view. But partway through, I felt like Shocha deserved to have his say. (Bad enough that he was mute, without me silencing his thoughts too.)

And so I wrote some chapters from his perspective, also in the first person. But that makes the whole thing a tough read, I think. I don’t like switching from character to character in a first-person story. So I feel like I should overhaul the whole thing and use a close third person point of view instead, switching more often between the two protagonists.

And that’s just one issue. My initial outline for this story didn’t quite work, but neither did my improvisation! Don’t mistake me—the gist of the story is fine, I think. But I need to streamline the plot and make better use of the supporting characters.

I want to tackle this. I do. But I freeze up every time I try!

I just can’t muster up the energy and gumption I need to start powering through these edits. So what gives? Is it too soon? Do I need to be better disciplined as a writer and just get on with it? Or do I just need to recognize that, yeah, this job a little overwhelming?

I need some help, my friends. How do I convince myself to tackle these edits?

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Saturday Night Special: Guilt Offering

Shutterstock Guilt Offering.jpgScott leaned back in his chair and glanced at Marc. The guy didn’t look good. His skin was some scary mash up of green and gray—as if he were about to hurl all over the card table.

“Hey, man, you all right?”

Marc blinked and straightened up. He glanced back at Scott but then pinned his eyes to his hole cards. “Yes. Fine.”

Yeah, right. Marc hadn’t even touched the Sam Adams in front of him—it seemed to be the only beer he liked, so Scott kept it in stock for the weekly game. And Marc hadn’t grabbed his usual two slices yet either.

But what could Scott do? If Marc didn’t want to admit he wasn’t feeling well, that was his business. So Scott turned his attention back to whatever was going on further around the table.

Not much. Chandni was throwing her cards down. Again. “I’m out.”

Gary grunted from across the table. “Are you ever going to do anything but fold?”

“Yeah, chica.” Rachel elbowed her. “Did you come here to play?”

“I called last time!”

Rachel gave her a look of disgust. “I raise. Marc?”

“Huh?”

“It’s to you,” Scott explained.

“Oh. Uh . . .”

Rachel tapped her fingers on the table. “Fold, call or re-raise, Marc.”

“Right. Sorry. I fold.”

“Me too,” Scott said. “Marc, you sure you’re okay?”

“Actually, um . . . .” He dropped his cards and then pushed himself up and out of his chair. “Excuse me for a minute.”

Scott watched him hustle down the hallway toward the bathroom. He kept his eyes on him—for a moment, he was seriously afraid the guy wouldn’t make it. He looked shaky on his feet. Two seconds later, though, he was slamming the bathroom door behind him. Everyone jumped a little at the noise.

Chandni tucked a stray strand of hair—how did it manage to break loose from that tight braid?—behind her ear. “Marc looks awful.”

“Yeah.” Rachel nodded. “Like shit. I’m pretty sure he’s barfing his brains out right now.”

“Stomach virus.” Gary adjusted his glasses. “It’s flying around our whole school—three other teachers are out with it and the kids are dropping like flies.”

Rachel shifted and leaned over Marc’s chair. She widened her eyes into a mock-sultry look. “Scott, can he stay here tonight? You have an extra bedroom.”

“Yeah. He probably shouldn’t drive home.”

She leaned closer. “Can he stay for a few nights?”

Chandni gasped. Scott shifted to stare at her, but she looked away and tried to pretend that she was coughing.

Scott turned back to Rachel. “Uh, what’s going on?”

“Nothing. It’s just that, you know.”

“I know what?”

“Marc works right here in town. Staying here would be—Ow! Chand!”

“Chandni, stop kicking Rachel.” Jesus, you could tell that Gary was used to dealing with fourth graders. His exasperated tone said it all.

“But—”

Rachel scoffed. “Come on, Chand. Everyone else knows.”

Scott stared at each of his friends in turn. “What’s going on?”

“Marc’s between apartments, that’s all,” Rachel explained. “He should be settled in a month or two. But he has to couch surf for now.”

