This Butterfly’s Life

Hello Firefans, and Happy Mother’s Day

How are all of you?

It has been a busy, interesting and slightly difficult few months for all of us. We haven’t visited and shared here as much as we would have liked. But I promise you, Lori, Natalie and myself are still here, writing, learning, growing and we all have plenty of things to share.

In fact, when I awoke this morning, I was moved to share something with you. I’ve been feeling a blog post coming on, and waiting for the right insight or epiphany. What do you know? It arrived promptly at 6:00am on Mother’s Day. Like many times before, I sleepily pulled myself out of bed, feeling both blessed and irritated with my desire and ability to bring things out of my head and into the world through writing.

This spring my daughters and I ordered a butterfly hatching kit, similar to this one. Over the past few weeks we’ve experienced this strange and beautiful act of nature, and as each stage has progressed, I’ve been blanketed by a series of quiet, yet profound understandings about a variety of things in my life.

It soon occurred to me that watching these butterflies was so much more than teaching my girls about nature. As a writer of course metaphorical comparisons were falling out of my mind left and right. The growth, the change, the descent and the rising into something new. The periods of stillness and the fluttering and failing and falling and learning. I knew there was something, some bigger message I needed to share about what was happening, and many ways I might relate our butterfly experience. But unsure of specifics I decided to simply enjoy our experience and wait for the Muse to bring me the rest.

And then this morning I just knew.

But then, I’m getting ahead of myself…

Our journey started with the five baby caterpillars, about the size of my fingernail that arrived in a small, self sustaining jar full of food. We watched the caterpillars eat as if they were going to double their size, and then saw them triple in size in just a few days. We learned that caterpillars produce a strange silk webbing that later helps them climb to a safe place to hang in their cocoons. During one particularly grotesque stage, the caterpillars started losing giant, odd shaped chunks of themselves inside the jar. This phenomenon bothered me so deeply and at levels I did not wish to explore, I simply had to not look at them for awhile.

The kidschrysalis had no problem seeing the left-behind chunks, however and one rainy evening my littlest came pattering in excitedly to exclaim that two of the caterpillars had began making their chrysalides. Soon enough, all but one of the five had climbed to the paper covering underneath the lid and had began the (amazingly fast- did you know it takes less than a day?) process of creating the shelter in which she would become a different being entirely. The chrysalides were mostly brown, but interestingly flecked with spots of gold.

A few days later, the first butterfly had emerged. We gathered around to see her. She was about the size of a quarter and clung to the side of the netting with her wings tightly closed. As sunlight came in the window and warmed the room, she revealed the lovely, intricate pattern of black, white and vivid orange on her wings. Slowly over the next few days, the other three butterflies climbed out of their stillness and into their new being.

They were awkward at first, trying to walk around with their new heavy wings, fluttering and falling onto the bottom of the net, landing on the fruit slices, hungry but unsure what to do. They’d flip around for awhile and then have long periods of quiet stillness, their wings tightly closed. They learned quickly, by trial and a lot of lucky mistakes to flutter from side to side of the cage and use their long proboscis to draw nectar and sugar water from the fruit.

Meanwhile the littlest caterpillar, after many days of climbing up and down inside the jar, (as if she just wasn’t quite sure about the whole thing) finally climbed to the bottom of the lid and made herself the tiniest of chrysalides. We gave her a day and moved her into the net with her large, butterfly graduate friends.

In the days that followed we fed the butterflies small slices of fresh fruit and sugar water from a tiny syringe. We had to keep them warm and protect them from danger (i.e., our two cats who were more than a little curious about their arrival.) When we were at home I’d carry the butterflies from room to room with us. I felt a little silly, but it didn’t seem a bother or burden because we were all constantly, quietly drawn to watching them.

butterflyToday, the four butterflies have grown to a wingspan of about 5 inches across- nearly triple (again) their original size. They can fly from one side of the netting to the other, they flick their proboscis readily out to eat as soon as we put the fruit inside the cage, and they have learned to spread their wings wide when in sunlight to absorb heat.

They are ready to fly free.

The weather in our area has pushed the overnight temperatures down into the thirties, and we aren’t supposed to let them go unless the temps stay around 50 and up, so we get to feed, protect and observe them for a few more days. I thought, The day we let them go, I will know what it is I’m supposed to write about. I’ll do it then.

