here are the photos where you smiled

your freshly cut hair fluffed up
around your face, held to your magnetic
pull like the mechanics of static cling.

here is where my memory gets faulty,
dancing around the pearl-dotted grass
beneath trees, refusing, in its soft way—
to acknowledge a less rosy retrospection.

here is where the night closes in.
I remember this best because I was afraid.
there are few pictures of this time, and a
sadistic part of me wishes I hadn’t hidden
myself away.

here is where the moon stretches over the tress, and
awakes something in my heart that yearns without knowing
why.

here is where the story ends, as all good stories do (and like all
good stories, I suppose it goes on in the mind of the listener for an uncertain
infinity, taking up as much blooded space
as the heart needs.)

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Camp NaNoWriMo: Week One

Just a week ago, I set off on a new writing challenge: Camp NaNoWriMo. For those who don’t know, Camp NaNo follows the same concept as NaNoWriMo in November, except 1) it’s held two times a year and is much less formal and on a smaller scale in terms of participants, and 2) unlike during NaNo proper, when the goal is pretty solidly to write 50K words within the month, in Camp NaNo, your goal can be whatever you want to make it. Whether you wanted to write 25K on a project you’ve already started, work on edited something you’ve finished, Camp NaNoWriMo is a great chance to kick your ass into just getting on with it already and making time! This year is my first year doing Camp NaNo, so I’m thinking I’ll write at least a couple blog posts through the course of it to detail my progress.

I decided to write 40,000 words (just a little under normal NaNo standards) in a new book, the third in the fledgling trilogy I’ve been working on, so that once I’m finished, I can edit them all in one go. 40K will equal out to about 10K words a week, which is doable but also requires dedication. When I’m working on a novel, I generally like to write about 10K/week to keep the world alive and urgent in my head, so it’s a pace I’ve done before and one I’m comfortable with.

But boy, did I ever not feel ready this time around. I wanted to get this slightly outlined, and it’s not at all outlined, I thought. Maybe I should wait until July’s camp session and do it then.

EXCUSES, EXCUSES, EXCUSES. Knowing myself, I wouldn’t have had anything more accomplished or felt any more ready had I waited until July. So, I woke up April 1st feeling like the biggest April fool ever, and stared at my computer screen after making a new document. Luckily, I’d left myself in a pretty good place to pick up after book 2, so I got my first 650 words super easy. I felt encouraged, and for once like what I had down was pretty good (so rare for a lot of us, I know). I was even excited for day 2.

Day 2 and 3 went well, but that was probably more due to the fact that I had work those first three days, and only got down around 500 words before working all day. It was when I hit my days off, and I had all this time, and a lot of catching up to do, that things got more difficult.

I would say the best part of NaNo so far, with one week gone and 10,000 words under my belt (can it be that much already??) is that the story hasn’t come too hard so far. I’ve tried plotting ahead a little, which is unusual for me, and at some point soon the story’s about to be a BITCH because I will hit a black hole of HOLY FUCK WHAT NOW, but at this very moment in time: we’re good. We’ve got material, and we’re slowly rolling on.

The worst part is that I honestly doubt everything about most of that 10,000 words. Am I getting across what I want to get across? Are my characters consistent and as alive as they were in the last two books? It’s a clusterfuck of self-doubt. I often think I’m repeating myself too much, using too many adjectives, putting in scenes I don’t need, etc. etc. And as someone who does  not like to do MAJOR editing if I can help it, this concerns me.  Basically my frame of mind here at quarter mast is this: I’m so shocked the words are coming to me this easy! Wait…are the words coming easy only because they’re shit? They’re shit, aren’t they? xD

A couple of things that have helped me write so far:

  • Giving myself little, mini time limits. Or, super-long word sprints. Word crawls, if you will. “I’m going to write 500 words FOR SURE in the next hour, no excuses” And then 500 the next, and the next, ad nauseum. I’m usually really good about enforcing this time of thing on myself, since realistically if you’re writing religiously, 500 words is so little to write in an hour…but I’ve always been on the slower side and I am always taking time out on twitter or to procrastinate, so I always JUST make the time limit and feel that little rush of exhilaration. If I have time left in the hour, I’ll get up, listen to music, get something to eat, anything really- just to take a short break as a reward.
  • THIS MUG.
    (lately I have been loving the NaNo mugs- I got one back in November too. I LOVE the design on this one, I bought it as soon as I saw it, in March, so that I’ll have it all month to write with :D)
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               glorious fuel receptacle

Is anyone else doing Camp NaNo this month? Maybe in July? I’d like to hear about whatever projects you have planned!

