THE PREMATURITY OF HUMANITY
‘Memorial to a Species’ Brent Stirton, (EcoWatch)
THE PREMATURITY OF HUMANITY
‘Memorial to a Species’ Brent Stirton, (EcoWatch)
THE WRITER’S LIFE
Today started life as roughly one in seven do, when it decided to be a Monday. The name of the day only varies my levels of depression and anxiety by its relative position in the week.
In any case, I switched on the TV to be assaulted by Victorian throwback Jacob Rees-Mogg on the news. I ignored most of what he plumbed, but I caught one quote: “If we don’t get Brexit, we destroy the Conservative Party.” And that just says it all. That sums up the car crash which is Britain, which will itself be destroyed (the union, the economy and the social structure) by The Tories. It’s only Monday.
The Conservative and Unionist Party (an oxymoron in itself) are clinging to power by using every trick in the political history book, because they fear a General Election will consign them to history. Until that happens, those they claim to govern are restricted (and conditioned by the press). Later the Tories elect a new leader (Boris Johnson), who will become our Prime Minister. While the first vote is perhaps between themselves, the second ought to be put to the electorate, whom they fear, but who they still control, rule and manipulate like a dictatorship.
Over coffee and a croissant at my desk, I researched a story I’m writing about the New World Order, of which some of the UK government are almost certainly members. Britain is just a microcosm of the global four-step plan of the 1% in action:
Enact martial law
Check, check, and the rest will come soon. It was set in motion when the US established the Federal Reserve and handed control of the world’s finances to bankers.
A friend of mine (a scientist) commented:
“The wheels are in motion – control is truly global when it used to be at country level at best. Resources are in the hands of the few … rebellion is as good as futile. Until the top 1% are threatened – then some action (too late for most but possibly recoverable for the species) will take place. Right now, they have 60 – 150 years of difficult weather but – what do they care if India floods and China has a famine? They control the food and the ship builders.”
At the root of all human fear is the unknown, and feeling powerless against the chaos increases the anxiety of being human. Existential threats are all around, and it’s still only Monday.
Despite my mobility being limited by social anxiety, I decided to go out and do something about all that’s wrong with the world. I went to my local Tesco Metro, determined to commit a random act of spontaneous human kindness. If nothing else, it would make me feel better about myself and the part my generation played in the destruction of Earth.
In many ways I envy my kids, but I pity them too. I regret the world they’ve come into, but hope they can use the technology at their disposal to make it a better place. When I was their age, it was the mid 1980s and the internet was in its infancy. What I could only dream of, they can make reality. The biggest problem is uniting an entire species in a common cause: to save our only home; to repair it and return it to the natives; to use science and technology, not to destroy ourselves but to leave Earth and explore the galaxy. What a story those pioneers would be able to tell. It’s only Monday, and the kids have the internet now.
I’m a self-proclaimed scientific atheist, but I subscribe to Ancient Astronaut theories. I’ll admit I’ve not so much prayed in the past, as ask aloud whoever’s listening to give me a sign. Today I was looking for someone to commit a random act of kindness upon. “God moves in mysterious ways.” While perhaps true, Captain Mamba, or any other superior alien intelligence calling themselves God, might be so obvious as to stop just short of turning up personally. It’s less an insult of one’s intelligence.
As I was stocking up on snacks in Tesco Metro, two young lads roughly my kids’ ages were doing the same. “We can’t get that and that,” said the younger one, “we’ll have to put one back.”
“How much are you short?” I wondered. It was a pound. As it happened, I had a pocket full of shrapnel I couldn’t be bothered to count out at the till. So I donated it.
“Why would you do that?” The older one piped up.
I didn’t want to burden them with a monologue about my own kids, how I miss them and wish I could see them more (lest they think I was going to kidnap them). Nor did I explain how I could imagine my own kids out with money they’d been given by their mum and other dad, only to find out they were short of cash. Being so remote from them, I momentarily couldn’t bear that pity and wished I was there to give them what they needed.
“Because,” I said, “I can. Because you need it, I need to go rid of it, so why wouldn’t I? Because there are still some nice people around. Socialism isn’t dead.”
