The Tam Commandments

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My past often crosses paths with my present, but never with the people I desire to see again. Because of this, I’m always filled with an odd mix of embarrassing nostalgia and unwanted reflection, followed by the inevitable introspection. I see where old acquaintances are in their lives and I can’t help but look at where I am in relation to my dreams and aspirations.

No matter if you’re the outgrower (the disinterested party) or the outgrown (the rejected party), neither are comfortable during a random meeting. Also, dealing with people from my past has had the effect of feeling like I was moving backwards. As if all the growth I’d experienced after being separated from that person vanished because they’re present in my life again.

And these chance encounters happen in the damnedest places. Here I am tucked away in a small town in a new state on the opposite coast when I run into a childhood friend. Well, friend might be a bit of a stretch. She wasn’t really friends with anyone. Truer to say we ran in the same circles. Even truer than that, we ran in different circles that sometimes overlapped like a Venn diagram of societal misfit kids.

Rough and rugged, tough as nails, she took no shit off anyone, not even her parents. She went her own way, did her own thing, and everyone in the neighborhood, kid and adult alike knew she’d most likely end up either dead or in prison. Some people only open their future up for those two options.

Anyway, I was at the local thrift store when I heard someone calling my name. I assumed it couldn’t be me since I know exactly zero people here, but as this person kept calling, my curiosity got the better of me and turned to see her: Tamika.

It took me a moment to work out who she was. Not that the years hadn’t been kind to her, just that she wasn’t a person I had ever thought about remembering.

She, on the other hand, treated me like we were lifelong buddies. Big hugs and kisses and a smile that could light the Hollywood Bowl. Time has a funny way of altering the past. She remembered our relationship very differently than I had.

So, we did what people who haven’t seen one another in ages do. We shared past stories, gave abridged accounts of our lives since then, and painted the brightest possible picture for our futures. And me being me, I remarked on how I never thought I’d see her ever again. Of all the people, not including those that have passed, she was easily the last person I ever expected to clap eyes on.

She didn’t take offense. She knew better than anyone the type of person she was back then and she said she probably would have fulfilled everyone’s prophesy of jail or death if not for Chickie.

Chickie was the only other person who could’ve matched Tammy pound for pound. Cut from the same cloth, sisters from a different mister, they were thick as thieves. And probably would have been for life, had Chickie not met her maker at the claw end of a hammer in a drug deal gone horribly wrong.

That’s when Tam found the way.

My internal groan was so loud I feared she might’ve heard it. I myself am irreligious, and though I don’t begrudge anyone their spiritual beliefs, I have a hard time listening to the sanctimony of proselytizing born-agains.

But she hadn’t found Jesus, at least not in that way. Nor had she joined a cult. She claimed she simply hit rock bottom and having no one to turn to, sat down and wrote out a list of commandments for herself. A self-imposed list of rules in which she would like to live by.

And while I wish I could remember the list verbatim, my memory unfortunately has a mind of its own, I instead offer up a similar list that contains many of Tamika’s instructions for living a good life:

The 82 Commandments of Alejandro Jodorowsky

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1. Ground your attention on yourself. Be conscious at every moment of what you are thinking, sensing, feeling, desiring, and doing.

