I’m a hormonal, sugar-fueled mess this week. I find these labels empowering. Because they give me reasons and solutions for the way I feel.

You’re cranky, hungry, tired, and head-achey because being a female is terrible sometimes. To feel better, wait.

You’re cranky, hungry, tired and head-achey because you’ve been eating a lot of things that you know are bad for you. To feel better, stop eating sugar.

(P.S. Not to rub it in or anything, but eating sugar often means no adverse affects from hormones.)

Unfortunately, the blithe “stop eating sugar” mandate is tough sell right now.

Sugar is my achilles heel. My mouth loves it, my body hates it. If I eat sugar, I feel tired and cranky and my brain goes foggy and my skin breaks out and I have cravings for a week.

In the past, simply acknowledging the cycle and recognizing how much worse my life is when I’m eating sugar has been enough to pop me out of the dreaded cycle.

Making good food choices is an experiential process. Quitting certain foods to lose weight or because it’s healthier isn’t enough of an incentive for me, because the concepts are too vague. Vague does not hold up well when confronted with butterscotch pudding on a sunny patio. But experimenting with alterations – over the past five years, I’ve experimented with raw, vegan, and no sugar – for long enough to learn how I feel and how my life shifts without those things provides amazing incentives. Like, stop eating that thing and life gets 100% better and you know this to be a fact. Now, that’s an incentive.

When I’m off sugar, I don’t have food cravings, I sleep well, my energy is high, creative work feels easy, my moods are cheerful, my skin is clear and my jeans fit.

But sugar is in everything. It’s in your curry chicken when you go out for Indian food, it’s in bread you buy at the grocery store, it’s in basically any food that comes in a box or from a restaurant. It also craftily hides under innocuously healthy sounding names, like honey and brown rice syrup. Alcohol reacts in your body the same way sugar does. So do potatoes.

Sugar is also in pancakes and oh my stars, how I love pancakes. Green juice is so terribly uninspiring when what you really want is a stack of buttery blueberry pancakes.

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Portrait of the artist after she has demanded pancakes on a Sunday morning. 

But pancakes make me feel terrible and green juice makes me feel like I’m flying through the sky on a friendly dragon.

I’ve been dabbling in sugar again, because I’ve been going out to eat a lot more often than in past years and I’m in a relationship now so my exercise routine is all thrown off and also the demon of over-confidence started to whisper in my ear about how “sugar doesn’t affect you that much!” and “you’re fine!” and “mmm, buttercream-frosted cupcakes!” 

I’ve given up sugar four or five times now. Sometimes it lasts for a year, sometimes it lasts for six months, last week it lasted for about three days. Usually, I have to hit some point of pain – like watching the sugar cycle of crankiness and depression roller coaster me up and down for awhile until I decide it’s absolutely 100% not worth it. Then everything clicks in and abandoning sugar feels easy for green juice feels easy. But I just haven’t hit that point yet. And I’m a little mad at myself because I need that point.

Willpower isn’t really a thing for me. I have no interest in torturing myself, even for the sake of health or feeling better. Self-control and discipline have never made me jump for joy. So I wait until eating sugar is actually a more painful prospect than not eating sugar and everything gets easy.

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You know how sometimes you get nudged by something? Maybe you’re stepping out the door and the sky looks fairly innocuous, plenty of sun and only a few clouds off in the distance, but something inside you whispers, “Grab your umbrella.” But you ignore the little whispering voice because your brain says, with great authority, “That doesn’t make sense, the weather is perfect and nowhere on my weather app did it say rain,” and then you get soaked on your way to the car later that evening.

I’m learning to pay attention to those nudges, even when they don’t make logical sense. I’ve never been a huge fan of logic anyway.

Lately, my nudges don’t seem to care so much about my personal comfort – they tend to be more work related, even when it’s decidedly uncomfortable for me. (Thanks, nudges.) In the past few weeks, the latest of these – a newsletter – has graduated from nudging to knocking. It’s merciless and unrelenting and so for the good of my skull, I need to get this newsletter idea moving.

So here we go.

