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(Friday Fiction) Alvin’s Anomaly

Writing 150I really just wanted to write an urban werebear origin story, OK?


 

The phone rang quietly, but with a tone that split the silence of the bedroom sharply. A dark brown hand shot from beneath the covers, fumbling on the nightstand until fingers closed around the small silicon rectangle. They both disappeared back beneath the blankets, where a muffled voice mumbled. “Hello?”

“Is this Alvin Washington?” The voice on the other end was far too awake. There was a hint of urgent agitation that tugged the brain closer to consciousness.

Alvin flopped the covers over his chest with his free hand and sighed, glancing at the alarm clock. 10:45 AM. “Yeah,” he said, resigning himself to wakefulness. “It’s Alvin. Who’s this?”

“I’m calling from the lab at Kaiser Permanente. Uh, your results are ready and I wanted to go over a few things with you.”

Alvin blinked. Usually, lab results were dropped by email. If someone was calling, that meant something was wrong. He felt the tingle in his fingers and the dull throbbing in his head as adrenaline shot into his bloodstream. “Uh….OK. Yeah. What’s going on?”

“Well…uh…” the voice on the other end hesitated. “We got some really strange readings and…I know this is highly unusual…but I wanted to call you directly and ask some questions.”

Alvin scooted up in bed and tried to ignore the almost dizzying thumping of his brain inside his skull. “Yeah? Strange how?”

There was silence on the other end of the phone.

“Are you there?”

“Yes. Yes, I’m here, sorry. I’m trying to…figure out how to say this.”

“Just say what you got to say, dude. Don’t just call somebody up and freak ’em out about their lab tests.” Alvin huffed, gracelessly kicking the covers down towards the foot of the bed. Now that he was awake, it felt way too hot.

“You’re right. Sorry. Uh, I guess it’s best to just rip the Band-Aid off. We found levels of iron and cholesterol in your blood that would indicate a life-threatening issue. Frankly, there’s no way you should be up and walking around.”

“Huh,” was all Alvin could manage. He knew something was wrong with him, but what he was being told didn’t make much sense. Ever since coming back from the field trip, his body felt like it was going haywire. His skin itched. His blood boiled. His bones froze. He was hungry all the time, and he ate until he was sick. It was hard to keep anything down. His head ached; sometimes it was a dull throb, but other times it felt like his skull was coming apart and his teeth were loose in their sockets. For two weeks, he had been laid up in bed, sleeping until the sun went down, stumbling to the store for food, devouring whatever he bought, smoking pot to dull the ache in his head and his joints until he could sleep again. It wasn’t any way to live.

His cousin took him to the emergency room two…no, three days ago now. The doctors couldn’t find anything wrong with him, but they thought he might have contracted something from the nasty-looking wound he had gotten on the camping trip. A bear had gotten into the food and he tried to scare it off by banging two pots together. Instead, it charged. He leapt out of the way, but got tagged by a claw that ripped him open from forearm to elbow. It took 35 stitches to close. It still itched like hell.

“It’s not the only weird thing,” the voice on the other end continued. “We were very concerned about your bloodwork, considering how you presented to the emergency room and given the fact you were the victim of an animal attack. Uh…bear, was it?”

“Yeah,” Alvin said. He was having trouble focusing on the conversation. “So just tell me what all this means.”

“Can you confirm that the blood we received was yours and yours alone?”

Alvin squinted in confusion. What kind of question was that? “Uh…yeah? I was in the hospital, the nurse took like, eight vials of blood from my arm. If there was a mix-up it had to be you.”

“No, I mean…I…look, what I saw didn’t make any sense, so I…sort of took a sample and showed it to a couple of…specialists I know.” The voice on the other end got quiet, like he was whispering.

“O…K…” Alvin wasn’t sure where this was going any more.

“They found the blood had a mixture of human and bear DNA. I mean, not like, some cells were human and some cells were bear. Like, the DNA we took from the blood had genetic markers found in both species. At the same time.”

“What the fuck?”

“I know, it…that shouldn’t be possible. I’d like to see you.”

“Who the fuck is this?” Alvin had had enough. He looked at the number on the phone; it wasn’t one he recognized. “You have to be fucking with me. Did Shum put you up to this?”

“I don’t know who Shum is, sir. Listen…you can just meet me at the lab tomorrow, right? Just look for the tech with the brown and black lab pin. We can meet my friend at the cafeteria.”

