Dungeons, spiders, and kittens–what terrifies you?

My five-year-old is currently in the dungeon. Well, others might call it a “basement” but with the damp floor and that smell which permeates every inch of the concrete and rock down there, we’re calling it a dungeon.

He’s chosen to be there, because that’s where his dad’s and brothers’ Warhammer 40k figurines are set up. (I call them “hideous plastic things.”) 

Image result for warhammer 40k figurines

He’s playing with things that look like this^. I guess nothing else down there is as terrifying.

Here’s the weird part–he’s not afraid to be down there, alone, with the spider webs and damp and creepy windows . . . but he’s terrified to pick up his new 6-week-old kitten.

It’s the cutest little thing in the world, cuddly and purring, but it has those needle-like claws and THOSE freak him out. He’ll pet it, he’ll croon at it, build her shrines out of blankets and pillows when she sleeps, but the moment it comes after him and his bare feet, you’d think a mountain lion had been released because he goes RUNNING FOR THE HILLS!

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Blanket shrine to worship the cat. And we’re not even in Egypt.

On the other hand, his 13-year-old brother will love and play with the kitten endlessly, but he’s so terrified of the dungeon/basement that he LOCKS the doors going down there.

This poses a problem for the 5-year-old trying to come back upstairs, and freaks out older brother when he hears the door rattling because SOMETHING HAS COME UP FROM THE BASEMENT!

 

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The stairwell to the basement/dungeon/Hades.

Fear is a weird and random thing.

Sometimes it makes us run and slam the door. Other times we charge it, like my 18-year-old daughter armed with the shop vac sucking up every spider web with the extension tube. (The dungeon/basement is next, but only once she stops shivering from her last extraction triumph upstairs.)

Other times we call for help, as with my 5-year-old (the dungeon tolerator) who came from the bathroom to announce he couldn’t brush his teeth because of the “critter” in there. Turned out to be a moth in the sink. Another reason why we got a kitten, who I wanted to name “Moth Killer” as a reminder as to how she’s supposed to earn her keep.

Sometimes we’re quiet about our fears, such me pretending to know how to talk to people–especially strangers–all the while my heart rate is at 120 bpm and I’m praying I don’t pass out before the conversation is over, to my own father who I didn’t know was deathly afraid of snakes until I, as a kid, came up to him with our neighbor’s boa constrictor draped around my neck. I’ve never seen a man go gray faster than my father did, and still live.

It’s strange that what makes some people afraid has no effect on others. Birds, for example, send some people into a panic while others keep them as pets. Same with rats. And chihuahuas.

Everyone hates needles, however. I’ve asked phlebotomists about that every time I’d had blood drawn. One nurse told me, “If I met someone who LIKED having a needle jabbed into a vein, THAT would terrify me.”

What’s the point to this rambling? I’m afraid I don’t know.

“There’s nothing to fear but fear itself.” Be honest. You, like me, hear that phrase that think, “Oh yeah? What about [fill in the blank]?” There are DOZENS of things to fear, and here’s the good part: all of us fear something. All of us are cowards about something.

Openly or quietly, there’s something that worries each of us, which is good to remember. That’s not meant as a challenge to figure out someone’s fear and exploit it, but to comfort us all that we really are all the same.

Once I dropped by the house a 13-year-old when her mom wasn’t home. In a small and terrified voice, she asked me to do her a favor. Worried that I was walking into a home invasion scenario based on her solemnity, I nevertheless agreed. Moments later I felt like Wonder Woman as I went downstairs (a nice downstairs, with carpeting and lights) with tissue in hand to extract a spider that had kept this sweet girl from entering her bedroom for the past hour.

I realized then that maybe different fears exist to let all of us be heroes at one time or another. My husband is my hero whenever a live mouse or a dead animal is involved. (Bonus points to him if it’s a dead mouse he bravely disposes of.) Perhaps that’s why he moved us here, so that after a year of living apart I’d have plenty of reasons to rush into his arms and ask him to be my hero because there may have been another mouse . . .

