Is This The Matrix?

Is this all an illusion? Am I truly here on this planet revolving around the sun or am I a dream in someone else’s imagination? Is my mind my own or the extension of a large factory?

The movie The Matrix poses these questions with superb symbolism and poetic ideologues.  Through the use of a futuristic world whereby a machine race has enslaved mankind as a renewable energy source, we both question our own existence and our purpose here on Earth.  If we are but a dream inside of an elaborate world of dreamers, and controlled by image-makers is there any free will?  How can we fight injustice and inequality if life is only a mirage?  Perhaps we believe we are at battle but truly all is a simulacra; a construct of our minds and we are in conflict with our own alter-egos.

As the story unfolds we find ourselves intrigued by the young man, Neo who searches for something he calls the Matrix.  Is this not a symbol of our own search for a spiritual existence in a technical world?  As we further remove ourselves from a natural existence and find comfort and company ever more in electrical images does it not make sense that a quest for spirit would take place on the Internet?  Yet when Neo delves deeper into this world of computers he finds not a God but a race of machines who have declared themselves God.  So, does he embrace them and kneel before their alters? No!  On the contrary! He joins a force which seeks to destroy their temples in a holy crusade.  He is an unbeliever at first.  He doubts what he cannot see or touch.  But then again, what has he ever felt or touched that he can trust?

Morpheus says, “Welcome to the real world.” But Cipher quips, “Why didn’t I take the blue pill?”

Do we keep taking the blue pill today?  We wrap ourselves up in computers VCRS TVs, cellular phones, cars, and cubicles.  This cuts us off from our interaction with the real world.  Hell, we could have hundreds of conversations in a day and never touch another living human being.

Although violence is often a gratuitous tool used by Hollywood to entice movie goers, in this film the violence is essential to the plot.  How else could our protagonist realize that he is not of the Matrix World than to combat within it.  It is a symbol of man’s own struggle within himself of the intellect vs. the body or a life of choice vs. a life of enslavement.  As he fights his way through  we see him overcoming his own doubts about who he is and where he is going.

Just like me.

About Laurie: The author of the recently released Finding Joy as well as The Pharaoh’s Cry,  Portal Shift, Kidnapped Smile, and Dragon Sky of the fantasy series The Artania Chronicles, and Forests Secrets.  Laurie Woodward  is also a screenwriter who co-authored Dean and JoJoThe Dolphin Legacy. Her poetry has been published in multiple journals and anthologies and she was a collaborator on the popular anti-bullying DVD Resolutions. Bullied as a child, Laurie is now an award-winning peace consultant, poet,  and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes on the Central Coast of California. More about her work can be found at Author Laurie Woodward — Next Chapteria.net

On Meditation

Breathe in deeply. Hold it. Exhale. Repeat, filling your chest deeper with each inhalation. Repeat. The practitioner recites. And I listen, trying to follow his/her instructions. Trying to find peace in an uncertain world  of chasmic divisions. Trying to find wisdom in the myriad of mistakes and false steps that have tripped my life.

What set me on this path? Didn’t teaching full time give my life purpose? Wasn’t I already writing poetry, books, and blog posts to quench that creative thirst? Shouldn’t I have been satiated with the successes of my career?

Nope. Because while I was elevating my professional life, I was ignoring my  personal one. Going off to do my “important shit” while leaving my boyfriend behind. Every morning and most weekend days I’d wave him away saying no to every invitation for breakfast, beach walk, or football game. While I wrote he’d go off by himself often texting me with his complaints. “Come on, meet me. I’m lonely, damnit.” Or “Dating you makes me feel like the loneliest man in town.” 

Did any of that change my behaviors? No. I kept typing in a desperate attempt to  become a “great writer” like Thoreau, Hyde, Atwood, and Koontz.  I didn’t leave any space for him, ignoring his every plea and sad text until, over time he stopped asking. When he became disillusioned, and told me he was moving out, I was shocked. And heartbroken.

Again.

I begged him to stay. Told him what he wanted to hear. I’ll change. Get counseling. Meditate. Spend more time with you. Don’t go!

Although I did all of those things, none of them worked. It was too late.  Another failed relationship. Feeling like a total shit, I started to wonder if I’d learned friggin’ anything since my divorce. 

