Love Letter

 

Dear Writ­ers –

… espe­cial­ly writ­ers whose medi­um is fic­tion: genre, lit­er­ary, role-play­ing games, plays, movies, etc.

What we do is hard. Don’t let any­one tell you oth­er­wise.

Nov­el­ists espe­cial­ly. 80,000–120,000 words to sus­tain a trans­for­ma­tion, to imbue a world, to make characters–even walk-ons–live, breathe and some­times die between the ink and the page in a cohe­sive, mean­ing­ful, nev­er-bor­ing heart­felt way. All the while know­ing that what you see and feel and strain to put down is nev­er ever what the read­er will get out of it.

That’s the bless­ing and the curse of the writ­ten word, or the game sce­nario. Because the read­er isn’t us, they can nev­er expe­ri­ence the sto­ry the way we do. But we also can’t expe­ri­ence it the way they do. And some­times read­ers and play­ers are amaz­ing­ly gen­er­ous with their buy-in. Fan­doms are proof of that.

All cre­ators live with con­stant doubt and frus­tra­tion and time con­straints and the inter­ven­ings of real life. It’s hard to chew through it, swal­low, and con­tin­ue on to The End. Over­whelm­ing­ly dif­fi­cult some­times.

So, thanks. Thank you to all the writ­ers of my favorite sto­ries, poems, movies and games. Thanks for slog­ging on through the long process of get­ting your work pub­lished, or out to your gam­ing groups. My brain and spir­it love to roll around in what you cre­ate.

You’ve made my world bet­ter. You inspire me to be a bet­ter writer, and a bet­ter human.

All the love,
Kath

 

Retrospective 2016

[This post was delet­ed by a hack­er.  Look­ing to restore it. — KN]

From Now On

 

The elec­tion of the 45th Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States did not go as I antic­i­pat­ed, or hoped.  In the two weeks fol­low­ing D.T.‘s elec­tion, we’ve seen a swell in hate crimes, the appoint­ing of white nation­al­ists to chief cab­i­net posi­tions, and a promise to destroy insti­tu­tions which serve all peo­ple in the US, not just the rich.

The call to hide, to keep our heads down, is entic­ing.  But I can’t do it.  I’ve nev­er been good at stay­ing silent.  I’m too old now to shut up.  You get what you get.

 

Wise words from a wise woman.

Wise words from a wise woman.

 

Toni Mor­ri­son wrote these words when W. was reelect­ed.  You can (and real­ly should) read the whole inter­view HERE.

I’m still processing/grieving/railing against the elec­tion results.  I hope to have more words soon.  But I’ve been think­ing of you, all of you, and what kind of world we want to have … and how we fight for it in the com­ing months and years.  One way is with our art.

Be well, speak out, stand strong, cre­ate.

KN

 

 

 

Season’s Turning

 

May your heart be as light .…

 

Sum­mer is wan­ing.  In the morn­ings, the geese cry to each oth­er as they turn their atten­tion to warmer climes.  The days grow short­er, the sun­shine tak­ing on a fad­ed, old-gold cast.  The flow­ers in my gar­den are long gone, their seed pods spread­ing their trea­sures in the hopes that spring will be a lush one. An equinox looms on the hori­zon.

Usu­al­ly the end of sum­mer tugs a cord of sad­ness in me, and I begin my qui­et spi­ral into sea­son­al depres­sion.  This year, I’m feel­ing the oppo­site.  It feels as if I’ve emerged from the sum­mer of end­ings.  Now I get to rest, to qui­et­ly cre­ate, to look toward what is instead of what is not.

This sum­mer was hard for me, for many.  I lost a friend to can­cer.  I said good­bye to a fur­ry com­pan­ion of 15 years.  Oth­er pets were in and out of the vet’s with too much reg­u­lar­i­ty.  A few friends lost fam­i­ly mem­bers.  A few friends had seri­ous health con­cerns.  So many across the world were vic­tims of dead­ly hate and mal­ice.  And our US pol­i­tics spun out of con­trol.  Friends still argue, divi­sive, about who should take the reins of our gov­ern­ment.

