Dreams Do Come True

The past seven days have been amazing. Last weekend I attended an event, Necon 39, that quite literally changed my life. Not only did I get to meet and spend time with some of the kindest, most interesting, and hilarious people you could hope to meet, but I made my debut as a published writer. As some of you know, I have published short stories in anthologies, but this was the first time I got to sign copies of my novel, Invisible Chains.

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Photo credit: Michael Burke

Thanks to some very thoughtful reviews from readers who received advanced copies of the book, including A. E. Siraki, Ben Walker, and Mad Wilson, people actually came to the event with the intent of buying my book. Some people enjoyed reading the book so much, they promoted it every chance they got. I was overwhelmed with gratitude and awed by the level of support and kind words from people who had been strangers prior to the event.

Signing

Photo credit: John McIlveen

If you have the opportunity to attend Necon, do so. It is a welcoming environment where you can connect with other writers, have informal conversations with publishers, editors, artists, and avid readers.

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Photo credit: Lynne Hansen

And, I was welcomed into two new families: the Necon family, and the Haverhill House family.

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Photo credit: Tony Tremblay

Although last weekend was technically a working weekend for me, it felt more like vacation and even though I was exhausted when I got home, I still felt recharged and ready to tackle whatever is coming next. I can’t wait to go back next year.

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Photo credit: Tony Tremblay

Invisible Chains was officially released on Monday, July 22 from Haverhill Housing Publishing. And, as friends received their shipping confirmations from Amazon, they contacted to let me know how excited they were to read the book. Folks who pre-ordered the hardcover and Kindle editions started receiving their copies this week and have shared pictures of the book, which is a truly humbling experience.

Earlier this week, I was interviewed for the Lawyers, Guns & Money podcast, where I got to talk about my book and one of my favorite subjects: vampires. I was also interviewed by fellow writer, Loren Rhoads for her blog, and wrote about My Favorite Things over at Speculative Chic. It shouldn’t come as any surprise that one of my favorite things is vampires. I talked and wrote about them a lot this week. Which, I have to say, is a dream come true.

So, what’s next? Aside from a few upcoming book reviews and guest blog posts, my first local book event is scheduled for Saturday, August 10 at 3 p.m., Why Do We Love Vampires and Narcissists. I’ll be reading passages from Invisible Chains and signing books, and local experts will share their knowledge about herbs, stones, symbolism, and narcissistic personalities. I’m really looking forward to this event and hope that some of you can attend.

Invite

I will be attending the The 5th Annual Merrimack Valley Halloween Book Festival on Saturday, October 12, and the following weekend, I’ll be in Atlanta for Multiverse 2019 – SciFi & Fantasy Convention, where I will again be talking about vampires.

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Later this year, I’ll have short stories in two upcoming anthologies, The Monstrous Feminine (Scary Dairy Press) and The Dystopian States of America (Haverhill House Publishing).

As I add events to my calendar, I will share that information here, so check back if you’re interested in attending one of those events. Thank you to everyone who has given their support, encouragement, and helped promote Invisible Chains. It has been a labor of love, and I couldn’t have done it without your kindness and friendship.

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The Zen of Lawn Care

This past weekend, I decided to tackle a project I had been putting off for weeks. Saturday morning I got up early, made coffee, put on enough clothing to not be indecent, and went outside to make my backyard more presentable. If it were up to me, I might let the yard go completely wild and see what plants choose to make their home there. But, there’s a rule in my renter’s agreement that states I am responsible for cutting the grass.

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Contained wilderness.

To be fair, my lawn is not huge by any stretch of the imagination. And, my property management company provided me with a manual push mower when I moved in six years ago.

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I sharpened the blades myself and still have all of my fingers.

I think I used this potentially hazardous contraption once or twice after I moved in. That same summer, while I was working on my MFA, writing my first novel, adjusting to life in my hometown after living in a city for 16 years, learning the ropes at a new job, figuring out how to get divorced, becoming a single parent, and dealing with the inevitability of my dad’s death, I got a call from my property management company because they thought my grass was too high. No, seriously. Someone who works for them literally drives around checking to see if people are cutting their grass. After cursing a blue streak about how fucking ridiculous it is to hold ADULTS accountable for cutting grass on some imaginary timeline, I came to my senses and accepted the fact that I couldn’t possibly do all of the things I was juggling AND care about lawn maintenance. The height of your grass shouldn’t be cause for anxiety. If it is, you may want to re-examine your life and look for another source of meaning.

