Shadow

Shadow”
By Gabriella Palladino

I saw my own shadow today
We sat under a tree
She didn’t have that much to say
Yet still she sat by me

I talked to her of how I’ve sinned
And fear my heart’s turned black
I couldn’t tell if she listened
For she said nothing back

But I kept talking anyway
Although I must confess
The more my shadow didn’t say
The more I was a mess

I cried, I pleaded, begged her to
Give me just one word back
I cried out “What is wrong with you?”
My hand swung with a smack

And then my shadow laughed at me
My hand passed right on through
Beyond my tears I then could see
She had more than I knew

She had such calm, truth, love, and peace
No nightmares plagued her sleep
But me, my tears, they never cease
For me, the pain runs deep

How can my shadow be so free?
With laughter, love, and life?
If she but lives as part of me
And all I know is strife?

All of these questions plagued my heart
I couldn’t help but ask
“Could it just be, you play a part?
Your laughter’s just a mask?”

“Do you still hide from your worst fears
Your worries and your doubt?
Does your laughter hide endless tears?
Your smile hide a pout?”

And then my shadow shook her head
She laughed at what I asked
She looked me in the eye and said
“You are the one who’s masked”

And then I realized it was true
The mask was on my face
My shadow saw it, and she knew
She’d put me in my place

My shadow was the mask I wore
Her darkness cloaked my soul
And it would still be long before
I ever became whole

To my shadow, I bowed my head
As a smile crossed her face
She knew my tears had to be shed
I felt her cool embrace

She held me closely while I cried
And whispered a sweet prayer
For all my loved ones who had died
And one who was still there

And then I slowly closed my eyes
And cried myself to sleep
My shadow held me like a prize
That she would always keep

But when I woke, the night had come
My shadow was no more
My body shivered, I was numb
Rain had begun to pour

And in that rain I stood alone
I let it wash me clean
Of all the sorrow that I’d known
And horrors that I’d seen

Now my shadow is still inside
I wear the mask no more
I will not run away or hide
From what has come before

And next time my shadow is near
I’ll lend to her my praise
Her judgment I’ll no longer fear
I won’t avoid her gaze

My shadow is a part of me
One piece out of the whole
Just as darkness will always be
In my eternal soul

Peace

“Peace”
By Gabriella Palladino

I think I might find peace today
If I don’t miss my chance
A time to wish, to hope, to think
That it was happenstance

Yes, I’ll search for peace, and say
That I won’t miss this chance
It’s time now for me to believe
There’s no fate, just circumstance

That the thing which led my way
Was just the Jester’s Dance
That never was my path preset
That I always stood a chance

So I’ll find peace, and hope, and pray
That darkness won’t advance
I’ll search and seek for a new path
But then, like shattered glass

My hope is gone, it floats away
Before I catch a glance
It’s lost and now there in its place
Is an empty vast expanse

For it is lost to me, always
And forever peace will pass
It runs far off and will not stay
For me, the pain must last

Forever, always there is no way
For fate has made its stance
It is my path, and my own curse
To suffer, til the last

And so I go on, day by day
A pawn of circumstance
Cursed, beholden to my fate
And haunted by my past

And so I wander, my feet I lay
Each step after the last
On this path I cannot leave
The path of Fate’s cruel dance

And so I’d take this chance to say
“I’m sorry”, but it’s passed
The time to say it long since gone
I must have missed my chance

And you I’ve wronged, I hope one day
You’ll get your own true chance
For peace, for love, for all the things
That I stole from our shared past

I can’t imagine any way
To ask your forgiveness
Should I kneel, and pray, and beg?
Like confession after mass

No, I think that I’ll just stay
Far off from your cold glance
And I’ll hold my secret pain
And always keep distance

I thought I might find peace today
But it seems I’ve lost my chance
I wonder if I ever will
Find peace, or hope that lasts?

No, I won’t find peace today
Not ever, not a chance
And even if that peace was offered
I think I’d let it pass

Where There Be Dragons

This story is dedicated to Beau Barnett.

Where There Be Dragons

“Weredragons,” the innkeeper said.

“Dragons?” Sidney asked. His hand shot to the sword at his hip. “Where?” He looked around the inn, but saw only the usual patrons. About a dozen people sat at tables around the room or on stools at the bar, nursing their drinks. A group in one corner was playing some kind of card game and laughing over the results of the recent hand. A waitress moved between the tables, delivering drinks and avoiding the occasional pinch.

“Not dragonsware,” the innkeeper said. “Weredragons!”

Sidney frowned and shook his head. “What’s the difference?” he asked. He let go of his sword and crossed his arms. He had come here looking for an adventure, not a grammar lesson.

“Well,” the innkeeper said, polishing a glass with a dirty cloth, “weredragons make dragonsware, which is more durable and heat-resistant than clayware or stoneware, what with it being made from weredragon scales and all.” He put away the glass, then set a serving of salted nuts on the bar, served in a bowl made from thick red scales.

Sidney waved his hand to decline the nuts, while he thought over the innkeeper’s words for a moment. “Ahh. Right,” he said, scratching his head. “Well then, where be the weres?”

“Where?” the innkeeper asked. Then he pointed out the window and said, “There.”

Sidney looked out the window. In the distance, beyond the town and past the rolling hills, a brooding mountain sat, bringing the whole scene down. “There?”

“They’re there, the weres have their lair there,” the innkeeper said with a serious nod. “Mighty big reward to a man what could slay them.”

Sidney stood taller and straightened his tunic. “Well then,” he said, “if that there be where the weres have their lair, I’ll have to go they’re.”

“There,” the innkeeper corrected him, “not they’re.”

“Whatever,” Sidney said with a dismissive wave. He turned back to his table. “Beau! Leave that wench be, there be weredragons there!”

Beau ignored him and kept flirting up the busty wench he’d been occupied with all morning. She was swooning so much over his manly charms that little hearts were floating around her head. After Sidney called him again, Beau grabbed one of the little hearts out of the air and tucked it away in his pocket. “To remember you by, m’lady,” he said with a wink.

“Oh, Beau,” the wench said, “you’re such a charmer!” She inhaled quite interestingly, and Beau had trouble pulling his eyes from another pair of keepsakes he would have liked to pocket.

“Beau!” Sidney called as he stalked out the door. “Come now, you can ravish her later!” Beau kissed the wench’s hand, which resulted in another volley of hearts pitter-pattering through the air. Then he hurried off to join Sidney on their way to the weredragons’ lair.