Alvin sighed. “Look, dude, I just want to find out what’s wrong with me so I can get better. I’m not interested in…whatever this is.”

“This is about what’s wrong with you. I swear, I wouldn’t be talking to you like this if I didn’t think it was the best way to get to the bottom of it. Will you meet me?”

Alvin considered this. He would be at the medical center regardless, so if he decided that whatever this was didn’t smell right he could always find a supervisor to talk to instead. “Yeah, all right. Tomorrow. What time?”

“2:30. Please come alone, and don’t tell anyone about this. Not even your doctor.”

The line went dead before Alvin could say anything else. He looked at his phone in bewilderment. Trying to think through this headache was like wading through molasses.

He got out of bed, slow and grunting. He’d figure all of this out tomorrow. For now, he wanted to see what was in his fridge.

 
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Posted by on July 20, 2018 in Thursday Prompt, Writing

 

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(Personal) A Writer’s Almanac: July 2018

Self Improvement 150We’re in the second half of the year, and now would be an excellent time to review my progress on my New Year’s Resolutions. I’m not going to do that, though; I know I’ve done a terrible job with what I aimed to do in 2018 and I know why.

So July is going to be the month that I focus intensely on building a consistent writing routine by scheduling at least an hour a day towards working on The Writing Desk or the Jackalope Serial Company. But wait, there’s more! I’m setting a goal of at least 30 minutes a day for reading, and at least 15 minutes a day for meditation. This isn’t an “all or nothing” goal. I realize that there might be some days I just won’t be able to get something done. But this should at least be the minimum of what I’m doing every day as a writer.

The key, of course, is making sure I’m not in my own way. Every Sunday, I’ll take a bit of time to look ahead and see what might cause a problem with reading, writing, or meditation; then I’ll see what I need to do in order to plan around it. Maybe that means writing at lunch or getting up earlier to make sure I get my reading in. Maybe it means cutting out something else to make sure writing, reading and meditation takes priority. No matter what, I want to make sure I’m chaining together writing, reading and meditation days as often as possible.

THE WRITING DESK
This month, the goal is 13 posts here (including this one). I’d like to write ahead as much as possible, making sure that regular posts (like Fiction Friday) are written and edited well ahead of time. That’ll mean front-loading the writing here so that I’m not panicking the night before to make sure something’s done.

For Fiction Friday this month I’ll be writing about a ‘new’ werebear who finds out he has the affliction of ursanthropy in the most unusual of ways. Werebears are my jam, shut up. 🙂

THE JACKALOPE SERIAL COMPANY
This is another project that I would feel a lot better about if I could get ahead of it. Right now, the plan is to have a weekly serial that’s a bit looser but hopefully entertaining; then, for folks who have been donating at the higher tiers a longer-form serial that drops once or twice a month. First, though, I’ll have to be regular with the weekly serials.

Right now I’m “auditioning” four different ideas for the weekly serials. The next two will be up later this week with voting taking place next week. Patrons will get the most time to vote, with the poll going up on Monday; on Wednesday, the poll link will go up on Twitter; and on Friday, folks who follow me on SoFurry will be able to get in on the action before it closes on Saturday. Over that week, I’ll be doing my best to write ahead for whichever serial gets the biggest boost.

The high-tier serial will most likely start with “Boundaries”, which will run for seven parts at least. I don’t think I should start posting that until August, though — I really want to get into the rhythm of regular release, and I’d love to make sure I have at least three parts written before the first one is released. We’ll see how it goes.

OTHER WRITING
The big theme for this year has been self-rejecting out of a number of opportunities, just because I couldn’t get myself together in time. I’d really love to stop that and get better about writing for periodicals and anthologies I’m excited about with plenty of time to edit and get feedback; that’s going to take regular practice and a better eye on submission windows when they’re available.

For now, I’m using the Jackalope Serial Company as my chance to write towards a deadline on a somewhat regular basis, and to make sure that I’m doing my part to make sure the work gets done on time. Once I’m a bit more confident with that, I’ll start sniffing around to see where the most exciting chances to submit my work are.

READING
I’m reading “Radical Acceptance” by Tara Brach, and I think I’ll be working on that quite a bit this month. I’ve read the book before, but I’m going through it again because I gifted it to a friend to (hopefully) help with his Anxiety Disorder. I’ve been getting a lot more from it this time, which is a little surprising; I’ve loved the book for a long time now, but I guess the lessons needed a bit more time and experience for their intended impact.