2. Always finish what you have begun.

3. Whatever you are doing, do it as well as possible.

4. Do not become attached to anything that can destroy you in the course of time.

5. Develop your generosity – but secretly.

6. Treat everyone as if he or she was a close relative.

7. Organize what you have disorganized.

8. Learn to receive and give thanks for every gift.

9. Stop defining yourself.

10. Do not lie or steal, for you lie to yourself and steal from yourself.

11. Help your neighbor, but do not make him dependent.

12. Do not encourage others to imitate you.

13. Make work plans and accomplish them.

14. Do not take up too much space.

15. Make no useless movements or sounds.

16. If you lack faith, pretend to have it.

17. Do not allow yourself to be impressed by strong personalities.

18. Do not regard anyone or anything as your possession.

19. Share fairly.

20. Do not seduce.

21. Sleep and eat only as much as necessary.

22. Do not speak of your personal problems.

23. Do not express judgment or criticism when you are ignorant of most of the factors involved.

24. Do not establish useless friendships.

25. Do not follow fashions.

26. Do not sell yourself.

27. Respect contracts you have signed.

28. Be on time.

29. Never envy the luck or success of anyone.

30. Say no more than necessary.

31. Do not think of the profits your work will engender.

32. Never threaten anyone.

33. Keep your promises.

34. In any discussion, put yourself in the other person’s place.

35. Admit that someone else may be superior to you.

36. Do not eliminate, but transmute.

37. Conquer your fears, for each of them represents a camouflaged desire.

38. Help others to help themselves.

39. Conquer your aversions and come closer to those who inspire rejection in you.

40. Do not react to what others say about you, whether praise or blame.

41. Transform your pride into dignity.

42. Transform your anger into creativity.

43. Transform your greed into respect for beauty.

44. Transform your envy into admiration for the values of the other.

45. Transform your hate into charity.

46. Neither praise nor insult yourself.

47. Regard what does not belong to you as if it did belong to you.

48. Do not complain.

49. Develop your imagination.

50. Never give orders to gain the satisfaction of being obeyed.

51. Pay for services performed for you.

52. Do not proselytize your work or ideas.

53. Do not try to make others feel for you emotions such as pity, admiration, sympathy, or complicity.

54. Do not try to distinguish yourself by your appearance.

55. Never contradict; instead, be silent.

56. Do not contract debts; acquire and pay immediately.

57. If you offend someone, ask his or her pardon; if you have offended a person publicly, apologize publicly.

58. When you realize you have said something that is mistaken, do not persist in error through pride; instead, immediately retract it.

59. Never defend your old ideas simply because you are the one who expressed them.

60. Do not keep useless objects.

61. Do not adorn yourself with exotic ideas.

62. Do not have your photograph taken with famous people.

63. Justify yourself to no one, and keep your own counsel.

64. Never define yourself by what you possess.

65. Never speak of yourself without considering that you might change.

66. Accept that nothing belongs to you.

67. When someone asks your opinion about something or someone, speak only of his or her qualities.

68. When you become ill, regard your illness as your teacher, not as something to be hated.

69. Look directly, and do not hide yourself.

70. Do not forget your dead, but accord them a limited place and do not allow them to invade your life.

71. Wherever you live, always find a space that you devote to the sacred.

72. When you perform a service, make your effort inconspicuous.

73. If you decide to work to help others, do it with pleasure.

74. If you are hesitating between doing and not doing, take the risk of doing.

75. Do not try to be everything to your spouse; accept that there are things that you cannot give him or her but which others can.

76. When someone is speaking to an interested audience, do not contradict that person and steal his or her audience.

77. Live on money you have earned.

78. Never brag about amorous adventures.

79. Never glorify your weaknesses.

80. Never visit someone only to pass the time.

81. Obtain things in order to share them.

82. If you are meditating and a devil appears, make the devil meditate too.

Not being a fan of dogma, creed, or commandments in general, I admit I can find merit in many items on this list as suggestions for people to find their own path in life. Hell, if it worked for Tamika, it damn sure couldn’t hurt giving it a go.

So, sally forth, true believers and blasts from the past, and be making your own commandments and living by themingly writeful.

©2014 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

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Adieu, Isle of Staten. Hola, City of Angels!

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“I give you this to take with you: Nothing remains as it was. If you know this, you can begin again, with pure joy in the uprooting.” ― Judith Minty, Letters to My Daughters

Uprooting my life, trading the familiarity of the devil I had a close and personal relationship with for the devil who was a complete and utter stranger was a bit daunting to say the least, but when my life had reached the point where it felt as if it was slowly being dragged down into the quagmire of stagnation…  well, as The Brady Kids aptly sang, “When it’s time to change, then it’s time to change.

Like most people, I spent my life acquiring the necessary knowledge and subset skills that helped me assimilate, adapt and maneuver through all the various and sundry obstacles and alterations sprinkled—sometimes hurled with vehemence—in my path and after a while I deluded myself into thinking I had become a dab hand at it. My arrogance allowed me to believe that I pretty much sussed out the true schematics of existence—at least as it applied to surviving in the city of which I was born and bred.