Which now has may thinking that maybe romance is also a weird and random thing.

     When Perrin came home for dinner the tiny cat was still there. It hobbled up to him and began to climb his trousers.
     “Get it off!” he yelled, shaking his leg.
     Mahrree extracted the kitten from his knee. “Honestly. How can a grown man be so afraid of a tiny kitten?”
     “Afraid? That’s what you think I am? Afraid!”
     “Yes! Give me another reason why you run in terror from it.”
      “I don’t run.”
      “Well, you shout!”
      “That’s ridiculous!”
      “You’re shouting now!”
      “So are you! Give it to me.”
       Mahrree clutched the kitten to her chest. “What will you do?”
      “Prove you wrong,” he beckoned. “Hand it over.”
      “Don’t hurt it!”
      “I won’t hurt it. Just hand it over.”
      Reluctantly, Mahrree gave him the kitten. Perrin held it up to his face. It mewed in a manner that sounded like a whimper of fear.
      Perrin stared into its tiny eyes.
      It stared back, then looked down at the height at which it was dangling. It flailed in fright, so Perrin cradled it in his other hand, and the thing began to purr.
      “Why does it do that?” he asked, bewildered.
       Mahrree’s mouth twitched. “Because it likes you. I can’t imagine why, but it does.”
       He evaluated the creature.
       It didn’t resemble a Thorne—captain or general—in any way. It was just a tiny, helpless animal. With needle-like claws. And it made annoying sounds, although quietly.
       Still, those claws were unreasonably sharp, snagging the wool on his uniform.
       Still yet again, it was just a baby.
       “Hm,” he said eventually. “Fine. It can stay.”

~Book 4, The Falcon in the Barn, Forest at the Edge series

Does this look like failure to you?

Failure comes in many shapes and forms. Like this, for instance:

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Horrifying, right? Last Christmas I tried to make stuffed Chewbaccas for my family. In the past I’ve successfully made Totoros and Tribbles and Adipose, but last year? Not only once, but twice I failed to make anything not terrifying.

(Seriously, my four-year-old took a startled step back when I showed them to him. He made me hide them in the closet, where I found them again as I was reorganizing recently.)

I had carefully planned these Chewbaccas, bought the perfect furry fabric, drew up the patterns, cut and stitched, but when it came to stuffing them, bizarreness ensued.

I’ve been thinking a lot about failure, how it gets us to places where we didn’t expect to be. I love what J. K. Rowling, author of Harry Potter, has said about failure:

 . . . Why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

My botched Chewbaccas aren’t on the same level of disappointment as Ms. Rowling’s early career, but I’ve encountered failures myself, some quite epic, which I don’t feel the need to reveal here. But Rowling’s words are profound when she remarks that succeeding in one arena would have meant she wouldn’t have arrived where she really needed to be.

Think back to when you were in high school, or college: what dreams did you have? Are you anywhere near where you expected to be?

I’m not. I’m miles away.

And I’m glad of that.

To my high school self, who and where I am now would have been seen as a disappointment. But looking back, I realize that my younger self failed to see where I really should be, what I needed to accomplish.

Failure, to one person, may be a raving success to another. I’m grateful for maturity and wisdom that have helped me see that I don’t want certain “successes,” and that what seems like “failure” can actually be a profound achievement. It merely depends on our situations in life, our perspective, and what we think is important.

I’m reminded of the story of a successful scientist who created life-saving medical devices. When asked about his upbringing, he told the story of his impoverished parents, and how they encouraged him to get more than the 8th grade education they had. Someone commented that it must have been difficult to be raised by such failures. But the scientist was startled by that comment, and replied that his parents had been the greatest successes he’d ever known. Thrust into their difficult circumstances, they still raised confident, ambitious children who accomplished marvelous things. Had life been easier, he surmised, their family likely would have been very average. Their earlier “failures” paved the way for their children’s accomplishments.

Not every failure is a later success, though. And sometimes, success morphs into failure, like these recipes.

