Empathy: A sneak peak at my new novel!

Mum and I sat at the table kindling the hearth. Ray soon came down from his room having felt the hearth, and his presence added warmth and light to the fire. When Dad sat at the table, the hearth was fully lit, and we all fed off of its warmth and comfort as conversation stoked the soft flames.

Mum told us what Grannie Hattie had told her about her children’s lives. Hattie wasn’t actually related to our family, but she had just always been like a grandmother to us ever since we moved here.

“Ray, we should go by Hattie’s cottage after dinner. Mum says the pumpkins are getting really big,” I said.

Ray nodded, “Sure.”

“How are your friends, Quinn?” Mum asked. “We haven’t seen them in a while. Why don’t you invite someone over this weekend?”

I shrugged, “They’re more just school friends.”

“If you made effort to play with them outside of school, maybe they’d become more than just school friends,” Dad supported Mum.

“I don’t really want to be friends with them. Most of them are not very nice to be around,” I said, my feathers ruffled uncomfortably. “Maybe I could invite Charles; he’s pretty mellow.”

“What about Charlotte? She seemed nice,” Mum suggested.

“Charlotte moved away last year. I don’t even know where she lives now.” The fire in the hearth snapped and crackled as the wood became brittle with the tension at the table.

“I just think you should hang out with girls your own age is all,” Mum said. “I’m sure your brother gets tired of you tagging along with him and his buddies.”

The fire popped and embers flew up onto the table.

“We really don’t mind having Quinn around,” Ray defended me. “She’s a delight.”

“Okay. Okay,” Mum hushed us, cooling the embers that had fallen on the table.

“Ray, have you been thinking about college programs?” Dad changed the topic, but it was of little relief to table tensions.

Ray nodded, “I want to do something with hiking and the outdoors. A lot of colleges have an Outdoor Recreation major that sounds really sweet. Mostly, I just really enjoy that sort of stuff, but I think that my empathy skills will be really valuable and useful in that field as well.”

It was Mum who snapped sparks out of the fire this time. “Well, you don’t know how long you’re going to be an empath. You’re already older than most of our family members when they lost theirs. You could lose it any day.”

“I don’t plan to lose it, Mum,” Ray said calmly. This was a common argument in our house.

“But, Ray, dear, you don’t know how much more peaceful your life could be without it.”

“I want to use my skills to help others.” Ray was hard to argue with when he was a mountain.

Mum sighed, but under her breath, she whispered, “It’s more of a curse than a valuable skill.” Then, talking to Dad she said, “Chester, how was your day?”

After dinner, Ray and I walked through the backyard trails up the slope to Grannie Hattie’s house next door.

“How will your empath skills help people hiking?” I asked as we walked through the trees.

He shimmered golden, “If I’m leading a trip, I’ll be able to sense the needs of the people in the group. So, I’ll know when someone needs a break, when someone’s upset or tired, if there’s conflicting tension between people, if their health is bad. It doesn’t really matter what we do, having the ability to feel what others feels puts us at an advantage.”

I nodded but wasn’t fully convinced because Mum was so adamant that being an empath put us at a disadvantage. Personally, I had more moments where feeling caused me more trouble than producing anything good.

The trail let out right behind Hattie’s garden, and immediately, we saw the huge, orange pumpkins nestled among the crawling vines. I ran to them eagerly and tried to wrap my arms around one of the huge gourds. “They’re so big!” I laughed.

Ray walked through the garden, encouraging the plants to grow with the energy of his light.

The back door to the cabin creaked and the smell of cookies drifted on the air. “What are you hooligans doing in my garden?!” Grannie Hattie smiled and butterflies floated through the air between us.

“Your pumpkins are so big!” I ran to her and hugged her. “When are you going to pick them?”

“I’ll pick them when they’re ready. Patience and love, my dear.” She patted my head, then looked out at Ray as he brushed his hands gently against the plants, healing them. “Son, why is it my garden always looks better after you’ve visited?”

Ray just smiled. Hattie didn’t know about empaths. Mum and Dad said it was better if people didn’t know because it may scare them.

“Would you two like some cookies? They just came out of the oven,” Hattie offered.

“Thank you. They smell delicious!” I said, and Ray followed us into the cottage.

As we sat around her tiny table munching on molasses cookies and sipping milk, rainbows refracted around the room like sunlight casted through a crystal chandelier.

“You two are so good together,” Hattie winked as she brought out another tray of cookies.

 

Ray and I may be siblings, but we’ve also always been best friends. We were rarely apart. Even at family reunions, we mingled with our relatives, but we always stayed close by each other. Once when we were little, we were playing with our cousins at a family gathering and one of the girls paused in our game of make-believe saying, “You two are the most beautiful rainbow I’ve ever seen. Like a giant, gorgeous waterfall on a cloudless day, and the sun hits the mist from the water and there’s a bright colorful rainbow.” Ray and I had looked at each other and felt that it was true.

 

After we were stuffed with cookies, I ran back out to the garden and hummed to the pumpkins. Ray sat with Hattie on the back porch, and I could just make out their words as they talked.

“You’re a senior now, Ray?” Hattie asked.

“Yup.”

“Thinking about college maybe?”

“Yeah, I’ve started looking into some programs.”

“Gonna stay around here?”

Ray’s reply was slow, “Possibly. If they have a program I’m interested in.”

Hattie dropped her voice slightly, “Quinn will miss you if you leave.”

“I’ll never leave Quinn,” Ray said, and though his voice was happy, I felt a loneliness in him.

I turned and looked back at the porch curiously.

“We should get back before it gets too dark. Mum doesn’t like us out too late,” Ray said and walked into the garden towards me.

“Thanks for stopping by,” Grannie Hattie waved from the porch. “And, Quinn, I’ll let you know when it’s time to pick those pumpkins. They look bigger already, don’t they?”

“Thank you!” I called as Ray walked down the trail, and then, I hurried to catch up with him.

We walked along quietly for a while, and I felt a cold ice cube deep in the pit of Ray’s heart. “Why are you lonely?” I finally asked.

“I’m not right now. I’m just thinking about college.”

“I thought you were excited about college.”

“I am,” he smiled at me, but the ice cube remained. “It’s just…” he paused, and his pause turned into an extended silence.

The birds whistled their last tunes in the trees above as they nestled into their nests for the night. Bugs came out and filled the air, providing meals for the bats that began to swoop down above our heads.

Ray wrapped an arm around my shoulder and pulled me into his side, “Quinn, you know I’d never leave you, right?”

“Why would you leave?” I asked confused.

“I’m not leaving,” he said with confidence as strong as a mountain, and the ice cube in his heart melted away.


Empathy explores the inner emotions of people through the fascinating question of “What would it be like to feel what everyone else feels?” Brother and sister, Ray and Quinn, explore their ability as “empaths” as they try to decide how to handle and use this power. During this transitional period of Ray preparing to leave for college, Quinn faces an immense struggle of how to live on her own without Ray by her side.

This snippet of the novel is from the first chapter. I started writing this novel a few weeks ago and have many exciting plans for it as I continue to explore the world through Quinn’s experiences. (Note this is not a contracted novel. I’m just writing for fun, though I hope someday to be published! So please do not plagiarize.)

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A few Imaginings on LOVE

A few Imaginings on LOVE

I consider myself a Christian, but above all I believe that Love is the most important thing in the world. But what actually is love? I have been struggling with that question just as everyone throughout all eternity has wrestled with trying to understand this vast, complex feeling. I do not think it is possible to fully understand what love is, but here are a few of my reflections and breakthroughs that have settled me at least for a while.

I will not talk about romantic love here, though one could interpret these imaginings in that way. My intended “love” is the all-encompassing phenomenon that runs through all things, living and not, that all religions believe in, that every person has felt deep in themselves that defines them as an individual but also as a connected member of the universe.

I used to think that the meaning of life should be personal happiness. But I was equating love to happiness. Love is much more complex and painful than happiness.

Happiness is fleeting but sorrow lingers.

To feel great happiness one must accept great pain.

Pain hurts worse than how good happiness feels. But Love is above all.

Love is NOT happiness. If anything, Love is pain and sorrow. Without love we may not experience pain and sorrow because Love is the driving force behind all emotions, all conflicts, all actions.

Love is strong. Love endures all. Love is endless. Love is everlasting and abundant. Love grows and is never depleted. But What is Love? Those who feel it recognize it. But no one has ever truly understood what Love is.

Love is universal, but where one finds it is different for each person.

Personally, I find love inside myself when I’m in nature. When I am in a lush forest or in the mist of mountain peaks, or when I see a bird or a leaf, I am filled with a feeling so strong it is like nothing I feel at any other time. I am filled with a love for nature, for the Earth, which extends to a love of the universe, of God, and of Life.

I had been struggling with the question What is Love? But no one has or ever will find an answer that fully explains what Love is because it is beyond understanding and likely the most complex thing in all of eternity. The question I was trying to ask myself was: where do I personally find/experience/feel love? Because once you answer that question for yourself, your life has meaning and purpose.

For me, I feel love for nature. I cannot share that love with others unless they personally feel the same, because you cannot force someone to truly love. But my love empowers me to action–to protect and care for the environment and the natural places that I feel that intimate bond with. My actions, done with energy and passion from the love that fuels me, may inspire others to act in response or, at least, support me. But it is always my intention to act to protect what I love, no matter the cost, pain, or sorrow because that is how love works. It is never my intention to empower others or change other people, though that may be where someone else’s love lies. That is not my calling, that is not where my love thrives, but it does not mean that my actions and love will not impact other people. It may result that my actions done in love will inspire others to find their love.

The meaning of life is Love, but not in the sense that it will bring personal happiness to the one who discovers it. The paradox is that the person who finds their love and acts on it will likely experience much pain and sorrow along with the occasional happiness. But the energy and meaning of following your Love, is worth all of the struggles that will come with it. Such a life does not make sense to one who has not found their Love, the thing that makes their heart want to beat with a will to live and act no matter the cost. And we must also acknowledge that while Love is universal, the source of Love can change. Even within an individual the thing that you think drives you may change during your life, because Love is a driving force, it is not a specific entity. The question that is most important is not to understand Love, but to find where you can personally tap into this living force and be filled. Love is what life is all about, and those who do not feel it will never be fully satisfied with anything.

Spider Secrets

Screams chased me down the hall from the living room. I retreated to the bathroom. The door absorbed the vibrations of my parents’ fight that flew through the air, and I turned on the shower to cover up their voices.

Water washed over my head, cleansing my body, but the evil of the house still lingered in my soul, and only a baptism of salty tears could truly purify me.

Through streaked vision, a smudge of black flickered along the shower wall. The black dot sprawled its eight stringy appendages on the slippery, yellowed walls as it struggled to get out of the mist that had ripped through its intricately weaved home. I watched, cheering on the small creature in its inevitable journey. It had nearly reached the ledge of the tub. Two spindly arms tapped the ledge, trying to get some grip, but a drop of condensation rolled down the wall and knocked its legs out from under it. Crumbled, tumbling, sucked toward a vortex of death.

I snatched the spider before it landed in the pounding spray of the shower. His two beady black eyes looked up into my wet, streaked face. “I know you’re not supposed to be inside, but you’ll die outside in the snow.” I raised the frail frame up to the top of the shower wall, a safe distance from the water. Slowly, it uncrinkled its legs and scaled the putrid, pink wall into the corner shadowed by the blacked out lightbulb. “If you stay hidden, they won’t find you,” I whispered. They ruined everything they found.

I stepped into the bathroom and was overwhelmed by the aerosols of Febreeze that barely covered the sour, acidic smell still emanating from the toilet. It was too soon after dinner, and the scent of my sister’s daily visit hadn’t had time to fade. I looked into the mirror at myself. My baggy clothes covered my pale skin, my bruises, my lumps and curves. I turned away from my reflection and shed off my layers of clothes until I stood completely open before the two beady eyes in the corner. Those two eyes did not judge as I washed away the day’s insecurities.

Every day, I found refuge from the chaos by locking myself in the bathroom. Drowning out the screams, the crying, and the bitter silence with hot, pounding water. Whispering secrets to my spider. The more I fed the tiny creature my pain and sorrow and love, the bigger it grew. The stringy, spindly legs stretched. The bouncing, black dot swelled. The two, beady eyes opened wide.

Then, one day, I heard the sound of a vacuum cleaner in my bathroom.

Clinging desperately to the crumbling foundations you so carefully constructed. Falling, spiraling into a dark abyss that sucks the life out of you. The inevitable fate that everything you made will be destroyed. There isn’t even hope for the little, round gems of the future that you so dutifully protected. Everything is swept away.

Tears rolled down my cheeks, but there was no one to see.

Finding Places for Creative Thinking in a Busy Life

Where do you get your best ideas? Where do you go to make sense of the world? Where do you find inspiration? Maybe you’re traveling some place beautiful in nature or to a new city or landmark. Maybe you’re completely alone or maybe there’s lots of people around. But no matter where your place is, there is a commonality among all people’s “thinking” places. These are places where thoughts come freely, where creativity speaks to us.

For me, I’m lying in my cozy bed, the lights are off, I have nothing left to do for the day except sleep, my body relaxes and my mind races. Images from my day flash before my eyes, I start to linger on memories of things that happened, and then, as these subconscious thoughts rise to the surface, I drift into a land of dreams where imagining comes freely. I’ve heard that dreaming is your subconscious processing everything that happened during your day that you didn’t give yourself time to think about. I have really busy days and lots of strange dreams, so maybe there is something to this myth.

My sister has her best ideas while she’s showering. She often ends up writing lists and ideas on the shower walls with her daughter’s bath crayons.

I also do a lot of thinking in the shower, during car rides, and during church services. What’s in common with falling asleep and listening to a sermon and scrubbing shampoo into your hair? You’re trapped in a place with a simple task.

It’s true that some places can be very inspiring or relaxing, but does your creative thoughts flow there? I have more ideas taking a shower on a busy day than I do during a week of leisurely camping. For the mind to be active, the body must be active. I have to experience and learn new things in order to imagine and create my own ideas. But, there is a balance. Busy people often get stressed out because they don’t take the time to listen to their own thoughts and process what is happening around them. When there’s too much to do and too much happening, it becomes nearly impossible to pause and think about one thing for a while.

So many Thoughts
“So Many Thoughts” from Bigstock.

For busy people, it’s hard to find or make time to sit and meditate. People often think that they need to get away from everything in order to let their mind be free, but I don’t think it is absolutely necessary to leave. I’m sure that I’m not the only one who has tried to escape from stress by going for a walk only to come back with less time and no less stress. Meditation and allowing yourself time to think is an important part of relieving stress, but trying to schedule time to do so goes against the very point of doing it in the first place. Listening to your thoughts should be a part of how you live. Self-awareness should be integrated in everything you do. If you process life as it comes, you can prevent it from building up and overwhelming you.

You should take time to think about what needs to be done, but you shouldn’t be repeatedly stressing yourself out about the future. If you focus your thoughts in the moment rather than in the past or the future, you can think about so many other interesting things. That’s the difference between lying awake at night because you’re thinking about what you didn’t get done that day and everything that needs to be done when you wake up versus thinking calmly about whatever comes to mind because all you’re really focused on at the moment is going to sleep. Creative ideas come from the subconscious, so you can’t actively think; you must listen to your underlying thoughts.

My advice is to find parts in your day where your attention is unnecessarily diverted in too many directions and try to focus more on your inner self. When you’re riding or driving in the car, a simple thing like turning the radio off can help you hear your own thoughts. You might notice that the corn is getting higher or that a new store is opening, and at the same time, you can reflect on how you are feeling without blocking it all out with whatever is on the radio. I’ve heard of people listening to books or language lessons in the car, and while it is good information to learn, I think it further proves that people are trying to cram too much into their days.

You don’t have to leave to escape from the business of life, and even if you go somewhere else, you won’t find peace until you learn to listen to your thoughts.