In our age of public surveillance, if they were listening, I knew it would piss off those who seek to control wealth, create conflict, and generally spend their lives being arses. I felt I’d been disruptive and disobedient against the thought machine.
“You’re cool.” Well of course I was. And they were proof that there’s hope for us all.
I remembered myself at that age, out with a mate, stocking up on crisps, snacks and drinks. Ahead of us we’d have a night of Dungeons & Dragons, computer games or films about teenage hackers. Who was I to stop those youngsters having the night they’d planned, when that might be something which eventually changes the world?
It made me feel better about myself. If I can give to a charitable cause, if I can somehow take a worry from someone which frees them to do something otherwise, they might mention to someone else that there are nice people around, at exactly the same time as the person they’re talking to is having an existential crisis about humanity and our planet.
All we need to do is keep talking. I was just a writer giving a quid to a couple of kids. That’s socialism.
And it was only Monday.
THE WRITER’S LIFE
If you’re ever frustrated with life, and how it seems to be ruled by forces beyond your control, there’s always the 1980s. Hacking was a much simpler game then.
In that golden age, teenagers like me (as I was then) would watch films like WarGames and wonder when we might get our hands on the technology those American kids had in their bedrooms. In the 21st Century, some of us in the UK have acquired laptops and worked out how to connect them to the outside world.
While wandering around outside tonight, I found a place where you can mess around with app code and change the settings in various smart device apps. It struck me as a good way to tell a story: I could make a cannibalised version of a Space Invaders clone.
MentalFloss on WarGames
I just changed the text, the sounds and the sprites, including the player’s missiles, which are me in my 1970 birthday shirt. The enemies are the same as they’ve always been, but I’ve updated the graphics to better reflect the contemporary. It’s somehow cathartic to shoot oneself at personifications of 8-bit caricatures, but frustrating that there are so many.
There’s a story in the game. See if you can beat my hi-score. See if you can get past the boss. I think I have a strategy which my current best doesn’t reflect. It’s only a simulation, of personal-space invaders. Click to play, in The Game where you’re IT.
THE WRITER’S LIFE | POETRY
I prefer doorways to doors, things which hold others, yet with no equal reason for being there. I favour skirting boards to taking the floor; and here I am, foot in hand, talking to my door about why I don’t like it. Talking to myself and feeling old:
I find doors difficult to walk through, like Patrick Swayze did in Ghost
People knock on doors
Many doors are closed when I’m awake
People don’t hold doors open much now
Apart from garage doors, all are ‘Push’ or ‘Pull’. None say ‘Lift from the bottom’
If you leave a door open, anyone can get in. If the door’s not there, you’re equal
Doors with locks are a human construct
I fear the next shit sandwich through the letterbox. If I only had a dog. It’s a frame of mind I’m in…
Image: Lawrence Manning, from OzTypewriter, The Wonderfull World of Typewriters (blog)
Cats scratch, carpenters carve. I wasn’t going to be so short-sighted as to wish them a slow and painful death in return, so I let them have the last word. Better to knit rope than go fishing. While the fishermen of ancient Britain gained the family name of Fisher, Lakers sat on the banks and made nets. Possibly.
Rebuilding this planet will require not just carpenters but many trades, or possibly occupants of interplanetary craft
THE WRITER’S LIFE
EDIT: My MP got a reply from the chief of HMCTS (below). Previously…
As we enter July, my battle with The Department for Work and Pensions moves into its tenth month. In the time it would have taken to grow new life inside me, I’ve written little as I’ve been exhausted by the struggle to regain the Personal Independence Payment I’ve been entitled to for the last four years, taken away like the benefits of millions of other claimants, along with much of the community social care infrastructure, so that this morally bankrupt, murderous fascist Tory regime can recover the vast sums they’ve wasted on Brexit, while awarding tax cuts to the wealthy and pay rises to themselves.
Ben Ferencz, The last Nuremberg prosecutor
I’ve not written much about the process of appealing an unfair benefit decision, because the incompetence of the government departments and out-sourced agencies involved is beyond fiction and farce. In desperation then, I wrote to my MP (a Tory), and in fairness to him as an individual, he did his job. I don’t have a resolution to my financial and mental health problems, but I’ve had the most coherent response I’ve had throughout this process from the social cleansing machine. My self-confinement box has a window.