More per­son­al­ly, the words came grudg­ing­ly, and I had to fight every sen­tence before it would let me con­sign it to a page.  It felt like a dust bowl sum­mer, where noth­ing thrived save the heat and the wind, the empti­ness and the nev­er-end­ing grit.

So the cool­er weath­er and soft­er light feels like a bless­ing, an open­ing.  It feels like an oppor­tu­ni­ty to step back into cre­ation, and car­ing, and nur­tur­ing.  The soft­ness lifts the heart a lit­tle, soothes it.  It makes way for won­der­ful new things to peep through the door.  Like a new kit­ten (lit­er­al­ly).  That’s a good thing.

One of the lessons of this sum­mer is to live with­out regrets as much as pos­si­ble.  It’s a les­son that spi­rals around and around, orbit­ing me, mak­ing sure that I don’t for­get it.  It makes me impa­tient to do more, but hap­py to at least do.  It reminds me to savor.  It gives me back my words.

I hope your sum­mers were easy and kind, full of laugh­ter and explo­ration.  I want to hear what you did in your sum­mer.  Please share your sto­ry, even a lit­tle one.

May our autumns be gen­tle and abun­dant with all that is good, true and beau­ti­ful.  May all our hearts be as light as a feath­er.

 

Literally, a kitty.

Lit­er­al­ly, a new kit­ty.

Different Lenses

 

Find Cotton Valent on Facebook @CottonGallery

The Star” by Cot­ton Valent

 

Old pho­tos tell sto­ries.  ::stage whis­per::  They steal your soul, you know.   I joke, but I do love the old­er images that show us a time oth­er than our own.  Not nec­es­sar­i­ly bet­ter, but dif­fer­ent.  Old let­ters tell sto­ries, too, through the paper they’re writ­ten on, the hand­writ­ing, the ink, and of course the con­tents.  Tak­en alto­geth­er and they open a win­dow onto anoth­er time and place, a time of ideas we’ve lost, and mind­sets lim­it­ed by what we didn’t yet know, or were unwill­ing to grasp. We are giv­en the chance to expe­ri­ence life, for the span of the pages, through another’s eyes.

For me, tarot cards open win­dows as well.  I had a ton of them at one point — 35 or so decks–which, look­ing back, seems exces­sive. I guess I felt it was exces­sive then, too, as I gave most away. They should be loved and used.  No point in hord­ing, or keep­ing things in a box.  I feel this way about any­thing “col­lectible” whether rare or not.  You won’t do any­thing with it once you’re dead.  May as well enjoy it.

A few years ago I put away my tarot decks.  Stacked them neat­ly in a tray in their wraps, then let them col­lect dust.  There “wasn’t time” for them, and I wasn’t read­ing for any­one any­more, even myself.  I had no more ques­tions to ask.  Life was life, and you take it as it comes, and you make things work.

I some­times drift away from a pas­sion to nev­er real­ly pick it up again.  I’m famous for dab­bling.  Or–as some­one once told me–I take in all I can from some­thing, and when it no longer nour­ish­es, I slough it off, like a snake does its skin, then move on.  I thought that was a very gra­cious way of putting it.  In this case, how­ev­er, it didn’t feel true.

Last week, I met with two friends who also do the tarot thing.  Before we met, I pulled out a few decks to see if I want­ed to take any of them with me on the vis­it.

In going through the dif­fer­ent cards, I felt I was throw­ing back the cur­tains on a win­dow, exchang­ing my black-and-white view to one of col­or and bird­song.  I had a sense of com­ing home again.

I most­ly used tarot for inspi­ra­tion and sto­ry­telling, for clar­i­fi­ca­tion, insight, and even focus.  And when I call them win­dows, I real­ly mean lenses–often 78 dif­fer­ent lens­es in each deck.  They remind me of the gels I used to use when doing light­ing design back in long ago.  The light fix­tures we used were always the same, but by plac­ing a dif­fer­ent col­ored or tex­tured gel front of the beam, it changed the way we saw what was on stage.  Mood, focus, dri­ve, sub­text all changed with the use of a gel.  And that’s how tarot works for me.  I have a sub­ject I’d like to see revealed or enhanced, or what­ev­er my focus is … and the card gives me a new way of view­ing it, of con­sid­er­ing it.  Pret­ty much as sim­ple as that.  There are oth­er ways of using them, of course.  This just hap­pens to be mine.