“Between apartments?” Scott felt his eyes go wide. “Fuck, you mean he’s homeless?”

She shrugged. “Temporarily. Yeah.”

“You heard he was laid off, right?” Gary put in. “No tenure. So when the budget crunch hit—and it’s all because of that charter school—”

“Never mind the charter school,” Rachel interrupted.

“Do you know how much our Board of Ed has to fork over for every kid who goes there—”

“Gary! Still not the point!” Rachel rolled her eyes and turned back to Scott. “Marcos is only a substitute this year, and no guarantee that he’ll get his official teaching spot back. Things were already tight with him and—look, can he stay with you or not?”

“Yeah, of course.” The words came out without even thinking about them, because another question kept whirling through Scott’s brain. “He could have stayed since this first happened. Why the fuck didn’t he ask me?”

Rachel’s face turned red. Which was bizarre—she never blushed. “Well, um. It’s just that, uh—”

Chandni cleared her throat. “I thought you guys hated each other in high school or something.”

“We did. But that was high school. It’s been years.”

No one said anything.

Scott swallowed. “Rach, when you brought him to the game that first time—when was that, two years ago?—he didn’t run screaming.”

“When he found out you were our host?”

“Yeah. And I tried to talk to him about it once. About what happened in high school, I mean. But he shut me down.”

“Idiot.” She gave him a weirdly affectionate smile as she reached over to touch his cheek. “That doesn’t mean he forgot all about it.”

“So what, he’s got a grudge against me all this time?”

Rachel let her hand fall. “This is Marc we’re talking about. I know he seems all smart and fun, but trust me—he can stay angry forever.”

-oOo-

Oh God. Marc rested his forehead against the bathroom sink, hoping that the cool porcelain would somehow soothe him. No luck. He was going to vomit again—and worse. For the past five minutes, he’d had it coming out of both ends.

Why’d this have to happen here? It couldn’t hold off till he got to Gary’s place? He hated—hated—humiliating himself in front of Scott.

Okay, okay. He had to pull himself together. Maybe he could take something? What were you supposed to take for a stomach virus? And what the hell could he possibly hold down? Nothing, probably. So much for that.

Somehow he managed to push himself up, set his clothes right and rinse up. Gary was a good guy—he’d agree to leave the game early. And once Marc got to Gary’s place, he could grab a bucket and just die quietly on the couch.

Right. That was a plan. Marc opened the bathroom door and started down the hall. He had to go slow, because he was still queasy. But that was all right. He could make it back to the living room, get Gary, get his coat, and get out of here.

“Hey there.”

Marc stopped short at the sound of Scott’s voice. He looked up to find the guy right in front of him, with this condescending concerned look in his eyes.

“Hey,” Marc managed. “Sorry, but think I need to get going.”

Scott, being Scott, wouldn’t accept that. Of course not. Nothing could ever be easy with him. “Ah, look, why don’t you stay here for the night? I got a spare room—it’s all set up.”

Jesus, couldn’t the guy just shut up and get out of the way? “No thanks. Really, I’m good. Just got to get Gary—”

“Marc, listen—”

“No!” Oh, fuck. His stomach was at it again. “I don’t need to stay.”

“But—”

He started to push past Scott. That was his intention. But the guy half blocked him—if it weren’t for that, he would have made it all the way to the kitchen. Or maybe back to the bathroom. Either way, he wouldn’t be standing here, bent forward, vomiting all over Scott’s jeans and shoes.

Fuck, fuck, fuck! Marc could feel his face turn from green to bright red and back to green again. “Oh God! I’m sorry. I’m so—”

“It’s okay!” Scott was actually laughing. Well, half-laughing, anyway. “I work for NJ Transit, remember? Drunks hurl on me all the time.”

“I’m not a dru—”

“I know. Just meant that I’m used to this, that’s all. Here, let’s get you back to the bathroom.”