One of my favorite things to do is intuitive writing. It’s hard to put words to it (ironically), but here’s a reasonably decent description, if you’re interested. I’ve been doing it more seriously for about a year now, doing love and career readings for friends or just a “whatever you need to hear right now” sort of thing. What I’ve learned is that I can also do it for groups. Feel into what a certain group of people – say, a group of newsletter subscribers – most need to hear and type it out.

Because it’s better understood experientially than logically, let me give you an example of what a group intuitive reading might look like:

What does the group need to hear today?

We are all here for the same purpose. It may look different, as each life looks different, but we are all on the same journey. To see the light in ourselves and in others, to see the love reflected back to us that we radiate. We recognize that terms like light and love have become overused, almost to the point of losing their meaning. We invite you now to relearn that meaning. To look for that light and love in whatever it is you cherish most – your child, your spouse, your dog, your home. Even a car can be a source of great joy, when the car is truly loved for itself and not for what you think it means about you. (Cars don’t work when they’re purchased to impress your neighbors. They only work when you love them and putting your hands on the steering wheel brings you a great sense of joy. Zoom, zoom.)

Now is the time to begin working with these almost hackneyed phrases. To bring them into your own life, to recognize them for what they are – as the warm feeling that spreads through your chest as you relax into your body and into the knowledge of what you truly love. (A book, the ocean, your oldest friend, the way your living room looks when the light hits it just right and you don’t have anything to do for at least an hour…)

Find new words if you wish, but learn that feeling. Learn what inspires it, learn how the sensations in your body feel, come back into knowing what it feels like to be filled with light and love. Because it’s not about learning, but remembering. You all know what this is and how it feels and how to turn your attention toward it. You just need to be reminded that you know and to ask for help in accepting it again. For the moment a desire comes into being is the same moment the answer is available. This is another thing to remember and relearn, but it comes with opening yourself up to the lightness of true joy, for its own sake.

So, there you have it. I honestly don’t know exactly what this newsletter will be yet, but it will definitely include some form of group reading like that one up there and maybe news about the animals stories, which I have decided to turn into a book and am terribly excited about. And maybe pictures of giraffes or updates about how badly I want a bunny named Ophelia.

If you’re interested in getting something like this in your inbox every so often, jump in! 


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Nobody Likes Big Rats

March 4, 2015

Viola learned one harsh, inviolable, life-defining truth the hard way:

Baby possums are adorable.

Adolescent possums…not so much.

She had been adored as a child. Revered, even. People stopped to coo at her in the streets and she was given treats by anyone who had a treat to give. Her parents fussed, her grandparents doted, and her aunts spoiled. A nice life, if you can get it.

But as her fuzzily sweet baby self grew into an ungainly rat-like creature whose whippy rodent tail dragged behind her, reaction to her person became far less enjoyable. It seemed that the other animals responded not to her sparkling personality, not to her ability to soothe fussy infants, not to the fact that she could recite every flower that grew within two miles of the village – alphabetically by name and genus, thankyouverymuch – but to her appearance.

People loved her when she was adorable, but were decidedly less interested when she grew into her tail.

Viola pushed her spectacles up her nose and glared at her fellow classmates. Her sharp eyes scanned the room. She was definitely the ugliest one between these – and let’s be honest, most – four walls. She wished she didn’t care so much. But it’s hard to go from toast-of-the-town to ignored-in-the-corner in just a few short years.

Noticing that her left lens was smudged, Viola whipped off her spectacles and polished them on her gingham dress. When she put them back on and the classroom swam back into focus, she saw a perfect pale face right in front of her, a little too close for comfort. Especially when that face was Fern’s, the prettiest bunny in the county. Viola’s eyes crossed as she tried to focus on the diminutive pink bunny nose two inches from her face.

Viola hated Fern. She hated her pink leather satchel, she hated the way her shiny whiskers floated and her silky ears lay down her back. She hated that Basin the badger was always sitting next to her in school. She hated that Fern was now sitting right in front of her, nose twitching expectantly, impossible to ignore.

“Will you help me with our spelling list, Viola?” Fern asked, rather anxiously. Viola was surprised. She just assumed that Fern had deigned to join her in order to mock her lank gray fur or perhaps the long, unattractive tail she kept curled under her seat. Just because Fern had never shown any penchant for being unkind didn’t mean today wasn’t the day.