My arrogance was my folly. Over the past year and a half I slowly discovered none of it worked any longer. All the tips and trade secrets I had tucked away in my rucksack of tricks failed to net even the minutest result and all the rules I had mastered no longer applied. That was when I came to the sad realization that New York had fallen out of love with me. She even wrote me a Dear John letter that only took me eighteen months to read.

So here I am in El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles del Río de Porciúncula, a stranger in a strange land, not quite settled in and having to shake the memory of the former city that broke his heart, while getting used to the sight of the shifting colorful mountains in the backdrop of an unfamiliar skyline.

Raise a glass with me, won’t you, as we toast to new beginnings.

Cheers.

Sally forth and be Sha na na na, na na na na na, sha na na na naingly writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Braiding Tales: We Built a World, Row by Row

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“We gave the Future to the winds, and slumbered tranquilly in the Present, weaving the dull world around us into dreams.” ― Edgar Allan Poe, The Mystery of Marie Rogêt

I spent most of my early teens in the Bronx. The street I lived on, corner to corner, ran the length of three average city blocks and was the picture of diversity—the melting pot that New York had become famous for. It was all about migration. Italians were moving to new ground as black people nestled in and on their tail were Hispanics followed by West Indians. It was a neighborhood in transition where multi-cultures learn by cohabitation that differences in race didn’t make a person less human.

It was also the 70’s and I rocked a killer afro to end all ‘fros. Metal pronged afro pick with the handle clenched in a black power fist and a peace symbol carved out on the base, tucked in the back of my hair.

It drove my parent crazy. They rode my back constantly to get it cut but there was that preteen Samsonian fear that the strength of my personality—-my Rhyan-ness—-would be stripped away, were a barber to lay clippers on my precious locks. When I got the “as long as you’re living under my roof” speech, I knew I needed a solution and I needed it quick.

Enter: Cynthia Holloway. I mentioned my plight in passing and out of nowhere she offered to braid my hair into cornrows. So, we sat on the stoop of a private house and armed with only a comb and hair grease, Cynthia worked her nimble fingers like a loom.

She was one of those neighborhood girls that I’d never really spoken to before outside the odd hello. Not that there was anything wrong with her, she was simply a person that kept herself to herself. The type of person you’d have to make an effort to get to know.

It would take many years for me to become that type of person.

But in sitting with her I discovered she was both intelligent and imaginative, with interesting stories to tell. Her father was a retried Army Ranger colonel, who spent a great deal of his free time on the road in a jazz band.

I’m not sure how much of that was true. No one could ever remember seeing Cynthia’s dad, so maybe it was a story she invented to keep nosy kids at bay. Or perhaps it was one of the quiet lies that parents tell their children to spare them from the harsh realities of troubled marriages.

Since we had nothing but time to kill, we talked about our constricted home lives, mentioned the odd hobby, told a few jokes and had a couple of laughs, and when all the conversation wells had run dry, we told each other stories.

At the end of every month, when the braids began to look a little ratty, I’d take them out and Cynthia met me back on that stoop to repeat the process. And after a brief bit of catch-up, we’d go back to telling each other imaginary stories and without meaning to, wound up designing an illusory sanctuary from the burdens and pains of our everyday pre-teenage lives.

While we mentally terraformed our neighborhood row by cornrow, we got to know each other in those months as the monarchs of our fantasy world. We explored the surroundings, went on adventures, and basically forgot the world for a few hours a month.

Come the fifth month, I sat on the stoop and waited, my hair a wild crop of imagination waiting to be plowed, but Cynthia never showed. I later learned from a friend of a friend’s sister that she and her mother had moved away in the middle of the night without telling a soul where they were headed.

I tried to imagine all the possible reasons that would cause them to make a hurried escape under the cloak of twilight and seriously hoped it had nothing to do with her retried-Army-Ranger-colonel-jazz-band-dad. Nothing negative, anyway.

And yes, I eventually had no other choice than to submit to the butcher shop barbershop haircut. Much to my surprise, I managed to retain all of my Rhyan-ness afterwards. I was still filled with my nerdy sameness and when I missed her a bit, I’d sometimes sit on the stoop and give an imaginary Cynthia updates on the latest goings on in the world we created.