The old tapes started playing in my head, telling me what a selfish failure I was. Still I kept practicing my daily meditations. Sometimes I’d sit there with tears rolling down my cheeks as I listened to positive affirmations saying, “I know who I am. I am love. I am kind. I am beautiful. I am fun and funny.”

I’d always been taught to be humble and at first it felt strange to repeat those words. But over time I noticed a difference in how I felt. Yes, I was sad to lose my best friend. Yes, I had ignored him a lot of the time. But that didn’t make me a horrible person. Or evil. Or a failure. It just made me single.

And that was okay.

While I tried many podcasts and videos, Rising Higher Meditation was the most healing I found. It showed me that no matter what, I was full of love and kindness. Perhaps it can help you too.

Rising Higher

The world continues to be uncertain and relationships still have their ups and downs but in the two years since I began this practice, I have learned to calmly accept these truths. My new mantra is “Love, peace, health.”

Try it, you just might be surprised.

About Laurie: The author of the recently released Finding Joy as well as The Pharaoh’s Cry, Portal Shift, Kidnapped Smile, and Dragon Sky of the fantasy series The Artania Chronicles, and Forests Secrets.  Laurie Woodward  is also a screenwriter who co-authored Dean and JoJoThe Dolphin Legacy. Her poetry has been published in multiple journals and anthologies and she was a collaborator on the popular anti-bullying DVD Resolutions. Bullied as a child, Laurie is now an award-winning peace consultant, poet,  and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes on the Central Coast of California. More about her work can be found at Author Laurie Woodward — Next Chapteria.net

White Gloves: A Poem

Tongues click

White gloves sweep tables, until grey

Clasped hands cry conformity

Like a muted scream in sign language

As lips lecture

Biblical quotes

Cleanliness is next to Godliness.

Eyes scan and fall upon

An unmade bed

Or a dirty dish

Ocular glares

Filthy lazy child!

Blares

An encapsulated bullhorn

Shatters bifocals

Leaving piercing shards upon the floor

Which cut my feet. 

About Laurie: The author of the recently released Finding Joy as well as The Pharaoh’s Cry,  Portal Shift, Kidnapped Smile, and Dragon Sky of the fantasy series The Artania Chronicles, and Forests Secrets.  Laurie Woodward  is also a screenwriter who co-authored Dean and JoJoThe Dolphin Legacy. Her poetry has been published in multiple journals and anthologies and she was a collaborator on the popular anti-bullying DVD Resolutions. Bullied as a child, Laurie is now an award-winning peace consultant, poet,  and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes on the Central Coast of California. More about her work can be found at Author Laurie Woodward — Next Chapteria.net

Openings: A Poem

Openings

First a door

Then a bottle

And blinking eyes

Shyly probing

With wonder.

Later ears ensnared  

Opened

To aerial refrains.

And awkward hands

Fearful of smoke smoldering

In pans

Gliding deftly into

Epicurean entrees.

And uncertain skin

Long draped in fabric

Uncloaked.

Opening a

Woman’s essence.

Opening her

To love.

Photo by David Stroup

About Laurie: The author of the recently released Finding Joy as well as The Pharaoh’s Cry,  Portal Shift, Kidnapped Smile, and Dragon Sky of the fantasy series The Artania Chronicles, and Forests Secrets.  Laurie Woodward  is also a screenwriter who co-authored Dean and JoJoThe Dolphin Legacy. Her poetry has been published in multiple journals and anthologies and she was a collaborator on the popular anti-bullying DVD Resolutions. Bullied as a child, Laurie is now an award-winning peace consultant, poet,  and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes on the Central Coast of California. More about her work can be found at artania.net

Ascension: A Poem

Heart pounding my

Body quivers in

An enveloping mist

Of love.

I am in a dream

Where

I see your face 

And feel your probing hands on my skin

Calloused yet gentle.

I take a breath

And fill my lungs with your 

Man and musk scent.

Cocking an ear

Your moans 

And whispers

Enter me

An ethereal figure

That is my ascension

Into the beauty

Of your soul.

About Laurie: The author of the recently released Finding Joy as well as The Pharaoh’s Cry,  Portal Shift, Kidnapped Smile, and Dragon Sky of the fantasy series The Artania Chronicles, and  Laurie Woodward  co-wrote Dean and JoJoThe Dolphin Legacy. Her poetry has been published in multiple journals and anthologies and she was a collaborator on the popular anti-bullying DVD Resolutions. Bullied as a child, Laurie is now an award-winning peace consultant, poet,  and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes on the Central Coast of California. More about her work can be found at artania.net

Gaslit: A Poem

Odorless gas wafting from room to room

A noxious message within a tonic

Of sweet embrace

Tangled limbs

And connected flesh

Eyes droop

Pupils dilate

And fear begins.