Viola looked down at her own list, accurately spelled in her beautiful round hand. Viola spent hours perfecting her penmanship. Just because her face couldn’t be pretty didn’t mean she couldn’t make her homework so.

Fern took this as an invitation and sat in the empty seat beside her. “Flowers are so dreadfully hard to spell,” she said miserably, plopping her fuzzy chin in her paw. “Chrysanthawhat? Basin doesn’t know how to spell any of these either,” she said, as Viola’s entire frame tightened. “He sits next to me to help me with my sums because I’m hopeless at them, but he isn’t good at spelling and we’re both lost.” She gazed despondently down at her long bunny feet. “Can you help? You’re so good at school.” Fern looked up at Viola earnestly, her entire body quivering in hope.

Viola had her suspicions, but decided she was in no position to be choosy.

So she sat with Fern and Basin by the river every day after school, teaching them how to spell. By the day of the test, Viola had both Fern and Basin accurately spelling everything from anemone to quibble – and she had two new friends.

Fern and Basin didn’t care what she looked like. In fact, they were jealous of her tail and its ability to hit a croquet ball through the farthest wicket. In turn, Viola didn’t mind that Fern was hopeless with fractions or that Basin was late to everything. It meant she was useful – it’s nice to be useful – and that she and Fern could eat all the cake before Basin arrived.

True friends are in charge of loving what you don’t like about yourself, Viola thought, holding it for you until you learn to see it as they do.

This is the fourth in a collection of stories about animals who talk and drink tea and get themselves in trouble. The first story, about a fastidiously dressed raccoon named Randall, is here. The second, about a world-weary lemur named Mortimer, is here. The third, about mischievous wombat twins with terrible names, is here. These stories have become some of my favorite things in life, so I hope you enjoy them. 

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Who’s been crying a lot lately?

ME TOO.

After years of desperately wishing I had been born with an instruction manual because I really don’t understand how I operate and am prone to pulling the wrong levers, I’m finally noticing how deeply my emotions can help or inhibit me.

If I observe and express them – usually by sobbing like my heart’s about to shatter like glass on concrete – they help me.

If I ignore them or decide I don’t have time for them right now because I have to watch TV or because whatever’s on my to-do list is infinitely more pressing, they inhibit me.

When I let myself carry around unexpressed emotion, it totally blocks me up. To the point where I can’t function. Getting client work done is like pushing a two-story house up a cliff using only my thumbs and writing anything creative is impossible. My brain spends all its energy coughing up all the reasons my relationships don’t work and why everything is terrible and why that won’t ever change.

But when I let myself cry – sob, really, in the most dramatic fashion possible – then in an hour or so, everything feels better.

My therapist told me I needed to cry more and I thought that was silly. “I cry the perfect amount,” I thought. But then I’d go for a week or two without giving much attention to my emotional state and everything would begin to pile on top of me like layers of fog and dust and rubbish until my entire life felt like a toxic waste site. Crying is like washing away the acres of sludge with a convenient tsunami that leaves everything clear and ready for whatever’s next.

I feel like someone just handed me that instruction manual. 437 pages on How Amber Works, complete with diagrams. Now every time I feel incapable of getting anything done, it’s not because I’m lazy or unmotivated or undisciplined or in the wrong career or a complete waste of space. It just means that I need to go outside and stick my bare feet in the grass and cry for awhile. Or go make a list of everything I’m feeling sad and angry about. The signs have been pointing me in this direction for a long time, I was just too caught up in telling myself I was a bad human to see what was really going on.

Crying is incredibly freeing. It releases whatever has piled up on top of you and wipes your outlook on life clean. Crying makes you happier, smarter, more productive, and less prone to guilt trips. Crying takes the mess your three-year-old inner self has made on the etch-a-sketch of your life and shakes it clear.

I think we should all spend some time crying today. Maybe even every day.

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Better Than Here

February 18, 2015

Death cracks you open. Watching someone you love take that final journey leaves you flattened and groundless. We don’t know what’s next for them. We can’t follow. We can’t understand how it feels to face the end of your life or the mental, emotional, and physical territory that comes with it.

I don’t believe that those who die are lost. I don’t believe that we’re purely biological lights that flicker out when bodies give up. I believe we have an essence. A soul, if you will, that soldiers on after our body gives up. But it’s a very human thing to want proof and science still doesn’t know quite what to make of death. So each of us has to choose what we believe – and then, more importantly, choose what to do with that belief.