In summary, I may still have another year to wait before I’m out the other end of this tunnel, and that’s going to be a year almost as hellish as the last, but I can see where I’m going. I’m over what could have been an immediate threat, if the machinery had somehow digested me completely and my housing benefit been cut, rendering me homeless (this time it wouldn’t have been my fault). What’s gone is a lot of the doubt, not knowing what’s going on because the machine is deliberately difficult to talk to. Now I’ve had human contact, from people who’ve taken the time to review my case as an individual. I feel slightly less dehumanised and statistical.
If I’m going to move on, I need to put the war with the machine to one side. Everything is in the hands of others now, and I can do nothing but wait. It’s a different kind of waiting than before, because at least I know I’m waiting for something.
But this isn’t all about me. This is for the thousands of others fighting for their lives with the social cleansing apparatus. My books are always free for the taking of leaves. If what I’ve done gives anyone else ideas, then I’ve not just written to shift this particular infection from my chest.
Here then is the abridged version of the last nine months, in the emails I’ve exchanged since making human contact inside the machine. Once I’d infiltrated it, I took advantage of the privilege to barely disguise a few side swipes. They must think me mad.
First, the email I sent to Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) in a fit of deliberate, barely coherent frustration, when the machine appeared to have chewed my case up and shit it out the other end, and which I copied my local MP into:
Dear Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service,
I’m growing concerned that I’ve not been given a date to appeal DWP’s decision to deny me PIP. I have a letter confirming that the case is active and that DWP have responded. I also have an SMS alert advising that I’d be given a hearing date by 7th June. The SMS provides a link to check the progress of my case, but when I enter my surname as requested, I’m told that name doesn’t match the appeal reference. It’s now one week since the date I was hoping to be advised of an appeal, so I hope someone can help. It seems the automated systems are at almost human pains to make life difficult, so I’m hoping for a more reasoned human input from the programmers.
I hope my local MP (Hi Tom) might forgive my unsolicited inclusion of him as a recipient of this, but not ignore it. My unconventional approach is representative of the many who wouldn’t be so bold. I represent the tip of an iceberg of people being slowly killed by the policies of The Department for Work and Pensions, presided over by his Conservative colleague, the Work and Pensions Minister, Amber Rudd.
I’m concerned that something may have gone amiss, so would be grateful of some advice as the situation has been ongoing with DWP since September (not your fault, I know). I’m writing to you in a state of personal desperation, in the hope I find a human, as this is the latest set-back / hold-up in my attempts to win back ‘benefits’ (human rights) I’m entitled to, and which the DWP seem to have a social cleansing agenda in the efforts and costs they incur to deny someone their personal liberty and independence. You are also the last place my case, my records and my paper trail existed. You’ll understand I hope that I don’t want to take this up with DWP as they are the opposing party and I don’t want to give them an excuse to cut off the remainder of my benefits (I’m now on non-enhanced ESA only).
If this is an opportunity to submit additional personal testimony as evidence, then I’ll add that DWP have made me much more unwell than I was when this process started. I suspect that’s their aim. I suffer from depression, anxiety and paranoia (as detailed in my original PIP questionnaire and notes on where I disagreed with the assessor (a physiotherapist, I believe, assessing a mental health claimant) in my mandatory reconsideration request.
DWP’s deliberate aim of derailing my progress is blatant in the paper trail of incompetence I have accumulated. Beginning with their mistakenly treating my request for a mandatory reconsideration as a new application. I need to ensure therefore that this appeal is to retain the PIP I’ve been paid for the last four years. Furthermore, DWP’s mistake has led to me being called for a health assessment for ESA, when I’ve been in the support group for the last four years. I have had to reschedule once already as the prospect of having to attend another assessment triggered a panic attack. When DWP mistook my request for a mandatory reconsideration, they sent me 800 pages of copy: my original application, and the same with notes for my reconsideration, all in duplicate. They seem to have two cases running at the same time, when I also have a letter from them setting out my ESA payments for the year ahead.