For most of the time I have lived in this house, I have paid a man in my neighborhood $10 a week to cut my grass. Albert, and usually one of his sons, would show up bright and early on a Saturday or Sunday morning (depending on Albert’s full-time job schedule) and mow the lawn in about 10-15 minutes. They’d cut the grass, whack weeds along the fence, and occasionally make suggestions about what should or shouldn’t be allowed to grow in my yard.

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My backyard is essentially a plush carpet of weeds.

One of my favorite plants that grows wild in my yard each year, is morning glory. According to Wikipedia, the species growing in my backyard is the Ipomoea nil, or Japanese Morning Glory.

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A staple of unintentional urban gardening.

I look forward to seeing the lush green leaves and dainty purple flowers each year. According to the website Useful Tropical Plants, “Japanese morning glory is a climbing, herbaceous annual or perennial plant producing stems that either twine into other plants for support or sprawl along the ground.”

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Not only is this plant lovely, but it obscures the view of the neighbors I dislike.

The Japanese Morning Glory lives in harmony next to another weed that grows in my yard: Pokeweed. The dark purple, almost black berries complement the purple flowers and I enjoy watching the snaking tendrils entwine themselves with the pokeweed that grows 3 – 4 feet high next to my fence.

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These berries are poisonous. No matter how delicious they look, do not eat them

One year, Albert decided that I didn’t need these beautiful wild plants and used a weed killer to destroy most of the growth. I typically don’t plant anything in my yard, except in pots — flowers or herbs. So, after he sprayed the toxic plant killer, my yard looked barren. I got really pissed about it, because he didn’t ask me if I wanted him to do it. He assumed he knew better than me and made a decision about MY yard. It was the gardening equivalent of mansplaining. The following year, I told him to just cut the grass and trim the borders of the yard. He asked me three times if I was sure.

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This year, I decided not to make use of his services. Now, it’s up to me to cut the grass, weed, rake, and whatever else I need to do to avoid a phone call from my stupid property management company.

I spent nearly 4 hours in my backyard on Saturday. Using the manual push mower was extra work, and I began to think about the fact that there isn’t anyone else in my life to share the day-to-day labor. I feel the same way every time I have to shovel the sidewalk and dig out my car after a big snow. I often think that it would be nice to have someone to help me, or just do those things for me. But, as I worked my mind wandered. It wandered through the usual things I worry about. It wandered through fears I have about possible futures. And then, my mind wandered into the realm of questions and creativity. It occurred to me that I usually drown out my own thoughts with background noise like music, audio books, or the TV. Saturday, I chose not to listen to outside noise and listened to my own thoughts instead.

I tried to remember the dreams I’d had the night before. I thought about possible story arcs for my next book. I thought about how fortunate I am to be meeting so many new and interesting people, and why I believe some of them were sent to me so I can learn more about myself and grow. (Thank you, Universe.) I thought about why I’m not making more of an effort to take better care of myself. I thought about how the hell I was going to write all the things I’ve agreed to write over the past few weeks and months. And, I thought about the fact that there are so many opportunities ahead of me — personally, professionally, and creatively. I thought about adapting a series of paranormal romances I’ve been trying to finish into a graphic novel or comic series that an artist friend of mine would illustrate. I thought about how excited I am about attending my first Camp Necon in July. I thought about what I would talk about with my friend Megan if we started a podcast. I thought about making drapes. I thought about applying what I had learned from Marie Kondo in order to lighten my material object load. I thought about first kisses and the awkwardness of being naked with someone for the first time. I thought about how wonderful and terrifying the prospect of falling in love can be.