“Hey guys, what’s going on?” Oh, no. That was Rachel coming toward them—and that was her pulling up short. “Oh my God. I’ll get towels.”

“Thanks.” Scott half-guided and half-pushed him.

Marc would have shrugged off his help, but he wasn’t sure that he’d make it back on his own. He tried to say something about Gary—about how they came to the game together, not about how Marc was couch-surfing at his place—but he was hurling again before the words came out.

Well, at least he made it back to the toilet this time.

-oOo-

Scott gave up on convincing Marc to stay the night; he left that to Rachel and Chandni instead. Somehow those two wrangled a yes out of him. They even got him to hand his car keys and wallet over to Rachel. Marc’s car was parked at Gary’s place, so Gary drove Rachel there to pick it up and drive it back. Chandhi, meanwhile, left on her own—but not before checking on Marc one last time.

Once she was gone, Scott changed and cleaned up as best he could. He was just walking out of the kitchen when Rachel stepped back into his apartment, carrying a leaf bag and a back pack.

“Clothes and stuff for Marc,” she announced. “I think everything he owns is in his car.”

“Yeah, well, that goes along with being homeless.” He took the bags from her and set them in the hallway. “Where’d you park?”

“There was a spot right in front—but you have alternate sides tomorrow, right?”

“Yeah, but I’ll pull his car into the driveway when I leave for work.”

“Okay. Jesus, where is he? Still hurling?”

“Probably. He hasn’t come out of the bathroom yet.”

She dropped Marc’s keys and wallet onto the poker table. “You’re sure he’s alive, right?”

“Yeah. And pretty sure I can steer him into the spare bedroom whenever he’s done puking his guts out.”

“Good. Will you let him stay for a week or two?”

Scott shrugged. “He can stay as long as he needs to. But I can’t force him, Rach.”

She moved closer and wrapped her arms around him. “I know. But try.”

He kissed the top of her head. “Help me talk him into it. Stay over tonight.”

“Can’t. I work early tomorrow.”

“So do I.”

“I know. So let’s not distract each other.”

He snorted. “Trust me, I’m too tired to distract you tonight. But stay over anyway.”

“No! Stop getting all domestic on me.” She pushed away from him and flashed him a wicked grin at the same time. “Save that for Marc.”

Scott rolled his eyes. “Want to talk to him before you leave?”

“Nah. Just text me tomorrow to tell me he’s still breathing.”
-oOo-
Marc was standing up straight, staring into the bathroom mirror, when the knock came. Well, almost straight. He was leaning against the sink, but only a little.

“Hey Marc? You okay in there?”

And there was that condescending concern in Scott’s voice again. “Yes. I’m fine, thanks.”

“I got the room all set up for you, okay? A couple of your bags are in there. Some bottles of water too, so you don’t dehydrate or anything.”

Marc forced himself to walk over to the door. After a second’s hesitation, he opened it.

“Hey,” Scott said. “You look—”

“Like crap?”

He smiled a little. “I was going to say better than before.”

Marc smiled back as he leaned against the door frame—but the smile didn’t last for long. “So I guess you heard?”

Scott’s hazel eyes were soft now. Almost sickeningly soft. “About the homeless thing? Yeah.”

What was there to say back? Nothing. So Marc just nodded.

“You know you can stay here for as long as you want, right?”

“Thanks, but—”

“Marc, I’m not the same guy I was in high school. I don’t—I don’t get like that.”

Damn it. They weren’t supposed to talk about this. There was supposed to be an unspoken agreement between them to forget all about that incident. But apparently that agreement didn’t exist. “You don’t go into blind rages and beat the shit out of honor students anymore?”

“Marc—”

“Or anyone else? Anger management courses must be more effective than I thought.”

Scott didn’t rise to the bait. He looked down at the floor instead, as if he were counting to ten. And when he looked up, his expression was even. “It only happened that once, Marc. And it’s on me—I get that—but it had nothing to do with you being an honor student.”

