My Fantastical Fall from Cyberspace

Many months ago, I slipped off the edge of Cyberspace and plunged into the mysterious dimension called Reality.

Reality was as strange as everyone said it was. I discovered that I had something called a body, which I had to lug around everywhere I went. I had to spend all day pumping it full of air or it would stop moving.

I saw other natives hauling their bodies around, too, snorting air like fiends.

One of them claimed to be my brother. “Come off it,” he said. “Social media is not some other dimension and you are not your Gravitar! You always had a body. You were born here.”

Suspecting a prank, I made a mental note that Reality People like to play odd mind games.

I hit snags in communicating with the other natives too. Every time anyone said they felt hot or cold I became so excited that I could hardly speak. Since having a body was new to me, I found all mentions of heat and cold fascinating.

So, whenever anyone mentioned temperature, I would frantically start looking around for a “like” button, hoping one might suspend itself in front of me, allowing me show how much I approved of the topic.

When a “like” button failed to show, I became severely agitated. My palms would sweat, and my jaw would quiver until finally, in a fever, I would blurt, “I like your comment!”

At first when I did that, the Reality People smiled in a polite, puzzled way, but after a while they started to avoid me. They said I was impossible to talk to because I kept interrupting every sentence to praise them. With great regret, I stopped declaring my heartfelt approval and learned to merely smile and nod.

The strangeness marched on. Reality had an impossibly weird alien called a “cat” in it that ruled over everything. And something called ice cream. From what I could gather, ice cream is the best thing reality has going for it. 

My brother said, “You always loved ice cream. You were born here, in the solid world, not on some social media website. You do know that, right?”

Once again, I was dubious, but my “brother” seemed genuinely worried that I could not remember my previous life. He said I had something called a diploma with my name in it to prove I went to college. “If was a physical building, too, not some online course.” He further suggested that I also have clothes hamper full of socks with my DNA all over them. But that means nothing to me. Do Gravitars have DNA?

My “brother” theorized that during my Cyberspace sojourn, I must have forgotten my previous life altogether. He seemed so worried about me that I became concerned about him too. To humor him, I checked the identification that “Reality Me” had supposedly kept in her purse.

I felt guilty rummaging through her personal items, but I was shocked to find that the photograph on the license looked exactly like my Gravitar! My name was even printed on it.

I was astounded. I must have had a trans-dimensional twin! What other surprises awaited me?

I yearned to venture out and further explore this alien dimension called Reality, but someone told me that Reality was in the grip of a terrible virus, which I know something about because Cyberspace has them too.  I became terrified that the virus might delete all of Reality with me in it before I had a chance to safely return to my real home in Cyberspace.

Homesickness began to tug at me even more. I had a yen for pics and pixels. I missed updates and down votes. I missed the wordless beauty of emoticons and the jaunty thumbs-up graphic I used to express my wildest enthusiasms. There was simply no place like Cyberspace.

Strangely enough, I could not remember exactly how I had gotten to Cyberspace in the first place. It just seemed like I had always been there. Until I slipped that day.

I had read somewhere that when you wanted to go to space you needed a rocket ship so I asked a neighbor how I could build one. She told me it was too expensive to build a rocket ship; she said, all you need is the internet.

I began to worry then because I had heard nets were used to trap animals, and what if I got trapped between dimensions? But the neighbor assured me that crossing was easy; she did it all the time. She had such a soothing voice she finally convinced me. My fears evaporated and a thrill took their place. I was finally going home!

Now here I am, home at last. I now live in the part of Cyberspace called the Blogosphere. I am not sure what happened to my body, but it feels nice not to have one anymore.

It is a wonder I ever got anything done, having to inflate that wheezy gadget in my chest all day. I therefore plan to stay here for a while. But I may have to visit Reality again someday. Only because I miss the ice cream though. If the Blogosphere ever gets any ice cream, I will never have to leave again.

Unless, of course, I slip.

Can Video Games Capture Emotion?

I love exploring virtual space. Real space, at least on Earth, has too many boundaries: fences, locks, private roads, no trespassing signs. Videogames have those, too, but in games there are usually clever ways to get past locked doors or other barriers. Surmounting them is part of the gameplay. In a video game like Skyrim you can go anywhere, walk through castles without having to wait in line as you would as a tourist. In video games, freedom is almost absolute.

Other than unlimited freedom to wander, it is becoming harder to tell the difference between reality and virtual reality.

Since I first played Super Mario on the NES, gaming evolved rapidly from a flat side-scrolling world to three-dimensional landscapes.