But then I awoke this morning and something occurred to me:

We are butterflies.

We all start out pretty much self-sustained. As adults, we think we know what life is about. We work and eat and travel and do the things we think we are supposed to do. And then something in us changes. We are suddenly hungry for more. We want change.

But, in order to change, we must leave behind giant chunks of ourselves, the ways and the things and the people we were, in search of something better. For some it’s career or money or comfort or approval, for others its things that aren’t so easily given up, like addiction, or bad relationships, or guilt. We have to let those go and it isn’t a pretty process. But we do it anyway.

Some strange primeval instinct in us says we must do it or choose not to survive. And some of us don’t survive.

Our tiniest caterpillar, forever still inside her chrysalis, did not survive. For whatever reasons, she never emerged. She was overcome by the transformation, it was too much for her.

No one ever said a butterfly’s life was easy after all. And some of our friends, the ones whom we place the most hope inside of, are lost to us.

For those of us that find strength to move on, there is unknowing. There is a profound period of stillness, solitude, darkness, internal reflection. And there is waiting. Lots and lots of waiting. And wondering. So much wondering.

But then one day, when it seems the stillness and dark will never retreat, the warmth of the sun beckons. It illuminates things we think we’d like to see, to know. Soon, we can’t stay inside one minute longer and we push forward, climb out into the world to explore ourselves as a creature of an entirely different kind.

We feel different, bigger, more powerful, more real. And we are STARVING. We want to soak up the world and everything in it with this newfound energy. We stumble forward on long, newborn legs into a familiar, yet altered new universe. We don’t know exactly how to do the things we are driven to do, but we do them anyway, awkwardly hoping we happen upon the right way.

And soon, so much sooner than we ever thought possible we are soaring across the landscapes of our lives. It’s as if we were born to fly. Yes, we were in facbutterfly is freet born to fly.

We have wings.

And you know the most beautiful part?

The wings were within us all along.

 

Thanks for reading

~C

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Just Wait

Do you ever get stuck in the middle of writing something? Pressed for time, stressed, frustrated and wish you could just summon the muse and order up an idea?

The following is kind of a follow up to a piece of flash fiction I wrote awhile back, Conversations With a Muse. This post spurred a train of thought that led to many things, but mostly the idea of what it would be like to have a muse to chat with, and after writing that one I had some distinct ideas about what mine would be like.

A few days ago I got stuck writing a critical turning point of my book, so I started thinking about what my muse would say if I tried to order up an idea. It went something like this…

***

“What good is hopen window snowaving a muse if inspiration is only ever random?” I wonder out loud, staring at the snow-capped row of houses in the distance. I’ve been sitting at my desk, not writing for an hour. The wintry air coming through the half-open window has turned my fingers to ice (I often write with the window open, even in winter. I have a theory that stale air leads to stale thoughts) and now typing at the keyboard is literally, physically painful.

I’m stuck in a critical scene of the book I’m working on. I know something crucial happens at this point, my main character sees a ghost- or something akin to a ghost, and those are the only details I know for certain. I seem to be missing the serendipitous knowing of details that will make the scene flow into the story. I’ve been listening to ethereal violin music and reading Poe and chapters from ghost stories all morning, no luck. It’s obvious this solution is not currently firing somewhere in the synapses inside my brain.

I need a muse.

“You know it doesn’t work that way,” a musical voice says, seeming to come from above and below and behind. “You don’t just call us up, order up an idea and that’s it. If that’s what you want go ask a human.”

“Christopher, you scared the hell out of me. I thought you only showed up at night. Where are you anyway?”

“I show up when I want to show up. I’m seen when I want to be seen.”

“Yeah,” I huff. “I know. But since you’re here maybe you could give it a whirl.”

“I’m not an accountant. You don’t just call me up, I provide the service you want and then we both go on our way.” I can’t see him but I can hear that his words are soaked in a smirk.

“Why not?”

“Well, if you want to get technical, if we…do business like humans do, you’d have to pay me. And believe me honey, you couldn’t afford it.”

“Yes, you’re very valuable. Also hilarious.” I try to mirror his sarcasm but mine only comes out half as effective. “So…if you can’t help me why are you here?”

“Listen. Art is born of inspiration. And inspiration can’t become art unless it’s pure.”

“Wait. What? What does that even mean?”