{C}

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March reads

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Why is this called March reads, you may ask? It’s friggin’ April!! Well, you’re right. But I’m going to be painfully honest. I didn’t read much in March. All of TWO BOOKS in fact. So I’m going to start my first installment of weekly reviews with the last MONTH’S worth :P. It’s worth noting that I read both of these books for book clubs I belong to (and finished NEITHER of them in time for the actual club meeting, FAIL). But since they were book club books, they were both picked out by people other than me, which I always find interesting. LET’S SEE WHAT I THOUGHT, shall we??

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

4 stars

Fun fact: I started reading this book on my 26th birthday. Fun Fact #2: Cheryl  was also 26 when she started out on the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail), an account of which she gives in this book.

I found this story overall inspiring. I didn’t have anything approaching Cheryl’s tumultuous past, but my mother also died when I was around the same age hers did, and it also left me feeling lost in a lot of ways, many of which I have yet to resolve. The nerviness of setting out on the trail with no experience and no companions, staggered me. It’s the type of thing I like to think I could do but very much doubt I could- but knowing this is a real-life account and that she did in fact succeed in what she set out to do is what makes it inspiring. I thought the way Strayed mixed some of the stories from her past and memories of her mother into the story instead of giving us it all in one was very effective and organic, like she told it as she felt it or as it was relevant along her journey.

Probably the worst part of this book for me was just the fact that there were a little too many parts where I could just set the book down, forget about it and not come back to it for a while. I would get bored with one part that seemed to stretch on a little too long, and I’d give up for a while. A lot of that is personal taste though- I have a brother who’s super into hiking and he also read this book and told me it took him two days to fly through it. As for me, it took around fifty straight pages of reading to get me to really READ with fixed concentration.  For such a short book, it took me quite a while to get through it.

(Also, I realize how dumb this one is, but she starts her journey with a fresh tattoo, and as a tattooed person myself, I wondered how the hell she managed to care for it/keep it from getting infected on the trip. SO off-point, but still xD)

My favorite part of it was the fact that there was no solid “Moral of the Story”. It was an honest account of something one woman set out to do and succeeded in doing. It changed her along the way, but she doesn’t go into extreme detail over how it changed her, how it resolved all her issues or any of that other cheesy shit. I liked and HELLA appreciated how real it was. The solitude of her final nights and the joy and sadness in knowing they were her last, the high at the end of her great test of will, and then the ‘what now’ moment after. I panicked a little with her whenever she ran so low on money she couldn’t even buy a drink, and especially when she met the two sleazy men towards the end of the trail.

So even though there were several parts where I became bored, at the end of it- which I read considerably faster- I came out feeling empowered and just really *good*. I think I was meant to read this book when I did so I’m glad the book club assigned it. I’m curious as to what the movie is like, though I’m always wary about that sort of thing 😛

Cain’s Blood by Geoffrey Girard

3.5 stars

I don’t often read books like this- all the reviews on the back cover kept comparing it to Michael Crichton, but since I’ve never read anything by Michael Crichton the comparison was lost on me. This did remind me of Thomas Harris and a little bit of Stephen King, both authors I’ve very much enjoyed, in the way it was written.

One of my least favorite things about this book was how Jeff, the ‘good’ clone of Jeffrey Dahmer who helps Castillo throughout, appeared to have almost no personality. I wanted there to be more of him, just more…emotion in general, and I wanted him to get angry more often than he did because honestly any normal kid would be LOSING IT just a little. I wondered for a bit if it was to distinguish him thoroughly from the other kids, who turned into the monsters they were raised to be. Then around the time we find out he was cloned as an older boy with no real childhood memories, I wondered if that might be the reason for his unusual passiveness and I hated it just a little less xD. (There is another book by Girard called Project Cain from Jeff’s point of view, and I’m wondering if his character is a little more complex/interesting in that one than it was here). In any event, you still end up feeling for him with all he goes through because DAMN.