I’m also reading “Steppenwolf” by Hermann Hesse to see if it might be a good novel for the Furry Canon project over on [adjective][species]. I’m not sure it is, but it is a fascinating read on its own merits. The main character presents his existential crisis in uniquely furry terms, and the deconstruction of it reveals a lot about the potential benefits and problems with constructing and inhabiting a furry identity for one’s self. I’m going to keep pretending to be a jackalope regardless, but the criticism helps me to be a lot more mindful of how that self-concept can go sideways.

Beyond the daily quota for writing, reading and meditating, I didn’t want to have very specific goals this month. The most important thing is putting in the time; we’ll see what needs to be worked on next once I figure out that part.

What about you, fellow writers and bloggers? What goals do you have for this month? And how did you do with your writing in June?

 
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Posted by on July 2, 2018 in Reading, Self-Reflection, Writing

 

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(Friday Fiction) Mr. Roovum Goes to Washington

Fandom 150Hurley was not expecting to be greeted by the sight of a giant Kangaroo in a tailored three-piece suit when he opened the door to the roof of his newspaper’s headquarters, but here he was. The Raccoon had rushed back from lunch when he first felt the tremors rocking the street, and by the time he had gotten back to the office and checked to make sure everyone was OK he knew something really strange had to be going on. The building was fine, if slightly messy, and his receptionist had the stare of someone who had seen far too much in a very short amount of time.

“Your two o’clock is here,” was all she said, and directed him to the roof with his interview packet.

Now, even with the final piece of the puzzle looming over him, he found he had significant trouble making sense of the situation. This…giant…should have been impossible for a number of reasons. Besides the usual laws of physics, he was positive he would have heard about an Animal like this existing well before now. There’s no way you could keep something like this hidden, not from people like him — it was his business to uncover anything that would be of interest to his readers, the larger than life, the better.

And if this didn’t fit the description, nothing would.

“Good afternoon,” the Kangaroo said as he bent down. The sky above Hurley was replaced by an overwhelmingly large, smiling muzzle with sharp but friendly brown eyes staring right down at him. “You are Mr. Coor, yes? It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

A hand big enough to flatten a car lowered down, one finger extended. The digit alone was roughly as thick as his chest, capped with a claw as long as his leg.

“I…uh….” Hurley said, clutching the interview packet a little tighter. He took a step or two back away from the finger, unsure what he was meant to do with it. “I’m sorry, who are you?”

A shadow passed over those immense brown eyes. The Kangaroo lifted his hand and laced it with his other one, crossing them over his buttoned-down vest. “I’m sorry; your receptionist told me that you’d be expecting me. I am Roovumbidgee, here to apply for the advice columnist position. We’ve been corresponding.”

Hurley’s mental filing system plucked the name from memory in moments. Roovumbidgee was not a name you forgot in a hurry. He felt a flush rise in his cheeks when he realized he was holding the giant’s resume in his hands, along with printed copies of the emails they’d exchanged and several sample columns the Kangaroo had written. Even then, his brain refused to accept it. There was no way the curious, enthusiastic, endearingly eccentric Animal he had been talking to for the past three weeks was this…monster.

Giants were supposed to be dim, selfish brutes, weren’t they? All muscle and no brains, dressed in nothing but a filthy loincloth and sandals, carrying a tree for a club, chasing little people who had stolen their riches. Hurley didn’t consider himself an expert in the matter at all, but he was fairly certain all the giants he had met in fairy tales were primitive, barely sapient beings — not learned Animals who looked like they were dressing up for an Agatha Christie murder mystery party.

“Oh! Uh…yes, of course!” Hurley realized he had been staring dumbly for far too long to have possibly been considered polite. “I’m sorry, it’s just…when you told me you were a taller gentlebeing, I hadn’t realized you were, uh, making an understatement.”

Roovumbidgee’s chuckle rumbled the building. “I apologize for not being forthright with you. It’s been my experience that most prospective employers assume I’m lying or delusional when I tell them the truth.”

“But they figure it out pretty quickly during the on-site interview, right?”

“I wouldn’t know. This is the first one I’ve been invited to.”

Hurley had too many questions racing through his head and no idea which one would be the least offensive, so he pressed on. “Well, let’s make sure it’s a good one.”

He managed to take his eyes off the Kangaroo for long enough to put on his glasses and open the interview packet. “Now, Mister…uhm….is Roovumbidgee your first name or your last name?”