“Gaaahh, you humans can be so thick. Alright because I know there’s talent in that head of yours…somewhere, I’ll spell it out.” He clears his throat. “If you don’t have the answer yet, it’s for a reason.”

“But— I only have so much time to write. I have kids, remember?”

“Just be quiet. For an hour. For a day. A week even. Just be still and patient and wait. And hey, here’s something innovative: Listen.

“That’s it? That’s your answer? Just wait?”

“That’s it. Brilliant, no?”

The voice fades to a whisper and the room is quiet again. The only sound is the swooshing of an occasional car maneuvering the slush-soaked road behind my house. I sigh, close my laptop, climb into bed and close my eyes.

And I wait.

Eureka! My Story is an Infant…

I claim to be a writer of all things.

Sometimes, that feels like a lie.

It’s not as if I don’t have good reason to make this claim. In the past 15 years or so, I literally have written just about everything. From employee training manuals to web content, news articles to speeches. I covered events I had never been to and wrote multi-page news stories about them. I’ve cranked out literally hundreds of pages of web content about things so foreign to me I had to learn a new language to write it.

I don’t claim to be the best, I don’t even claim to be good. I just do what I am stirred to do. Writing is my bread and water. I breathe it in, it sustains me. I’ve done so much writing in so many different ways that none of it really intimidates me anymore. Except for one thing.

Which is why saying I’m a writer of all things sometimes feels like a farce.

I’ve been working on writing a fictional novel off and on for almost nine years. I’ve talked myself in and out of it a thousand times. I’ve (driven my writer’s group crazy) completely given up on it, and then the story comes lurking into my peripheral vision again, and I’m summoned to pull my butt out of bed at 3am to hammer out a new scene. The writer’s version of self-masochism.

Writing a novel is my biggest dream. It also scares the hell out of me.

Why? Because all that other writing, web content and news articles and speeches and such, that’s all small potatoes. If you ask me, fiction is the real McCoy. You’ve got to be a damn good writer to make a fictional story REAL.

This notion terrifies me.

You see, I have these wonderfully enchanting, beguiling stories in my head. (Trust me when I say that having an overzealous muse is both a blessing and a curse.) My characters are…beautiful. They are lovable and jaded and scarred and passionate and mysterious and utterly human. They have rich and complicated histories that bring them to perfectly fit into their place in the story. My book is full of intoxicating circumstances and exciting plot twists and turns that I know, if written well, will keep readers turning pages into the latest hours of the night.

Those are the things that I know, will sell my book. Those are also the things that keep me from writing it.

How will I do them justice?

How will I give my story the writing it deserves?

And so I start and stop and edit and rewrite and quit. I swear novel-writing off for good, go to work on other projects and am slowly drawn back into it. (Damn it.)

I go through it all again. And Again. And Again.It’s like that on-again, off-again boyfriend that you were both drawn to and repulsed by at the same time. (I now fully understand why all the literary greats were drinkers.)

Which brings me back to my book. Which I’m writing. For the hundred and seventy second time. Again.

This go-round has gone unexpectedly well. Last week I finished outlining the plot and chapter sequence and for a flash of a second, I felt like I might actually be able to kick this feeling of inadequacy and get this story written, once and for all.

Eureka!  I drove home from the coffee shop screaming out my car window: “I’m wriiiiiiting a noooveeeeell!” Several strange glances ensued. But I didn’t care. For the first time in maybe, EVER I actually felt like the real McCoy.

And then life happened. Work. Laundry. Kids. School. Tantrums. Grocery shopping. Sicknesses. Cleaning. Family dinners. I didn’t have an opportunity to write again for nearly a week.

And by then, of course I had over-thought the chapter sequence ten thousand times, to the point of convincing myself that all the holes in the story were going to be its downfall.

Aaaaaaaaaaghhhhh! Someone please make it stop!

But….

One night after the house was silent and all the family was long asleep, my muse awoke and beckoned me. I crept over to my desk and flipped open my laptop.

Go on, open it up love. Give it a read.

Read what?

Don’t be bloody ridiculous. You know what.

Since when are you British?

I have your attention, do I not?

Yes.

Ahhh, then no need for further discussion. So let’s have a look then shall we?

Go on love, read on.

I double-clicked the draft of my story on my desktop, and blindly started reading. The first chapter, along with some other passages, sections I had edited and rewritten half a dozen times, struck me as well-crafted. Others were not so hot, obviously slammed out in a twenty five minute increment between a laundry-folding marathon and pick up time at preschool. Some of the dialogue read like choking on cream cheese. And of course a whole hell of a lot of it what I had in my draft, I wanted to cut and paste into the recycle bin.

Keep going.

Why? Self torture?

Just do it.

So I read on. I read through the entire draft. Sure enough, I found more cheese and more garbage. But every so often, I’d uncover gem, glittering in the midst of telling-not-showing, cheesy dialogue and mindless narrative. In a few, fleeting passages I found pieces of the real, whole, perfect story. Characters, waiting for the story to morph and unfold them out of the confines of their pages, to come alive in the hearts and minds of readers. Waiting to be made real.

*Sigh*

I closed the document and sat quietly, my face illuminated by the glow of my laptop screen. I sunk my chin into the palm of my hand and stared into a picture of my two daughters, sitting on my desk.The voice appeared again, like a faint jingling of tiny bells  inside some quiet corner of my brain.

Your daughters. What lovely creatures they are.

They are a lot of time. And work. And patience. But they are lovely, aren’t they?

They are the very products of your life and your love.

Did you know how you were going to teach them things, when they were born?

No.

 When they were infants, did you ever fault them for not knowing how to smile?

Of course not. Watching a smile cross their faces for the first time was magic.

Did you ever give up teaching them how to talk? How to walk?

No. The little one had some trouble. I took her to physical therapy… after that she was off and running in no time.

Will you stop giving them any less love, knowing they still have so far to go?

Not a chance.

I have loved them, adored them at every stage. Watching them grow and evolve, supple spring leaves sprouting, unfolding, fading into a thousand brilliant shades, a new hue and texture and purpose for every season. That has been the greatest joy of my life.

This is what your writing needs, love. Love.

Yeah, but what about the—

You have to love your story for what it is, at any given time. All of it. At every stage.

It is no less loveable now, in its infancy, than your toddler was when she learned to walk. Your 8 year old learning to sing, or when she is a teenager and gives her heart away for the first time…

As you give your time and your love and effort to it, it will grow. It will get bigger and better and stronger and more beautiful with every stroke of the keys on your keyboard.

Slowly, it will become whole.

 And when it is ready, you will know. And then you will let go.

I took a breath. The voice fell silent and I sat for awhile in the dark, thinking about my story, about  what I had written from a new perspective. With the love and hope that every parent carries in her heart.

I realized that at nearly a decade old, my story was still in its infancy. Newborn and pliable and naive and lovable, drool and spit-up and wobbly legs and all. Cheesy and awkward, a little broken in parts, not understanding yet what it means to be whole.

My story is an infant. Wishing for me to love it, waiting for me to help it grow.

*Eureka.*

Back to the keyboard, then, love.

Till next time,

~CindyImage

Beltane

bonfire

This has been a long time in coming. We’ve promised, several times, to let you know what it was that we have learned this summer. We’ve all been so busy applying what we’ve learned that we haven’t actually had time to write about it on the blog. (Although, there has been PLENTY of writing about it.)

Our lessons came in a few, somewhat insane, highly symbolic, events.

By the end of winter, all of us had become aware of significant doubt, pain, and regrets that we each felt within our hearts. It was a difficult winter for each of us in different ways. Our desolation and heartache were keeping us from becoming who we needed to be. We had lost ourselves somewhere in the past. All of us could see it in the others, but somehow missed it in ourselves.

Natalie came to us with the notion of Beltane (Pronounced: BEY-al-TIN-ah). It’s a Celtic holiday which celebrates the coming of summer and new growth. We didn’t need the growth of crops, however, we needed to expand our souls. We needed to let the things from the past fall away, and to encourage our spirits to move on to the next part of who we were to become.

We formed a plan. In the weeks leading up to Beltane, we each thought about what we wanted most in life. We were to gather pictures of the things we wanted most and put them in a vision board, the desires of our inner selves made manifest in photos.

Our vision boards became a topic of discussion every time we were together. It wasn’t unusual to hear, “Ooo! I want to put that on mine!” Nor, was it unusual for us to stalk people, houses, and things, snap pictures, and find a place for it on our vision board. The beauty of this exercise was that we were limited only by our imaginations. (With a group of writers, imagination is abundant.)