One of my favorite things about this book was the crazy fuck Dr. Jacobson’s actual murky reasons for doing his experiments. I found the fact that it was really about him in the end very true to the human condition. He believes from an early age that he is either related to or is somehow an incarnation of Jack the Ripper (even though the latest research shows he probably ISN’T), and wants to prove to himself that this is just a part of his nature and is therefore inevitable.

I was really, really impressed with the ingenuity of the idea behind this book. Not only was it terrifying to think that this organization is making clones of all the world’s worst serial killers, as well as human-creature hybrids from the same DNA, but to think that this is all within the realm of possibility, that human cloning and testing could come to be used in such an immoral way in the future of the world- that’s where the real horror comes in.

For info on my rating system, or for info on how to rec me something to read, go to my reviews page (tab up top or link here)

{C}

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dusk, and how it speaks

the dull setting of peace drives bones to
outer limits, drives mind to tired
port.
eyes snap open, color flooding back
to observe the westering sun.
(do we grow old, eyes closing like
withered leaves in their time of dying
as we sleep, falling limply to a swollen
ground?)

I am no one’s great love, nor have
my hands built castles,
nor has my face taken them down.
I am not the long-winded muse
speaking softly and cruelly into the poet’s
ear; I am not the wind in the east,
shifting to knock against the madman’s door,
the shadow rising from the alcoholic’s
wall.

I am only the drifting,
one solitary flurry-flake, moving at a wanderer’s pace,
across the land, to be extinguished
upon touch.

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news, reviews, and recommendations!

First, some good news. It is TWO-FOLD.

  • I had A Dewdrop Away reviewed on Reader’s Favorite and I managed to wangle a five-star out of them! (I should clarify that this does not mean I bribed them, just that 5 stars was a pleasant surprise) ❤ Here’s the beauteous review in all its glory: https://readersfavorite.com/book-review/a-dewdrop-away
  • I had two of my poems published in Verse-Virtual, an online literary magazine/community of writers. Look at my stuff here:  http://www.verse-virtual.com/ca-allen-2015-april.html  (also, check out the rest of the April issue, there are some GREAT poets contributing this time around.) What makes Verse-Virtual really special is that with each accepted submission, you’re given a little author bio of the poet and an email address, and then encouraged to contact them to tell them what you think of their work. I think this is AWESOME, and there is far too little of that type of community among writers.

Now to the task at hand. Fact of the matter is, I got up this morning and finished a book, popped on Goodreads to review it and realized I am a staggering 10 or so books behind my goal (100). NOOOOO. This is not acceptable. I’ve read only 14/100 books and 10 of those were manga (which, let’s face it, don’t take a very long time to blow through) So, I’ve sucked at reading so far this year. WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT. That’s when I had the brilliant idea to actually act on my idea to review books here more frequently.

I’m aiming to review whatever books I’ve read during the week, once a week, on this blog. This is to encourage myself (kick my ass) into trying to get through at least a book a week. Though no one should be expecting my reviews to be ‘professional’ by far, I would like to have at least some sort of rating code to refer to. Which brings me to this:

I hate rating books.

In fact, for a very long time, I stayed away from Goodreads BECAUSE I hate rating books. What a book means to me is so hard to define and sometimes even shifts with time. It is also, so, so SUBJECTIVE. All the same, since I do a lot of reviews of books I read here, I decided to formulate a rating system that works okay for me. Remember, this isn’t really objectively about how good the book really was, how ‘quality’ in terms of literature, just about how engaged I got with it and how I personally felt. I make no claims that you’ll like every book I rate high—what was a five star for me might be a two star for another person, and so on.

Also, you will find that I never rate a book below 3 stars. This is because quite frankly, if I don’t like a book on at least a three star level, I won’t continue reading it. Life’s too short, and there are so many books on my too-read list already, it gives me anxiety, which would only be amplified if I felt like I had to finish every book I started.