Sally forth and be world-braidingly writeful.

©2013 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

PS. Cyn, if through some bizarre happenstance you should come across this, hit me up real quick. There’s a world in some need of serious upkeep.

The Duh Moment: I Love it When a Story Comes Together

I was toiling away at a short story for the longest time—-it was an elusive bastard of a thing that simply refused to cooperate—-but there I was knee-deep in the rising action stage and the words were flowing at a pretty decent clip and some of it was even good if i do say so myself—-

And then I hit the Duh Moment.

It’s that precise instant when a puzzle piece your subconscious has been working on without your knowledge slips into place and your entire universe makes absolute sense. What’s the matter with me? The solution is so simple! How did I not see this before? It was staring me right in the face, plain as day!

One of the single best experiences when writing. That magical moment of crystal clarity. And it lasts for just a moment.

Just like the episode of Star Trek where the Eymorgs steal Spock’s brain and McCoy has to put on the Teacher in order to perform a reverse brain transplant within the three-hour time limit that the implanted knowledge lasts—-phew! that’s a mouthful—-you’re in a race against time to commit as much of that new-found genius to the page as possible before it slips away like a dream upon waking.

You’re also trying to beat the crash.

Coming down off the adrenaline rush when your story came together, your mind will lock onto something and detour on a tangent and you’ll miss a vital piece of information and the structure will topple like a Jenga tower.

In the end, your mind winds up bone weary and you’ll need to step away from the inspiration carnage in order to rebuild your depleted creativity reserve. No worries, though. It’s all part of the process.

As for the aforementioned short story? Still working on it. The first draft is still in the construction phase, but thanks to a bulletted list as long as your arm, I was able to jot down all the important bits.

Is it just me or does this happen to anyone else?

Sally forth and be Duh Momently writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

11 Things Every Writer Needs to Know (More About You and Less About the Writing)

“Write like you’ll live forever — fear is a bad editor. Write like you’ll croak today — death is the best editor. Fooling others is fun. Fooling yourself is a lethal mistake. Pick one — fame or delight.” ― Ron Dakron

  1. Writing is a steep, uphill battle but it’s fierce and it’s beautiful and you’ll regret walking away from it before you’ve seen it reach its potential.
  2. New people, experiences and opportunities to write about won’t stop coming into your life but you need to make space for them. Reexamine all your current relationships, obligations and habits and if you find value in them, hold onto them tighter. If their value escapes you, it’s time to let something go.
  3. Resolve to be awesome for the rest of your life, starting right now. Just because.
  4. Writing goals are not reserved for January 1st. Get in the habit of setting them monthly, hell, even weekly. Set them so that you’re moving forward and always trying to progress. Your writing can grow stagnant without them. Beware.
  5. Confidence is an attractive thing. Readers dig it. Non-readers dig it. We all dig it.
  6. Negative people chip away at your spirit. Flush the toxins and get yourself into a better writing head space.
  7. And if you slag off another writer because their abilities fail to impress or interest you, maybe you’re on the road to toxicity. Peer relationships are too valuable to muddy with what you perceive to be the shortcomings of other writers. If you can’t find enjoyment in someone’s writing, don’t read it. Plain and simple.
  8. You’re human and as such you’re going to waste many hours focusing on who you aren’t, or who you want to secretly be. But you won’t ever wake up and magically become that person. You’ve got to embrace what you bring to the table. If you don’t like what that is, have the courage to change it.
  9. Regret is a very real thing. It’s going to happen to you at some point. Don’t hold onto things forever but learn from them and let the past go. The past will be a dictator if you let it.
  10. Yes, when we write we create worlds, but the world doesn’t revolve around us. Turns out we’re just punctuations in a much larger story littered with periods and commas and dashes. How are you helping that story to be better? How are you being the best punctuation you can be?
  11. Tech advancement is coming at us fast and furious and it’s all too easy to let an emoticon laden text do the talking for you, too easy to click a Like or +1 button instead of engaging people in an actual dialogue. Never lose sight of the beauty of a conversation where you can watch a person’s face express actual emotions. Let a person know that they are worth your words. They are worth your presence. They are worth more than just letters on a screen. Face to face connections are fading faster everyday. Please don’t let the machines win.