For twen­ty years I’d used them.  Some of these decks are old friends.  They fit my puny hands.  There’s a whis­per­ing *whuf­fle* as they’re shuf­fled togeth­er, a worn soft­ness to their edges from repeat­ed use.  The col­ors please my eyes, the illus­tra­tions intrigue, inform, reas­sure, and reveal.  I love how their depict­ed arche­types and inci­dents cov­er the whole range of human exis­tence.

I’d missed them, and not even known it.

Tarot has its lovers and its haters. For me, they’re a tool, and like all tools it depends on what you do with them.  Evil and good come from the hand which wields the tool.  It is one aspect of my life I don’t talk about much, though.  I find it’s less social­ly accept­able to read tarot cards than it is to be a role-play gamer, which is weird to me, but hey, I don’t write the social norms … I just try to change them.

I real­ized that I’d put aside my cards–my form of med­i­ta­tion and inspiration–because I’d also stopped being in a com­mu­ni­ty which val­ued such tools.  The greater world didn’t seem to have room for them, or me as a user of them.  There’s a lot of side-eye to side­step when you pull out a deck.

And that’s fear talk­ing.  I may write about social­ly unac­cept­able peo­ple, but I’ve always tried to pass as social­ly accept­able myself.  Some­how, after step­ping away from that com­mu­ni­ty, my use of the cards made me an out­lier in my own eyes, and set me up for judg­ment.

Guess whose voice was the loud­est Judgey McJudger­son?  My own.

So … all this is to say, “Just do what brings you joy.”  As long as it harms none, go for it.

As for me, I’m back to my old morn­ing rou­tine of a card with my sec­ond cof­fee, and a page of poet­ry.  It sets my brain right, starts the day with imagery and lyri­cism.   And we all need a dif­fer­ent view on the world now and then.

 

What’s your jam?  What have you giv­en up from imag­ined peer pres­sure, or the real thing?  What would you do again, if you could? What tool do you like to view the world through?

 

"Ace of Cups" The Druid Craft Tarot. Illustrated by Will Worthington

The Druid Craft Tarot. Illus­tra­tions Will Wor­thing­ton

 

Open Letter

 

From Me to You

From Me to You

 

An Open Let­ter to the peo­ple who have shared their sto­ries and their lives with me lately–mostly strangers–but also a few friends.

 

Dear­est Fel­low Human –

You may know me, or we may have only met briefly in the Star­bucks line, or through a drop-in flash­point in a game, or from a com­ment made in a Face­book group we’re both in, or stand­ing in the sun­shine on the side­walk.  But that’s okay.  How­ev­er we came togeth­er, you were hav­ing a hard time, and you need­ed a friend.  It’s good we talked.  I’m glad that when we part­ed you felt like you were heard and sup­port­ed.  I’m not always good at lis­ten­ing, so I’m glad I could be there for you in that time and place.

A lot of peo­ple I know are hav­ing a hard time right.  They’ve lost loved ones, are strug­gling with health issues, have too lit­tle mon­ey, feel out of con­trol, fear the future, strug­gle with who they are, or sim­ply are so damn tired all the time.  You’re not alone in feel­ing this way.  Truth.

After we part­ed, I wished I could have giv­en you more.  I want­ed to wrap you in a warm blan­ket, hand you a mug of hot cocoa or love­ly tea, read you a good sto­ry, and let you know things can be okay some­times, even if they’re not right now.