They arrived at the weredragons’ cavern just as the sun was setting in the mountains on the horizon. It poked into one of the mountain peaks as it set, and sprung a leak, spewing gas across the sky as it flew around like a deflating balloon before crashing somewhere in the distance beyond the mountains. Darkness fell, knocked over on its rear by the fleeing sun. Sidney and Beau had to find torches, but once they had them they realized they had no way of lighting them.

“This is all your fault,” Beau said. He held up the unlit torch and shook it in Sidney’s face

My fault?” Sidney asked. “How is this my fault!?”

“If you hadn’t been flirting with that wench, we’d have been here before sundown!” Beau said.

Sidney started to steam. He sputtered in fury. “What!?” he shouted. “That was YOU! I was busy getting us this job!”

“Oh, don’t be such a hothead!” Beau countered, knowing that would just aggravate Sidney even more.

“A hothead?” Sidney asked, steaming even more. “I most certainly am not!”

“Actually, you are,” Beau said, setting his torch against Sidney’s head. The heat sparked the torch and it combusted, flames sprouting from its head. “Thanks for the light!”

Sidney fumed, steam shooting out of his ears. He forced himself to calm down so his hot head wouldn’t light anything else on fire. “Let’s just get this over with,” he said. “Now, where are those weres?”

They descended into the cavern with their torches held high. Sidney drew his sword and kept it at the ready. Beau remained a few paces behind; he was a lover, not a fighter. He only came along on these adventures so he could brag about his heroics to the wenches back in town. They descended deep into the bowls of the earth, which Sidney was grateful for, since they weren’t nearly as messy as the bowels of the earth. Soon they entered a broad cavern. The ceiling held an open rift that reached all the way up to the sky and carried in the moonlight. Sidney watched as it carried the moonlight one bundle at a time before dropping it down into the cavern below.

“Weredragons!” Sidney called out. “Where are you? Show yourselves, and face my blade!” He waved his blade around menacingly, and the face of the blade glared at the weredragons as they approached. The weredragons glared back, but their glare was at least twice as menacing, if not three and a half times as menacing. The blade whimpered and closed its eyes. The weredragons had won the first round.

“Who dares enter our lair?” the leader of the weredragons roared. He had the body of a man with a dragon’s head, sharp claws, and green scales. He stood tall on scaly hind legs, hunched forward, with a long, sweeping tail behind him. The tail dropped the broom and stopped sweeping; this was serious business, with no time for tidying up.

“It is I,” Sidney said, raising his blade to do battle, “Sidney the Brave, and my companion, Beau the Flirtatious! Stand ready, and prepare to be slewn!”

“Slewn?” Beau asked, turning his eyes skyward to the sky. “You sure about that word?”

“Slewed?” Sidney asked, keeping his blade raised. He paused for a moment in thought. “Err, slewt?”

“SLAIN!” the weredragon shouted. “We’re about to be slain, you fool!”

“Exactly!” Sidney said, then he swung his mighty blade and lopped the weredragon’s head clean off its shoulders. A moment later it wasn’t so clean as blood sprayed all over the recently swept floor.

The other weredragons charged, and Sidney swung his sword to and fro, hacking them to pieces. Then he hacked the pieces to pieces, just to be safe. When the onslaught was finished, he stood leaning on his sword, breathing heavily. The air in the cavern really needed to go on a diet.

“Sidney,” Beau’s voice called from behind him. Sidney turned and saw his friend lying on the ground in a pool of blood, and he sure wasn’t doing the backstroke.

“Beau!” Sidney cried out. He rushed over to his friend and knelt beside him. “No! Beau! You were too beautiful for this world!” Tears flowed down his face and mingled with the blood on the ground.

“Sidney,” Beau said, his voice weak. “Just promise me one thing, old friend . . .”

“Anything,” Sidney said, holding Beau against his chest. “What is it?”

Beau pulled the heart from his pocket and handed it to Sidney. “Ravish that wench for me,” he whispered. “Ravish her good. I promised her a good time when we got back. Give her one for me.”

“I will, old friend,” Sidney said. He took the heart and tucked it away in his pocket. “I will.”

He buried Beau beneath a cement-tree that grew in a cement-ery. On the cement headstone he inscribed, “Here Lies A True Friend, A Ravisher of Wenches: Beau the Flirtatious.”

When he returned to town he was lauded as a hero and given a huge reward. No longer caring about riches, he donated it to the orphanage in Beau’s name. Then he found the wench, dropped to one knee, and presented the little heart to her. The heart floated into the air between them and made her swoon. Then they kissed, and the heart exploded into a flurry of little winged hearts and cupids shooting arrows all around.

“What’s your name?” he asked her. One of the strange things about the magic of little hearts was how they could make you fall in love at first kiss, even with a total stranger.

“Beauty” she said. “I hope you’re a good man. My last boyfriend was such a beast!”

Sidney assured her he would always strive to bring her happiness. Then he scooped her up in his arms, whisked her away to his room at the inn, and ravished her quite thoroughly. He tried to be understanding when she accidentally called out the name “Beau.”

Westville Baptist Church, Nothing Like Westboro Baptist Church

I’m not really sure what a “baptist” is. I assume it has something to do with being baptized, though I know non-baptist churches still perform baptisms, so clearly I’m missing something here. Despite this, I decided to visit the Westville Baptist Church this week, hoping for a better experience than the Victory in Christ Christian Center I visited last week.

Westville Baptist 2

The Westville Baptist Church is a small, quaint place. It immediately gave me a more community feel. When I entered there was music playing, but unlike the last church, this music didn’t make me feel like I was in a club. It was simple, easy-listening music about Jesus and love and so on and so forth. There was a small computer displaying the lyrics on a projector screen, but it wasn’t as flashy and overdone the way the big-screen TVs and colored lights at the VICCC were.

Only about 19 people showed up, counting me and the pastor. Most of them were over 60, and they talked to each other like they’d been coming here together for decades. Half a dozen different people said “Good morning” to me and shook my hand. It certainly made me feel welcome.

The pastor stepped up wearing knee-length denim shorts and a flannel shirt. It was far more casual than what I was used to. The pastor at the VICCC was wearing a suit, and the priests at the churches I visited as a kid always wore religious-type robes. Though I’m all about a casual church. I’ve never understood the point in going to church in your “Sunday best.” Wasn’t God all about immodesty and running around the garden naked until we sinful humans gained knowledge about our bodies and learned shame? Casual Sundays seem like the right way to “keep the Sabbath day holy.”