And, I thought about my grandfather. I thought about all the hours he spent taking care of his own lawn. I thought about how much time he must have spent alone with his own thoughts. I wondered if he used that time to solve problems, or gain a better understanding of the people he loved and the world around him. I wondered if all that time working with his hands, caring for his own yard, alone with his thoughts, was the reason he always seemed to have such amazing insight into human behavior. I thought about how much I miss him, and I wondered if he would be proud of my accomplishments. I shed a few tears, and then I got back to work.

When I was done, I treated myself to a beer like my grandfather used to do, and enjoyed the beauty of my freshly mowed and weeded lawn.

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I think I inadvertently created a sacred space.

My lawn will never be immaculate enough to be featured in Better Homes and Gardens, but it’s a space where I can think and work with my hands until I am too tired to do anything else. Something I had been dreading and putting off became one of the best meditative experiences I’ve had in a long time. I made peace with my thoughts and feelings, and completed a task that left me with a real sense of accomplishment. I’m sure there’s a lesson in there somewhere about finishing writing projects.

The Safe Word is Chicks Dig Scars

You may have noticed, while browsing through my blog posts that I have a thing for vampires. I’ve spent a lot of time reading, writing, watching, and thinking about vampires. Hell, they even show up in my dreams sometimes. If I’m lucky, the alarm clock doesn’t interrupt the really good parts of the dreams.

A few days ago I wrote about Jean-Claude, Vampire Master of the City of St. Louis, who appears in the Anita Blake novels by Laurell K. Hamilton. Jean-Claude is one of my favorite vampires of all time, and he has quite a bit of competition given the fact that I’ve been obsessed with vampires since I was 12. When I first read the Anita Blake novels, I only had eyes for Jean-Claude and Richard Zeeman. Werewolves are hot, too, but with each book, I like Richard less and less. He’s a self-centered, self-loathing, mentally unstable, jealous asshole who refuses to accept his own reality. By clinging onto his fantasy world, he repeatedly puts the people who rely on him in danger. And, despite the fact that he is a super hot piece of ass, his sexual proclivities make me uncomfortable and lead me to believe that the few times he’s been accused of rape may not be that far-fetched. Sure, vampires are predators as well, but for the most part, they acknowledge their shortcomings and try not to lie about them too much.

I just finished the fifteenth novel in the series, The Harlequin, and after reading this book and the one before it, Danse Macabre, I’ve come to the conclusion that Asher is also one of my favorite vampires. To be fair, Asher is dangerous. He is a monster. He, like Jean-Claude, is part of Belle Morte’s bloodline and therefore his “talents” and powers are connected to love and sex. In fact, Asher’s bite causes people to experience the most intense orgasm of their lives, which makes him a very dangerous bedfellow.

The Safe Word is Chicks Dig Scars: Asher

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Asher’s backstory is interesting. When we are first introduced to him in Burnt Offerings, he has come to St. Louis with a group of vampires who wish to depose Jean-Claude. Asher is seeking revenge, because he blames Jean-Claude for the death of a woman they both loved, Asher’s human servant, Julianna. Julianna was burned at the stake as a witch and Asher was badly scarred because members of the Church attempted to exorcise his “demons” by pouring holy water over his face and body repeatedly. Holy water has the same effect on vampires as acid does on human skin. His striking beauty was forever marred by the scars he bears on the right side of his face and body. He blames Jean-Claude because he was too late in coming to save Asher and Julianna. Jean-Claude blames himself and can never get over the guilt he feels for losing two people he loved. When he finally rescued Asher, he was too ugly to return to Belle Morte’s court without some serious convincing on Jean-Claude’s part. Although Asher and Jean-Claude had escaped before, they needed a place to go so Asher could heal. So, Jean-Claude traded his own freedom for 100 years in order for Asher to have a place to stay.

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Belle Morte treated Asher terribly during this time and refused to take him to her bed. She forced him to watch other vampires having sex with herself, with Jean-Claude, and never allowed him the satisfaction of release. Although Jean-Claude saved his life, Asher never forgave him for what happened to him and Julianna. But, that hasn’t stopped Jean-Claude from loving him.