“It’s my only name, Mr. Coor. Like Prince. Or Madonna.”

“I, uh, see. So would you prefer Mr. Roovum?”

Roovumbidgee lifted a brow. “Is that what you prefer?”

“Just whatever would make you most comfortable.” Hurley felt himself flush again, though he wasn’t entirely sure why.

“Roovum is just fine, then.” There was a localized earthquake as the Kangaroo shifted his weight, leaning back on a tail that must have been as long as a couple of city busses.

“All right then. Roovum.” Hurley stared up at the giant, measuring his back against the taller office building across the street. He had to be over 100 feet tall. How in the world could he fit on a city street like that? Where was he going to put him if he hired him? How could he even pay him? “I have to say, I’m quite impressed with your writing.”

“Thank you.” The Kangaroo was obviously pleased.

“I’m just not sure about your idea for a column. Mighty Manners has a nice ring to it, but I don’t think we have a large-enough audience for the subject. Er…if you’ll forgive the choice of words.” Hurley’s tail lashed behind him as he leaned back against the door. He was starting to get a stitch in his neck.

“There is nothing to forgive. It’s a quite clever turn of phrase.” Roovum smiled, his tree-thick fingers drumming along the fabric of his jacket. “And I believe you shall find that I already have an established audience.”

“What’s that?”

The giant shrugged. “I have a fairly large readership already, Mr. Coor. My column is syndicated across several thousand different outlets on hundreds of worlds in…eight realms, by my last count. Or rather, it was until my relationship with my former editor ended rather suddenly.”

Hurley swallowed hard to keep down the question he wanted to ask. “And you’re looking for a new home newspaper for your syndicated column.”

“Yes.”

“So in a way you’re interviewing me.” Hurley’s tail thumped against the brickwork.

Roovumbidgee smiled. “I suppose that’s true, yes.”

Hurley chuckled. “Well, how am I doing so far?”

“Quite well. I think we could have a long and fruitful partnership.”

“Mmm, I think so.” Hurley snapped his interview packet closed and held out a hand. Roovumbidgee lowered his finger, and they shook.

“I…won’t be able to pay you much.” The Raccoon said sheepishly.

“I understand. I won’t ask for much. Just access to your newsroom and reporters for their perspective.”

“I think I can do that. Will you need an office?” Hurley wasn’t sure he wanted the answer to that.

“That is very kind of you to offer, but no, that won’t be necessary. A coffee shop nearby has graciously offered their roof for my typewriter.” Roovumbidgee’s nose twitched, and Hurley had him immediately pegged as a caffeine addict. Gods help that coffee shop.

“Oh, well, let us know what your office hours are and I’ll send my guys down there for coffee or something. They’ll, uh, they’ll certainly want to meet you.” Hurley’s ears flicked as he rubbed the back of his head. He was already planning the staff meeting he’d need to have about this.

“And I look forward to meeting them. I can’t thank you enough for this opportunity, Mr. Coor. I’ll do my best to make sure it’s of benefit to you.”

Hurley looked up at the towering marsupial in his stuffy three-piece suit, wedged in a two-lane side street between buildings he could effortlessly bring down. He was sure this would be the strangest hire he’d ever make.

“Oh, I assure you, you already have.”

 
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Posted by on June 29, 2018 in Furries, Thursday Prompt, Writing

 

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(Friday Fiction) Veniamin Kovalenko, Werebear Detective

Writing 150This week, Veniamin continues to be dragged through the briar-patch of therapy, kicking and screaming.

Dr. Mabel Watney tilted her head and looked at him in a mixture of disbelief and exasperation; it was a universal matronly expression that silently screamed “What did you just say to me?” Veniamin smiled to himself, glad that at least he was able to provoke a reaction out of her.

“Listen, it’s…just the stuff you see in my line of work can be pretty upsetting to people who aren’t used to it. Even if I could talk to you about it, I probably wouldn’t because I wouldn’t want to offend your sensibilities.” Veniamin leaned back in his chair, trying not to appear self-satisfied. He failed.

“Mr. Kovalenko, you don’t need to worry about my sensibilities. And since I’m more offended by dishonesty, allow me to be straight with you. I believe you’re more frightened of being open with me than I am of whatever it is you have to say. This…posturing is something I’ve seen before, and almost always it’s a mask to cover some deep trauma.

“We both know you wouldn’t be here if you had healthy coping mechanisms or, frankly, any coping mechanisms at all. Ignoring the psychological damage you’ve sustained in your work is not the same as coping with it. Neither is burying your feelings under alcohol or food. The only way to deal with what you’re going through is by facing it.” Dr. Watney folded her hands over her notebook and leaned forward. “And until you do, I’m afraid I can’t sign this form showing the courts that I feel you’re not liable to assault someone else.”

“I didn’t assault him!” Veniamin sat up in his chair before he could stop himself. “He was a prick who got what was coming to him.”

Dr. Watney raised an eyebrow. “I’m sure he would say the same thing about you, Mr. Kovalenko. Why are you right, and he’s wrong?”

“Because I’m not the one who kept provoking other people. I’m not the entitled rich prick who thinks less of other people because they don’t have any money.”

“Do you wish you had more money, Mr. Kovalenko?” Dr. Watney pounced on the statement like she was waiting for it.

Veniamin paused, looking at her with a surprised, almost frightened expression. “I do all right. That’s not the point.”

“The point is you felt he was disrespecting you.”

“Yes.”

“Because you didn’t have as much money as he did.”

“Yes.”

“How do you think he knew how much money you made?”

Veniamin shook his head. “He doesn’t. He assumed.”

“Because of the way you look?”

“Yes.”

“Do you find that happens to you often, Mr. Kovalenko?”

“What, being judged based on how I look?” Veniamin saw Dr. Watney nod in response. “I don’t know. I guess so.”

“Why do you think that is?”

“I don’t know!” Veniamin couldn’t keep the growl out of his voice. “Most people don’t actually see who other people really are. Just the things they want to see.”

“What do you want other people to see in you, Mr. Kovalenko?”

Veniamin thought about this. It may have been the first time in his life he had ever been asked this question. “I…I don’t know. I don’t really care, I guess.”

“But you were upset with this gentleman for making assumptions about you based on how you looked.”

“Yes.” Veniamin shifted in his seat. “But it wasn’t because of what he saw. It was because he thought he was better than what he saw.”

“If you don’t mind me saying so, it seems like you think you’re better than him.”

“Because I don’t go around being an asshole to other folks I just met? Yeah, I’d say so.”

Dr. Watney smiled and leaned back in her chair. “Do you think it’s possible he saw some kind of…hostility in you that made him react to you the way he did?”

Veniamin shook his head, though by now his brain was turning that over. He hated the fact that she had gotten to him. “I can be gruff, and I can be blunt. That’s all.”

“You work with people often enough to know that some don’t respond well to that. How do you navigate these…different personality types in your line of work?” Dr. Watney tilted her head and steeped her fingers under her chin.

“I don’t.” Veniamin sighed. “What you see is what you get. You can take it or leave it.”

“This gentleman clearly wanted to leave it.”

“Well, he wasn’t in that position.”

“Do you see how that might make him a bit uncomfortable? What do you tend to do in uncomfortable situations?”

Veniamin felt a flash of anger as he realized he had been backed into a corner. She was right, of course she was. But that shouldn’t let the man who put him here off the hook; why wasn’t he wasting a perfectly good afternoon talking to some nosy woman trying to get him to talk about his business?

“Mr. Kovalenko, I understand why you feel upset. No one likes realizing their behavior has been inconsistent with the way they see themselves. But this is an opportunity to align your actions with your principles.”

“How do you know what my principles are?” Veniamin said, immediately embarrassed about how peevish he seemed.

“I don’t. I just know that there’s some cognitive dissonance between the way you acted and the way you think. Let’s discuss that further.”

Veniamin slouched. The hour had to have been up by now, right?

 
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Posted by on May 18, 2018 in Furries, Thursday Prompt, Writing

 

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(Friday Fiction) Veniamin Kovalenko, Werebear Detective

Writing 150Here, we continue Veniamin’s therapy session from last week.

“If managing stress was as easy as me telling you what to do, I would have written a book about it and you wouldn’t need to come see me.” Dr. Mabel Watney shifted in her seat behind her desk, folding her hands in her lap. “It takes time and work to unlearn the pattern of behavior that has lead you to me.”

Veniamin sighed deeply and stared at his hands. Dr. Watney’s office smelled aggressively neutral; even the plants barely gave off the sweet, earthy scent that would have calmed him down. Underneath the “light” touch of her perfume, she smelled relaxed but alert, comfortable in her space. By comparison he was a beacon of nerves, the acrid odor sweating through his disheveled suit. It made him incredibly self-conscious to be the strongest-smelling thing in the room.