The VICCC opened with a series of sales pitches and video advertisements, along with reminders to hit the gift shop after the sermon. Westville Baptist, on the other hand, opened with prayers for people in need.

Prayers 2

I much preferred the talk about people in need over the sales pitches I got from the other church. This church also didn’t try to con people out of 10% of their income for tithes. When it came time to pass the collection plates at the VICCC, we were subjected to a long lecture about what percentage of our income should go to the church, what should go to our savings, what should be spent on luxuries, etc. This church was silent about all these subjects and passed the plates without a word. The only time they mentioned anything about donations was to bring up a recent accident where someone ran their car into the church, since the repairs had to be funded by donations. This seemed like a pretty reasonable thing to ask for help with.

The sermon here was different as well. At the VICCC, the pastor only spoke for thirty minutes before giving the floor back to more sales pitches. Here, the bulk of the time was focused on the sermon itself, and nothing was rushed.

I got pretty confused during the sermon itself. There was a lot of stuff about a guy named Hezekiah, who apparently was a really cool dude at first and loved God so much that when he was dying, God answered his prayers and gave him an extra fifteen years to live. But then he got all rich and powerful and turned his back on God and that was bad. I’m not entirely sure what the message was, other than “Greed is bad” and “Don’t forget to watch what you get into.” Which seems like a good message and all, though I think some of it was lost on me.

I’m also pretty sure I’m going to hell, since when the pastor was making a metaphor about gardening and pulling out the weeds of your soul, he said, “I really don’t mind getting down on my knees to take care of stuff,” and my first thought was “That’s what she said.” He also later said, “I remind you that you are not junk.” All I could think of was how Tyler Durden said the exact opposite.

Tyler Durden

In the end, I’m not sure what I got out of the experience. There was a lot of stuff in the sermon about how we’re supposed to accept that we are living our lives wrong and that we need to embrace Jesus and follow the path that God laid out for us. And I don’t agree with any of that, because I believe in free will. I can’t accept the idea that I’m supposed to live my life according to someone else’s plan.

There was also some stuff that just made no logical sense whatsoever. Like a passage the pastor read from Mark 7, about how the Jewish priests were all like, “Dude, why aren’t you guys washing your hands before you eat! You’re gonna get sick!” And Jesus was like, “Evil isn’t what comes into the body because it gets absorbed through the stomach, evil is what comes out from our souls through our actions.” And while philosophically the idea of paying attention to your actions makes sense, Jesus still told people they don’t need to wash their hands before eating. My understanding of a lot of the old testament rules were that a lot of them were just good hygiene and common sense. I can agree with the idea that we don’t need to think of hand washing as a religious thing or that skipping it is going to bring “evil” into our bodies, but it will bring bacteria into our bodies. Maybe bacteria are the devil.

They're coming to take your soul and give you the flu.
They’re coming to take your soul and give you the flu.

At the end of the sermon, almost everyone in the church shook my hand and thanked me for coming. I was wearing one of my Rowan University shirts, so I got into a nice conversation with the pastor about education, engineering, and my studies in the master’s program. They invited me to come back again, and everyone was quite friendly and welcoming. Which are feelings I didn’t have at the last church I visited.

Whether I’ll go again is uncertain, but at the very least I feel like this was a more calm and communal than the VICCC. This place, at least, felt like a church, not like a sales seminar.

Editing and Depression

Editing is a lot like depression.

Explaining depression to people who haven’t experienced it isn’t easy. Mostly because half the time I don’t even understand it myself. The last therapist I spoke to told me my depression was episodic, that it would wax and wane like any other mood. Except this is a lot deeper. I could say it’s like imagining a bad day that goes on for so long that it’s no longer definable as “bad.” It’s just the way it is.

There’s a website with a good explanation that I found tells the story of depression better than I can express. Though it’s related to what I said awhile back about the Midnight Disease. There’s times when I’m so obsessed about and focused on a piece of writing that I barely sleep, that I ignore other responsibilities, and I put everything else on hold until I finish what I’m working on. Then, when it’s finished and the focal point of my life is over, I’m left lost and adrift. I sink back into the depression again and I have no energy or motivation to do . . . anything.

Tuesday I finished the first draft of the fifth book of Arcana Revived. I was in such a rush at the end that I wrote about 10,000 words each two days in a row, cramming the last 20k of the novel in a mad rush at the end. It’s been four days since then, and this blog post is one of the first things I’ve written during all that time. Four days straight without writing is rare for me, and I know it’s because I’ve burned through whatever energy I had.

My next goal is to continue the edits on Manifestation. I’ve been working on them for the last couple of months while continuing my writing at the same time, but now I’ve fallen behind. Trying to get the motivation to start editing is hard when I’m suffering through a bout of depression. Part of it is because dealing with editing can be a lot like the listlessness that comes with depression.

(I bet you were wondering when I was going to start linking the two things together.)

If writing a first draft is like the mad rush and excitement of a new beginning, editing can be a tedious, day-by-day continuation of the same thing for a long period of time. It’s the “hard work” part of writing, where you need to go through everything with a fine-toothed comb. There comes a point where you’ve re-read the same passage so many times that it starts to feel a little bland. It’s like the imagination and excitement are gone.

If you read the page on depression I linked to, you might see the connection here to what the article says about losing the joy in playing with your toys. There’s times where it feels like you’re just going through the motions.

I’m not sure what the solution or cure is, or if there even is one. My current plan is to just keep pushing onward, day after day. But it reminds me of something I wrote for a grad class last year. How sometimes “even hopelessness falls by the wayside when boredom takes over, and you realize that it’s time to get back up and brush yourself off. Not because you want to. Not because you’ve recovered. But because what else is there to do? Nothing, except to keep walking. Sometimes there’s no other choice but to push through and come out stronger on the other side.”

So I’m going to keep on walking, or editing, as the case may be. Because the alternative is to give up and let depression win, and if I did that, Manifestation would never be finished. And that’s not an option. So I’ll keep editing.

In the meantime, here’s the full piece that quote came from. It’s a meta-analytic story called “Gabby & I”:

Gabby & I

Gabby is the poet. I am the author.

Her life is the one I write about. She lives it; I put it on the page. Every tragedy, every tear, every first kiss in a fresh draft seems so new to her. Yet I have seen them each again and again with every revision. Part of me is in her, but it is her that is in the story.

Yet there are times in the story where she is the one who picks up the pen. She is a poet, a creator of her own words. She writes, and the words on the page change from she to I. Her voice comes out, and mine is suppressed. The narrator flees as the words become her diary, her escape from the tragedy of her life, and she pours her heart onto the page. I no longer recognize myself in those words. It’s as if I’m no longer there. She has been released into the page, set free to express her deepest secrets, desires, doubts, and fears:

I thought I might find peace today
But it seems I’ve lost my chance
I wonder if I ever will
Find peace, or hope that lasts?

No, I won’t find peace today
Not ever, not a chance
And even if that peace was offered
I think I’d let it pass

Her poems carry emotions that are not mine. Yet those emotions are so real. People tell me her poems make them cry, and they ask what inspired them. All I can answer is, “Her life.” She uses her writing to express the pain that my writing has brought into the story of her life. Her experiences give her inspiration I cannot claim as my own. When I read her poems, her words bring tears to my eyes. I feel the loss that I have written into her life. I see her loneliness and know that my pen is to blame. I see her cries for help, and know I cannot give her the release that she wishes for. I feel guilt reading her poems, knowing the pain that inspired these words:

Oh, dearest Lord, I beg you please
To you I pray, here on my knees
Forgive my sins, and my mistake
Forgive the life I had to take

Forgive my heart, forgive my soul
And know it never was my goal
To take a life with my own hand
Oh Lord, please don’t let me be damned

I feel shame, knowing that people will read her poems as mine. I know they will look on me with sympathy. They will think I am the one who lived through such loss. They have even thought that it was I, not her, who considered ending it all. That her cries for help were my own.

Maybe they were.

Looking back on those poems, I see a darkness. One that might bring concern, and make others question the writer’s safety. Just as they did when she wrote “I may just do it anyway.” I see poems that speak of blood soaking the ground. The devil’s grin. The emptiness of a soul torn away as hands grasped in the air, trying not to let it go. Someone lost, dropping to their knees, perhaps in surrender, perhaps in prayer. Masks of shadow worn for an entire whole lifetime, torn away until you must face what was hidden underneath. Unmasked, shoulders slumped in defeat, letting the chance for peace slip away. I see a writer left worn raw, exposed to the cruel elements after that mask was torn away. I see a writer lost, with nothing but her words to guide her. I wonder if these will guide me:

So many things are gone today
So much taken from me
So what is left, except to pray?
Whatever can it be?

My words, forever shall they stay
With them I’m always free
The one thing they can’t take away
Because they’re part of me

There can be no darkness without light, and there can be no fall without a rise. Sometimes it just depends which comes first. These poems show the fall. More than anything the fall. Down deep into the dark ravine in a shrouded forest, where Gabby ran and hid. Just as I once had, a child fleeing into the woods to hide from those who didn’t understand me. I came back home each night, hiding no longer than it took for the sun to fall and my stomach to grumble. She had no such luxury; her home was lost and her family slain by her own mistakes. Her path continued onward into the darkness. She fell to her knees in the mud at the bottom of that ravine. It was a place I knew well. A place where I fell to the ground and gave up. A place where she was left with nothing but tears, cold, and the empty stars above. A place with no strength to continue on. Some might say that climbing back out of that place takes courage, or determination. But sometimes all it takes is the fact that you have nothing else to do. Kneeling there, in a wet ditch, without hope, we realized that staying there was pointless and boring. Even hopelessness falls by the wayside when boredom takes over, and you realize that it’s time to get back up and brush yourself off. Not because you want to. Not because you’ve recovered. But because what else is there to do? Nothing, except to keep walking. Sometimes there’s no other choice but to push through and come out stronger on the other side.

I went home. She kept moving onward:

And then I slowly closed my eyes
And cried myself to sleep
My shadow held me like a prize
That she would always keep

But when I woke, the night had come
My shadow was no more
My body shivered, I was numb
Rain had begun to pour

The rain began to fall. She let it wash her clean. This was her turning point, when the words in her poems became stronger. “Bravery is just a word,” she writes through my pen. Just a lie you wear to tell yourself that you can do this, that you can continue on. A cloak you wear to dress up in a warrior’s clothes and pretend you’re something more than a lost writer, searching for purpose. The thing is, though, that cloak starts to feel pretty comfortable after awhile. That armor starts to feel right. It starts to feel real. And so her poem says, “Hold nothing back.” She strides forward. She finds that the bravery she wore, first as a lie, really settles in around her shoulders once she stops holding back. It grows comfortable there and decides to stay for awhile. Lie to yourself long enough, and you start to forget what the truth is. Sometimes I start to forget which one of us found the truth: me or her? Author or poet? Which one of us took off the mask? Which one of us put on the cloak? She wrote that poem, she declared “I’ll keep moving forward,” wielding her bravery like a sword. My pen just set her on her path. She’s the lie I make of myself, giving her bravery and hope and a path so that I can pretend. After awhile, it wasn’t pretending for her anymore. Maybe it won’t be for me either:

Now I can move forward
No burdens on my back
With this axe and this sword
I’ll slay fear in its tracks

This brave soul runs towards
The future, and I’ll act
My burdens are ignored
No, they won’t hold me back

She remains the writer until I write, “She puts down the pen.” Then I am the writer once more, writing about her life. Maybe she’s the cloak I wear, her poems the lie I tell until I start to believe them. The scared little girl who started fighting back, and taught me to hold nothing back.

I think I can live with that.

The Victory in Christ Multi-Level Marketing Scam

Today I attended the 9 AM service at the Victory in Christ Christian Center in Westville, NJ. The VICCC opened up across the street from my apartment complex not long ago, and I drive past it every time I leave the house. I was curious, and since I hadn’t been to any kind of church in about ten years, I decided I should check it out and see what kind of place it was.

I also decided to live-tweet the experience under the hashtag #JasonTweetsChurch.

I was raised Catholic, and while I’ve never been entirely fond of Catholic views or the long, boring sermons they hold, I still tend to expect a certain piety from any religious institution. I’m familiar with the more passionate and musical style of churches seen in movies filled with vibrant gospel songs and loud praise for Jesus. I’m familiar with the more community-based churches that treat everyone in attendance as family. I’ve even attended a Greek Orthodox ceremony during my cousin’s wedding. None of these prepared me for what I experienced at the VICCC.

I arrived at 8:30 when the doors opened and found live music playing in the “sanctuary,” their name for the main room where the sermon would be held. A group of people were singing very loudly and praising Jesus and shouting Hallelujah so many times that the word began to lose all meaning. The music was so loud my ears started to ring. Instead of an organ or other type of more traditional music, there was a band with a drummer, keyboard, and electric guitar. There were spotlights flashing in various bright colors throughout the room. It felt more like a concert hall or a night club than a religious experience.