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Easing the Emotional Risk of Sharing Stories

Years ago, I shattered a stubborn case of block by deciding not to heed writing advice anymore.

The trick to ignoring the “authorities” was to pretend I was ten — a time before I had learned to stutter out dry, self-conscious prose for teachers. I had never blocked as a child when I was penning exuberant stories featuring my dog as the hero. For a while I had fun flouting every rule I knew. I could now be silly, trite, or sentimental if I felt like it.

My new attitude quieted the voice of criticism inside me, and playfulness nudged its way back into my art.

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Why Drawing, Even Badly, is Worthwhile

Recently I told my brother I had been drawing a lot during the pandemic.

He said, “I envy you. I wish I could draw. I remember how much I enjoyed it as a kid. I’m too old now to really get good at it.”

I knew how he felt. I’ve spent much of my life talking myself out of fun activities by asking myself, “What’s the point in learning a new skill at this stage? To achieve the Ninja-like mastery I require, I would have needed to start as a three-year-old.’ Therefore, it’s not worth it to even begin.”

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Writing is Not a Jealous God

I was soaring. It was April 2019 and I’d just finished the draft of my new novel Prowl, which I’d painstakingly written three times, each time starting from scratch. I was eager to release something new, but I needed feedback before publishing it.

But before I could get any Beta readers, I suddenly found out I had to move. Two weeks after finishing my book in Florida, I found myself trundling across three state lines with a yowling cat.

That move was only the beginning.  I moved several times in a one-year period, bouncing from Florida to North Carolina and finally on to South Carolina.

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How Cat Logic Vanquishes Worry

When life gets too confusing, when petty worries seem profound, I rely on three ways to realign my perspective. 

One is to ask myself, “What difference will this make in a hundred years?” That can quiet my thoughts quickly. 

Another trick is to imagine I am standing on the moon looking down on Earth with all its boundaries erased by distance. From far above the stratosphere everything appears silent and serene.  

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Why my Depression Got Miffed and Stormed Off to Starbucks

Over the summer my depression made an unwelcome reappearance on my emotional doorstep. For therapy I tried this exercise I had read about somewhere, which was to write an imaginary dialogue with my depression. This roll-and-tumble dust-up of a conversation was the result.

The transcript:

Depression: Gee, I just arrived. Why are you not smiling? After all this time, do I not get a hug? Have you forgotten about me?  After all the great times we have had together, the least you could do is invite me in.

Me: You are not welcome in these parts, buddy. Go. Away.

Depression: Why, you treat me like a total stranger. How could you? We share so many fond memories together.

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What Is a Hero?

The panelist seemed super-human. She had drawn awed murmurs after telling us at the indie writing conference in Orlando that she had written and published over fifty romance novels. She was barely over twenty.

I was eager to hear what the prolific author was going to say, especially when the moderator asked her a question I loved, “How do you define a hero?”

As a novelist myself, I had read many definitions of a hero in how-to-write books. Many were dry and technical: “A hero is the main character of a story who struggles against overwhelming obstacles, usually for some principle, ideal, person, or goal beyond the narrow scope of his or her own ego. Heroes may be flawed but, in the end, they will always act according to their conscience, even when it means risking everything, including, sometimes, their lives.”

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Why I Banished My Ego from My Writing Process

ego

The silent inner voice that criticizes me as I write means well. It wants to shield my ego, to prevent me from saying anything embarrassing or offensive that might get me banished from the human race and possibly sent into the wilderness to survive on dirt and berries.

My ego does not understand that the only kind of writing that matters is honest writing. Mastering the art requires me to look at the world, including myself, in all its messy, multifaceted complexity.

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My Cat Counsels Me on Outrage Addiction

Weeks ago I found myself so outraged by an online news article, I had to remind myself to breathe. Enough, I told myself. It is time to be proactive. So I sat back in my sofa, massaged my temple — and did a rabid search for more articles I knew would rocket my outrage to a whole new level.

As I read, adrenalin surged. I became madder by the minute. When I had burned through my most incendiary news articles, I turned to Facebook for the solace of its snarky fury.  Before I knew it, hours had passed with my eyes glued to my smart phone. Now, blinking  up, I looked around the living room and wondered what I had actually accomplished, except for  miffing  my cat.

Some time ago she had dropped on the couch beside me a brightly colored fuzzy ball. She is the only cat I have ever met who liked to play fetch.  Now she mewled piteously as she nosed her violet toy toward me and looked up to gaze into my eyes, begging me to throw it.

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