Sitting in the car with my father and talking about god is one of my earliest memories. I told him I didn’t believe in any religion that taught us to fear god, because I didn’t think god worked that way. His reply didn’t survive my precarious and sieve-like memory bank, but I remember feeling like he was proud of me.

The idea of god as a judgmental white-bearded dude in the sky never seemed quite right. One night when I was young, seven or eight maybe, I decided that god was made of people – the best parts of people, what we are at our purest and most loving. I saw each person as a bright pinprick of light, like a star. I remember deciding that we’re our own individual sparks here in this body, in this life. But when we die, our light gathers and joins that of everyone else in a much larger light, bright and vast. God as a separate entity doesn’t exist, because we are all god.

I’m not sure where this came from – maybe I absorbed this idea from the metaphysical books that lined the shelves of our living room when I was growing up, maybe it was a burst of intuition that came through before my brain and ego began to shut me down, maybe I invented it because it seemed like a nice idea. But I remember feeling comforted by the idea of a great light to return to as I lived my relatively average but not exempt from pain life.

But when your father is dying, all you can do is feed him ice cream when he asks for it and play John Coltrane you’re not sure he can hear and then send him off into the deep unknown and trust that whatever comes next is better than where he was.

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“Why, why, why?” A small wombat banged his head steadily against the flat surface supporting his lunch, as if blunt trauma to the forehead via wooden picnic table would give him answers.

His twin brother rolled his eyes and dug into his lunch pail. When his paw emerged with a handful of wriggling worms rather than the anticipated peanut butter and strawberry jam sandwich, his mouth dropped open and he considered joining his brother’s woeful genuflection.

It was generally acknowledged that the twins’ mother was insane. For one thing, she named her boys Scanket and Blarf, an unholy homage to her two favorite knitting projects, a blanket and a scarf. That she turned around and gave the blanket and scarf the stolidly respectable names of Wilbur and Whitby was only insult to injury.

“Even her knitting has better names than we do,” Blarf grumbled to his brother after their mother proudly introduced them to her newest sweater, which she had named Charlotte. “I’d take Charlotte over Scanket any day,” his brother whispered back – a telling statement given the swaggering machismo he’d recently adopted. Thankfully, his swagger quickly disappeared the second they needed to make a quick getaway.

“But what can one expect from wombats named Scanket and Blarf?” the townspeople would say to each other, shaking their heads ruefully after the twins had filched yet another box of chocolate bars or bottle of raspberry cordial. When caught, the brothers would be reprimanded and put to work to pay off their misdeeds. But this only served to make them craftier, not more honest.

Despite their unfortunate names, Scanket and Blarf cut quite a swath at the village school, bestowing sweet treats on the lucky animals in favor that day and smirking at everyone else. Everyone wanted to be on the good side of the wombat twins and not just because they had access to all the best desserts.

“Why worms?” Blarf moaned. “She promised us peanut butter and jam today.” Scanket shook his head at his naivete. Sure, their mother may have promised a normal noon meal while snuggled up by the fire, knitting needles clacking away between her paws, but inevitably she would wake in the deep of night, caught by a feverish notion that told her earthworms would be far healthier for growing wombats. In her mad haze, she’d rush out into the dew-laden, moonlit garden, dig some up some unsuspecting garden pests, drag them back into the kitchen, and label them a meal.

“She’s daft, Blarf,” his twin said prosaically, before wandering over to the nearest picnic table and confiscating a tuna fish sandwich and an onion tart from two classmates who had fallen from favor. Blarf still longed for a normal mother, one who didn’t name her knitting and baked cookies instead of kale. Scanket simply adapted, creatively augmenting their meals and choosing to find their mother’s lunacy amusing. He knew she loved them, she just had odd ideas about how to show that love, he thought as he emptied his pail of worms into the schoolyard garden.

After the usual round of afternoon admonishments from the teacher, the animals streamed out the school house doors. Blarf veered off to the side and began pulling things out of his knapsack. “Knitting needles, two sets,” he mumbled. “Red blankets and safety pins, check.” After watching his twin blankly, Scanket asked for instructions. Blarf had terrible and wonderful ideas and Scanket was always on board.