Sally forth and be writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

What Dreams May Come — Journaling Your Sleep Inspired Stories

“Even today I keep a Dream Journal. It’s whatever’s going on in my subconscious, or things from dreams or even interesting items that pop into my head. I have thousands of pages of notes which I hope someday will turn into stories, or movies.” — Clive Barker

I had the craziest dream last night—which is why you’re reading this—more lucid than any dream I can remember having for quite a while now. It was strangely reminiscent of World War Z—the Brad Pitt movie, not the far superior book—where I was trying to make my way to Washington, DC to avert a catastrophe brought about by the government shut down and hot on my trail was a dinosaur assassin. And not just any dinosaur assassin, THE dinosaur assassin. Only the best is hired to bring about the expedient demise of yours truly. Yeah, I know… it’s a dream, gimme a break here.

Anyhoo, when I woke up—before the dinosaur pulled the trigger—I did something I hadn’t done in a long time: I dusted off the old dream journal.

I’ve been dream journaling for a number of years, mainly to collect source material for future writings but I soon discovered that exploring my dreams in this fashion helped me connect with different dimensions of myself, mainly the way my subconscious communicated with my conscious mind through metaphor and emotion.

And I know at least one of you is going to come at me with, “Well, that’s great for you, but I can’t keep a dream journal because I don’t dream.

That is so not the case.

Everyone dreams—with the exception of those suffering from extreme psychological disorders—even the blind. A good thing, too, as studies show that dreams help prevent psychosis. The bad part is that upon waking, half of your dream evaporates from your memory within 5 minutes and 90% is gone by the 10-minute mark.

Is dream journaling for you? Well, I think it’s an interesting experiment that’ll cost you no more than a few minutes a day, a notebook and a pen. All you need to do is capture the dream when you wake up. Hell, you can even keep a voice recorder by your bed and dictate everything you recall. And if you have a hard time remembering it, one mnemonic trick is to go through the alphabet and assign a word for each letter. You’ll be surprised how many times this will actually jog your memory. And the more you do it, the stronger your intention, the stronger your connection becomes.

If you do decide to explore your dreams and nightmares in order to pull yourself out of a creative rut and get cracking on a brand new piece of writing, you would be in good company. The following famous books were inspired when the authors’ bodies were at rest and their minds were at play:

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson: This horror classic sprang into existence because of Stevenson’s graphic nightmares. In this case, a “fine bogey tale” tormenting him as he slept grew into one of the most famous and genuinely scary English-language novels ever penned — most especially considering its all-too-human antagonist and protagonist.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley: After the death of her 12 day old daughter, the heartbroken Mary Wollstonecroft Godwin dreamt of her child coming back to life after being massaged near a fire. She wrote about it in the collaborative journal she kept with her husband-to-be, Percy Bysshe Shelley, which grew into one of the most iconic, influential horror novels of all time.

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Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach: This story initially sprung from Richard Bach’s daydreams of a drifting seabird. In fact, he could only finish the original draft following another series of subconscious visions.

Misery by Stephen King: While dozing off on a flight to London, King found inspiration in a chilling nightmare about a crazed woman killing and mutilating a favorite writer and binding a book in his skin.

Stuart Little by E.B. White: The tiny boy with the face and fur of a mouse sauntered into White’s subconscious in the 1920s, though he didn’t transition from notes to novel until over two decades later.

Twelve Stories and a Dream by H.G. Wells: The title says it all. “A Dream of Armageddon,” sprouted from a dream that speculated on the dangerous directions in which mankind’s technology could ultimately lead it.

“Kubla Khan” from Christabel by Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Coleridge, woke one morning after having a—-believed to be opium induced—-fantastic dream. He transcribed his vision in a dream in the form of the now famous poem. 54 lines in, he was interrupted by a Person from Porlock and when he returned to the poem, he couldn’t remember the rest of his dream and thus the poem was never completed.

H.P. Lovecraft’s Works: Lovecraft pulled much of his inspiration from the vivid nightmares he suffered most nights. A shock to anyone? In particular, the novels and short story featuring the Great Old Ones drew themselves from the more twisted corners of his subconscious.