Fountains over Fireworks

eFireworks+Smoke-1369

Eeeeeee—BANG! Eeeee—POP! Crackle, crackle, crackle. Momentous firework displays occur annually on the 4th of July all around the United States of America created by artisans of design and explosives. Crowds gather around grills as they chow down on the most Americana food: hotdogs and hamburgers. The sizzling grease and charred lines of the grill add to the authentic taste of beef mingling with a zesty mustard and pickle, blended with the sweet tang of ketchup and tomato, topped off with a creamy cheese and the crunch of iceberg lettuce. Stomachs sloshing with watermelon and beer, fingers picking strings from corn on the cob out from between teeth, people ooo and ahhh at the flashing fireworks until their ears go numb from the explosions. Then, when the last explosive has lit, ascended, and dissipated into smoke, everyone packs up under the sulfuric air and waits in a line of car exhaust as police direct traffic out of parking lots and through four-way stops.

Few people pay attention to the dark clouds that drift away after firework displays when RED, WHITE, and BLUE, PINK, PURPLE, GREEN, ORANGE are lighting up their eyes, and POPS and BANGS numb their ears. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy fireworks as much as any other person, but I cannot block out the amount of pollution they create.

NOAA2015_fireworks-pollution-graph
NOAA 2015

It’s hard to give an exact amount for the pollution created as displays and individual fireworks vary and atmospheric conditions also play a large part in the amount of pollution fireworks create. But, it is not hard to agree with NOAA’s 2015 study that showed 42% more air pollution on July 4th in given locations.

Ideally, someone should invent a firework that can create colors and patterns without releasing fine metals and CO2 into the atmosphere; however, there are real alternatives to firework displays that could be more environmentally friendly.

I remember being blown away the first time I saw a musical fountain lights display. The Grand Haven Music Fountain in Michigan has numerous displays every summer. Colored lights illuminate the sprays of water that dance through the night synchronized to music. Such displays can also be found in locations such as Las Vegas.

visitgrandhavencomBob Peskorse
Grand Haven Fountain by Bob Peskorse @ visitgrandhaven.com 

Now, you may be saying, “Yes, it gets rid of the air pollution, but what about all of that water and the energy for the lights?” Water displacement and pollution is as big an issue as air pollution, so precautions should be taken to make sure that water is not soiled or displaced. The Grand Haven display is built right on the Grand River and pumps water out of the river and back in. The water stays nearby its source and although part of it evaporates in the air, most of the water is returned immediately after the display without pollution. As for energy, as long as production is made with the least energy use possible and that electricity comes from a renewable source, there’s not much more we can ask for anything that involves a lot of lights.

Laser light displays and other types of celebrations and shows are alternative to fireworks, but personally, I think the Musical Fountains are the most magical option.

 

The Girl Across the Room

Glasses of water and wine circled the table, laughter and conversation drifting over the rims. I was sitting with my friends, talking, enjoying the evening, when I noticed a girl across the restaurant staring at us.

She looked lonely, a desire to join us flashed behind her eyes. I smiled at her, and she smiled back but it was the type of smile that comes out looking more like a cringe. We locked eyes, until finally I looked away.

I tried to forget her and enjoy the time with my friends, but I couldn’t help occasionally glancing over just to check if she was still watching, and inevitably, unfailing, she was always there. Her eyes locked on us with a jealous longing and a look of misery and pain consuming her face. The sight of her was nearly revolting, and I found myself becoming angry that my pleasant evening was being ruined by some creep in a back corner booth.

As our spaghetti arrived, so did hers, and we slurped up noodles at the same time, though we sat separated by the expanse of the room. The conversation at my table quieted as people filled their mouths and stomachs. The girl across the room looked slightly pleased, perhaps she had just been hungry. But every time I glanced her way, she still had one eye on our table.

The dishes were taken and replaced with conversation once more as we waited for the little chocolate mints that would accompany the bills. And again, that girl sat staring at us, mulling and brooding over some dark, depressing thought it seemed. Her looks alone bothered me, but whatever she was thinking about was enough to deeply disturb me. Her stare crept under my skin, behind my ears, and to the tips of my fingernails. I realized my nails were digging into the bottom of the table.