Tugging the requested wagon behind him – he didn’t even have to steal it, it had been abandoned in the lane three days ago – he saw that Blarf had donned a uniform for mischief. Knitting needles poked out of his hat like bug antenna and a red blanket was swirled around his neck. He handed Scanket a set of knitting needles and another blanket, this one a cheery yellow.

Snapping on his goggles, Blarf climbed into the wagon and demanded that Scanket push him to the top of the lane, where the red brick curved downward in a steep trajectory to the town square. Poised over the precipice, Scanket gave the wagon a mighty shove and jumped in behind his brother.

Red and yellow capes flew out behind them as the wind whistled through their antenna. The village was reduced to a blur of color and sound and Blarf laughed for the first time in a week, the sound pealing out behind them as they ricocheted around corners and narrowly missed a shopkeeper sweeping his stoop. Scanket gave a mighty whoop and a cluster of chattering magpies quickly dispersed as they slammed to a halt at the bottom.

Hopping out and grinning at the open mouths of the animals in the square, Blarf started pulling the wagon up the hill for another ride. Until Scanket saw the curious faces of the schoolmates who gathered around, and a fully formed scheme jumped into his head as if sent down from above.

The twins made one pound, three shillings, and five pence – enough to keep them in jam and peanut butter for weeks – before a wagon carrying two caped rabbits and a young vole brandishing knitting needles crashed into Randall and the raccoon, proving himself terribly fussy about bruises and knocked-askew scarves, shut the operation down.

This is the third in a collection of stories about animals who talk and drink tea and get themselves in trouble. The first story, about a fastidiously dressed raccoon named Randall, is here. The second, about a world-weary lemur named Mortimer, is here. These stories have become some of my favorite things in life, so I hope you enjoy them. 

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Turns out, I’m not going to live forever. It also happens that if I want children, my childless days will be coming to a rapid halt in the very near future. I’ll be 37 in July, guys. Which gives me a rather short span of time to do everything I want to do ever before kids muck it all up. So in the next year or two, I need to have many amazing adventures, spend a month in Bali and France, learn how to earn a lot of money while also having plenty of time to hang out with babies, and, I dunno, buy a house or something. It’s a hefty to-do list.

What does a person do when they suddenly realize they don’t have forever to do all the things they want in life? If you’re me, you decide to devote yourself wholeheartedly to writing animal stories, transcribing the voices in your head, and pretending you have answers on youtube. Because animal stories are obviously the way to get to Bali and also have plenty of money to pay for babies. Cough.

I’m forging a path that doesn’t necessarily make good, common sense. Do I believe it’s possible to have what I truly want in life? Absolutely. Do I have any idea how to do it? Nope. But to build the life you want, one that doesn’t necessarily look like everyone else’s, you have to listen to yourself. You have to get really clear on what you truly want to do, what you truly have to offer, and offer it up in the best way you can in that moment. 

I have anywhere from one to three years to make a lot of things happen for myself before it’s baby go-time. It feels more possible than ever, but only if I follow my intuition. Because that’s the only thing that can tell me how to get where I really want to go. 

I literally wrote the book on freelance writing (fine, one of the many books on freelance writing), but I’ve started to realize that freelance writing isn’t actually what I want to do. I don’t want to write for other publications, I don’t want to hustle, I don’t want to pitch. It exhausts and drains me and it’s taken me fifteen years to admit that. In Turning Pro, Steven Pressfield talks about shadow careers, about career paths that resemble what you want to do but are really just a form of resistance. I’ve been resisting what I actually want to do for a decade and a half now. In many ways, I do love freelance writing. I love talking to people about their jobs and their passions and their businesses and I love writing about burlesque dancers and chefs and mountain climbers and canny CEOS. And I will happily continue to do it until what I actually want to do begins to make sense in the real world.

Here’s the paradox: In order for writing animal stories to make sense as a career choice in the real world, I have to abandon the real world. I have to allow myself to dream in a way that felt foreign even just a few months ago. Because I want to be an artist – yes, a writer, but not a writer in any of its more professional, practical forms. I want to write ridiculous stories about talking raccoons who wear cravats and go on adventures. I want to channel for people, something that I still have trouble saying out loud because what?