The poison takes hold

With malevolous mantras

She chants again and again

Until she is a quivering shade

Of her former self.

About Laurie: The author of Forest Secrets and  the soon to be released Finding Joy as well as The Pharaoh’s Cry,  Portal Shift, Kidnapped Smile, and Dragon Sky of the fantasy series The Artania Chronicles,  Laurie Woodward  co-wrote Dean and JoJoThe Dolphin Legacy. Her poetry has been published in multiple journals and anthologies and she was a collaborator on the popular anti-bullying DVD Resolutions. Bullied as a child, Laurie is now an award-winning peace consultant, poet,  and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes on the Central Coast of California. More about her work can be found at artania.net

Crumbling Horizon: A Poem

He emerged on the horizon

Of a crumbling walk

And paused to swab

Caked and

Bleeding feet.

 

Pointing downward

He spoke:

 

Tread lightly on love’s esplanade

Skip rope, draw chalk figures,

And dance upon it,

Let it lead you to

Wondrous playgrounds

And home again.

 

And beware

The falling snowflakes,

So beautiful as to blind,

Whose ice crystals

Seep into cracks

Breaking

The consecrated.

And turning it to dust.

 

Until all that is left

Are aimless fragments

On the wind.

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About Laurie: The author of The Pharaoh’s Cry,  Portal Shift, Kidnapped Smile, and Dragon Sky from the fantasy series The Artania Chronicles,  as well as the middle-grade Forest Secrets. Laurie Woodward  co-wrote Dean and JoJoThe Dolphin Legacy. Her poetry has been published in multiple journals and anthologies and she was a collaborator on the popular anti-bullying DVD Resolutions. Bullied as a child, Laurie is now an award-winning peace consultant, poet,  and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes on the Central Coast of California. More about her work can be found at artania.net

 

You Are Not Alone Even in Lockdown

When I saw the headline yesterday that said, “Newsom orders all California counties to close indoor restaurants, bars,” the Covid pit in my gut I’ve tried like hell to keep at bay hardened.

I was at the gym listening to upbeat music as my feet twirled ever faster on the elliptical when I glanced up at the bank of televisions overhead to read the sad news. “Cases have climbed dramatically since then, and the number of people hospitalized and in intensive care with COVID-19 has increased steadily. As of Monday, more than 334,000 confirmed cases statewide. The state has been reporting, on average, more than 8,000 new cases a day over the past week.”

Shit. I thought trying to go to that happy place exercise usually takes me. But even though I chose the most positive songs from my playlist and willed my legs to circle strongly, I couldn’t stop the stressful thoughts from coming.

I’m going to be so lonely. Again. Just when I was able to get out and see friends, enjoy my community, try a few dates it’s all shutting down. I’ll be trapped at home. Don’t even have a boyfriend to hold at night.

And it went on and on.

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I kept working out. One hour. An hour and a half. When I started to get weak around the two hour mark, I showered and headed for home. Here I was met with my sweet girls: my daughter and my roommate. They were chatting and giggling over a glass of wine and I joined them. We told jokes, silly stories, debated politics, and shared insights and I felt better.

Later, I was doing my nightly meditation of “I am” affirmations when one phrase struck me. “I am a wonderful friend. I am here for others.” And I realized that even in lockdown, that I am able to live my best self. I can continue to be part of and give to the human community .

Dear ones, if you need me I am here… Together we can endure.

With love.

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Finding Gratitude

Thank you. A simple phrase. So easy to utter.  It falls from our lips multiple times each day. Yet, have you ever thought about what it means to be thankful? To embrace the gifts all around?

I know I don’t always show gratitude. Sometimes I live in resentment,  blaming others for my successes and failures. If my step-father hadn’t beaten the women in my family, I’d have been assertive in my romantic relationships.  I would have stood up and demanded that my needs be met. If my husband hadn’t had an affair, I wouldn’t be doubting my lovability today.  Even if we’d still divorced I would have begun dating with confidence in my attractiveness.  It was my boyfriend’s job that kept me from committing fully. If he had just gotten a better paying one, we would have had the perfect relationship.