He really wished he could shift. There was something about being a bear that felt more honest, more…himself. While being human had its advantages — opposable thumbs really were one of the greatest adaptations ever — it felt like he could never relax in that form. He was wearing a mask almost all the time just to make other people comfortable, and after a while the effort wore on you. He was tired, that was all. He could use a season in the woods, foraging for anything that tasted good and casually hunting fish and game. That was his therapy.

Or, it used to be. Now he was stuck here, talking about his feelings to someone who could never have the context to understand them.

“All right then,” he mumbled into his chest. “Where do we start?”

“At the beginning.” She answered so quickly she must have expected the question. “Tell me about your childhood.”

He did — mostly. He told her about living in a house with parents who had few boundaries, with no concept of privacy or personal ownership. He talked about his extended family who each lived in their own territories but would come over to visit. He talked about how, until he moved to San Francisco, he practically had no relationship with anyone who wasn’t related to him by blood.

He did not speak about the fact his parents had few boundaries because the concepts of privacy and personal ownership were distinctly human ones that didn’t apply to them. He didn’t speak about how he spent most of his childhood naked, switching between two legs and four as easily as she could slip on her jacket. He didn’t talk about how he never realized how much he would miss that freedom, and how stifling it still felt to wear a suit after all this time.

He most definitely didn’t speak about how his uncle had been gunned down by men with guns right before his eyes and how frightened he was by the tyranny of authority.

“I see,” Dr. Watney said. Her eyes told him that she knew he was omitting a great deal. Not for the first time, the mask of his “civilized self” felt especially ill-fitting. “So why did you decide to leave home?”

Veniamin kept staring into his lap to make sure she couldn’t see the momentary rush of panic in his eyes. “I…had to leave to go where the work is.”

“You’re a private investigator. Is that correct?”

Veniamin nodded.

“What made you want to pursue that line of work?” Dr. Watney had a way of asking a question that made it seem like she was only casually interested, but also that the answer would be of tremendous importance.

He shrugged. “One of the things I learned growing up is that everyone has secrets, and sometimes those secrets hurt the people around them.”

Dr. Watney raised an eyebrow. “So you see yourself as someone who finds out the truth in order to save people from being hurt.” She paused. “But in my experience, the truth can be just as painful, especially if someone isn’t equipped to process it in a healthy way.”

Veniamin furrowed his brow. “But it’s a cleaner pain. Once you get through it, you’re better off than you were before. At least you know what’s really going on.”

“So you think being honest with someone is always the best thing to do?”

Veniamin frowned. “Most of the time.”

“I see. Then why aren’t you being honest with me right now?”

He looked up and into her eyes, forcing himself to hold her gaze. “Because you’re not equipped to process that in a healthy way.”

 
 

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(Friday Fiction) Veniamin Kovalenko, Werebear Dectective #3

May is Mental Health Awareness Month! I wanted to devote The Writing Desk towards that effort all month long, including Friday Fiction, and Veniamin Kovalenko Werebear Detective is a perfect candidate for this. Venia comes from a long line of werebears who traveled from their home country of Russia to Sitka, AK and finally to center-west California. Like most immigrants, the Kovalenko clan considers itself part of the state’s foundation and in a way they’re right. However — like their human immigrant counterparts — they also caused great harm to California’s native population with its displacement.

The Kovalenkos have a complicated relationship with the state they love so dearly. California reveres bears as its symbol, but at the same time most would rather see them on the flag, a picturesque postcard or as a rug in a cabin. Interactions between bears and humans rarely go well, and Venia learned that lesson the hard way at an early age when an uncle got a bit too drunk and shifted during a fight; he killed two people before forest rangers put him down. The trauma of that experience set Venia’s course — first, as a supernatural ‘fixer’ and then ultimately as a private detective.

In our Dresden Files game, I played Venia as someone with limited intelligence who was just trying to do the right thing. However, unresolved anger, anxiety and depression warped his perspective more often than not and made him an enjoyably hot mess to play. There was a run of sessions based in Sitka where he learned the town’s long-time residents treated his family like local royalty, and it was interesting to note how…unnerved Venia felt by the experience of being not only accepted, but embraced for who (and what) he truly is.

Venia usually hated authority figures, and over the course of the game he had built quite a file for himself with local law enforcement. At one point he was sentenced to court-appointed therapy sessions with a mysterious, disturbing psychologist named Mabel Watney. This month, I wanted to write short scenes that unpack the messiness of dealing with a mental health issue that’s been exacerbated by being relegated to the margins of society.



Veniamin slumped in his chair as he watched the woman sit down at her desk, turn to her computer and begin typing. After a moment, he glanced at the clock — 10:02 AM, it said. He opened his mouth to speak, but she held up a finger without looking away from her screen. He sighed. She kept typing.

When she stopped a few moments later, she turned to a journal on her desk and began writing. Veniamin shifted with a grunt; he felt the anger inside him, a bubble of pressure in his stomach that made him squirm, pushed the hair on the back of his neck straight up. It was 10:05 AM. Forty minutes left in their session.

She seemed content to let him seethe for a couple more minutes, writing deliberately in tense silence. She set down her pen. She closed her journal. She adjusted the small owl statue on her desk so that its big round eyes were pointed at him. Then she folded her hands and smiled at him.

“So does this mean that my charge for this session will be prorated?” Veniamin couldn’t keep the growl out of his voice as he leaned forward. The sensation had spread to the rest of him, controlling his movements so his mind could focus on the object of his annoyance. He didn’t feel the way his hands gripped the arms of the chair, or the way he had positioned himself to leap out of his seat at any moment.

His psychologist, Mabel Watney, raised an eyebrow and lifted the corners of her mouth. She ran her palm underneath the tight ponytail that sprouted from the back of her skull, as silken and shining as its namesake. “If you wish,” she said. “Thank you for waiting.”

Venia leaned back in his chair, the spell of anger broken. He was confused about why that worked, but found comfort in the anger that rose from the fact that she had manipulated him without him having any idea how. “Fine. You’re welcome.”

Dr. Watney nodded. She watched him with an unwavering but open and curious stare. Venia found he couldn’t meet her eyes for very long, and didn’t like the feeling of being pinned under that gaze. There was a clarity in it that disturbed him; it felt like she had him figured out from the moment he had walked into that door. He could have shifted right now and it wouldn’t have surprised her.

The seconds ticked by. When Dr. Watney spoke, it was with a suddenness that suggested she had waited for the precise moment when his wariness dropped. “So, what’s on your mind?”

Veniamin sighed and shook his head. “Nothing.” He rested his head on his fist. It felt like he was being waited out, a child coaxed into confessing something his mother already knew he had done.

“You look uncomfortable.” Her voice was deep and rich, authoritative and concerned at once. “Why is that?”

“I don’t see the point of me being here.” Venia spoke the words before he thought them. “I don’t have any problems you can help me with, and I’m not going to talk about them. And I’m not crazy.”

“No one said you were.” Dr. Watney sounded surprised he would even say that. “You’re here because a judge thinks you could benefit from a little bit of help managing your anger.”

“I don’t have a problem managing my anger,” Venia snapped. “I just don’t like putting up with things I shouldn’t have to.”

Dr. Watney opened her book again and began writing. “I see,” she said. “And you feel this therapy session is one of the things you shouldn’t have to put up with?”

There was something about her tone that softened something inside of him. He glanced at her. She was staring right at him, pen in hand. It looked like she had stopped mid-word. He felt a flash of panic and looked down into the eyes of her owl figurine, then further at a safe, nondescript side of her desk.

“Listen, I’m sure you’re a good woman and you help people who need it and all that, but…I don’t need this. I just have a lot on my plate and it’s stressful is all. It got to me once or twice, and now I’m here. That’s all. I haven’t hurt anyone.”

“You haven’t, but you have done a few things that are cause for concern. It’s not any one action that’s brought you to me, Mr. Kovalenko — anyone can have a bad day. What the judge is worried about — what I’m here to help with — is the pattern of behaviors that you seem to be exhibiting. Stress is a serious issue, Mr. Kovalenko. If you’re stressed and not angry, fine; we can work on managing your stress, then.”

Veniamin considered this. He wasn’t sure how to talk about what stressed him, at least not in a way that this woman would understand. He was part of a world she had no idea existed, and the attempt to introduce her to it would bring even more stress. That was, perhaps, the most frustrating thing; even if Dr. Watney could help, it would make things worse telling her how.

He took a deep breath and looked at her. She watched him attentively. At least the pen was down for now.