The music got more serious when the official start time arrived. There was about a half hour where the band played and the lyrics to the songs were displayed on the two widescreen TVs hanging on either side of the front wall. I found it interesting to see that one of the songs was a blend of English and Spanish lyrics, asking me to embrace Jesus en mi corazon.

When the music was over, I expected the sermon to begin. But instead, I was greeted with the sales pitches.

The pastor began by making promises about free gifts for newcomers if they stayed after the sermon. We were told we’d be taken back to a private session to get to know them and their church. I couldn’t help thinking about my studies into the science of influence and persuasion when I read Robert B. Cialdini’s book Influence, Science and Practice in a class at Rowan University. The book warns readers to become attuned to the methods used by salespeople, marketers, con artists, and others who will try to persuade you to part with your money. One of the common tricks used relies on the principle of reciprocity: by giving someone a “free gift,” you make them feel obligated to you so that they’ll be more likely to fall for your sales pitch. It’s a common technique used by marketers trying to sell timeshares and vacation packages. In the class we also learned that many businesses like gyms will invite you into a private room in order to isolate you and make you vulnerable to the sales pitch. The idea of being stuck in a room in the back of the church while they pressed me for a donation or commitment to volunteer made me certain that I did not want to accept this free gift.

We were then subjected to a series of video advertisements on the TVs, using the kind of graphics you normally see in marketing-based PowerPoint presentations. Pitches were made about various classes we could sign up for, for DVDs preaching the Word of God, and for the Kingdom Korner Store located near the exit on our way out after the sermon. I remember what I learned about amusement parks and museums being designed so that you need to exit through the gift shop, and I tried to figure out what kind of church had a gift shop inside the church.

Greed:

The pastor then started talking about how one of the churchgoers was about to open his own church in a neighboring town. The entire exchange sounded like some kind of multi-level marketing scheme designed to get newcomers to sign up and become salespeople who then recruit more salespeople to continue the process, layer after layer. There was also a great deal of praise for the VICCC and their divine mission. At one point the pastor went so far as to call it, and I quote, “One of the greatest churches on the planet.”

Greed:
Pride:

By the time they started citing the church’s website, email address, and the name of their mobile app, I was itching to leave. The worst part may have been when they told me I could text “Victory1” to 71441 to learn more about the free gifts, get text alerts from the church and make donations with my mobile device. I’m all about progress and keeping up with the advancements of the times, but by this point we were nearly an hour into the “sermon” and no one had talked about the bible yet.

When the “real” sermon was finally ready to begin. We were asked to hold up our bibles and declare “This is my bible!” We were asked to pledge our commitment. A few people raised up their Kindles or mobile devices instead. I imagined them sleeping with their bibles and chanting, “This is my bible. There are many like it but this one is mine. My bible is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life.”

Most of the sermon was about achieving “victory.” Considering it was the Victory in Christ Christian Center, this seemed to be something of  theme. I was on board with the ideas the pastor presented about not giving up, having the strength to pursue your goals, and holding your faith through the difficulties you faced. Things got really weird, however, when he started citing the example of how he got together with his wife. He told us about how she had another boyfriend when he first met her, but he didn’t let that stop him. He actually used the phrase, “I was in the shadows, waiting.” He told us how while she was out on dates with her boyfriend, he was home with a picture of her on his mirror, thinking about how she’d one day be his.

Greed:
Pride:
Envy:
Lust:
Coveting thy neighbor’s wife:

Near the end of the sermon the pastor asked any newcomers who weren’t “born again” to raise their hands so we could pray for them. I kept my hand firmly in my lap. After the prayers, the pastor preached about how these newcomers shouldn’t be ashamed to stand up and show their declaration. He asked them to raise their hands again and not to hide, because he’d seen them the first time and he’d know who they were. I thought again of Cialdini, and one of the other persuasion techniques he described: commitment. By getting someone to make a public declaration that they’ll do something, you can double the chances that they’ll follow through. The people who’d first raised their hands were trapped now. They couldn’t back down from the declarations they’d made without fearing the guilt and possible ridicule they’d face for going back on their commitment. That’s in addition to Cialdini’s principle of “social proof,” the idea that seeing other people commit to something makes it more likely that you’ll commit to it as well. Once the first few people stepped up and agreed to this trap, it made it harder for the others to back down.

They were asked to come forward and meet the pastor, and told to bring their stuff with them because they’d be going to another room and they wouldn’t be coming back. I started to fear for those people, wondering what they’d be subjected to in those back rooms. I imagined sales pitches, pleas for donations, and pressure to get them to commit to becoming official members of the church. There had even been mention of “connection cards” they could fill out. Another persuasion technique cited by Cialdini is getting people to fill out a written commitment to a cause.

The “newly reborn” souls were taken away, perhaps never to be seen again. Then the pastor was in a rush to finish, saying he was “out of time.” Because he had to hand the mic back over to the other pastor who had to deliver more sales pitches for the life insurance company being sponsored by the VICCC this week. Apparently the pastor couldn’t spare more time talking to us about Jesus and the actual bible scripture because there were more important matters to get to.

Greed:
Pride:
Envy:
Lust:
Sloth:
Coveting thy neighbor’s wife:

The collection buckets were passed around. But apparently this church doesn’t accept it if you can only afford to make your own little sign. No, we were given a ten minute lecture about “tithing” and how the “proper” way to tithe was to give 10% of your income to the church. Quite a difference from the baskets that were passed around at the church I went to when I was younger, where they’d tell you to just pass the basket along if you didn’t want or couldn’t afford to make a donation. I’d never been to a church before that went so far as to practically demand a specific amount from their flock’s pockets. Which was on top of being told we could text a donation by texting “victory” to 71441 or make a donation through the church’s website. The audience watching the live-streaming video at home through the cameras mounted around the church were even encouraged to donate online.

But I suppose they needed the money to pay for the widescreen TVs, video cameras, the line of computers at the back of the room where the visual effects team controlled the graphics overlayed on the pastor’s image, the stereo surround-sound for the live gospel band, the spotlights, and the IT for their website with live-streaming video, email prayer requests, and online video gallery.

Greed:
Pride:
Envy:
Lust:
Sloth:
Gluttony:
Coveting thy neighbor’s wife:

I hurried out as soon as the “sermon” was over, avoiding the gift shop. I got cornered by one of the church’s sponsored life insurance salespeople and handed a pamphlet that I threw out as soon as I got off the premises (not wanting to litter on “holy” grounds. I didn’t know how to feel about the experience I just had, but I certainly didn’t feel righteous, enlightened, or saved.

