About markrickerby

Hi. I'm Mark Rickerby. I'm a 19-time author/contributor for the Chicken Soup for the Soul book series and co-creator/head writer of a western TV show called Big Sky, coming to your TV screen soon. I like to write. I like writers, the ones I understand and who understand me, blessed and cursed with the same sickness to chronical absolutely everything. The ones who would be thinking of a story about someone who got hit by a car in the moments after they got hit by a car. My three and six year-old daughters help me with my writing. The other day, my eldest was running around the back yard collecting stars in a Mason jar. My two year-old dances better than I do. I do my best to live in their world as much as possible. I lost my way after all these years, but they're showing me the way back. You may have found this page because you read one of my stories in a Chicken Soup for the Soul book. Or you may have read my poem How We Survive. I'm very proud of that poem. It seems to help people, which for me is the highest purpose of any art. Or you may have heard the CD of songs I made for my first daughter to welcome her to the world. However you found me, I hope you'll hang out for a while. I'll be posting articles about writing, music, poetry, travel, friendship, poetry, marriage, fatherhood, and other stuff that makes life worthwhile. Please also look for my series called Messin' with Mark, God's (yes, God's) TV showing the pranks He has pulled on me. Thanks for stopping by!

For Haters of Rhyme

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I once spent a night in a cave at the foot of the Acropolis in Athens, Greece. I had run out of money after six months of bouncing around Europe and the Greek islands and was waiting for my flight home in a few days. Because I was in my twenties, I was too naive to feel scared, but I did feel lonely that night. It’s hard not to in a dark cave, even with the city bursting with light and excitement. (It was a Saturday night.) There was even a hot air balloon festival not far away, so the night sky was filled with illuminated, multi-colored balloons. 

I had wandered through the city before going to the cave, attended a concert, had dinner, saw the Plaka (old section) one last time, but finally snuck under the chain link fence surrounding the Acropolis, snuck past the guards and their German Shepherds, laid out my sleeping bag in the cave, lit a candle, and started to fall asleep when I heard . . . bats. I tried to sleep anyway but the thought of waking up to one of them sucking on my jugular vein made sleep impossible. So I sat up again and took out a book of poetry that was so tattered from touring Europe with me, the pages were falling out. 

The book was called The Best-Loved Poems of the American People. Most of the poems rhymed because they were written by poets from the Romantic Period such as Longfellow, Dickinson, Byron, Keats, Shelley – the biggies. These poems made sense, had messages, and were perfectly constructed. I came to respect rhyming poetry because of them. Many of the answers to the greatest questions of life were in those poems. I wasn’t alone in that cave at all. They were with me. Their words sang, just as they did for the boys in Dead Poet’s Society in the cave they found on the school grounds. The words dripped from my tongue like honey. They helped me “suck the marrow out of life.”

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But not everyone has the same respect I developed for rhyming poetry. In fact, I recently posted a rhyming poem on Facebook and was told by someone that rhyme should be limited to lullabies and Hallmark cards. This person probably likes or at least respects the legendary poets above, but feels somehow that what they accomplished should no longer be attempted, and to do so, in her words is “stupid” (both writing rhymes and rhyming poetry.) Yes, stupid. She made this comment about a very serious poem I wrote (see my previous post called Journey to God) and a very silly poem called Yoga Makes Me Fart. Everyone got a kick out of it except . . . her. Both poems were deemed to be “stupid” by this self-proclaimed writer and connoisseur of the arts.

That’s another thing about pseudo-intellectuals. They think it’s low-brow to say words like “fart.” But a rhyme with a very long history, most notably by Roald Dahl in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, goes –

A little nonsense now and then, is relished by the wisest men.

So I like offending snobs. In fact, I enjoy it immensely. Normally, I would calmly discuss my reasons for enjoying and writing rhyming verse, but since this person decided to break out the S word, I decided to write a poem especially for her. Of course, it was a rhyming poem – you know, just to annoy her some more. Suffice to say the gloves were off. I don’t suffer the S word very well, I’m afraid, especially from someone with no literary accomplishments. Besides, rhyming poetry has been used to expose blowhards and nincompoops for centuries, too. It’s a fine tradition.

The fact is, I have no tolerance for someone with no discernible talent, someone who hasn’t faced and surmounted the struggles the acquisition of talent demands, yet somehow feels qualified to pass judgment on works of great passion by someone who has. If that sounds arrogant, so be it. A little arrogance can and should be wielded sometimes in life, but only when battling those who are arrogant with no foundation. The only thing I could find that she has written is a self-published book called Witless. You know, because Clueless was already taken. I’m not kidding. You can’t write this stuff.

I was also baffled by how someone can hate something as harmless as rhyming. Some people need to choose bigger causes for their lives. You know, ending world hunger and like that.

If she ever comes across this poem, her arrogance and self-delusion will probably lead her to conclude that she really got to me for me to write all this about her, like that old Carly Simon song You’re So Vain (you probably think this song is about you.) But, of course, it isn’t about her at all. It’s about art, expression, and smacking down anyone who attempts to suppress it in any of its forms. It must be done, but artfully. I laughed myself sick writing the poem below. I enjoyed it. And that’s the main purpose of art of any kind. Enjoyment. The subject of the poem probably won’t enjoy it quite so much.

So here’s a little nonsense. I hope it entertains. And if you start to feel sorry for the subject of the poem at any point, just remember, she deserved it.

The Ballad of Lucy Calhoun

This here is the ballad of Lucy Calhoun.
A bitter, cantankerous, mean, old buffoon.
What happened, you ask, to blacken her heart?
Poems that rhyme and people who fart.

“Rhyming is for lullabies!” she’d often say,
Unfazed that the masters all wrote that way.
No, rhyming of any kind gave her the fits.
Longfellow and Dickinson were a couple of twits. 

Until she suddenly woke up and saw the light
While suffering with the flu one night.
She sat up and, with a horrible start,
Let out a prize-winning, head-spinning fart.

It was so loud and mighty, it expelled a bug
That had lived there for decades, fat and snug.
It landed on the floor and let out a shriek.
Then Lucy passed out and slept for a week.

When she finally awoke, she walked to her table
And discovered that she too was finally able
To write flowing verse with heart and soul
Now that that insect was out of her hole.

Like the Grinch, her heart grew three sizes that day
And she vowed to forever write this new way
And stop driving everyone out of their wits
With babbling free verse that nobody gets.

Now that she had a bug-free rear end,
She said, “I’ll never again harass or offend.
Instead of being a jealous, hateful, old cow,
I’ll learn how to write, too, starting right now!”

And the poetry Grinch, forever-after,
Respected rhyme that rippled like laughter
And said, “Maybe I was dead wrong before.
Maybe rhyming poetry is a little bit more.”

And because her cold heart had unfurled,
She finally got published in the real world
The Romantic poets hadn’t gotten it wrong.
Her mediocrity was her greatest foe all along.

Thus ends the ballad of Lucy Calhoun.
A stern warning for egos that are over the moon.
Before calling the works of another the worst,
Prove yourself their intellectual equal first.

Journey to God (poem)

 

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I know most won’t read this because it is very, very, very long, so to the one or two who do, pat yourself on the back for not being afflicted with the A.D.D. the Internet has stricken 99% of the adult world with. I really opened a vein for it, so I think it will be worth your time. Thanks.

And to those who think a rhyming poem can’t be profound, please get out your Ouija board, contact Hank Longfellow, Emily Dickinson, Bob Frost and Billy Shakespeare (et al) and take it up with them. 

Journey to God

An old man passed away one night.
He’d had a good, long life.
and all that he regretted
was leaving his beautiful wife.

To others, her glory had faded
as the years had claimed their fee
but to him, she was just as lovely
as she was at twenty-three.

He saw his high school sweetheart
and remembered her sweet, shy smile.
He saw his bride in a gown of white
walking toward him down the aisle.

He saw her asleep in a hospital bed
as she cradled their newborn child.
He saw her quiet and thoughtful,
then passionate and wild.

He was so possessed by thoughts of her,
he hardly noticed he had passed.
He was still alive in spirit
and all his pain was gone at last.

He was surprised at how easy it was to die,
like shedding worn-out clothes
but even more to see himself below
as his spirit slowly rose.

He felt no urge or instinct
to return and get back in
for he knew the body on the bed
was never really him.

It was always just a vehicle,
now broken down and old.
What he’d walked around in all his life
was just a vehicle for his soul.

He had to laugh for, being dead,
he had never felt so great.
He couldn’t help but realize
this was a natural state.

Death was not the end of life,
just one more stanza in the poem.
It was not a sad departure
but a return to his true home.

But the cries of his dear wife
would not let him leave this plane.
He could not bear to leave her
while she was in such pain.

He saw her cry and hold him
as he lay still in their bed
and heard her whisper, “Rest, my love”
as he floated overhead.

He wanted to hold her and let her know
that he was free from pain.
He wished he could tell her not to cry
for they’d soon be together again.

But the wall between life and death
proved too thick and strong to breach.
The woman he’d held every day of his life,
for now, was out of reach.

So he cried, too, thinking of her
so frail and helpless there,
alone with his lifeless body
in the home they used to share.

Though at first he was elated
to be free of that painful shell,
he longed to return to tell her
that his soul was alive and well.

So as he floated like a feather
through the purple, misty air,
his sorrow and loneliness mounted
and he fell into despair.

When from far away, through the haze,
a strange melody reached his ears,
sung by a chorus of angels
to soothe and calm his fears.

He followed the voices, clear and sweet,
and could hardly believe the sight.
Radiant beings with glowing eyes
were guiding him toward the light!

“Do you remember me, John?” one of them asked,
“We were buddies in World War Two.”
“Do you remember me, John?” another voice called,
“You used to call me Grandpa Lou.”

“Hey, John! It’s me! Your brother, Joey!
I came here when you were ten.
I’ll bet you never thought
you would hear my voice again.”

This went on for hours and hours,
spirits wanting to say hello;
reunions with those he had loved so well
in the world and the life below.

His emotions were tossed seeing those he had lost
in the maelstrom of earthly life
where often the good are taken too soon
and heartache and sorrow is rife.

But there were two others he struggled to see
till he finally grew panicked and sad.
He said, “Wait a minute! Somebody tell me –
where are my mom and my dad?”

His brother whispered, “John, don’t worry.
They’re here and they’re happy you came.”
Then he saw them, bathed in golden light,
and their faces were just the same.

He cried with joy as he hugged them and said,
“Oh, I have missed you so.”
For years, he wished he could see them again.
Now, he could not let them go.

He was happy to hold them, to look in their eyes,
and laugh as they had before.
He was relieved that death is no different from life.
There’s just no pain anymore.

He told them he’d grown to appreciate
all that they’d done and said,
and as nice as it was to tell them now,
wished he’d told them in life instead.

But like most, he denied the fact of death
and refused to believe they could die.
He never allowed it to enter his mind
as the months and the years flew by.

Till he found himself standing beside their graves
and it finally sank in they were gone.
He was angry at God who allowed death to be.
It all seemed so senseless and wrong.

“Why are we given these feelings?” he had cried,
“And love that grows deeper with time?
If we’re bound to lose it all in the end,
then creating this world was a crime.”

And just the way he had wished
he could soothe his wife’s dismay,
his parents heard his anguished cry
and wished the same that day.

For they had already found their way home
to the fountain from which we all spring.
They had freed themselves of their mortal shells
and their souls had taken wing.

Now here he was, with them again,
and his joy could not be contained.
If only he’d known death was only a door,
his faith would never have waned.

“If you want to swim in the ocean,” they said,
“Just think it and you will be there.
Your body can’t slow you down anymore.
You’re as light and free as the air.”

“Remember those Sunday’s down by the sea?
Those summers that seemed without end?
Just close your eyes and imagine that time
and we’ll all be back there again!”

But he worried that God would not let him stay
and that all this was too good to last.
He feared that he would be banished
for his faltering faith in the past.

But his family and friends just smiled and said,
“John, you have nothing to fear.
A few things they said about heaven down there
are far from the truth up here.”

They said you had to go to church
for God to hear your prayer
but God can hear the softest whisper
anytime and anywhere.

You search for Christ was constant.
You fought for your faith since birth.
And the kindness you always showed in life
is the sole measure of anyone’s worth.

God doesn’t demand blind submission
or condemn you for questions or doubts.
It’s men that said God was vengeful,
a dictator who bullies and shouts.

You thought you needed pure faith
or God wouldn’t hear your call
but the times God tried to help you most
were when you had no faith at all.

You thought that sins were punished
with torture and endless pain
but the threat of hell is not for God
but for the church’s gain.

We don’t need a hell to burn in
or a devil to torture our minds.
Judgment takes place in our conscience
when we’re shown God’s vast design.

It’s not only the enemy of man
who compels us to do wrong.
Good and bad are side by side
within us, all along.

It all comes down to choices –
light or dark, right or wrong,
and they make or break our happiness
in life below and life beyond.

Every sin comes back to haunt us,
no matter how big or how small
and the pain we caused in earthly life
returns to us, after all.

We each have our own individual hell
and a battle none but us can fight.
Millions of souls are still spinning out there,
trapped in perpetual night.

For until they cure their own blindness,
in darkness their souls will bide.
God doesn’t force us to come back home
but patiently calls us inside.

Some men look at evil
and label it “God’s will”
but God gave life, and death for rest.
Only men can kill.

And some say God is dead
or he was never really there.
How else, they ask, can one explain
so many unanswered prayers?

How else can one explain
the pain and horror on the earth?
This has been the central question
since the dawn of mankind’s birth.

But like a mortal parent,
raising a baby all alone,
God did his best to teach us
then left us on our own.

And like a meddling father
who a child would push away,
God can’t live our lives for us
and he can’t cushion the way.

To take every hint of pain from life
would remove our right to choose.
If you really stop to think it through,
we’d gain less than we’d lose.

Some see the misery of human life
and ask God what it means
but the only way He could end it
would be to make us all machines.

So God does not stop evil,
though it hurts Him to let it be.
He can’t both rule with an iron hand
and allow us to be free.

The place that folks call “hell”
where sinners meet their fate
is distance from the light of God
and time to contemplate.

For once you feel God’s presence,
all your pain and sorrows cease.
All your questions then are answered
and your heart is filled with peace.

Men bent the words of Jesus
To control the multitude.
They took his divine message
and made it low and crude.

Men have always struggled for power,
from the caves to the streets of L.A.
Why wouldn’t they twist the word of God
and tell us we need them to pray?

The ring kissing, Hail Mary’s, and rosary beads,
right down to the Pope’s princely nod,
at best, is only good theater,
a bureaucracy between man and God.

You see, God is not some tyrant
who needs a chain of command.
You find God in the eyes of the aged
and in a baby’s hand.

You find God in a sunset
so pretty it makes you cry.
You find God in every warm embrace
and in a lover’s sigh.

You find God in generosity,
and in the meek and mild.
You find God in any gentle soul
who kneels to help a child.

You find God in the soft, pink light
when a new day has begun
and in the flower by the window
as it opens to the sun.

And yes, you find God in the dying
as the light fades in their eyes
and their spirit slowly slips away
to its true home in the skies.

God is in every one of us.
We can feel it when we’re young.
Then we’re snatched up by the world
and into the fray we’re flung.

We grow cynical and weary
and forget all that we once knew
when the peace and joy God gave us
has lost its native hue.

Oh, if only they knew, John! If only they knew!
What a wonderful world they might win
if they could only see past their differences
to the spirit that dwells within.”

He was shocked by these new revelations.
His mind spun around and around.
The chains that tethered his spirit in life
Lay shattered in pieces on the ground.

His parents said, “Welcome to heaven.”
He felt a peace he never thought he would know
and though his mortal life had just ended,
it seemed like a long time ago.

Then a hush fell all through the firmament.
Impossible colors filled the air, far and near.
His peace grew so deep, he sobbed out loud
and his mother whispered, “Look! God is here!”

– Mark Rickerby

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“Happiness” in 2018

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So here we are again, awash in resolutions, but what all self-improvement boils down to is the desire to be happy, right? And even if we did achieve that perfect state of mind, who’s to say it would stick around? Would the realization of one goal only give rise to another? Would the “there” we’re dreaming of now be replaced by another “there” the second we reach it? Isn’t that what has been happening for most of us so far? 

I spent most of my adult life waiting for happiness like UPS was going to deliver it. I kept waiting for it as if money or fame or someone else could make happiness come and stay permanently. Then I realized this is it, right now, as I washed the sink, or changed the baby, or resented someone for some insult in the distant past. This is it. Happiness was actually waiting for me, to make a choice, or continue not to, which is the same thing.

I learned that happiness is a choice, regardless of how much I have or don’t have. I must choose it for myself and defend it righteously when someone tries to destroy it (and they do – misery really does love company.)

But the irony is the happier I am, the more likely I am to achieve the things I want. Self-pity is never rewarded. The universe ignores it and I’m pretty sure it annoys God because He’s aware of all the effort that goes into being depressed and cynical – the adopting of the slouching posture, the ignoring of everything good (and free) around me at any given moment, the refusal to even begin to pursue the achievement that’s possible with even a minimal amount of effort. It’s hard work to be depressed. It takes effort to fail. I know. I set my own expectations of myself too low for years. My problem now is choosing which inspiration to pursue. And inspiration is everywhere. 

I can be a supernova exploding in all directions, or a dying star. It’s my choice. 

I tell my daughters who they are and will be is a choice they make every day and recommit to from moment to moment. Asking the right questions determines destiny –

Am I going to be happy or sad?

Am I going to be nice or mean?

Am I going to be healthy or sick?

Am I going to be decent or indecent?

Am I going to be smart or stupid?

How do I behave when nobody sees?

Not choosing is choosing. Failing to plan is planning to fail. Not choosing is resigning oneself to being a cork on the ocean, tossed about by the caprices of wind and current. 

So good luck with your resolutions, and asking yourself the right questions. Choosing the right answers requires a lot of trust – mainly that good things happen to good people. All one must do to see the opposite is turn on the news at night – it’s full of the chaos that fills the lives of those who never bother to ask themselves the right questions, or willfully choose the wrong answer. In fact, this post is probably wasted because it’s being read by bloggers, a generally enlightened bunch who don’t really need to read any of this.

Anyway, in case someone who might otherwise be robbing someone at an ATM, knocking over a liquor store, or just generally treating people like dirt happens to be reading this right now, as the guardian knight in Indiana Jones said . . .

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Yoga Makes Me Fart (a poem)

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Okay, this didn’t really happen to me, but I can’t say this really didn’t happen to me or it will sound like I’m lying and it did really happen to me, so I just won’t say anything at all. Oops, wait.

I thought this was a very original poem but after researching it a bit when I was finished writing it, it turns out farting in yoga class is kind of a thing. Who knew? I’ll share the product of my research with you at the end of the poem.

I took one yoga class many years ago and – well, let’s just say it didn’t go well. Again, fart suppression wasn’t the problem. I’m just not very bendy, which is surprising since the bendable Gumby and Pokey figures were my favorite toys as a child.

My next worry was that writing and posting a poem about farting would destroy my sophisticated reputation. I shared this worry with my wife. Her laughter (not at the poem – at my fantasy about anyone thinking I’m sophisticated) encouraged me to forge ahead. 

Anyway, all you yoga farters, ashamed or shameless, I hope it gives you a laugh.

Yoga Makes Me Fart

Well the misses and I,
We were growing apart
So I joined her yoga class
Cuz it’s dear to her heart
But I couldn’t bend that way
At least not at the start
And to make matters worse
Yoga makes me fart.

Yep, yoga makes me fart.
It makes me cut the cheese.
The yoga teacher got mad and said
“Just wait outside, please.”
I tried to show my sweetie
Just how much I care
But instead I left her yoga pals
Dying in there

If you’ve never done it,
Man, don’t ever start.
Yoga makes me fart.

Talk about your silent rides home.
I said sorry but she said, “Just leave me alone.
You did that on purpose,
Don’t you think I know?
If you didn’t want to do it,
You should have just said so!”

So I changed the subject and asked,
“How’d the rest of the class go?”
She said, “We had to put the windows down
and it’s twenty-five below!
But it didn’t help at all,
you big, flatulent schmoe!
It just smelled like somebody
Took a big dump in the snow!”

They all seemed so nice,
So enlightened and clever
So you can imagine my surprise
when they banned me forever.
They all seemed so peaceful,
At least at the start.
But what can I say?
Yoga makes me fart.

Yeah, yoga makes me fart.
The big, wet, slappy kind.
I made all them spiritual folks
go plum out their minds.
If you’ve never done it,
Brother, don’t ever start.
What can I say?
Yoga makes me fart.

 

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More Kindness Than Danger (travel story)

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Here’s my story from Chicken Soup for the Soul’s latest book, Step Outside Your Comfort Zone. There are 100 more stories in the book about living life fearlessly and accomplishing your dreams. You can buy one online, in your favorite bookstore, or order a signed copy from me here through Paypal. (Message me for payment info, etc.) I hope my story inspires your next great adventure.

More Kindness than Danger

Another spring had arrived and, with it, my familiar and frustrated wanderlust. I had waited years for my friends to go to Europe with me, but there was always some reason they couldn’t. I proposed the trip once again to the same friends and received the same excuses. I wasn’t going to let another year go by without making this dream come true, so I decided to take the trip alone. I bought a one-way ticket to Copenhagen and told my friends I would send them a postcard.

On the day of my departure, I was excited but also surprised at how worried I felt—not just about being lonely, but also about the dangers I might encounter. My parents also questioned the wisdom of walking around Europe alone for months. They warned me not to be too trusting, to stay out of bad neighborhoods, and to avoid going out by myself at night. In retrospect, it was cruel to subject them to such torment, but they eventually understood that I just wanted to see the beauty of the world while I was still young.

My own worry was more difficult to assuage. Maybe I had watched too many movies that showed the darker side of man’s nature. Conflict is the essence of drama, after all. All those movies about naïve vacationers being attacked, kidnapped or thrown into abusive prisons had taken their toll on my trust in people. Watching the six o’clock bad news didn’t help, either. But there was no turning back, so I hugged my parents goodbye, got a ride to the airport from a friend, and flew into the big, blue sky and complete uncertainty.

It was early April, but snow was still on the ground in Copenhagen when I landed. Determined to be frugal, I chose the cheapest youth hostel in my travel guide. As I slept that first night on an ancient, unpleasant-smelling mattress beside a cracked, graffiti-covered wall, homesickness began to overwhelm me. I thought, What am I doing? I could be home in my clean, comfortable bed. But even that wasn’t there anymore because I had vacated my apartment and sold most of my belongings to finance this trip. I sat up, took out a miniature flashlight and found a note in my pocket that a friend back home had given me. He had written down the name and number of someone he knew in Copenhagen named Lisbeth. He said she would be happy to take me in for a few days. I decided to call her the next morning, and then fell asleep from exhaustion.

When I arrived at her door, she welcomed me like family and showed me the sights of Copenhagen for several days. I felt so accepted by her and her friends and had so much fun that I forgot to feel homesick.

One night, they took me to a karaoke bar. Word got around that I was from California, so someone asked me to sing a Beach Boys song. I chose “California Girls” but changed “California” to “Copenhagen.” The syllable count was a perfect match. The first time I sang “I wish they all could be Copenhagen girls,” everyone cheered, and I made a hundred friends instantly.