So every book I rate/review here is a book I personally liked on some level, though I will also give any negatives as well in order to make it well-rounded. ALSO, there will probably be spoilers, though I’ll try to keep them of more of a minor nature.

Here’s the key to what each rating means for me:

3 stars: May have been a bit cheesy/cliche, and perhaps had more 2d characters than anything else, but was overall a good, swift read with a decently intriguing plot.

4 stars: Might be slow-paced or clunky at times, but very emotionally resonant and/or thought-provoking and keen. Usually a few good well-rounded characters at least with an intriguing plot.

5 stars: can’t put it down, resonant and thought-provoking, will think about this book for a long time after reading. Lots of excellent, interesting characters, fantastic plot.

I also rate 3.5 (between a 3 and a 4) and 4.5 (between a 4 and a 5) : )

Poetry is a little different and a lot simpler. I don’t rate half-stars.

3 stars: LOVED several of the poems, liked a few more

4 stars: LOVED about half of the poems, liked a lot more

5 stars: LOVED most of the poems

I am wide open to reading suggestions– To give you an idea of what I like, I read a lot of fantasy, a lot of ‘contemporary’ fiction, some memoir, some horror/speculative stuff, psychological thrillers, and poetry. I’m not super into sci-fi, teen/YA fiction, crime thrillers, or nonfiction, but hey, there are always exceptions. If you read a book, any book, and fell in love with it, and maybe want to hear my blathering thoughts on it, shoot me an email at the address I’ve mentioned below!

Also, if you’re an independent author and you’ve written a book you feel I might like, go ahead and rec. it to me! I’ll try and give anything I’m recced a shot, and I’ll review everything I finish reading here. If you don’t see a review of your book here, it could be because a) I haven’t got to it  yet. My reading list is monstrous, OR b) I tried it and it just wasn’t my thing (this does NOT mean it was bad, just that I wasn’t personally digging it). Please don’t inquire about it. If I do read and review your book, I will let you know right away when the post with the review is up! : )

Please send any recs to c.a.allen@cox.net with the subject line “BOOK RECOMMENDATION YOU FOOL” in all caps so I don’t miss it (I consider the “you fool” part necessary, though “knave” and “scoundrel” are also acceptable, as well as other villainous titles- points for creativity!). All I need in the actual email is the name of the author, the title of the book, and maybe a link of where I can find it. A brief summary of why you recommend it is great if you’re feeling inspired but it’s absolutely not necessary. Also include the best way I can reach you to let you know if I’ve reviewed your recommendation.

Disclaimer: I can’t promise any review I write will be particularly professional or polished. They are my thoughts as a nosy, nerdy reader first, a writer second… and a critic third. But at the very least I hope they’re amusing for you, and if I do review a book YOU wrote, I’d be more than happy to repost it to any media/sites you like (Goodreads, Amazon, etc.), just ask!

And finally: You will also find I’ve put all this info up on a separate page, entitled “MY REVIEWS”, so that it can be referred to for….future reference?

{C}

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“Why are your characters squirrels?”

“Oh, you’re an author? What do you write?”

“Fantasy.  Adventure.”

“Oh, what’s it about?”

“Well, the characters are squirrels who…”

Usually one of three things goes down after this part, which always feels ridiculously like an embarrassing confession to me as the words leave my mouth.

  1. “Oh. So are they for kids?”
  2. Silence, maybe a vague chuckle or a “That’s interesting.”
  3. “Why squirrels?

My answers to all of the above:

  1. They are for everyone.
  2. Just smile.
  3. It’s a long story.

I don’t mean long as in complex, but often I have trouble coming up with a really solid, concise answer to this. Truthfully, squirrels were what popped into my head when I was coming up with the idea, but perhaps it would help to know when exactly it was that I first conceived the idea for A Dewdrop Away.

I was in late middle school. I was an avid reader. And up until about high school, most of my favorite books featured animals as the main characters. Hence, a lot of the characters I made up in my head were, you guessed it, also animals.

I decided I wanted to use this post to highlight what I consider probably the five most influential books/series behind my inspiration for Dewdrop. (order is not necessarily priority; they’re simply laid out in the order I can remember reading them, from first to last.)