Owning what you really want isn’t always easy, especially when what you really want wouldn’t make sense to most people you pass on the street. But that just makes it even more essential that you do it. We need the strange and unconventional and creative in this world now more than ever. Because if we keep doing it the way we’ve always done, we’ll keep getting what we’ve always gotten.

Last week, we drove along the coast of California until we hit Esalen in Big Sur. When we pulled up to the gate, they handed us a key that sent us here:

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Sometimes the universe sends you a literal and unmissable sign, and that sign says, “Go right ahead and be an artist, you irrepressible hippie, you.” And so I shall.

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Mortimer Makes a Mistake

January 28, 2015

“Never send a moose to do a lemur’s job,” Mortimer grumbled to himself, picking wood chips off his flannel shirt. His breakfast bourbon was chilling in his belly but still flowing through his bloodstream, if the toadstool in a lemony-yellow dress was any indication. He blinked his black-rimmed eyes and glared at the toadstool until it reverted to its usual red-and-white cap perched on an ordinary white stump.

He jangled the coins in his pocket contemplatively, staring into the stream. Burbling over stones and twisting through the field, the water eventually poured into the mill pond, where it became very handy when the mill exploded into flames yesterday evening. Smoke was still rising from the now-skeletal structure.

“Why it exploded is anyone’s guess,” Mortimer told the council when all six members called on him at six in the morning, before he’d even taken his first slug of bourbon. “Nothing in this town has caught fire in over sixty years, unless you count Willa burning the scones at the tea shop.” The council grumbled and eyed him suspiciously. Mortimer sighed. His last episode of hooliganism was over half a century ago, but memories were long, and Bertie the Rat’s whiskers had never been the same. He groomed them carefully, but they remained sparse and obviously plagued his sanctimonious little soul. Bertie was always the first to point a finger in Mortimer’s direction.

He strolled to the mill pond and gazed out over the burnt shell across the water. It was confusing. There was no earthly reason it should have accidentally gone up in flames, but Mortimer couldn’t fathom that one of the town folk had done it on purpose. Kids, maybe. A joke gone awry. A prank that got out of hand. But the younger members of the town tended to confine their mischief making to places with sweets. Mrs. Catchpole’s tea shop was being constantly plagued by sacks of dried cherries gone missing and cooling pies snatched. But given its utter lack of chocolate, none of the kids in town would have been interested in the mill.

Mortimer scratched his chin and began sifting through the rubble. Ernie the moose had been there first and tromped all over the wreckage, leaving the imprint of enormous hooves over everything. Rolling his eyes, Mortimer tried not to think too harshly of the dim but well-meaning moose. Why the council asked him to investigate anything was a complete mystery.

“Not that much of a mystery,” he muttered. “Short-sighted Bertie.” Yes, the elderly rat needed thick spectacles, but his sight was clogged more by his prejudice than by his corneas.

There. Near the once-gaily-dressed-now-entirely-normal-toadstool. Mortimer squat down and put his nose as close to the dirt as he could manage without tipping over. A bit of pink satin ribbon peeked out from a large foot print, unmistakably moose.

Since the mothers of the town were far to sensible to dress their girls in frills and furbelows – they always went missing or got filthy – Mortimer determined that an older girl must have been here in the past few days. Before the fire but after the rains. An older girl who wore pink ribbons.

“Not Willa,” Mortimer mumbled. He had a soft spot for her, as did everyone in town, and not just because she delivered their scones and jam. But she was the only one who both wore pink ribbons and had a bit of a history with fire. Plus, she’d been pulled out of the mill pond not long ago, sodden and coughing.

Mortimer straightened and, using the toe of his boot, buried the ribbon in the mud.

This is the second in a collection of stories about animals who talk and drink tea and get themselves in trouble. The first story, about a fastidiously dressed raccoon named Randall, is here. These stories have become some of my favorite things in life, so I hope you enjoy them. 

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The more interesting my life gets, the less compelled I feel to write about it. This is new for me, because writing about my life used to be my favorite thing. Mostly because it was how I figured out myself and my world. Either I’ve gotten speedier at diagnosing the misalignment of my internal cogs or I’ve stopped caring.