When, finally, my party was ready to leave, I stood up—maybe with too much haste. I needed to be rid of the stare of that creepy girl. She looked like she wanted something, something from the world, something from me. But what could I give her?

But as we stood and adorned our coats, she too stood and put on her coat. As my group walked toward the door, she crossed the room and walked directly towards me.

I turned to meet her, unsure if I should greet her or confront her. As she approached me, she stopped.

She said nothing. I said nothing. We each stood there staring at each other.

Then, her face began to change into an expression of confusion? Anger?

I started to say something but she opened her mouth, so I stopped. No sound came out.

She lifted her hand as I reached out mine, and our fingertips met in the air. Her skin was smooth and hard and cold.

Then, the girl’s face reddened in embarrassment as I realized I had been looking in a mirror the whole time.

*Based off of a dream/daydream

Deadly Balloons and Other Unnecessary Plastic Products

Thousands of bombs are launched. They spin through the atmosphere, twisting around the whole Earth. Then, they explode! Toxic material rains down into the oceans. Animals become mutilated. They suffocate or starve. Many die.

Wiki Balloon Release
Balloon Release. Wikipedia.

 

This catastrophe may sound apocalyptic, but it is already happening. Such a simple thing as a balloon release in celebration or mourning can cause detrimental effects on wildlife and ecosystem health.

There’s a lot to say on packaging designs and pollution, but I’m going to focus on four plastic products and their effects on ocean species.

Plastic as a light-weight material is easily picked up by winds and blown up into the atmosphere where it can fly around the world before coming back down. Plastics also float which allows them to be transported by water currents through stream systems and eventually end up in the ocean or larger lakes. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is where a lot of our plastic waste gathers in the ocean. But plastic can float in water or air anywhere around the world and endanger animals everywhere.

Balloon releases are one thing that upsets me immensely. Any time a balloon floats up into the atmosphere, I see the soul of an animal floating up with it. While some balloons say that they are biodegradable, that only means that they break down. That plastic is still around and can get into an animal’s systems. Many balloons are not biodegradable. If I’m walking around a forest or floating down a river, it’s disgusting to find a shriveled plastic balloon or bag snagged in a tree branch.

bubbles-in-the-air visionsbyvaughn
Bubbles in the Air. visionsbyvaughn.wordpress.com  

A major problem in today’s culture is that we don’t think about the end results of what we do. If everyone thought about where those balloons and plastic bags end up, they’d be less likely to let them fly away so easily. Now, I think balloon releases do have a happy energy to them—a bunch of colorful dots floating up into the sky. But, we can find alternatives or at least make sure that the balloons are biodegradable. It’s easy to just change our personal choices and not buy balloons or plastic bags. Personally, I think bubbles are a beautiful option.

 

Plastic rings are another big culprit that kills many animals. Surely, you’ve seen a sea turtle with a six-pack ring around their neck or back fins in a picture or commercial. Entrapment can be prevented by cutting the rings apart, which is what I do whenever I end up with plastic rings. I recycle all of my plastic, but you never know what might fall out of the truck on the way to the recycling facility. Although, even if the rings are cut, animals may still try to eat the plastic. This video shows another alternative that uses waste-product from beer processing to create an edible and biodegradable packaging material: Edible Beer Packaging.

Lastly, microbeads. Many hand soaps, face scrubs, etcetera use tiny plastic beads as an exfoliating agent. But when you wash the bubbles down the drain, those tiny plastic beads spiral down the pipes and slip through filters and into water sources. These tiny plastic beads don’t break down. Fish end up with the beads inside their gills just by breathing in the water. The plastic can clog up their gills and suffocate them. There are plenty of cleansing products that do not use microbeads or that use natural particles such as sand or shell particles that accomplish the same exfoliating effect.

There are many other products that need redesigned and plastic is used more often than necessary, but balloons, plastic bags, packaging rings, and microbeads are a few of the destructive products that we see every day and can find easy alternatives with our personal choices.

 

Read More:

http://eluxemagazine.com/video/microbeads-megaproblem-why-microbeads-are-bad-for-you-the-planet/