If anything, I felt pretty pissed off that this place passes for a church.

Wrath:

Papers, Please: Why Human Civilization Makes No Sense

Papers, Please
Why Human Civilization Makes No Sense

Society as seen from the perspective of an alien who doesn’t understand our obsession with paper.

Let me see if I’ve got this straight.

If I want to become a part of human society and follow the prescribed path most people follow, first I need to fill out this piece of paper:

application

Then I wait to see if I’ll get one of these pieces of paper in return:

acceptance letter

Then having one of those gives me the privilege of spending the next four years filling out all of these papers:

paperstack

And if I do a good enough job with those papers, I’ll periodically earn these papers:

Report Card

And once I get enough of those I can use them to get one of these pieces of paper (which for some reason I frame and hang on my wall):

diploma-with-college-2img_l

Then after that I have to make up this piece of paper that summarizes everything I’ve done with all this other paper for the last four years:

teachers-aide-resumeThen I send those out to a bunch of strangers hoping to get one of these pieces of paper:

employment-contract

And only after I have this piece of paper will I be able to start collecting these other pieces of paper:

paycheck

Which I then have to trade each week in order to get a bunch of these little pieces of paper:

Money

Which I can finally trade for the goods and services I need.

And if I don’t go through all of this, I’m not allowed to have food, shelter, or clothing?

Human civilization makes no sense.

Imperial Citation Needed

HULK SMASH RESEARCHERS WHO DON'T PROPERLY CITE THEIR SOURCES
HULK SMASH RESEARCHERS WHO DON’T PROPERLY CITE THEIR SOURCES

Research is important in your writing. If you’re an academic writer, you’ll probably spend a lot of time researching academic journals and other dense literary or scientific texts. If you’re a journalist, you’ll need to check your facts to make sure you’re reporting accurate information. And if you’re a fiction writer, you’ll inevitably need to research some pretty strange things for your stories and novels.

The thing with research, however, is that some people don’t tend to verify their sources. Serious academic research requires citation of every source used (usually in APA or MLA format, or something similar). An average news article, blog post, or short story, however, probably won’t have a list of references at the end. You can always just say your Muse is your source, but that won’t tend to fly with an Institutional Review Board.

Even worse is when people don’t bother to check something just because it’s “common knowledge” or something everyone takes for granted. Often, the things people take for granted turn out to be more complex than they think, if not just factually inaccurate. As an example, let’s talk about Imperial Storm Troopers.

Watch out. I'm about to trick you. Don't say I didn't warn you.
Watch out. I’m about to trick you. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Everyone knows the Imperial Storm Troopers. Your droids aren’t the ones they’re looking for. They don’t need to see your identification. And they’re definitely far more precise with their blaster shots than the Sand People. In fact, they’re the most deadly and accurate force in the galaxy.

I know what you’re going to say. I hear it all the time. Because “everyone knows it.” You’re going to tell me that Storm Troopers are the worst marksmen ever to grace the big screen. Their aim is so legendarily bad that there’s an entire TV Tropes page dedicated to it. They couldn’t hit the broad side of a Bantha. They couldn’t even hit a Star Trek Red Shirt.

a-redshirt-and-a-stormtrooper-get-into-a-fightThis bit of “common knowledge” is completely inaccurate, and I’m going to prove it by citing sources from the Star Wars movies.

I’m only going to use the movies, since the books, video games, and other expanded universe offerings aren’t necessarily considered canon in some instances. I’m also only going to discuss Episodes IV, V, and VI, since the Storm Troopers in those movies are supposed to be ordinary humans rather than genetically enhanced clone soldiers (and the clones had FAR better accuracy in Episodes I, II, and III). I’ll keep a running tally as I go along, and by the end, I think you’ll be convinced that Storm Troopers are a deadly force that should never be underestimated.

We’ll start with the following clip, the opening battle of Episode IV:

In that opening scene, there are initially 10 rebel defenders. 7 are shot down right away. 3 escape around the corner but they get shot down moments later. Another 7 reinforcements are there around the corner, but a few moments later we see them captured. Grand total that’s 17 rebels taken down (10 dead, 7 captured). I won’t count the captured ones in the tally since we can assume they surrendered. Grand total only 3 Storm Troopers get shot in that scene. Then Leia gets one more before she gets shot and stunned, so that’s another point for each side.

Score: Storm Troopers 11, Rebels 4

After that the Storm Troopers kill a swarm of Jawas when they’re looking for the droids. That’s when Obi Wan says his famous line about how “only Imperial Storm Troopers are so precise.” I won’t count the Jawas, however, since they die off-camera. Still, this is a battle won for the Imperials.

The next time the heroes encounter the Storm Troopers is when they’re escaping from Mos Eisley Cantina. Han, and Han alone, is outside the Millennium Falcon when the Storm Troopers alive. The Storm Troopers miss him and he escapes. He blasts the building to make some sparks to drive the Storm Troopers back, but he doesn’t hit any of them himself. So this scene is a tie.

Score: Storm Troopers 11, Rebels 4

Then we get to the Death Star. This sequence seems like the worst offenders for people who think Storm Troopers can’t hit anything. Except that the Storm Troopers were missing on purpose.

As soon as the Millennium Falcon reaches the Death Star, we cut to a scene where Darth Vader discusses the upcoming execution of Princess Leia. He says, “They must be trying to return the stolen plans to the Princess. She may yet be of some use to us.” We later learn that at this point, Vader hatched a plan to attach a tracking device to the ship and let the rebels escape. It’s therefore logical to assume that Vader ordered all the Storm Troopers not to kill any of the rebels (either that or he used the Force to influence their minds, but either way, he wanted the rebels to escape). Vader and Tarkin don’t even seem surprised or concerned when they receive the alert that there’s intruders in the cell block. Vader just calmly goes off to deal with Obi Wan, because while they want Leia to escape, Vader doesn’t want her to have Jedi help when she gets away.

So any further battles in Episode IV don’t count, since the Imperials are taking a dive. That leaves a final score in Episode IV of: Storm Troopers 11, Rebels 4. The ship-vs-ship battles during the ending don’t count since we’re gauging Storm Trooper accuracy in personal combat, not piloting skills. Let’s move on to Episode V.