But since I love writing, when I stopped being super intrigued by myself, I had to write about something else. So my inner world spit forth a tiny British town full of nattily-dressed raccoons, scone-baking dormice, world-weary lemurs, and not-so-clever foxes. Since I also love this blog and wanted to share, I posted my first raccoon story with zero explanation or introduction, which led one person to wonder if it was some extended animal metaphor for my life. (It was not, though I dearly wish it was.) I presume it lead everyone else who read more than a paragraph to scratch their heads and wonder what sort of illegal substances I’ve gotten into this time. (None, surprisingly.)

I’ve written about nine of these animal stories and don’t seem to be stopping, so I may keep sharing them here. Or I may not. For everything is subject to my whim and that’s the way I like it. It seems to be shaping into a series of stories for kids in the six to ten range, so if you have one of those and think they might like reading/hearing about raccoons and displaced giraffes, let me know and I will send you chapters as I finish them.

My other project has been creating a youtube series with my friend Ben. He’s an official licensed-in-the-state-of-California therapist. I’m not licensed to do anything in the state of California except drive and even that seems a bit questionable at times. But if you spend a great deal of your life trying to figure yourself and the world out, you end up with a lot of opinions. So we turned on the camera and started talking about things like making friends and rejection and finding your life purpose.

Someone called it Car Talk for Therapists, which tickled the hell out of me because I always loved Car Talk. I couldn’t care less about cars, but they always sounded like they were having so much fun. That’s sort of what we’re hoping will happen with this – we find ourselves very entertaining, thank you – but we’re still experimenting. The videos are here, if you’re interested. Now that we’ve made a bunch of them, we’re looking for ways to make them as fun and useful as possible. Suggestions and heckling welcome. 

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Staring into the round mirror by his front door, Randall adjusted his monocle. It was slightly too big, but his furry pointed nose kept it in place. He ran his paws down the lapels of his green velvet jacket and adjusted his yellow silk cravat. His feral days of poking through scrap heaps in search of dinner were long over and his spotless front stood as testimonial. Now he could afford to change his clothes daily – even hourly, if he happened to spill a bit of tomato soup down his front at supper time.

All was in order, so he reached for the wooden stick resting by the door. Mrs. Catchpole called it a cane, but he refused to refer to it as anything but a staff. He may have been getting on in years, but he still had his dignity. Ralph would have said that it wasn’t terribly dignified for an elderly raccoon to clomp about the village pretending to be a wizard, but what did Ralph know? He still grew mugwort in his garden and pretended it gave him visions. But all it seemed to do was send him down to the tea shop to crunch down whatever Mrs. Catchpole baked that day.

“Apparently, it only gives him visions of treacle tart,” Randall snorted to himself as he tromped down his garden path, staff clicking on the stones near his feet. He glanced at it – raccoons were just as liable to carry staffs as wizards, he sniffed. He meant to visit the village library, to make sure the medieval histories he purchased had made it into the proper section, but the thought of treacle tart lured him down the side street that housed Mrs. Catchpole’s tea shop instead. Enjoying the way his staff echoed on the cobblestones, he approached the cheery red door.

“Been to visit your dull books yet?” Mrs. Catchpole called out as he walked through, the damn bell tinkling above his head and alerting her to his presence. “Why don’t you ever buy the library some novels, juicy ones that folks can sink their teeth into?”

Her own teeth gleamed in the candlelight, her terrible taste in literature and profound objection to elevating her mind offset by her generous use of beeswax on gray days. Randall grunted and seated himself at his usual table, a small pedestal on a raised dais that both discouraged other animals from joining him and allowed him a good view of both the door and the wide window.

A warm currant scone appeared in front of him, flanked by clotted cream and her famed blackberry jam. Before he could glance up, Mrs. Catchpole’s niece had already disappeared, the organza bow on the back of her apron whisking around the polished copper counter.

A squat dormouse, Mrs. Catchpole still managed a degree of elegance, her smocked gown untouched by the golden syrup that she drizzled over a freshly baked cake. While her niece preferred to stay in the back room, Mrs. Catchpole enjoyed spending her time behind the front counter, so she could greet her customer’s with rude suggestions while tempting them with whatever she was concocting that day. Randall didn’t enjoy being teased, but still found himself sitting down at his pedestal almost every day. He blamed her baking.