There are a few things I wish I could have shared with you, things I think you don’t know how to believe in, or are for­get­ting just now.  And I don’t want to sound pushy, but I hope that you will believe me, even just for a lit­tle while, as I tell you:

  1. You are worth lov­ing just as you are right now.   You Are Worth Lov­ing Just As You Are.
  2. Your sto­ry mat­ters.  You mat­ter.   I want to hear your sto­ry, in what­ev­er way you want to share it.
  3. We can’t save oth­er peo­ple, no mat­ter how much we want to. We can only love them for as long as they’re in our lives, near or far.  The only per­son you can tru­ly save/fix/change is your­self, and that’s where we need to start.
  4. You can only do your best. Some days your best will be excel­lent, and some days you’ll feel it’s not so much.  Cel­e­brate the good days, and for­give your­self the hard ones.
  5. You’re allowed to feel what­ev­er you are feel­ing, even the ones that oth­ers think are ugly.  
  6. It’s okay to ask for help. Some peo­ple won’t be able to do much, but oth­ers will.  We all suck at ask­ing, but every­one needs a hand or a hug some­times.
  7. Be kind to your­self and oth­ers as much as you can. You deserve kind­ness, and so do they.  Some­times kind­ness is hard to come by, but give and receive what you can, as you can. 

 

I don’t know if we’ll ever see each oth­er again, Fel­low Human, but thank you for shar­ing your time and your sto­ry with me, and for includ­ing me in your life for a while.  I hope it gave you at least the seeds of what you need­ed.  I wish you gen­tle days and rest­ful nights, and all hap­pi­ness in the days to come.

 

With love,

The Stranger In The Cof­fee Shop / Online / In That Game You Love / At The Park

 

Rock Band Revelation

 

Image Credit: Rock Band 4

Rock It Like You Mean It

I love music.  Most kinds.  I love every­thing from 13th cen­tu­ry chants to opera to blue­grass, big band, main­stream rock and even some metal–don’t judge, I’m expand­ing my hori­zons.  I love to sing, but only in my car or in the house when no one is around.

I used to love singing even when peo­ple could hear me.  Then, some­one whose opin­ion I held high­ly told me I didn’t have a voice worth lis­ten­ing to.  And that opin­ion was rein­forced by being involved in musi­cal the­ater where peo­ple are lit­er­al­ly judged by how well they can belt a song.  You want the best on stage.  Total­ly under­stand­able.  But I, in my angsty teenage years, heard only that my singing sucked, rather than I sim­ply wasn’t strong (or clear or what­ev­er) enough as a vocal­ist.  So I stopped singing any­where I might be judged, e.g. in pub­lic.

It’s a com­mon sto­ry.  We’re told that what we put into the world isn’t worth someone’s atten­tion, as if our joy needs to equal a prod­uct for anoth­er to con­sume.  No one ever tells us that the mon­e­ti­za­tion of some­thing doesn’t nail down the only way of express­ing or expe­ri­enc­ing that some­thing.  The mes­sage we get is, if we can’t sell it, it ain’t worth shit.

Thir­ty years pass.  No karaōke for me, no sing-alongs, just solos in my car–unless I’m super tired or tip­sy and my guard is down.

Enter the XBox game, Rock Band 2.

Stick (my daugh­ter), Red (her part­ner) and I start­ed up a band, The Face­hug­gers (we’d just fin­ished watch­ing Alien and Aliens, and we’re geeks–but you knew that).  Red is our kick-ass gui­tarist.  I’m usu­al­ly on drums.  Stick does a lot of the singing, except when the game toss­es out a tune from before she was born … then it falls to me. That ver­sion of Rock Band was pret­ty for­giv­ing about how you played, how you sang.  Ener­gy wasn’t need­ed.  You could whis­per or meow your way through a song as long as you hit the beats and phras­ing, so I could hide even as I was singing.  It takes a cer­tain amount of tal­ent to be self-effac­ing when you’ve got a mic up to your face.

This win­ter, we splurged for the newest ver­sion, Rock Band 4, and every­thing changed.  Now the score is based part­ly on how much ener­gy you put into your per­for­mance.  You can’t tap the drums light­ly, you have to play them HARD.  You can’t mere­ly breathe your songs into the mic. The best scores come from rock­ing it like you mean it. And we’re all com­pet­i­tive enough to want the high scores. We have a tour bus to earn and fans to win!