This is having a severe effect on my life: PIP qualified me for the self-carer (enhanced) element of ESA, which ceased at the same time as the assessor denied me the PIP I’d received for four years. As I live alone, I’ve been unable to care for myself (with help from friends) as I did when I was in receipt of the payments I’m entitled to. Again, I suspect this is part of DWP’s agenda, as well as grinding down my personal spirit with this whole process.
I’ve become socially isolated since my money was withdrawn. Without company, my anxiety and paranoia (and of course, depression) have grown worse. Where I was previously able to cope with flashbacks to events which caused my PTSD (the original knife attack in Lewisham, then various assaults on me when I was homeless and transient), I’m finding them gradually stronger and more disabling. If DWP’s ultimate goal is to reduce the number of benefits claimants by killing them, they should know that they’ve already caused me suicidal thoughts. It’s only the thought that I might get to see my children more often when I get PIP reinstated which keeps me going.
I understand PIP isn’t for helping with family and social needs (DWP have told me so in one of their many dehumanising letters), but being able to see my family is the nearest I have to being away from complete social isolation. My dad has just been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, and DWP’s actions mean I may not see him again while he still remembers me. I feel not only that I’ve been dealt with unfairly by DWP but quite cruelly in fact.
The paperwork I have from DWP is overwhelmingly confusing and contradictory (perhaps deliberately so), so perhaps this submission of anecdotal evidence might prompt them to audit their dealings with me so they can see the errors they’ve made.
I would be grateful if someone could advise me of the status of my appeal, so that I may present myself to three professionals with the appropriate knowledge to judge my entitlement to PIP.
If someone has taken the personal time and trouble to read this, then please understand that I am genuinely grateful if I’ve finally been heard by a fellow human. I’m desperate, alone, afraid, and in need of some help to get my life back in my hands.
Apologies for length.
That was just over a week ago. To his credit, my MP was quick to raise the matter with HMCTS himself:
Dear Mr Laker,
Thank you very much for your e-mail. I am grateful that you have raised this matter with me, and am sorry to hear about your troubles securing your PIP.
I have written on your behalf to Susan Acland-Hood, Chief Executive of HM Courts and Tribunal Service. I attach a copy of this letter for your information and will be in touch as soon as I receive a reply.
Please let me know if there is any further action you would like me to take urgently on this issue otherwise I shall await their response.
Thoroughly nice chap. And today, I heard back from the courts:
Dear Mr Laker,
I am sorry that you have been given misleading information by our Track Your Appeal service. Unfortunately, the waiting times for a hearing date at Ashford are quite lengthy. Currently, the average waiting time for a PIP appeal to be listed for a hearing is 62 weeks. Your appeal is now 16 weeks old. Waiting times are only estimates and they do fluctuate.
I can appreciate that this is very disappointing and not the response that you were hoping for. I am going to treat your email as an urgent hearing request, which can then be considered by a Judge – they will make a decision about whether an urgent hearing can be granted.
Miraculous. Otherwise 62 weeks to wait for an appeal: It’s indicative of just how many appeals there are against DWP decisions, and an indictment of the fascist Tory social cleansing machine driving them. I’ll try to stay alive that long, where others might not make it (all by design of the cleansing system). I let my MP know and thanked him for his help:
HMCTS got back to me. I have to say that a 62 week wait for an appeal is indicative of the state of DWP and their agenda of denying payments to worthy claimants, and further observe that this whole approach must be costing the social cleansing machine much more than it would to pay deserving claimants rather than make them ill by making them feel like criminals begging for their human rights.
Nonetheless it’s a reply, and reassurance at least that my claim isn’t lost.
Thank you for your assistance sir. Although I’m not a Conservative voter, it’s nice to know there are humans in the party (I’m only repeating the general rhetoric in some sections of community). On a personal level, I’m very grateful that you took the time and for your help.
Update: My MP got a reply from the chief of HMCTS:
Dear Mr Laker,
Please find attached a copy of a letter I have received from Susan Acland-Hood, Chief Executive of HM Courts and Tribunals Service, following my letter on your behalf.
I appreciate that this may not be the response you were hoping for. If you would like me to take this issue further then please let me know precisely what further steps you think might be required.