Fuck. It was hard to stay angry at someone who wouldn’t play along. Besides, he didn’t have the energy to stay angry. Not now. Not with his stomach still doing somersaults. “Actually, I’m aware of that.”

Scott raised his eyebrows.

“What? I’ll admit it.” Marc paused to put more of his weight against the door frame—he was too tired to stand up on his own. “I was insufferable.”

“I still shouldn’t have lost it like that.”

“No. But I goaded you into it.”

“No, you didn’t—look, it doesn’t matter now. Are we good?”

How was he supposed to answer that? “We’ve been good for a while. I don’t care about that incident.”

“Then why don’t you stay here? Long enough to get back on your feet, I mean.”

Marc didn’t answer. He walked past him instead—and somehow managed not to throw up on him again. “The bedroom over here?”

“Yeah.”

He stepped inside and sat down on the bed. Scott followed as far as the doorway. Then they both kind of stared at each other.

“You know what?” Marc asked.

“What?”

“You turned out to be the smart one. No college loans to pay off, railroad job with reasonable security, good health care, decent pension . . . fuck, you know how jealous I am of you?”

Scott grinned suddenly, and any lingering awkwardness vanished. “Trust me, Marc, you’d hate Transit.”

“Yeah, but you don’t. I just mean—I don’t know how to say it.” He paused for a deep breath. For a moment, he thought maybe the nausea was back, but no. No dry heaves either. “You, ah, you did things the right way,” he continued. “Never got in over your head. Never reached for the Ivy Leagues only to find out that you couldn’t hack it—and that you didn’t want an Ivy League kind of career anyway.”

“Look, you like teaching, right?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I do.”

“So hang in there. The jobs will come back.”

“I know. But I have a lot of debt to deal with in the mean time. And so many other expenses—”

“You’ll be okay, Marc.”

He scoffed. “Easy for you to say. Unless you’re going to let me marry you for your health insurance and your pension—”

Scott laughed outright at that. “You better try just living with me for a couple of months first.”

Marc managed a grin. “Yes. Besides, I think Rachel would object.”

“I doubt it. She’s not domestic.”

“No? Her loss.” He put his hands on his face and breathed in even deeper this time, still testing himself, still making sure the nausea was at bay. “You know, I’ve even thought about going back to my country. Better health insurance down there.”

“Really? You came over when you were little though, right? I mean, you don’t even remember living in Argentina.”

Marc sighed as he put his hands down and looked up at Scott. “Uruguay. I’m from Uruguay.”

“Shit.” Scott shook his head, half-rueful and half-exasperated with himself. “I was doing pretty good there.”

“Yeah, you were.” Marc smiled. “And, hey, at least you got the right continent.”

“True. I’m almost impressed with myself.” His face turned serious. “This is a real invitation, Marc. Stay here for a couple of months, at least. Longer if you need to. No rent or anything—we’ll work something out down the line. That’ll give you some time to figure out what you want to do.”

It was a generous offer. And there was no particular condescension in it. Had Marc only imagined that condescension before? Maybe. “You sure? This isn’t just a guilt offering for what happened back in high school?”

“I don’t know.” Scott shrugged. “Can’t hurt to clear up some karma, right?”

“Guess not.”

“So you in?”

Good question. This might be a disaster. But now Scott knew the truth, and the world hadn’t ended. Somehow Marc hadn’t died of humiliation. Besides, he couldn’t afford to pass up a couple of months rent-free. “Yeah. I am.”

Scott narrowed his eyes. “That’s a real yes, right? It’s not just that you’re too sick to think straight?”

Marc managed a shaky laugh. “I don’t think so. But we’ll find out tomorrow. These things only last twenty-four hours, right?”

“So I’ve heard.”

“Me too. And Scott?”

“Yeah?”

“Thanks.”

“No worries. I’ll let you get some sleep. Need anything else?”

Marc grimaced as he felt the bile creeping back up his throat. “Yes. A bucket would be good.”

-The End-

© 2017, Jennifer R. Moss. All rights reserved.

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