Book of Dreams by Jack Kerouac: A book that does as it says on the tin. Kerouac kept and published a book comprised entirely of his dreams, spanning from 1952 to 1960 and starring characters from many of his other works.

The Twilight Series by Stephenie Meyer: In Meyer’s own words, the dream “was two people in kind of a little circular meadow with really bright sunlight, and one of them was a beautiful, sparkly boy and one was just a girl who was human and normal, and they were having this conversation. The boy was a vampire, which is so bizarre that I’d be dreaming about vampires, and he was trying to explain to her how much he cared about her and yet at the same time how much he wanted to kill her,”

Fantasia of the Unconscious by D.H. Lawrence: Lawrence so perfectly maps out dream experiences and explains their importance and inspiration in such great detail it edges out any other competing works.

The Apprenticeship of Big Toe P by Reiko Matsuura: Adapted from Matsuura’s most unusual dream, the novel tells the story of a woman who wakes up with a penis for a toe and explores gender identity and relations.

And before the Sandman returns to slip me another Mickey Finn, here are a few additional interesting factoids about dreams:

  • Your mind doesn’t create faces for the strangers in your dreams. Each one is an actual person you’ve encountered, even if only briefly. Your noggin is mug book filled with hundreds of thousands of faces.
  • You don’t dream when you snore.
  • People who quit smoking have more vivid dreams.
  • While asleep, your body is virtually paralyzed.
  • The real world invades your dreams through sounds, scents, and bodily sensations.
  • Toddlers don’t dream about themselves until they’re at least 3 years old.
  • Children from 3 to 8 years old usually have more nightmares than adults.
  • You’re more likely to remember your dreams vividly if you’re awakened out of REM sleep.

Sally forth and be dream-storyingly writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

24 Truths About Being a Writer

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“The great thing about being a writer is that you have a long, perhaps frighteningly long time in which to do your work.” —- Julia Leigh

  1. Your writing will mature (mature should not be mistaken for get better).
  2. You will receive a rejection letter once in your life (it will actually be more than once, much more, but I wanted to break the news to you gently).
  3. You will be asked to write outside your genre/comfort zone and the criticism you receive from it will cause you to doubt your talent.
  4. You will eventually write something that you will regret.
  5. You will be envious of a hot new fad writer whose name you won’t remember in 20 years.
  6. Your friends will think one of your characters was modeled on them and will reevaluate your friendship based on how the character is treated in the story.
  7. The content of your writing will isolate you once in a while.
  8. Your opinions of writers whose work you dislike will change once you get to know them.
  9. You’re going to run into someone who absolutely despises your work.
  10. You’re going to regret letting an editor pressure you into chopping down what you consider to be a perfect story.
  11. You’re going to read one book in a genre that holds no interest for you that you actually enjoy.
  12. Some people are going to think you’re a talentless hack, and other people are going to think you’re a genius. Either take both camps or neither one seriously.
  13. You’re never going to finish all your stories. Despite your best efforts.
  14. Someone’s opinion of your work will tear out your soul and you’re going to need a hug from your mom, significant other, or a really good friend.
  15. You’re going to bullshit your way through at least one writing assignment and pray that you sound like you know what you’re talking about.
  16. You’re going to get lost in the middle of a story you’re writing and meander through the plot until you find your direction again.
  17. You’re going to reenact a scene from your story all alone in your room when no one else is around.
  18. You’re going to write the most raw and unapologetic story ever that will make you cringe in five years.
  19. You’re never going to stop looking for yourself.
  20. You’re a writer, so stop trying so hard to be famous, expecting success to happen so quickly (or at all), and getting down on yourself so often.
  21. You’re going to be ashamed to tell people you’re a writer. Break that habit and walk with your head held high.
  22. You’re going to talk shit about other writers. Quit it. Yes, Stevie King, I’m looking at you. Put your pea shooter away.
  23. You’re going to become a hermit. Take a walk outside.
  24. You’re going to fall in love with your stories, characters, ideas, and speculative elements and one day you might really figure out how to love yourself the same way.

Sally forth and be writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys