A collection of my writings and activities for the 2020 edition of Wonderland.
A collection of my writings and activities for the 2020 edition of "Wonderland" .
B. "The Pool of Tears" | 3. "Où est ma chatte?"
The only thing worse than needing to ask for help in a frontier town is needing to ask for help in a frontier town that doesn't speak your language. But such circumstances were par for the course in uncharted space. This particular town on this particular planet was the nexus point for a trio of mines that operated nearby. Each mining company would send their representatives here to acquire additional supplies, which made this little one-street town as much of a hub of activity as any city center.
What brought me here wasn’t an appreciation for the fine work of mining, or this particular planet’s lovely desert-centric climate and topography. No, it was the fact that Marshmallow escaped again. Some days, I really regret genetically engineering my snow-white Pomeranian mix with advanced human-level intelligence and extra opposable digits on his paws. I mean, sure, it’s great for companionship and a little extra help around the space cruiser during those long hauls between planets, but it’s a real pain when it’s the third time this week you’ve clearly told him “no” to taking one of the surface-landers down to a planet to look around and he does it anyway.
And now I find myself trying to track Marshmallow down on some backwater planet where Galactic Standard and any of the other twenty languages I speak have been received with a look of disdain usually reserved for sex criminals, agents of the Imperium, or holovangelists.
Against one of the outer walls of one of the buildings was a series of pictures with numbers listed below them. On many planets, people might call this a “notice board” or a “community connections board.” Even though I had no idea how the local currency converted against what I was carrying, I was confident the exchange rate was favorable and I could put up a good reward for finding my beloved Marshmallow. If my words didn’t work, maybe my numbers would.
I had just finished printing up a flyer using the crude but effective printer in my surface-lander and was in the process of tacking it up when I heard a commotion behind me. Someone was riding into town on a horse, fast, dragging something in the dirt behind him.
He rode right up to the building I was currently posting my flyer on.
He hopped off his horse and strode up to the notice board. He skimmed the flyers posted there, pulled one off, and tossed it onto the canvas-wrapped lump he had been dragging behind his horse. The local sheriff or magistrate or whatever they were called on this planet hurried over and opened the canvas wrapping, revealing a bloody, barely-alive humanoid that may have borne some passing resemblance to the face on the poster. The sheriff nodded, drew a blaster, and fired it into the prisoner’s head, then tossed a small bag of coins to the rider.
I looked at the board again and couldn’t help but notice the vast majority of faces on the “community connections” board were scowling, outlaw-looking individuals.
I quietly removed Marshmallow’s “missing dog” poster, crumpled it up, and pocketed it.
Finding Marshmallow was going to be harder than I thought...
B. "The Pool of Tears" | 2. "Drowning in Tears"
I grew up in a small town in Northern California, the kind where the kids I went to kindergarten and elementary school with were mostly the same kids I went to middle school and high school with. While there were the inevitable arrivals and departures as families came and went, those of us who stayed in town stayed in school together.
A handful of us made it all the way from kindergarten to high school graduation together. Not always in the exact same classes, and not always as the close friends we were on the playground in those early years, but still at the same school, passing each other in the same halls, having lunch in the same cafeteria, and attending assemblies in the same gym.
One of these girls, K, lived two streets away from me. Our families used to talk a lot, until those awkward junior high and high school years where their kids drifted apart in an effort to find their own identities. I was one of the nerdy kids (the one who talked Dungeons & Dragons with his friends, and spend tutorial periods talking with my AP English teacher about books I read that *gasp* weren’t even assigned to me by anyone. K was more of the artsy kind of outsider, and so we didn’t cross paths too often as we grew up.
And then she died.
K came down with a sudden and deadly illness (some kind of meningitis, I think), and went from being totally healthy, to really sick, to dead in a matter of days. The entire school was reeling; this was the first time any of us had lost a classmate.
To make matters worse, my journalism teacher (I worked for the school paper) decided that, as one of the paper’s best writers and someone who knew K personally for a long time, I should be the one to write an article about her passing. I had to go to her house less than a week after her passing, and talk to her parents about their loss, what they were going through, what they wanted K’s classmates to know, etc.
As they sat there and told me about the young woman K was growing into, and all the things that she had accomplished in recent years which I didn’t even know about because we didn’t run in the same circles anymore, I became incredibly sad not just for their family’s loss, but for my loss at having not taken the time to get to know her as we got older.
When I go home to visit my parents (who still live in their same house in their same neighborhood), I can’t help but pull that high school newspaper article I wrote out of storage and re-reading it. Then I go for a walk along that street two streets away, and pass by the house where I sat and asked journalist-type questions of a friend’s parents who had just lost their daughter. I don’t know if they even still live there or not, but I then think about K, and who she would have been now, nearly twenty years later, if she were still alive.
I have experienced a lot of sad events in my life: the loss of friends and loved ones, missed opportunities, regrets over things that I’ve said or left unsaid. There’s no shortage of moments that, upon reflection, leave me feeling a little melancholy. But I don’t think anything will compete with sitting across the dining room table from a pair of grieving, sobbing parents... and wondering why I didn’t make more of an effort to get to know their daughter a little better before she unexpectedly died.
B. "The Pool of Tears" | 1. "Much Too Big"
If I were 'too big' I would do a number of things. Please note that since the prompt doesn't specify whether 'big' is an indicator of height or girth, the first five are the former, and the last five are the latter.
1. Dust the high, hard-to-reach places without the use of a ladder. Sometimes the best dreams are the simplest one, and it'd be nice to not have to lug a ladder or step-stool out of the closet every time you needed to reach the top shelf.
2. Try out for a walk-on spot as a center for the Sacramento Kings. This would serve the dual purpose of allowing me to call myself a professional athlete (albeit briefly), and give my grandmother (a lifelong Kings fan) the thrill of her life. As a bonus, as far as NBA teams go, I'm pretty sure the Sacramento Kings couldn't do much worse, even if basketball is my worst sport.
3. Rent a Miata or other compact convertible and drive the length of the Overseas Highway between Florida City and Key West with the top down. Because there are few things funnier than a big person in a tiny car, and I've always wanted to drive the Overseas Highway, so why not enjoy the experience in style (and good humor)?
4. Try to get a cameo on professional wrestling, a monster movie, as a mascot, etc. Big guys are always needed in the entertainment field. While I usually avoid being in front of the camera, this feels like one of those unique opportunities where I should use my irregular size to maximum effect and put it to use on screen or in person.
5. Call the Guinness Book of World Records and get a certified world record. While I'm at it, I might as well set some kind of size-related world record and have something to show for this whole ordeal when it's over!
6. Take a bunch of time-stamped 'before' pictures. Since my 'bigness' will be for a limited-time only, I would get a bunch of time-stamped 'before' pictures taken so that when I revert back, I could take the 'after' companion pictures and then go around to all the weight loss programs in the country and see which one will pay me to be a spokesperson for their program. (Okay, I wouldn't actually do this, but it would be a great way to make money!)
7. Sneak into sea world and try to "beach" myself in the amphitheater tank like one of the dolphins or orcas. I've always thought sliding into the shallows in that tank would be fun, and if I were excessively large it would make that much more of an impressive spectacle.
8. Sit on one side of a teeter-totter/see-saw and see how many other people had to pile up on the other side to lift me. Mostly, I think it would make an amazing photo op and I'd be genuinely curious to see how many people it took to lift my seat off the ground.
9. Have someone roll me around Violet Beauregarde-style. Just like in CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY when she turned into a giant blueberry and Oompa Loompas had to roll her out of the room, I'd have someone roll me in a similar fashion. Mostly because I think it would be a fun way to travel (assuming it was a very short distance).
10. Sign up for a dunk tank to see how much water I can displace when someone finally dunks me. Ideally, it would be a very high-seated dunk tank so I could also go for impressive splash distance as well. Hey, you have to have fun where you can!
A. "Down the Rabbit Hole" | 4. "Eat Me"
THE CAKE IS A LIE
In the grand spirit of both those gimmicky molecular gastronomy restaurants that create dishes designed to look like something and taste like something else, as well as any vegan/non-dairy/gluten-free/etc. recipe that's ever tried to claim "it tastes exactly like the original thing!" when it clearly and emphatically does not, this recipe for The Cake Is A Lie (credit to Portal for the title inspiration) is very simple:
Step 1: Take a food item that is objectively not a cake.
Step 2: Cover it in frosting (your choice of flavor).
Step 3: Proclaim that it is now a cake.
Step 4: Enjoy (or not)!
A. "Down the Rabbit Hole" | 3. "Drink Me"
WRITER'S "BLOCKLATE" MILKSHAKE
4 scoops chocolate ice cream
4 cups chocolate milk
2 Tbsp chocolate syrup
A dash of Impostor's Syndrome
A smidgen of Fear of Missing Out
A pinch of Fear of Failure
Blend chocolate ice cream and chocolate milk at high speed in a blender for 60 seconds.
Add chocolate syrup and blend for another 15 seconds.
Add Imposter Syndrome, Fear of Missing Out, and Fear of Failure to taste.
Garnish with whipped cream, nuts, or a cherry as desired.
A. "Down the Rabbit Hole" | 2. "Find the Key to the Garden"
According to UNICEF, there are roughly 153,000,000 orphans worldwide.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, there are approximately 443,000 kids in the foster care system of the United States on any given day.
According to the Adoption Exchange Association, 55,000 of those foster kids are in my home state of California.
These statistics are some of the many reasons my wife and I decided to grow our family by undertaking the journey to foster-to-adopt. We spent 2018 getting certified and cleared to accept children into our home, the first half of 2019 waiting for the right placement, and the second half of 2019 acclimating to the addition of a five-year-old boy and his (now) eleven-month-old baby sister into our home. We became parents literally overnight, and the past eight months since then have been an absolute blur.
It wasn't too long ago that my wife and I were pursuing our own biological children. Not for lack of ability, nor for lack of trying, that reality never materialized for us. When faced with the possibility of invasive and expensive fertility treatment options, we kept going back to the statistics I listed above, and thinking about all of those amazing kids who were already born and in need of a stable, loving family. We put the fertility plans on hold and started filling out our paperwork to become foster parents, with the intention of hopefully adopting our children out of the foster care system.