Because of her close ties to Jean-Claude, Anita has access to his memories of Asher before his accident and has caught glimpses of the intimacy shared between Asher, Jean-Claude and Julianna. Afraid that Anita with think badly of him, Jean-Claude limits her access to his memories of the love and sex shared between himself and Asher. But these memories create a sense of love and longing within Anita toward Asher, and when he sees the way she looks at him, it raises his hopes that he can find the love he once had. Because of Jean-Claude’s memories, Anita sees beyond the scars and slowly falls in love with Asher. Asher has a really difficult time believing that anyone would want him because he is so scarred.

Despite the strong feelings Jean-Claude has for Asher, he avoids having a sexual relationship with him. Again, this is because he worries that Anita will reject him if he succumbs to his desires for other men. Even when Anita accepts Asher into their bed, there are rules about who touches who. The first night Asher is allowed in bed with Jean-Claude and Anita, it is only because of the need to feed the ardeur. Jason and Nathaniel are on either side of Anita, touching her to feed the ardeur, and Jean-Claude is feeding on Jason while Asher feeds on Nathaniel. Because there’s no actual intercourse, and despite the fact that everyone reaches orgasm, Anita discounts the experience as not being ACTUAL sex.

Take a moment to think about that. Anita is in bed with two smoking hot shapeshifters who are essentially naked, and bringing her to orgasm through digital manipulation. They’re both being fed on by vampires who bring about orgasm through their touch and bites, and drinking blood is akin to sex for most vampires. Everybody is getting off, but because no one is literally fucking her, it’s feeding, not sex. I’m pretty sure whatever was happening in that bed sounded, felt, and smelled like sex. But hey, what the hell do I know?

At any rate, the next time Asher ends up in bed with Jean-Claude and Anita, it’s because they are protecting Asher from being sent back to Belle Morte. Without that relationship, he isn’t romantically involved with anyone else, so his connection to the vampire kiss is tentative at best. Without belonging to someone, as someone’s lover, and the fact that his strength as a master vampire isn’t enough for him to be especially useful to Jean-Claude, he is at risk of being reclaimed by his maker. Although Anita and Jean-Claude have genuine feelings of love and lust for Asher, his own self-doubt and fear of rejection keeps him from believing that they really want him. It takes a lot of convincing for him to accept their invitation into bed, because he fears that once they have proven to Belle Morte that he is in a romantic relationship with them, they will no longer have a need to show him true affection.

When they finally coax him into bed, it is one of the hottest sex scenes in all of the novels. Anita is between the two vampires, riding Jean-Claude, and begging Asher to also penetrate her. His initial thought is anal, but Jean-Claude stops him for fear of hurting Anita. That’s one of the things she doesn’t do in bed, and her judgement is compromised by the ardeur. But she keeps telling him to penetrate her. So, he bites her, and rubs himself off against her ass. When his bite causes her to orgasm in tandem with the ardeur that she is sharing with Jean-Claude, all three of them climax over and over until both vampires die at dawn. Again, because Asher was not having intercourse with Anita, she still doesn’t count that as sex. Which confuses Asher and amuses Jean-Claude. They refer to Anita’s perspective as a very American view of sex.

There’s another memorable sex scene between Anita and Asher in Danse Macabre, in which Anita is feeding the ardeur and allows Asher to bite her so that they can have sex. Up to that point, he hadn’t fed, and without feeding, vampires can’t perform. No blood flow, no erection. Once again, Asher’s bite is orgasmic. Once he drinks enough blood to perform, he stops feeding. But Anita wants more. She asks him to bite her again, and because he is under the influence of the ardeur, he agrees. They fuck and he feeds and they fuck some more, until he nearly kills her. She wakes up in the hospital suffering from blood loss. Asher is so horrified by his own behavior that he simply assumes that she won’t want to touch him again. But she reassures him that she loves him even more.

Yeah, I know. That’s pretty fucked up. I mean, vampire sex is hot and all, but she essentially said it was okay that he almost killed her. Fucking him was so good that it was worth dying for. After that incident, however, Jean-Claude forbade them from being alone again. If they were going to keep having sex, they would need supervision. I don’t know about you, but if the sex is so dangerous that you need a chaperone, you might want to think twice about having sex with that person again.