1. the Redwall series by Brian Jacques.

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This was probably the first longer, chunkier series I picked up around the age of 8. I made quick work of devouring every single book available, and the best part was, more kept coming out. I was reading these books from elementary through high school and I enjoyed every single installment, though some stick out as my favorites: the original Redwall novel, as well as Mossflower, Mattimeo, Martin the Warrior, The Outcast of Redwall, and The Bellmaker. I’ve never read another series quite like this to date: the characters are so vivid and human. Each species of animal in the Redwall series had its own particular flavor, or stereotypical personality associated with it, though there was occasionally breakage of these perceptions. There were stereotypically ‘good’ animals- mice, squirrels, otters, badgers, etc. , and bad animals, or ‘vermin’- weasels, stoats, foxes, ferrets, rats. The concept of prejudice due to a species’ reputation and of animals who fought battles of good versus evil just as humans do in stories- complete with swords, castles, and quests- ensnared me, and the world of Arborand with its different ‘races’ of squirrels and the conflicts they face was for sure influenced by the magical world Jacques created.

2. The Poppy series by Avi (illustrated by Brian Floca)

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Oh boy. I started buying these through my elementary school’s scholastic book club, and I got hooked.  They’re short books with simple stories and in each the heroine, Poppy, is pitted against a different, much larger and more formidable enemy- like the evil owl Ocax in Poppy and some real asshole beavers in Poppy and Rye. I can’t put my finger on what exactly made these books so great, so compulsively readable, but I loved them so much that one of my first attempts at writing my own story was almost an exact copy of the Poppy books. The main character comes from a troubled colony, has to deal with leaving home on her own, and even had a little earring in one ear and had a sassy mockingbird companion that was obviously a fill in for Ereth the porcupine. What can I say, I was really good at hiding my muse xD.

3. The Rats of NIMH series by Robert C. O’Brien and Jane Leslie Conly

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I can’t remember exactly when I started reading these books, but I actually read them twice, and it’s rare for me to read a series twice through, no matter HOW much I like it. The second time I borrowed the audio tapes from my library and listened to it on the floor of my room with my younger brother. They were dark and gritty and perfect, and I loved the community of laboratory rats living free in the wild with their human technologies, and the story of the inner conflict among them and their liberation from the lab at NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health) which had been experimenting on them.

4. Watership Down by Richard Adams

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It’s a classic, and there’s GOOD REASON. The mission is simple: for Hazel and his group to find a new warren to call home, but their way is fraught with danger, and a lot of their world as rabbits is out of their control, dictated by the mostly invisible presence of human beings. This story was dark, disturbing and heart-warming all in one breath, and it’s one I will never forget…as I write this I realize I need to reread it. The 1978 movie was also amazing.

 5. The Deptford Mice trilogy by Robin Jarvis

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Another darker, more gritty series that centers in book one around mice living underground in the city, then moves to the country in The Crystal Prison. I went through these books in a matter of days after finding the first one in a bookstore in Maine. You forget that these mice are mice. They struggle with superstition, prejudice and fear of “the other”, as well as a dark presence naming itself god. This trilogy also had amazing illustrations to match the unsettling tone.

You forget, in all of these stories, that the characters are animals. They aren’t stories about fluffy little creatures existing in their natural habitats. They are stories about and for people, with deeply human themes, and somehow I feel that the fact they’re told through the eyes of small animals makes that impact stronger. Some other books I loved and read growing up involving animals which didn’t quite make the list are the Silverwing series by Kenneth Oppel, the Hermux Tantamoq Adventures by Michael Hoeye, A Rat’s Tale by Tor Seidler, and The School Mouse by Dick King-Smith (this last of which I took from my school library so many times I think they wondered why I didn’t just have my parents buy it).

So why squirrels? That’s why. I hope you took a seat 😛

Hope you’re all well and I’ll see you next week!

{C}

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journals, diaries, and poetry, oh my!

I’ve always been a little obsessed with handwriting journal/diary hybrids, books where I’d talk about my day and daily dramas and then suddenly launch into discussion of some bigger, deeper theme out of nowhere. I started when I was around 11 or 12 and continued (albeit very intermittently) into my twenties.