How did such dishes of terror and texture come to be? (Click here and here to see even more recipes just like Grandma used to make, if you dare.)
Realize that these combinations went through some kind of review or committee, that several people had to experiment, taste, and decide, “Yes, these are the winners! Photograph and publish them!”

Which goes to prove that even a group of people with power and authority can make horribly wrong judgments.

We now see these recipes and shudder with thoughts of, “What were they thinking?!”

Why was this considered a success back then, and an utter failure a few decades later? What set of circumstances led people with the same taste buds as us to believe that mayonnaise improves every dish, that Jell-O can be considered a salad with the right veggies thrown in, and that SPAM is edible?

For that matter, what raving “successes” do we consider now will be regarded as dismal failures in the future?

But, likewise, what catastrophes are we experiencing now will be later seen as the beginnings of marvelous triumphs?

Perhaps the message here is, don’t discount your failures too quickly. Don’t harp on yourself too much for the disappointments you encounter, or even cause. Who knows, they just may be getting you on the road to victory.

Unless it involves Jell-O, mayo, SPAM, or disfigured Chewbaccas. Sometimes, a failure is a failure.

But maybe not always.

Halloween’s coming up.

Whereas my Chewies failed as Christmas gifts, they’ll likely be fantastic as Halloween decorations.

Maybe it’s just all about timing.

     “Colonel Shin,” Captain Thorne started, “if they’re incapable of making intelligent choices—”
     “They can’t learn to make those choices if they aren’t given the opportunity, Thorne,” Perrin told him. “Give them the opportunity to learn.”
     “And fail?”
     “Failure is part of learning, Captain. It’s not to be shunned—it’s to be embraced and learned from. Would you really want someone making all your decisions for you?”
                                         ~Book Four: The Falcon in the Barn

New cover for “Mansions,” and here’s the cover for “Falcon in the Barn”!

Yes!
Finally!
Not only do I get to present to you the new cover (will be available on Amazon in the next 24 hours) for Book 3, The Mansions of Idumea . . .

Book 3 Front Cover Edition2

(I’m so grateful my family doesn’t mind dressing up. The best part is, we’re such a nerdy family that we already owned the costumes and many of the props.)

Book 3 Back Cover Complete edition2

(I wished I had doors like this in real life. But mine are painted metal. From Lowe’s. So unromantic.)

. . . but here’s also Book 4!

Book 4 Front Cover

(I won’t tell you how many pictures of barns I took looking for just the right one. Fortunately I live in an old farming community with plenty of subjects. Can you see the cat?)

Book 4 Back Cover

(A marvelous fire we got to experience in Yellowstone in 2013 provided these fantastic clouds. Yes, fires can be marvelous.)

I’ve had far too much fun playing with colors and images these past few months. I’ve never pretended to be a professional anything: not a writer, and certainly not a graphic designer, as is likely obvious. But creating these books has been a pure joy and absolute delight. Deciding to develop new covers as vivid and lively as I dared was just the next step in my all-consuming hobby. I’m immensely blessed that my family tolerates me and my little obsessions. My husband especially has been a good sport, even if not a natural actor.

“So what do you want me to do? Just stand here? How about I put my hand on my hip? I can scowl. Wanna see a scowl? Should I point? Like in baseball, that’s where the ball’s going . . . Why not? You want more emotion? What’s that supposed to mean? Dammit, Jim–I’m a doctor, not a soldier! How was that? Are you about done? Why are you laughing? What? You need me to dress up again?! I think you’re doing this on purpose . . .”

(Most of the time I was waiting for him to close his mouth so I could take the pictures. He also gets very chatty when it’s time for family portraits. Rarely do we get a picture with his lips together. Yes, I think my husband’s adorable . . . and I’m not just writing that because I’ll need him to pose again for the next book!)

The actual book will be release FRIDAY, MAY 29 on Amazon and also here! Don’t worry, I’ll let you know when it’s ready to fly . . .