Maybe. Of course, when your options for chaperones include Jean-Claude, Micah, Nathaniel, Jason, Damian, Requiem, Haven…well, you get the idea. Richard’s right out, because the only man he even considered sharing Anita with was Jean-Claude. And, while that sex scene ended up being extremely hot, they had to deal with a lot of Richard’s hang-ups before anyone could relax enough to enjoy the sex.

All kidding aside, the scene in which Asher nearly fucks Anita to death is only half as disturbing as the sex scene between Anita and Richard in The Harlequin, in which she sustains internal damage while having sex with Richard in the throes of the ardeur. We are told repeatedly that Richard is well-endowed. And, he’s a werewolf. So, he typically has to be very careful when he’s having sex with women who aren’t shapeshifters. He’s been accused of being a bit rough on more than one occasion. Anita tends to like rough sex, and her other lover, Micah also has a rather large penis. He tries to be careful, but he has injured her before as well.

In The Harlequin, Richard not only gets upset because Micah’s cock is as big as his, but that Micah has hurt Anita during intercourse. So, how does he deal with this? By hurting her worse than Micah ever would have allowed to happen. And, he enjoys hurting her. And, what’s worse is that Anita doesn’t stop him and then tries to comfort him when he feels bad about hurting her on purpose. She’s more worried about his feelings than her possible injuries. She allows herself to be the victim of sexual violence at the hands of a man who claims to love her, and then feels bad when his feelings are hurt. What the fuck? I’m not sure if Laurell K. Hamilton used these two acts of sexual violence as cautionary tales about why it isn’t safe to fuck monsters, or if she wanted us to think that sexual violence is hot. The fact that Anita allows these types of encounters to keep happening makes me think that we’re supposed to accept this behavior as par for the course when you decide to fuck monsters.

Rough sex is one thing, but writing female characters who nearly died because of it is irresponsible. Accepting pain as a natural outcome of intercourse is fucking insane. I’ll be the first to admit that monsters can be sexy, but only when what they do doesn’t endanger the lives of the people they claim to love. Especially when they fantasize about sexual violence the way Richard does. To have him behave like a monster is one thing, but to make us as readers feel bad for him is another. Up until the point that Anita green-lighted Asher to keep feeding from her, he asked her repeatedly if that’s what she really wanted and tried to talk her out of it before he would consent. Richard admitted that he wanted to try to hurt her, because it got him off. Asher is not a sexual sadist. Richard is. And yet, she tried to make him feel better about himself in order to keep the peace. I keep wondering if she’s shared this tidbit with Jean-Claude, because something tells me that of he knew how Richard treated Anita, he wouldn’t allow Richard to come near her again. At this point, that’s only speculation on my part.

Sexual violence is not sexy. Just because you write about monsters doesn’t mean the sex has to be absurdly violent. A vampire bite is one thing, but your female characters shouldn’t experience organ damage from overtly rough sex with a sexual sadist even if he is a werewolf.

At the end of The Harlequin, Anita is still worried about her relationship with Nathaniel and meeting his needs to be sexually dominated. Jean-Claude suggests that Asher teach Anita about BDSM so that she can satisfy Nathaniel’s unmet needs. I’m not gonna lie. The minute I was done reading The Harlequin, I requested Blood Noir from the library, with the hopes that Asher will not only instruct Anita in how to dominate Nathaniel, but he’ll actually demonstrate using Nathaniel as a prop. If I’m really lucky, Jean-Claude will “chaperone.”

What Dreams May Come

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The Nightmare, Henry Fuseli, 1781

“Dreams are today’s answers to tomorrow’s questions.” ~ Edgar Cayce

I have a recurring dream. You know the one. No, not the one about being naked in public. The other one. And no, it wasn’t the one about showing up to an exam after missing every class for the semester. It was definitely a stress-related dream, like the other two, but this particular dream is a recurring one that many of you may have had at least once in your life. On a regular basis, I have the teeth falling out of my mouth dream. I say dream, but you might say nightmare. Tom-A-to…tom-AH-to. If you had some of my nightmares, or had the teeth falling out dream as often as I have, you might not be as worked up about having it.

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Image by Yingpis Kalayom via Unsplash

I’ve had variations of this dream for as long as I can remember, and it usually occurs during high-stress periods of my life. Guess what? I’m stressed. And you probably are too. If you have a pulse and are not a chronically deluding yourself about how well you’re managing things in your life, then you are stressed.