I had to put up, stop play­ing, or fail out of the game, and no one wants to be a los­er in front of their kids.  So I put up, let loose and belt­ed out an old Pat Benatar rock bal­lad.  And it was glo­ri­ous­ly fun!  In that moment, I had a rev­e­la­tion.  We live so much of our lives ashamed for being nor­mal, ashamed of not being what’s reflect­ed in our media.  I know so many peo­ple who won’t sing in public–it’s not just me–or write, or draw, or gar­den, or sew, or any­thing, real­ly, because they fear deri­sion.  They have joys they keep in the clos­et.

Who are these neb­u­lous gate keep­ers who get to deter­mine how we find our hap­pi­ness?  If we take joy in what we do, what we put into the world as play, as self-expres­sion, isn’t that what is impor­tant?

So sing out, I chal­lenge you. Give your­self per­mis­sion to do what makes you hap­py how­ev­er much you can.  Sing out loud and long.  Paint, dance, yodel, write, role-play, act, build, cre­ate … what­ev­er light­ens your heart.  And for your own joy’s sake, break it out of the clos­et and rock it like you mean it!

See you on the high score list!

 

A New Hope

 

No, not that one, not Star Wars Ep. IV, though it qual­i­fies.

I’m talk­ing about the feel­ing that comes from expe­ri­enc­ing a sto­ry with a Hap­py End­ing™.   Not even a Hap­pi­ly Ever After™ end­ing, but sim­ply the hero­ine-pre­vails-in-her-quest end­ing, what­ev­er that quest may be.  It brings sat­is­fac­tion that wrongs have been right­ed, jus­tice pre­vails, and the wor­thy find love.  In oth­er sto­ries, some­thing intrin­sic to the human con­di­tion endures, and we, or those impor­tant to us, will be able to par­take of it.

I remem­ber how ter­ri­ble the last half of 2001 was.   The US was attacked on Sep­tem­ber 11th, and then we took war to the Mid­dle East.  So much pain and nation­al anx­i­ety.  At the end of the year, for the hol­i­days, Warn­er Bros. released Har­ry Pot­ter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  It was a fun movie, I’ll grant you, full of good per­for­mances by actors I enjoyed.  But what hit me like a blow was how much hope it instilled in me at the end.  I wept as the cred­its rolled.  It was all out of pro­por­tion to the movie itself, but I felt that if Pot­ter could over­come his tri­als and tribu­la­tions, then we, as adults and as a coun­try, could sure­ly emerge from the pain and hatred and fear we were snarled in.  I felt hope again for our world.

That’s some good, heart-tug­ging sto­ry­telling.

Maybe at that time, I just need­ed to believe in the pos­si­bil­i­ty of hap­py end­ings, and that–like young Sky­walk­er, and the hope he embodied–the sun­set would be fol­lowed by a new, bet­ter day.

 

Epic yearning!

Epic yearn­ing!

Hap­py End­ings aren’t an Amer­i­can inven­tion, but we do tend to eat them up.  I sort of blame Disney–or maybe Frank Capra–and I’m sort of not kid­ding.  They’re hard to get away from, and I some­times won­der if we do our­selves a dis­ser­vice by not embrac­ing more ambi­gu­i­ty as the cur­tains fall.  Ambi­gu­i­ty makes us dig for the hope we want, makes us exam­ine pos­si­bil­i­ties.  End­ing with uncer­tain­ty is less like hot choco­late and Milano cook­ies on a cold winter’s night, and more like a meaty borscht–complex and nour­ish­ing, but we have to work to get it in the bowl, and we often are unsure of the ingre­di­ents.  Ambi­gu­i­ty makes us won­der what’s next?  Hap­py End­ings rarely do.

All this is to say that I won­der about the sto­ries we, as a peo­ple, tell.  I won­der in our com­mu­nal psy­che demands the reas­sur­ance and cer­tain­ty of a Hap­py End­ing, even when we know they’re rarely “real”.  I won­der which sto­ries give us the tool to find our way through this crazy world, and if it’s sim­ply a mat­ter of hav­ing our Milano cook­ies along side our borscht.

What kind of end­ings do you crave?  Which ones sat­is­fy you?  What do you want from your sto­ries?  Inquir­ing minds wan­na know.

 

"Delicious ambiguity." -- Gilda Radner

Deli­cious ambi­gu­i­ty.” — Gil­da Rad­ner

 

Put On Your Red Shoes

My mantra for 2016.

If this post was a car, imag­ine that I start­ed it up, and while I left it to do its engine-warm­ing thing, some­one hijacked it and drove it clear out of town.  The hijack­er was Life … or real­ly, her nec­es­sary-evil broth­er, Mor­tal­i­ty.

Last week was rough, and not just for me.   The world lost two icons, David Bowie and Alan Rick­man, and I lost a dear friend.  Almost lost my dog, too–no joke–but Alis­tair Rock­et Dog is one very lucky pooch.

Every­thing that lives dies.  We all face it.  Par­ents, lovers, friends, chil­dren, strangers, pets.  The deserv­ing and unde­serv­ing.  The old and the young and those in between.  We who are left behind–and every­one has some­one who is left behind–struggle with survivor’s guilt, tan­gled in the dark­ness pour­ing through the gap­ing wound in our lives.  We com­bat the dark­ness with only star­dust and mem­o­ries.  Frag­ile, intan­gi­ble things.

But this is the truth I hold to: We all get one life, whether it’s brief as a flick­er­ing can­dle or as long as a cen­tu­ry.  We don’t get to know in advance what our allot­ment will be, but we all get a por­tion of feel­ing air in our lungs, and hear­ing the susurra­tion of blood through our veins.  Some­times life sucks.  But we get one, and if we’re lucky enough to make it to some sem­blance of adult­hood, we get a say in how ours goes.

We have choice.  Some­times it’s not much of one, but it is choice.  And this is the ques­tion of all our lives: What do you choose?

To quote part of my favorite poem, “The Sum­mer Day” by the sub­lime Mary Oliv­er:

 

Doesn’t every­thing die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and pre­cious life?

 

Read the full poem.  Go ahead.  I’ll be here.

I think of Bowie and Rick­man and my friend.  Their day-to-days were very dif­fer­ent, and yet all were full of cre­ativ­i­ty and courage.  Despite what­ev­er fears crowd­ed their minds, what­ev­er lim­i­ta­tions were placed on them by oth­ers, they stepped into who they were from minute-to-minute and year-to-year.  They did what they loved, and sur­round­ed them­selves with the peo­ple and work which gave them joy.  Then they shared that joy with the rest of the world.  What a fan­tas­tic lega­cy!

I hope that’s what we do–step into our joy, and share that joy with oth­ers.  We only get a brief time on this amaz­ing ball of rock in this splen­did galaxy, and there’s only one of each of us.  Whether you’re a butch­er or bak­er or can­dle­stick mak­er, you’re the only you that will ever be in the entire his­to­ry of the uni­verse.  Live your life as rich­ly as you can, with all the love and pain and won­der as you can hold.

I know it’s eas­i­er said than done.  I do, I know.  But when my life is over, I don’t want to sigh and regret and think, “I could have, but I was too afraid.”  I don’t want to have mere­ly exist­ed, trapped in the shell that fear wrought.

Fear lies.  It tells us we can’t.  It tells us we shouldn’t.  It feeds us rea­sons to not.

 

Fear is a liar

It real­ly tru­ly is.

 

We don’t have time to “not”.  Don’t let fear win.

Shine on, my love­ly, glo­ri­ous friends.  Be brave with your­self, be bold. Remem­ber that every­thing starts small.  Take one step, then take anoth­er.  Shine your unique, weird and won­der­ful light, and I’ll do my best to shine mine.  I hope togeth­er we light up the sky for what­ev­er time is giv­en us.

My small step is to write every day, regard­less of depres­sion or mood or sub­ject.  What’s your small step?  What will you do with your one wild and pre­cious life?

Put on your red shoes.  Let’s dance.

Digging to Hell

Digging to Hell

Stu­dents stare into hole to Hell.

Heav­en and Hell. When I was younger, I believed.

I had a friend, Eri­ca, raised on fire and brim­stone. Eri­ca would come to school with ter­ri­fy­ing sto­ries from Sun­day school about del­uges, eter­nal damna­tion, glow­ing cas­tles in the clouds, and peo­ple with wings. We decid­ed to go see these things.

After long dis­cus­sions (includ­ing dia­grams), we deter­mined Heav­en was out of the ques­tion. Being up in the sky, we would need stacks of lad­ders, tied togeth­er one atop anoth­er. Lad­ders weren’t prac­ti­cal to acquire or hide from the recess lady. But for down, all we’d need were a few sand­box shov­els and pails. Hell it was.

Unable to con­vince the sand­box kids to give us their shov­els and unwill­ing to explain to the teach­ers that we need­ed shov­els because we were dig­ging to Hell, we used sticks.

The site of our dig was behind the school lunch­room in a chain-link enclosed area where the grass nev­er grew. Back in the cor­ner, away from tree roots, we dug in peace.

Occa­sion­al­ly we’d mea­sure our work. I’d lay down in the hole, and wig­gle around a bit. Then Eri­ca would lay in it and tried it on for size. Sat­is­fied, we con­tin­ued our fren­zied dig­ging. As we dug inch­es deep­er and deep­er, we dis­cussed what we thought Hell looked like and what we’d do once we got there.

Once we got there, we need­ed spe­cial flame-retar­dant out­fits to pro­tect us from Hell’s fire. On rainy-day recess, we designed paper­dolls to mod­el our patch­work asbestos jump­suits. We talked strat­e­gy for hid­ing from demons (the jump­suits had chameleon pow­ers). We made demon paper­dolls for iden­ti­fi­ca­tion.

At first, our activ­i­ties went unno­ticed. We were hap­py, con­tent, and stay­ing out of trou­ble. Two lit­tle kids dig­ging in the dirt, no big deal. Then one day Cindy with her blond pig­tails and pink jumper showed up at our hole. “What are you play­ing? I want to play.”

We lied. “We’re dig­ging for dinosaurs. Don’t need help. Go away.”

She tat­tled.

Eri­ca and I received a stern lec­ture about shar­ing, hav­ing more than one friend, and play­ing nice­ly togeth­er. With the recess lady watch­ing we let Cindy play with us as we pre­tend­ed to dig for dinosaurs.

Cindy talked con­stant­ly about her dinosaur. “Look at mine! It’s the biggest one! Big­ger than yours! It’s a new dinosaur. No one knows about. It’s pur­ple. My dinosaur is the best dinosaur. Bet­ter than all the oth­er dinosaurs. I’m going to be famous.”

That was it. This was our hole. Not hers. She didn’t get to be the best. So we told her the truth.

We’re not dig­ging for dinosaurs. We’re dig­ging to hell. Yeah. HELL. And you’re help­ing. When we get to HELL, we go first because we know how to fight demons. We’ll try not to let them eat you, but they might. Your job is to close the hole behind us, so the demons, from HELL, don’t come through and EAT EVERYONE YOU LOVE!”

Cindy’s lips quiv­ered. “Hell? Demons? Eat me?”

Cindy ran cry­ing to the recess lady. “They’re dig­ging to HELL and demons are going to eat every­one I love and Idon’twanttogeteaten!”

Sud­den­ly, half a dozen teach­ers stood around the hole star­ing down at as.

This was a semi-Catholic Montes­sori school. They couldn’t have their kids dig­ging to Hell! We could read about it in the Bible, learn about it in Sun­day school, but we couldn’t actu­al­ly try and /get/ there! They imme­di­ate­ly stopped all exca­va­tion.

At least at school.

Hell Exca­va­tion Site #2 at my house was a great suc­cess. But after a cou­ple months we real­ized Hell was a lot deep­er down than four feet and nei­ther one of us real­ly want­ed to dig that far. So we filled the hole with water and played in the mud instead.

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