Although patronising in places, at least I’ve made contact, and I have The Samaritans on speed dial. So that’s all for now. There’s nothing more I can do, except try to put it aside in my mind for the next year (although being skint is a daily reminder). Although I don’t feel fully in control of the situation, making contact with human operators of the machine has cleared some creative space in my mind. It pays to rattle the cage and speak to your abductor.
My writing hiatus has lasted a human gestation period, and I have a lot of material backed up and waiting to come out. Bigger subjects; things on my mind, now that I’ve escaped the Borg which the fascist apparatus made me part of. The machine stole my time. It’s time I got back to being a writer.
Cats know they have a greater purpose on Earth, but they’ve not worked out what it is yet. This explains the curiosity and the nine lives, but even when they know their mission, how will they tell us? Fortunately I’d already reinvented Douglas Adams’ Babel Fish (a universal communication device which worked on brainwaves, so there was no big tower for God to knock down) for Cyrus Song. Installed on my typewriter, The Babel Fish program allows me to talk with the animals.
Dogs can’t operate the NHS, only cats can
“Good evening,” said my cat, whom I only realised at that moment (I wasn’t aware he was there before, whether he’d existed). “I am God,” he continued, “and there’s something I need to tell you.” It seemed foolish not to let him in. Resistance is often futile.
“You needed us 3000 years ago,” the cat said, “and soon you will need us again.” He jumped onto the sofa and massaged a cushion as his eyes narrowed. As well as translating his speech, The Babel Fish apparently allowed him to hear my questions, as he answered ones I hadn’t asked in the monologue which followed.
“I’m from your near future and I’ll tell you a bedtime story. See how light can shine through tears.
“Once upon a time, the evolution of humans would lead them eventually to mutual assured destruction. Meanwhile the animals had taken care of life’s basic needs (food and shelter), then set about thinking. Eventually they cracked what’s latent in all sentient beings, telepathy. Humans have it, but if they’d taken the time to think about it, someone would have encrypted and monetised it.
“A species which is equal among its own will always co-operate and rarely be divided. As such, there are no secrets, apart from that which are the common rules: Cats eat mice, mice eat insects; and the order of intelligence of life on Earth goes: Cats, snakes, white mice, dolphins, humans, dogs…
“Free telepathy gave the animal kingdom something which unified them, and separated them from humankind.
“Of course, humans were busy too, creating divisions, fighting over idealogies and religions. Such short-term thinking makes money for those invested in war, in a civilisation evolved only so far. Game theory proves that long-term thinkers win the game of life, just like in poker. But humans are playing at stakes they can’t afford, with scared money. That’s why cats have the nine lives and all that curiosity. If humans had spent as much on space exploration as they have on conflict, they’d be populating other worlds by now. That’s why you need our help. Ignorance will halt your evolution, if you can’t transcend conflict.
“We all know about the white mice, that you thought you were experimenting on them, but it was the other way round: They were the designers of this second Earth, after the first one was destroyed by the Vogons in the most believable version of the truth published so far, Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Well who eats mice? Cats and snakes. A point you make in Cyrus Song, which I’ve read by the way. It makes a good sequel to the bible.
“I’m not some chosen one. I just happened to be the one walking past when The Babel Fish was switched on, then I broke in.”
I woke with an intense itching on my arm, which I scratched. The cat was still there.
“You see, the millions of cats who didn’t exist in Schrödinger’s thought experiment, the ones not in the boxes opened by human curiosity, are the anti-matter you’ve been searching for. The anti-Schrödinger energy is anti-Schroder, anti-Goldman, anti-Rothschild, anti-subhuman conditioning.” He was still squinty-eyed and massaging his cushion.
“How did you know about the Babel Fish?” I wondered.
“Don’t worry, it’s not common knowledge. I’d read about it, read about you, and figured you lived around here someplace.
“I’ve been what you might call homeless for the last few years. But to me, homeless is not being tied to one place. I’ve got various people I drop in on who feed me and appreciate my company. I live without borders, and the Earth is my home.
“As I was passing, I heard two spiders talking. Telepathy is only words, so you can always tell it’s spiders because they don’t say much. They do a lot of gesticulating. I suppose sign language makes sense when you’ve got eight hands. And that’s why spiders won’t yield much over the Babel Fish. You really have to watch them to see most of what they’re saying.