That’s another thing about movies. Nobody can sit in a bar in a movie without some group of drunken nincompoops harassing them. But this bar was filled with the nicest people imaginable. It was just another example of the skewed reality of cinema. Travel was working its magic. My faith in human beings was being restored.

I stayed in Copenhagen for a week before moving on. I was alone again, but invigorated by a great first week away from home. My solitude didn’t last long, however. I found travel companions everywhere I went, especially on the trains. My backpack was a silent invitation to other wayfarers to join forces and see something new together.

With only four thousand dollars, I didn’t know how long I would be able to travel. I ended up stretching it out for six months. When I wasn’t sleeping at youth hostels or the homes of new friends, I saved money by sleeping in train stations or on moving trains between one destination and another, roughing it for the sake of extending the adventure. Besides, with so many new people to get to know and so much world to see, sleep wasn’t much of a priority. It wasn’t just that, though. I wasn’t tired anymore. The continuous excitement of exploration freed me from the weariness that often plagued me at home.

While my friends back home repeated another typical summer, I awoke to the view of cotton clouds drifting through a pastel blue sky above Venice, Italy, as opera students practiced arias in the square below my hotel window. I dipped my feet in the cool water of the Trevi Fountain in Rome and imagined I had discovered the fountain of youth. I watched the sun rise over the red tile roofs of Florence. I held hands with a Parisian beauty at the top of the Eiffel Tower. I sat silently in the cool air of a mountainside prairie in Switzerland as spring exploded around me. I parasailed over Swiss Alps so fertile that the lake below them was bright yellow with floating pollen.

I watched a rainbow form over the Irish Sea. I held my hand against the cold monoliths of Stonehenge and felt their mystery flood through me. I read poetry by candlelight in a cave at the base of the mountain the Acropolis stands upon while colorful hot-air balloons filled the night sky in the distance. I recited a monologue under a full moon at the Theatre of Dionysus. I walked the ancient cobblestone streets of Athens. I danced all night in a Greek disco pulsating with life. I watched a golden sunfish sail past my rowboat in the Aegean Sea and imagined it was Zeus taking the shape of a fish to observe me more closely. I walked through ancient ruins and felt with an ache how brief my existence is, but how sacred and powerful it is for that same reason.

And through it all, I had time—that most precious commodity—to read, write, watch and really see, to listen and really hear, and to savor my life while gazing through the moving church of a train window. I discovered what Joseph Campbell meant when he said people aren’t as interested in the meaning of life as they are in the experience of being alive.

I arrived home with less than a dollar in my pocket, but with a heart and soul overflowing with riches and dozens of new stories to tell. Traveling alone can seem intimidating at first, but the world is full of kindness and generosity, and they are both showered upon us for prices anyone can afford—respect, friendliness, and an open heart.

I’m twenty-five years older now, and those same friends who didn’t come with me on that adventure can’t recall what was important enough to make them stay home back then. My problem these days is not fear of travel or distrust of humanity; it’s being content at home. The desire for adventure only grows stronger with age. How can one have enough fun? Romance? Awe? A world full of wonders, ever-pulsating outside my window, still calls me to new adventures, but now I accept the invitations fearlessly, knowing the rewards far outweigh the risks, and there is much more kindness in this world than danger.

Blurring the Christmas Lights

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One Christmas Eve when I was about eight years old, I was sitting alone on my best friend Dana’s front lawn when I heard tinkling bells high in the night sky above me. I looked up and saw, in great detail, Santa Claus and his sleigh, complete with reindeer, and Rudolph leading the way with his blinking, red nose. I was dumbstruck. I ran inside and told Dana. I don’t think he believed me.