Traditionally, there would be a bonfire at a Beltane. We decided that we would write down those things which we needed to let go, past injuries, regrets, unhealthy desires and we would throw the list into the fire. We wanted to begin letting go of the negativity in our lives by watching it go up in smoke – literally.

It was all wonderfully planned.

However, something was missing.

We needed to do something symbolic to remind ourselves to let our dreams grow, to pay attention to the whisperings of our souls. My Aunt, who is in tune with our little group even though she lives in Wales, suggested that we plant our vision board in a pot and let it nourish a plant. Our dreams would feed the plant just as they feed us. As we tended to the life of the plant, we would be reminded to tend to our dreams, keeping them alive as well.

The day of our celebration came.

We lit a small fire and watched the flames ripple upward. We sat is silence. Each of us took a moment to reflect and release the sadness and suffering that had been plaguing us for decades. When we were ready, we tossed our list of troubles into the fire, watching the light catch hold of the the list. The paper blazed brightly, then turned to black ash, the fire easily dissolving our problems in its power.

Something similar happened in our souls as we watched them burn. It was as if a fire was rekindled in our own hearts. One that could envelope and destroy agony, defeat, and sorrow and empower us to LIVE.

It’s strange how one action, when done in the right moment, with the right people, can instil you with ancient knowledge, knowledge that has always been there waiting for you to see it.

We sat in silence for a few moments, lost in the freedom of purging such darkness from within ourselves.

One of us asked whether the others wanted to share our dreams. A discussion, which has never quite ended, began that night. We discussed our desires, and the things we felt that we were supposed to accomplish in this life. There were tears, encouragement and beauty as we began to realize all that we wanted lay at our fingertips. We came to understand that we were born to succeed.

The light began to die down and it came time to plant young, fresh, lavender with our vision boards. The soil seemed to clean our hearts as we gently tucked our vision in among the roots.

We departed in the enchantment that only comes in a May evening.

In the months since, we have continued to believe in ourselves. Something happened that night, an openness that was not there before. We know where we are going, we have faith in each other and in ourselves.

This was the beginning of the Summer of Magic. We have had to renew our commitment to our dreams. Occasionally had to readjust our lives to get back in line with what we want. But that night, among fire, soil and the beauty that is May, we gave ourselves over to what we could become.

There is power in letting go.

There is magic.

There is freedom.

There is love.

There is completeness.

MagicColor4

Moxie Monday: Boundaries

boundaries

I remember my first introduction to the word boundaries. I was in Kindergarten and there were boundaries to the playground, an invisible line I wasn’t supposed to cross. It was meant to keep us safe, to guide us toward where we needed to be. I quickly learned to follow the rules.

When my husband was in the Navy, boundaries were only crossed with a card which I was required to carry. There were checkpoints, rules and regulations. I got used to these types of boundaries as well.

But there is one type of boundaries which I never got used to, those which I put in place myself. Personal boundaries. For reasons which we don’t discuss I never did create personal boundaries. I allowed myself to be walked on by just about everyone I knew. I ignored myself and I allowed myself to be ignored. My feelings, ideas, opinions, thoughts, and needs were put second to everyone and everything else. I was not safe; there were no checkpoints.

As I’ve become acquainted with other creative types, I have noticed that many people discount, what should be, their personal boundaries. They become people pleasers; they change their life to fit around the lives of those around them. That doesn’t work for ANYONE. It makes us depressed. It stifles the growth of others. We BECOME a lie. We do NOT fulfill our purpose. We are stunted.

My advice is this week’s writing exercise.

Make a list of your personal boundaries. Decide now what type of life you want to live.

Let me give you a start:

1. I deserve to be spoken to with respect.

2. I deserve to have my voice heard.

3. My feelings and opinions are valid.

4. I can trust myself to form my own opinions, and find truth.

5. I am worth self-care.

These are just a few, but it’s a start.

How about you? Have you set your boundaries? Where will you start?

A Letter to My Daughter

mother-and-daughter

Dearest Daughter,

First of all, I want to thank you for the person you are. I am amazed at the way you are growing and becoming the woman you will someday be. I am proud of you. You are more kind, vivacious, charitable and beautiful than I could have ever imagined.