I’m a very all or nothing type of person- I’m either doing something 110% or I’m not doing it at all. (so if I ever miss posting on this blog, expect not to hear from me for another year. JUST KIDDING…I think). Journals were no exception to this rule. I wanted my entries to be daily, though of course they never were. All my old journals are full of maybe 3-7 day periods where I’d write daily and then a silence that could last days, weeks, or even months before resuming again. Sometimes I’d even try to summarize everything that happened for these silent gaps in the next entry, usually precluded by a “It’s been FOREVER!!” (It’s at the very least, amusing stuff, especially the teen journals. Ah, the teen journals.)

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                 proof of the damage!

As I went through college and beyond, the gaps between my journaling increased. I have years that are not recorded at all, where others I’ll experience a burst of activity and then drop off the face of the earth again. I also fell in and out of love with journaling. Sometimes I was really enthused about it, while others I felt it only served to make me realize how uninteresting my life was. I also noticed that as I got older and life obviously became more complex as a result, I became less honest in my journals, which was upsetting to me. Journals were supposed to be a place I could come and be completely honest with myself, not to skip around anything I didn’t want to face head on in order to make better, more nostalgic reading for myself when I came back to them later.

Last year, one of my New Year’s Resolutions was to write some in a journal every day, a sort of final challenge to see if I could do it. For a while (nearly 3 months) it went well, and I managed to get something down every day, even enjoyed it the majority of the time. But one thing I’d failed to account for was that it did take time. I liked to handwrite all my journals and my insistence on doing it every day was taking away from the success of another one of my goals: to write poetry on a regular basis. I write poetry in the same way I write journals, by hand, and a lot of the time when I was done with my journaling, especially if the entry had been emotional or particularly deep or searching, I found my well all dried up when it came to poetry. Not only that, but some of the entries in my journals became downright poetic when I really got going on something I couldn’t really articulate.

It wasn’t the first time I’d noticed this strange melding. In fact, back in 2012 I wrote an entry in which I wondered if poetry and keeping a ‘diary’ weren’t so different as I’d first assumed in terms of purpose. Being that I valued poetry more, I started to wonder if maybe I should make poetry my diary of sorts, and write daily in some poetry book rather than a journal.

From September 10th, 2012:

Poetry is like pouring out feelings you can’t even put into words, and that’s what I like having a diary to be about too, but I don’t know…if someone were to read a diary, they might be hurt or troubled by what they find- but with poetry…poetry is always under the guise of art. The words are not straightforward, so even if you write something in the heat of hateful feelings, it might be construed differently by the very person it’s about. It might be enjoyed by them, and then, assuming the poem is for poetry’s sake as well, long after your angry feelings pass, you can still love the poem, unlike how you’d be ashamed of an angry journal entry. Because poetry is beautiful, and transcends something base inside, so that sometimes in the act of writing it we come to reconcile our emotions and achieve insight into the deepest reaches of ourselves. Poetry can be therapeutic indeed.

Of course every poem I write is not so personal as a diary entry, and every diary entry I wrote was certainly not poetic (HA) but I had a point. The similarities were there, and if I had to pick one to spend time on, I wanted it to be poetry. (I’d also like to note I think it’s funny how concerned I was over people reading my journals…as far as I can tell, there wasn’t anything catastrophic in there…though I suppose I understand my point xD)

When I journaled, I felt like a lot of what I wrote as boring, and I always felt like I missed writing about the real ‘good stuff’. With poetry, the only things you take from life are the ones that strike you in some way, the moments that seem to glow with a special sort of luminescence. So while my poetry will never tell me what I ate yesterday morning or what test I passed or what inside joke I created, it will take me back to the memories that matter most upon reading, memories  only I can fully unlock. And as a bonus, it will hopefully be something completely new and different to each reader who sees it, as any good piece of art is.

Do I still journal? Occasionally, but only when the spirit moves me. Poetry has by and large taken the front seat in my handwritten life ;).

I hope you’re all well and I’ll see you next week!

{C}

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