Episode V starts off on the Ice Planet Hoth. Early on, we have a long, epic battle between the rebels and the Imperial forces. By the end of this battle, the rebels flee, and their base is completely overrun:

Unfortunately, there’s not really a lot of “ground troops” fighting. The Imperials use the AT-AT walkers to do most of the damage, and by the time ground troops enter the base, there’s really no one left to shoot at. So the Battle of Hoth is definitely a win for the Imperials, but it’s not something that can really affect the score. Still, every battle the Storm Troopers have been in so far in both movies, they’ve won. Counting the raid on Leia’s ship, slaughtering the Jawas, and raiding Hoth, that’s three major wins for the Imperials. The only time the rebels won anything was when the Imperials let them escape.

The next time we see Storm Troopers is in the cloud city of Bespin. They blast C-3PO to bits, so that’s another point for them. Then Luke arrives and Vader gives them orders to lure Luke to the carbon-freezing room. So when the Storm Troopers see him, they take a few shots at him to drive him off, but they intentionally miss again. Then just after Boba Fett takes off with Han, some Storm Troopers ambush Leia, Lando, and Chewbacca. Chewie manages to kill one Storm Trooper there. So far, that’s putting us at Storm Troopers 12, Rebels 5.

After some lightsaber dueling between Vader and Luke, we see Leia shoot a Storm Trooper. Then one misses Chewie, and both Chewie and Leia kill one more each. Chewie drops two more while R2D2 is opening the door to get to the Falcon. And Lando kills one when they get outside. That puts us at Storm Troopers 12, Rebels 11. Then Leia drops one final Storm Trooper right before the Falcon takes off, and the Rebels catch up, Storm Troopers 12, Rebels 12. Near the end of the second movie and we’re finally tied.

Moving on to Episode VI, we start off on Tattooine fighting brigands and bounty hunters. There’s no Storm Trooper action until we get to the battles at Endor.

Completely gratuitous picture of Princess Leia in the golden bikini.
Completely gratuitous picture of Princess Leia in the golden bikini.

Right before the speeder bike chase, Chewie shoots one Storm Trooper and Han takes another one down in a fist fight, so that’s 2 more points for the rebels. Luke throws a Storm Trooper off his bike to steal it, so that’s 3. Luke shoots one and that one crashes into a tree, so that’s 4. But then a Storm Trooper shoots Leia’s speeder and knocks her off, so that’s 1 for the Imperials. That same Storm Trooper crashes into a tree stump and dies, but that was his own stupidity and not anything Leia did, so no point there. Then the last Storm Trooper throws Luke off his bike right before Luke cuts his speeder in half with his lightsaber, so 1 and 1 there. Grand total, the speeder bike scene is 2 more for the Storm Troopers, 5 for the rebels.

Grand total for the movies is now Storm Troopers 14, Rebels 17.

Unscored Bonus: The last Storm Trooper in that scene got three perfectly-aimed shots off on Luke at the end. The only reason they missed is because Luke deflected them with his lightsaber.

Wicket_RotJ

Leia takes down two more Storm Troopers after she meets Wicket, putting the score at Storm Troopers 14, Rebels 19. Then we spend a lot of time with the Ewoks before we get back to any action.

No shots are fired getting into the back door of the shield generator. But then the big epic final battle with the Ewoks starts. This is the fight where the rebels finally start seriously kicking ass and taking names. Han alone takes down four, five, six Storm Troopers in a row, and the Ewoks are bashing heads like nobody’s business. There’s so many Storm Troopers being dropped in this scene that I couldn’t even keep accurate track of the score anymore.

So let’s look back and analyze the Storm Troopers’ performance across all the movies. Not counting any scenes where we have reason to believe the Imperials were losing on purpose, we have an interesting pattern here. In the first movie, the Storm Troopers have back-to-back victories and they easily kill twice as many rebels as the rebels do them. They continue to have steady victories through the second movie until they very end, when the heroes manage to score some kills during their desperate escape from Bespin. Then, finally, the rebels start pulling ahead in the third movie and they pull off a victory in the end.

To me, this pattern doesn’t show any signs of incompetence on the part of the Storm Troopers. Instead, it shows signs of the rebels constantly improving. They go from a ragtag band of heroes who barely pull off victories in the beginning to eventually become a well-organized force that can finally go toe-to-toe with the Imperial elites. That seems like a fitting way for a trilogy of movies to play out, with the heroes improving more and more as they go along. It shows that they earned their victory at the end through hard work, determination, and perseverance.

Bringing this back to the original point I started this blog post with, I analyzed this carefully, scene-by-scene. It was also a good excuse to marathon the Star Wars movies and spend 6 hours writing this blog post. Hopefully this demonstrates how an assumption can be reanalyzed and seen in a new light. Looking at each of the pieces step-by-step not only showed the inaccuracies of the preconceptions, but also showed a pattern that developed throughout the films. This pattern led to new conclusions which were supported by evidence.

Of course, it’s always possible you’ll have a different conclusion than mine. If so, I hope you cite your sources.

Water Muse

My Muse likes it wet.

I’m not sure why. I’ve come to the conclusion that she’s some sort of water spirit. Maybe an Undine.

Water and Light have always been my elements of choice.
Water and Light have always been my elements of choice.

I’ve mentioned before how a Muse won’t adhere to your schedule. They’ll show up when you’re damn good and ready, and woe be to you if you’re not ready to write when they show up. While this might seem unfair, remember that your Muse is already doing you a service. She’s providing you with inspiration and all she gets in return is the nourishment of your creative energy, which sustains her life force. So it’s like making someone work for you for food, but no pay. Basically, that means your novel is like a nice, hearty bowl of Cheerios.

I try to listen to my Muse and write what she wants, not what I want. I also tend to put everything else aside and give her words when she asks for them. But she has this bad habit of showing up when I’m in the shower. I’d try to ask her to reschedule, but you don’t want to argue with an irritated mythical creature while she’s soaking wet.

Her Gaze Attack forces you to make a Will Save or write for ten minutes per level.
Her Gaze Attack forces you to make a Will Save or write for ten minutes per level.

The result is always the same. I pause mid-shower, loofah in one hand, while images and ideas flash in my brain. A line for my latest WIP pops into my head and I start whispering it to myself. My eyes go out of focus while I search this new idea. Connections are forged across my synapses as I link the latest inspiration to what has come before. Then I quickly turn off the water, wrap a towel around myself, and rush out to find something to write with. Sometimes, the inspiration is intense enough that I go straight to the computer and write the scene. Other times, I just need to take notes and preserve the idea until I’m ready to write it. Either way, I get water everywhere.

Dramatic reenactment of my shower this morning.
Dramatic reenactment of my shower this morning.