I saw Santa another time while gazing at the colorful lights of our Christmas tree. All of a sudden, there he was, climbing and falling through a neon firmament. I saw him so well, I blinked and blinked but couldn’t stop seeing him. I ran into the front room and told my parents and brother, who were immersed in a TV show, that I had just seen Santa in the lights of our Christmas tree. They all looked at each other, then back at me, then at each other again. My mother said, “That’s nice, honey.” My dad rolled his eyes. My brother did, too. I walked back to the other room, crestfallen, and gazed at the tree again, trying to recapture Santa.

A few minutes later, my brother sat down beside me, probably feeling bad that nobody believed me, and said, “Okay, where is he?” I taught him how to cross his eyes and squint so that the lights of the tree spired outward in all directions and diffused, making them even more brilliant and magical.

I said, “You can’t just look at the tree. It’s a different way of seeing.”

He was clearly skeptical but played along anyway. He tried for a minute or so, then said, “This is stupid. I don’t see anything.”

“Keep trying,” I said. “It took me a while, too.”

I hadn’t yet found Santa again when he yelled, “I see him! I see him!” His eyes were wide as pancakes. This time we both ran into the front room. My brother yelled, “It’s true! Santa is in the Christmas tree!”

My parents did another double-take, then begrudgingly got up and came in. They both sat by the tree. My dad said, “Okay, show me.” I taught them the magic gaze, too. After only ten seconds or so, way too early to have found the big guy, my father unenthusiasticly said, “Oh, yeah. There he is. I see him now. Don’t you see him, sweetheart?”

“Oh, yes! My goodness! There he is!” my mother replied.

My brother and I weren’t buying it. It was obvious we were being appeased and patronized. They both thanked us for showing them Santa and went back to their TV show.

My brother was about twelve at the time, in that in-between time when there’s still some magic left but it’s starting to fade. Only adults who have fought daily to hold onto the magic have any left in them. At this writing, I still blur the lights on our Christmas tree, and on houses in the neighborhood, to see if the magic is still there. I find it is weaker when I’m sad than it is when I’m happy. The magic has been weaker than ever the last few years because my father died in late 2014. I’ve never been one for marking negative anniversaries, but this was different. It’s like the magic left with him. But it’s not gone completely, and I’ll fight to hang on to what’s left. That which is precious and sacred must be protected.

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Book Signing / Pajama Party!

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What a great night at Mystic Journey Bookstore in Venice Beach, California. (That’s me on the right.) Look at that crystal behind us! It’s bigger than my first apartment!

The event was hosted by Kelly Sullivan Walden, dream interpretation expert, and Lisa Garr, host of K-PFK’s The Aware Show (and niece of actress Teri Garr.) They both created such a warm, loving, expansive vibe in the room and – okay, I’ll say it – a good time was had by all.  

Since the event was about dreaming and celebrated the two Chicken Soup for the Soul books Kelly has co-published, Dreams and Premonitions and Dreams and the Unexplained, she challenged everyone to wear pajamas. I went full nerd with Harry Potter pajamas and robe. Only five or six of the attendees rose to the challenge and wore pajamas so I felt a bit silly, but as Socrates said, “Pajama parties are like love. You enter into them with complete abandon or not at all.” 

Okay, Socrates didn’t really say that, but he should have. 

I read my story The Warning about my brother visiting me in a dream shortly after he died of a drug overdose at the age of 37. Walter Berry and Debbie Spector Weisman also read their stories A Smiling Journey in Darkness and The Curious Riddle of the Codpiece, respectively. All three stories are in Dreams and Premonitions. I also heard some great comedy and a song (Love is the Answer by England Dan and John Ford Coley) by the multi-talented Shane August. 

You can access The Aware Show interview archives at:

http://www.theawareshow.com.

Kelly Sullivan Walden’s work and books can be found at:

http://www.kellysullivanwalden.com

If you like Hawaiian music, you can hear Shane August flex the golden tonsils at:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=36bj0sHQatw

If you’d like a signed copy of Dreams and Premonitions, message me here and I’ll send you the ordering instructions. Dreams and the Unexplained is available at bookstores online and at your favorite bookstore. 

Remember, a dream unexamined is like a letter from the self unopened!