This blog post isn't about how becoming a parent has filled a missing piece of my heart. (But it has.)
This blog post isn't about how you should really consider fostering kids yourself. (But maybe you should, if you can?)
This blog is about the important work of caring for orphans. There is a substantial shortage of good homes to take in these kids, and an even more pronounced limitation on resources available to help those who do, which is why so many of them bounce around from bad foster home to bad foster home, why so many of them live in dangerous group homes, and why the foster system has such bleak outcomes for kids who find themselves - for various reasons - in that system for an extended period of time. These kids, the vast majority of which did nothing to bring their circumstances on themselves, need dependable people to help them break the cycle.
Not everyone is able to actually take foster children into their homes. But there are myriad other ways that you can make a difference, including:
Donating money to a nonprofit or charity that provides resources for foster kids and families.
Donating time by volunteering for said nonprofits or charities.
Donating goods or services or time to the foster kids and/or families themselves.
There are approximately 4,464 towns or cities in the United States with 10,000 or more people living in them. If each of those towns or cities took responsibility for 100 kids, the U.S. would have ZERO orphans. Even in the smallest town of only 10,000 residents, that's only 1 in every 100 that would have to commit to caring for a foster kid.
There are also 400,000+ churches, mosques, and other religious institutions in the United States, which means that if every religious community took in one child, there would also be almost no orphans in the country.
This is not an insurmountable problem.
One of the things about our family's foster-to-adopt journey that's always made me incredibly uncomfortable is the praise we've received for doing it. People are constantly saying things like, "You guys are exceptional" and "You're doing something that not a lot of people can do." And while some of that discomfort comes from me generally being praise-averse, it's also uncomfortable because my wife and I aren't doing anything exceptional... we just said yes.
We agreed to step outside our comfort zone and help in whatever way we were able. For us, that mean taking in two foster kids who needed a home. For someone else, that might mean four kids. Or no kids, but instead volunteering to babysit for a neighbor who does have foster kids and needs a break. Or donating a few bucks, or some old baby clothes, or toys your own kids have outgrown, to someone in the foster system who will be able to put those resources to good use.
I'm not going to pretend like fostering children isn't difficult. (It really is.) In addition to standard parenting fare like feeding, clothing, disciplining, and basically keeping your littles alive, you also have to contend with seemingly endless social worker visits. And court hearings where there's the constant risk of them giving the kids back to the birth parents to make another go of it. And keeping a log of all the medications you've administered to the kids ... and the clothes you've bought ... and the allowance you're setting aside for them. There are a hundred annoying little rules you have to follow to be in compliance with state and federal law that no biological parent ever has to even think about.
But, at the end of the day, I suspect being a foster parent is a lot like being a biological parent in that it all comes down to just buckling down and doing the work. You do whatever you have to do in order to raise children as best as you know how. No matter how many hoops, or setbacks, or surprises, it's a matter of survival. One day at a time, doing the best you can.
Caring for foster youth has been the opportunity of a lifetime.
It's the key to something very important for the world at large.
You can play a role in that important work and opportunity of a lifetime too. You just have to say yes, in whatever way makes sense for you.
A. "Down the Rabbit Hole" | 1. "Follow the White Rabbit"
Basically, anytime someone promises a multi-step, multi-genre, out of the box-type writing experience, I'm 1000% in. I love activities that challenge me to get outside my comfort zone, stretch me as a writer, and give me an opportunity to try new things. Activities like this on Writing.com have met with varying degrees of success before, but iKïyå§amaCabre is a veteran contest organizer and I completely trust her to come up with something that's both demanding and rewarding. And in looking at all of the components to "Wonderland" which have now been posted, it's definitely going to be at least the first of those two things!
This activity also comes at an ideal time for me because I've really struggled with getting back into the writing habit. While my lack of writing productivity dates back to well before 2019, last year was a particular low point in terms of my writing. I could blame the three jobs, or the sudden addition of two foster kids, and myriad other factors, but that doesn't change the fact that no significant writing was done, and I'm now painfully out of practice. I've decided that 2020 is going to be the year I give self-publishing a legitimate shot (and "research" like listening to podcasts and reading nonfiction books about the industry no longer count), and in order to do that, I have to regain confidence in my abilities as a writer.
if I'm being really honest with myself, I'm also bothered by my lack of participation here on Writing.com as well. See above for my go-to excuses as to why, but again the fact remains that I'm just not a present on this site as I used to be. Sure, I run the official writing contest every month, and run or participate in a handful of activities here and there throughout the year, but I really miss the days of being plugged into the site, of keeping in touch with old friends and getting to know talented newbies. I keep meaning to find a way back into the day-to-day goings on here, but haven't quite found a way to make that click into place yet.
Enter "Wonderland" , promising a variety of challenges designed to get me to think and work outside my comfort zone. It's the kind of endurance challenge that will force me to write regularly if I'm to have any hope of success, and - in looking over the posted challenges - also seems to have a community component to it as well. Honestly, if this doesn't get me back into the writing (and Writing.com) habit, I don't know what will.