Could he find a way to talk about what was on his mind without having to explain the things she wouldn’t understand? Was it even worth the effort? He wasn’t sure he had much of a choice in the matter. She would have to report his progress back to the court, and if he resisted the process the entire time it probably wouldn’t reflect well on his record.

“Fine,” he snorted, looking away to stare at the painting of a stylized bow and arrow half-hidden by a potted plant. “How do I learn how to manage my stress?”

 
 

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(Writing) A Writer’s May

Self Improvement 150The month of April was…not great for me as a writer. I didn’t make much progress on anything of note, though I *did* resume a long-dormant Pathfinder game that I’ll take as my big win. I could attribute the lack of writing to my day job, or family stress, or the general pressures of being an adult with obligations and such…but to be honest, the biggest reasons are fear and a lack of discipline. I didn’t write because writing has become this internal battle between my willpower and anxiety, and I’m just not mentally equipped to win that battle consistently.

It’s possible that I’m simply trying to do too much. In addition to an ultimate goal of three missives a week on this here Writing Desk, I’m trying to find a way to write consistently for my Patreon project, the Jackalope Serial Company; I’m working on a Pathfinder game that, at this point, is firmly mid-level and I’d like to take to level 20; I’m starting another Pathfinder game that aims to be more of a loose pick-up style campaign; I’m trying to write short stories for two anthologies that I’d love to be included in; I’ve been asked to contribute to other fandom projects and while I’ve said yes I have yet to take any concrete steps to do so. Then there’s the Udemy courses that aim to teach me more about blogging and tech, the Rosetta Stone course for French I’d like to get back to, SO MANY comics, books and short stories I want to read, the clarinet I want to practice, the cleaning and paring down of all my stuff I’d like to get to, the TV and movies I’d like to watch (and maybe review)…

I’m not sure that ADHD/anxiety is a big reason why I commit to so much and achieve so little, but it really can’t help. Because our executive function is compromised, it’s really difficult to set proper priorities and stick with them when we’ve been interrupted; splitting our attention just can’t happen, because we need to be rooted in one thing or else we go flying all over the place. That’s why off-loading your executive function to things like to-do lists and routines is so important; we have to find a way to make an instinctive internal process external and conscious.

I live and die by my Bullet Journal, though that has to be supplemented by other things like Todoist and Google Calendar to make sure I have an eye on deadlines. If I don’t make sure I have some place to put specific information, it’s pretty much gone — but even then, I can write down, say, a submission deadline for an anthology, but unless I take the time to break down the steps I need to take to actually GET to that submission AND make time for it in my schedule it’ll just sneak up on me and then I’m scrambling to meet a deadline. That kind of surprise triggers my anxiety disorder, which makes it more likely for me to just freeze up and watch the deadline go by.

Good project management practice can help with that, but building a project schedule can only do so much when you’re trying to juggle multiple projects at once. When it’s time to put pen to paper (or paws to keyboard in this case), it’s really hard to make productive use of my time. I know that my time with this project is limited, and my goal is…to just get it done. Not to have fun with it, not to engage with what I’m doing — if I’m being honest, most of the time I already have one eye out on the next thing I need to do. That ain’t no way to write.

So this month I’ll have to pull things back a bit and focus on fewer things that I can root myself well in. I have four big goals for this month — write for The Writing Desk consistently; resume regular updates for the Jackalope Serial Company; finish short stories for “The Rabbit Dies First” anthology as well as one other anthology.

Here at The Writing Desk, I’ll be focusing on Mental Health Awareness Month with posts about depression, anxiety and ADHD from my personal experience as well as the things that have helped me deal with them, or the things that I still need to work out. For the Jackalope Serial Company, I’ll be writing four “first issues” of various possible serials to see what folks take to, then continue on the most popular serial through June. With the short stories, I’ll devote as much time as I can to both of them once I’ve made sure the blog and Patreon are squared away.

I’ll also be working through my sky-high book stack as much as possible this month. I’ve got quite a lot of time off this month and I’ll be doing some international travel, so I’m fairly sure there’s a lot that I can knock out. Hopefully I’ll finish “Bluebird, Bluebird” by Attica Locke; “Steppenwolf” by Hermann Hesse; “Radical Acceptance” by Tara Brach; and “The Upward Spiral” by Alex Korb. If I can manage that, there should be a few good bits of reflection out of them.

So what’s your plan for May, writers? What’re you hoping to have finished by the time June rolls around?

 

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