I want to explain something about myself to you.  When I was in third grade, I knew that I wanted to be a writer. I had a wonderful teacher who gave us interesting story ideas and didn’t hinder our young imaginations with too many rules. I learned to describe my feelings and thoughts in new ways, making myself understood for the first time. I was given a voice and I never wanted to stop.

Before you were born I would write whenever Inspiration dictated. It was an impulse that couldn’t be stopped.  It was like taking a deep breath of air after swimming underwater.  You need it, crave it and nothing will stop you from getting to take that breath of refreshing air.  When I wrote, it was like coming up for air. I could see clearly and my thoughts would make sense of the world around me.

And when I wrote, I could make up any world I wanted to. Fairies, dragons and princesses existed in my world. Good always won the day and truth was always found.  Young women were always strong and smart, kind and vivacious. Come to think of it, Dearest, most of the women in my stories were like you.

I enjoyed my time writing. And then something happened. Life. I got too busy with my job and school. I started dating your father. I had responsibilities that couldn’t wait for Inspiration. I couldn’t just stop working because a great story idea struck. By the time I married your father, I had begun to ignore Inspiration. Do you know what happens when you ignore Inspiration? She stops talking to you.

For the longest time I just stopped writing. I knew something was missing from my life, but I had neglected it for so long that I didn’t know what it was. It was as if a part of me died so slowly, that I didn’t even notice.

Then one day, you found some of the things I wrote. You asked me about them and I told you that I want to be a writer. Then you said something that stopped me. You said, “But you don’t ever write. You’re not a writer if you don’t write.” I knew that you were right. I knew that if I never picked up the pen again, I would never realize my dream. I never want you to experience what it’s like to realize that you have let your dreams go, or to feel the disappointment of missing your calling in life.

And so, I write for you. I write to prove to you that your dreams do not have to die with added responsibility. I write so that you will find Inspiration in your own life. I write to show you that dreams are hard work, but with a patience and fortitude, you can become anything you want. I write to show you that marriage, motherhood and careers should enhance who you are, not detract from it. I write for you, My Love.  I write for you.

Top Ten Prompts to Inspire Creative Writing

If you’re a writer, an artist, musician or creative soul of any kind you’ve probably had those days when you just can’t produce anything worth… anything. The harder you try, the less effective you become and you get yourself into a ridiculously concrete mental block. It’s tough to pull yourself out of this phenomenon, and many times the feeling has negative effects in the rest of your life too.

As writers, we’ve found that completing writing prompts not only helps us get a fresh perspective in our writing, they open our minds in a myriad of other ways. The mental fog clears, and suddenly there are windows where there were once only walls.

These prompts our a few of our group’s favorites– and a few have even turned into some of our most beloved pieces. Give them a try, let us know how it goes, and we might even feature your response as a guest post!

Happy writing,

~C

10- They told her not to open the box…

9- You’re walking along a crowded street and an old woman hands you a brown paper bag. You take it from her and feel that it’s slightly weighted by whatever is inside. She smiles and disappears into the crowd. What is inside the bag, and what does it mean to you?

8-  This picture:

St. Etienne - Muse

7- Think of a character, either from a story you’re writing or a book you’ve read.  He/she has a favorite pair of shoes. Why are they special? Where did they come from? Where does he/she wear them? What stories go along with those shoes?

6- You wake up locked inside a closed coffin. Explain your initial reaction, how you attempt to escape, and what you remember about how you got there.

5- Find and buy (or take a picture of) an object at a thrift store, and write a short story or a scene around it. Below are some examples of objects we’ve used:

Vintage radiovintage gray tub

red high heelsrose colored glasses

4- You and your friends take a three mile hike up to a campsite and you’re sitting around the fire toasting marshmallows. Out of the blue one of your friends reveals a secret that turns your pleasant camping trip into a total nightmare…

3- Write a few paragraphs explaining how this picture came about, or what it represents:(image courtesy of www.vladstudio.com)

2- Write a story from the perspective of the family pet. The family is bringing home a new baby, going through a divorce, recently lost a loved one, the children are starting school, or they are moving across the country.

1- As a person or thing that inspires all your creativity and new ideas, your muse has been trying to contact you. Write a conversation between you and your muse. There are no limitations as to what he/she/it is, appears, or looks like. What does your muse want you to know? What is your reaction?