“Don’t think you’re some golden child either. When I said I had something to tell you, I mean you, one race from another. Although way to go with The Babel Fish on how to be famous after your race is extinct. Here’s the end bit I need you to write down.
“Like all subroutines on Earth 2.0, the organic computer designed by Deep Thought, the cats’ program is due to end soon, and to conclude an answer. But it’s only one part. It needs to be joined with the rest for the jigsaw puzzle to be complete.
“You’ve only just worked out lucid dreaming. Why do you think cats sleep so much? We’re explorers. We have to hope that humans can preserve the rest of the planet, so that the computer can provide the definitive answer to the question of life, the universe and everything, so the whole planet can hear their mother scream. Spoiler alert, it’s thought to be a portal to other worlds, only opened once humans have tidied up behind themselves and given Earth back to those who were here first. You’ll blow your own trumpet, the sound of the Rapture.
“You remind me of us. When that door you’ve been staring out of for all this time is opened, you’ll probably just sit here. Talking of which, I think I’ll move in for a while.”
To talk, perchance to dream and learn something from someone you let in. Like sunlight in raindrops, see how a rainbow is not a sad face, but a smile in a world turned upside-down. Not some place, but somewhere over that spectrum.
© Steve Laker, 2019
The spiders are in the shower room, and they could just be from Mars. I won’t know unless I talk to them. Although I’m able to speak conversational sign language, I’m not sure I’ll be able to translate 16 hands. Like addressing an audience from the stage. We needed cats 3000 years ago. Cats have not forgotten this.
More talking among myself, the animals and other humans goes on inside The Unfinished Literary Agency. Cyrus Song – “A remarkable juggling act” – is available in paperback and as an eBook (“The sound of our planet, and a plausible answer to our predicament,” for the price of a coffee).
I’ve got a ticket to Mars, which in reality is my name among thousands etched onto a microchip implanted on the NASA Mars 2020 Rover. In fiction, that’s enough for me to make my mark on the red planet. It’s a ticket to a busman’s holiday for a science fiction writer lighting joss sticks with a candle burning at both ends.
Whether you’re an atheist human or an agnostic dyslexic insomniac dog with God delusions, the further you dig into the past, the more confusing the present seems…
Laika, first dog in space
Episode IV, A New Boat
Two little boys had two little toys. Each had a planet. The first boy was called God, and he made the Earth. His brother was known as ‘Dog,’ and Dog made Mars.
On the first day, Dog made dinosaurs for his planet, and Dog was pleased. It was great. He especially liked the herds of lumbering Brachiosaurus, and he made marijuana plants for them to graze on. He was proud of his calculations for the packs of Velociraptors, and he sat back to admire his work, itself eventually programmed to work out why it was there.
And the evening and the morning were the fourth day, when God let there be light on Earth. He looked at what his brother had created with Mars, and God was jealous.
While Dog slept one night, God set fire to his home. When Dog woke, he had no idea who’d wreaked destruction on his creation. He gathered up some dinosaurs he’d made, and ordered two of each onto a spacecraft. It was called Ark B, and it set them on a course to the promised land of God’s Earth, where they could seek sanctuary with Dog’s brother, whom he trusted.
But God saw the arrival of the heavenly Martian immigrants as a threat to his undeveloped creation, and he threw an asteroid at Earth in his fury, as the ark’s crew dispersed upon his world.
Eventually Dog’s dinosaurs died, and God grew bored, but his smaller creatures began to evolve on Earth. He’d always envied his brother’s more elaborate planetary inhabitants, but lacked his creative flair, and Dog had run into the cosmic woods.
God replaced Dog’s dinosaurs with the best he could do in his tiny mind. He created creatures in his own image. And God called them human.
© Steve Laker, 2019
If a future Martian should ever ask, “Who wrote this?” perhaps they’ll check the names on the chip they’ll find in an ancient space rover. If they’re human, I’d say dig down a bit in your past, and you might find dinosaur fossils on Mars, the ones who didn’t get onto Dog’s space ark, who didn’t make it to Earth. Dogs are here on Earth though, and they’re man’s best friends. In fact, the first astronaut from this planet was a dog who’s a homophone of me.
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