I’ve asked around, and it turns out this is a common problem. So common, in fact, that people have suggested many ways to address it. I voted for hiring a secretary who doesn’t mind sitting on the other side of the shower curtain to take dictation while I bathe, though there’s always the inevitable sexual harassment lawsuits. Alternatively, you can get a pad of waterproof paper for the shower.

Yes, it's really a thing.
Yes, it’s really a thing.

There’s even some science to back up the idea that creativity can come to us in the shower. Apparently my Water Muse is shutting down the part of my brain that I “use to make decisions” and stimulating the part that controls “association, context, events and emotional responses.” In other words, like every other woman in my life, my Water Muse gets me all emotional until I can’t think straight. The warm water gets my dopamine flowing, distraction sets in, my mind wanders, and the Muse slips in between my thoughts to sprinkle her inspiration all over the place.

I'd come up with another clever caption for this picture, but I'd have to hop in the shower to think of one.
I’d come up with another clever caption for this picture, but I’d have to hop in the shower to think of one.

Of course, there’s plenty of times my Water Muse comes to me when I’m completely dry. Sometimes I’ll simply be sitting at the computer, typing away, when a surge of inspiration hits me like a tidal wave (get it?). That’s usually when I start typing faster and I become less aware of anything else that’s going on around me. Including the passage of time. Hours will pass before I come up for air(#SeeWhatIDidThere?). I don’t think my Water Muse understands or cares about the passage of time. The ebb and flow of the tides might seem to mark time for us but the shift in the tides is so gradual that you don’t notice it while you’re sitting there staring at the water. It’s only when you come back later and you notice the water lines on the dock that you realize how far the tide has gone out.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some slightly damp scenes to write.

Gratuitous Secret of Mana screenshot.
Gratuitous Secret of Mana screenshot.

9 Mirages of Love

I recently read The 9 Mirages of Love: How to Stop Chasing What Doesn’t Exist, by Chiarra Mazzucco. I’m not normally drawn to self-help books, but I have a strong interest in romance and personal relationships. Part of this stems from my background in Communication Studies, where I’ve studied how relationships form and how to manage conflict between two people with different viewpoints. Another part comes from my recent interest in studying romance novels, which have become a common topic on my blog lately. Because of these interested I thought it might be helpful to read this book and see what insights it had to offer.

In the introduction, Mazzucco begins by describing a process I’m familiar with, both from my own life and from my studies of Symbolic Interactionism:

We’d like to believe we’re above clichés and that we’ll never be caught dead in the self-help aisle of the bookstore, but the truth is, we are slaves to love and will risk anything to attain it even if it means pushing everyone away in order to create our own reality.

What Mazzucco is describing here, the idea that we’ll “create our own reality” in order to get what we want, is an interesting psychological concept. While Mazzucco says she is not a psychologist, the idea she expresses here is one that’s grounded in a lot of research. The reality people believe in is often forged by our communication practices. For example, if someone (say, a spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend) continually tells you you’re worthless or won’t amount to anything, you’ll start believing it. When you believe these things about yourself, you’ll subconsciously sabotage yourself by not putting your best effort into things or by giving up on opportunities that could have been great for you. If you’re surrounded by uplifting people who encourage you, however, you’ll do better in life because you’ll be more likely to pursue those opportunities and put your best effort into everything you do.

Mazzucco’s book delves into these psychological issues by labeling them as “mirages”: illusions about your relationship that you convince yourself are real. A simple example of such a mirage is when someone in a controlling relationship convinces themselves that their partner is controlling “because they love me” or “because they just want what’s best for me.” Anyone outside the relationship might be able to tell that the controlling individual is acting out of selfishness or a need to be domineering, but as for the person being controlled, they lie to themselves again and again. With each lie, they sculpt the reality for themselves and make themselves believe that what they’re saying is true.

Not all of the mirages Mazzucco discusses, however, are as negative and destructive as that. She also warns against positive illusions, like the idea of the “perfect mate” or the “perfect relationship.” Holding idealized versions of love and romance in your head can blind you to reality. Part of Mazzucco’s advice involves telling you to look past these illusions and to not hold yourself to preconceived ideas of how a relationship should start and how it should develop.

After discussing various illusions, including the lies people tell themselves when they’re having an affair with a married person, the mistakes people make when they stay with a cheater, the loneliness and self-esteem issues that keep people in abusive relationships, and how obsessive relationships can convince people they’re in love when there’s really no future, Mazzucco goes on to discuss how to break up with someone. When someone is ending a relationship that didn’t suffer from these illusions, breaking up might be a comparatively simple (if emotionally messy) thing to do. But to someone who’s been blinded by mirages, breaking up is much harder to do.

I found the chapter on breaking up particularly interesting with regard to my research into romance novels. Most romance stories I’ve read end with a “Happily Ever After” between the main couple. I’ve read one excellent one, however, that ends with a double-breakup. The main character is engaged, but ends up cheating on her fiance with his brother. After the engagement ends, she has a short-lived love affair with the brother, before leaving him as well because she realizes their affair was only about lust, and there was no long-term relationship there. These ideas are good examples of Mazzucco’s mirages. The woman in this novel was clinging to a mirage of the ideal, perfect relationship with someone she wasn’t truly, deeply in love with. Then she succumbed to the mirage of the affair, only to realize that the forbidden fruit didn’t offer her what she wanted.

And while I’m not currently in a relationship at all, let alone one suffering from these mirages, I find the ideas presented in this book to be interesting tools to use in my romance subplots. For example, Mazzucco lists a step-by-step process detailing what it takes to get yourself out of a mirage relationship, starting with coming to the realization that the relationship needs to end, making a promise to yourself, and confronting your partner about it. From a writer’s perspective, this is a recipe for some excellent conflict, both internal (as the main character struggles with the decision) and external (when the breakup discussion/argument begins). It also seems like sounds advice that I could have used in a few past relationships myself, particularly the later steps where she recommends searching internally to find out why you were attracted to a mirage to begin with, and “diving into the next relationship with the same childlike curiosity and hunger as you did your last.” The idea seems to be not to let past experiences taint your future. You can learn from the past and enter the next relationship with more wisdom and understanding of what you did wrong in the past, but you can still have hope and optimism at the same time.

All in all, I found 9 Mirages of Love to be an interesting read. There were times the language was a bit more blunt than I might have liked, but the concepts it covers are interesting. It might give me some interesting things to consider as I continue my study of romance novels and relationships. And if I end up in another relationship of my own any time soon, I’ll certainly be keeping my eyes open for any mirages.