“Natty boots, Randall!” Ralph shouted as he swung through the door.

“Why must everyone have an opinion?” Randall said to his spoon full of jam as he sacrificed it to the scone.

“Is Mrs. Catchpole complaining about your volume choice again?” Ralph asked as he pulled up a chair, un-invited, to Randall’s pedestal. Another scone appeared, along with a pot of hot tea. Wedgwood, Randall noted with approval. “Or are you just cranky because you have crumbs on your cravat?”

Jerking his nose toward his breast bone, Randall heaved a sigh of relief as he took in his still spotless front. Ralph guffawed so hard he almost fell out of his chair. Mrs. Catchpole, the fuzzy witch, chuckled behind her counter. Randall sniffed and devoted himself to his scone.

“Willa, dear!” Mrs. Catchpole called out. When her niece failed to appear, Mrs. Catchpole sighed and brought the treacle pudding around the counter herself and laid it down between Ralph and Randall. “Thought you boys might enjoy this,” she said comfortably.

As they thanked her and began to tuck in, Randall began to ask Ralph what he thought about the council’s decision to decorate the oak trees in the town square for yuletide, when Ralph paused and leaned into his half empty tea cup. He poked at it and leaned deeper in. Then he gasped and jerked back.

“She’s sinking!” he shouted and leapt for the door, his baffling expostulation echoing around the tea shop as other patrons turned their heads. As he yanked open the cheery red door, he turned to Mrs. Catchpole and yelled, “Willa! She’s going under!” before dashing into the road.

“But she’s right here,” said a confused Mrs. Catchpole. “Keeping an eye on the ginger snaps.” She waddled toward the back room and swept open the curtain, revealing a plume of smoke from the iron stove in the corner but no Willa.

Grabbing his staff, Randall made his way after Ralph, who was running toward the mill pond. “He’s been at the mugwort again,” Randall muttered. “Cruel to worry you,” he said, glancing back at Mrs. Catchpole as she huffed several paces behind him. “Willa probably just went out for a walk, she likes doing that.”

Sprightly from his half century of daily morning swims, Ralph made much better time than the lame raccoon with a big wooden stick and the overweight dormouse. By the time Randall and Mrs. Catchpole made it to the edge of the pond – warm and idyllic in the summer months but somewhat spooky in the early December light – Ralph’s webbed feet had carried him halfway across its expanse, where he dove fruitlessly into the murky water.

“Come out of there, Ralph!” Randall shouted, banging his staff for good measure, as Mrs. Catchpole wrung her hands by his side. “She’s probably just wandering through the village or at the grocer’s stall!”

Finally Ralph resurfaced, his arm around a limp figure. Willa’s head bobbed, her bright mahogany fur dulled by the water.

Randall splashed into the pond, heaving his staff behind him. His boots filled with water, and he felt sticky moss adhering to his formerly pristine shirtfront. When he got close, he held out the tip of his staff so Ralph could grab onto it and he towed both the exhausted Ralph and the unconscious Willa to shore, where Mrs. Catchpole hovered.

Tucked back in the warm tea shop, Randall had the novel experience of serving Mrs. Catchpole tea and apple crumble, as she huddled under a blanket that Ralph had draped over her shoulders, insisting he didn’t need it. He was a toad, after all, and well used to water, chilly or otherwise.

Doctor Basil had proclaimed Willa none the worse for her tumble into the mill pond and advised her to stay off the rickety bridge, a rickety bridge the council would most certainly replace at the earliest opportunity. The good doctor prescribed bed rest and an hourly dose of a tonic he left by her bedside as he hustled the Mrs. Catchpole back down the stairs to tend to her own nerves and allow Willa some rest.

As Doctor Basil was the first badger to ever attend Oxford, Randall trusted him and told Mrs. Catchpole so. “Much better than the quacks down the road,” he declared, pouring her another cup of tea. “Much better,” agreed Ralph, saluting them with his tea cup and smirking at the ratty flannel dressing gown that had replaced the Randall’s dapper – and now quite damp – suit.

Randall simply picked up his staff and jabbed Ralph in the stomach, abandoning his dignity quite utterly.

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