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Image via American Psychological Association

The good news is, sometimes our subconscious mind speaks to us in dreams and let’s us know we aren’t completely alone in our struggle. We have our own instincts and internal compasses to guide us through. Since having my teeth fall out is a recurring theme in dreamland, I’ve come to appreciate this dream as a sign that there is something happening in my life that I need to address immediately. And, fortunately, it is usually something I have control over and can manage with the right course of action and attention to the problem. I don’t panic when I have this dream. Oddly enough, I am comforted by it, because when the dream arrives, it tells me that I am almost ready to deal with the situation that is causing me stress.

Great, but what do these dreams actually mean, and why should you be concerned about having them? Well, according to a website dedicated to this particular type of dream, the symbol of teeth have both positive and negative meanings in our dreams.

Negative Meanings

  • Insecurities, especially about a personal loss
  • Anxiety about sexual experience
  • A compromise that is costly to you
  • Life changes and “growing pains”
  • Fear of becoming older

Positive Meanings

  • Signs of personal expansion
  • Wish or need to nurture yourself more carefully
  • An invitation to explore feelings of loss and personal growth
  • A call to look at your support system
  • The Jungian interpretation: Times of renewal and “rebirth”

I checked a lot of boxes in both the negative and positive columns. How about you? Any of these fears feel familiar? Again, are you alive?

A few years ago I was having the teeth falling out dream almost weekly. Beyond the regular stress of daily life – work, family, finances, and relationships – I lost my father and was in the process of grieving his death. He battled with a variety of health issues over an eight-year period, and spent the last two and a half years suffering with dementia and becoming a stranger to my family and me. His death was, in many ways, anticlimactic simply because I had been grieving the loss of his personality for several years as he lost his memory, developed bizarre habits, and eventually could no longer take care of himself. When my mother and I took him to the nursing home, he asked us where we were going when it was time to leave. At that point, he still had enough understanding of who he was, who we were, and that his life was about to change dramatically. It was heart breaking, and we began grieving for him that day.

Even though I did a lot of grieving during that time, obviously, my father’s death had an impact on me and I still find myself missing him at strange moments. Like when I completed my first novel, a supernatural slave narrative, I wrote as my thesis for the MFA in Writing Popular Fiction Program at Seton Hill University. Writing that novel caused me to have the teeth falling out dream on numerous occasions, but when I finished it and found out that my thesis passed,  I was one step closer to graduating. Both accomplishments filled me with a new sense of confidence about myself as a writer and also reminded me that I can achieve bigger goals if I put in the time and effort. These happy achievements were slightly tarnished by the fact that my dad, the person who encouraged me the most to be a writer and pursue my creative interests, will never be able to read my book or share in the joy I felt on graduation day.

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Image by Melanie Wasser via Unsplash

Wait. What does this have to do with the teeth falling out dream? Oh right, I was illustrating an example(s) of the kind of stress that can trigger the teeth falling out dream. But, it doesn’t take the death of a parent to make life stressful. I’m a divorced single parent who works full-time and writes part-time and is looking for a fresh start – a new job, new place to live, and maybe even a chance at a new romance. Honestly? I manage a lot of my life very well, but there are always things I can take a step back from to examine with a bit more clarity. What do I want to do to pay the bills so I can follow my dream of becoming a full-time writer? Where do I want to live? What am I looking for in a partner? Do I even need a partner?

Typically, when I have the teeth falling out dream, a bunch of teeth fall out of my mouth, or I’m yanking them out as I discover that they’ve come loose. The last time I had the dream, only one tooth was loose. When I looked at myself in the mirror, it easily came free between my fingers, but it didn’t look human. It was too big, like a great big honking horse tooth. Apparently, there was one major issue I needed to address, but my unconscious mind was already working on solving the problem. Shortly after having the dream, I found a therapist and began working toward extracting the cause of the tooth dream. I’ve since moved forward and have been managing the stress in my life a lot better. Sometimes, removing what causes stress from our lives alleviates the need for pulling teeth.

Sweet dreams.