And it goes on and on.

So often, I’ve argued with what is the truth of my experience.  But I have no control over past events. I cannot change the fact that my ex-husband had a secret seven-year affair. I cannot rewrite an old boyfriend’s resume. I cannot magically erase the black eyes and broken bones my step-father inflicted.

But I can choose where to focus to my thoughts. I can say thank you for every experience. I can choose gratitude. I can thank my ex-husband for believing in me when I was just an insecure kid unsure of my life’s path. I can admire how my step-father sought counseling and tried to overcome his anger showing me that anyone can change.  I  can be grateful for how my boyfriend told me time and again to be kind to myself . How he modeled self-acceptance and making peace with what is.

Instead of fixating on what never manifested, I will remember what has.

I may be single, again, but wondrous relationships abound. My children fill my heart and mind with joy. My silly dad and worry-wort mom say ridiculous things that make me chuckle. I have rocking times with friends dancing, chatting, sharing stories. Kisses and caresses from lovers of the past linger on my skin.  I have an abundance of love for myself and others.

I am blessed.

Thank you all.

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(Photo by David Stroup)

About Laurie: The author of The Pharaoh’s Cry,  Portal Shift, Kidnapped Smile, and Dragon Sky from the fantasy series The Artania Chronicles,  as well as the middle-grade Forest Secrets. Laurie Woodward  co-wrote Dean and JoJoThe Dolphin Legacy. Her poetry has been published in multiple journals and anthologies and she was a collaborator on the popular anti-bullying DVD Resolutions. Bullied as a child, Laurie is now an award-winning peace consultant, poet, and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes on the Central Coast of California. More about her work can be found at artania.net

Rubescent Jewels: A Novel Excerpt

Now that I’m a senior, you’d think my family would acknowledge something good about me, but I’ve slowly been turning invisible. Not like in comic books or old black and white movies on Sunday afternoon but the kind where people seem to look through me. When I walk into the living room Mom doesn’t acknowledge my presence but keeps her eyes fixed on that one spot in the wall. The hole we don’t talk about.

The one that’s all my fault.

Oh, I know. I fucked up. Shouldn’t have messed up Kourtney’s purse. But imagine what would have happen if she told everyone I was in her gang? Then I’d be beyond outcast, part of a freakizoid group.

Hell, I was barely clinging to Lisa’s friendship. She’d already been asked to three parties this year. Once right in front of me. I stared into the chick’s back and pulled on a stray thread unraveling from my t-shirt while waiting to hear, “Joy, you can go too.”

She just walked away.

One late Tuesday I got back from Lisa’s to find Kyle on his belly watching Superfriends on T.V. Even though I walked right in front of him half-blocking his view he kept his jaw in his hands. He didn’t even whine to Mom.

She was slumped in the club chair staring off into space.

I glanced from one to other, before trudging down the hall to drop off my books and binder. When I came in again both were still transfixed on other places. I opened my mouth to say, “Hello? I’m here. Do you see me?” when I noticed the shattered glass on the kitchen floor. I tiptoed toward it wondering why Mom hadn’t cleaned it up yet.

When anyone has dropped something, she was usually so quick to sweep up the broken shards you’d think a flash of lightning had just passed over the floor. When I say anyone, I mean me.  As Ronny always pointed out, I’m the clumsy one in the family. As if I didn’t know.

The glass was spread all over the floor. The quatrefoil pattern (Mom taught me that phrase for four-leafed when she picked out the avocado green linoleum) now looked like it was covered with jewels. For a moment I was transfixed by the beauty of rough-cut diamonds shining on four-leaf clovers.

Then I noticed a ruby amongst all those clear diamonds. I reached down to touch it and realized it wasn’t a piece of red glass but a droplet of blood. Recoiling, I pulled my hand back to see three more stains on the beautiful tableau, a trail of red flowers leading to the sink.

 Don’t look. I curled my hands into fists and stepped closer. There in the sink Mom scrubs daily until it sparkles like yellow daisies was a towel blooming blood.

I wasn’t high but my brain felt foggy when I turned back to Mom. She wasn’t just slumped but hunched over clutching her gauze wrapped forearm.

“Mom, you okay?”

She didn’t answer but kept staring at the hole in the wall. I knelt at her feet and touched her arm just above the bandage. She didn’t so much as flinch. Gently placing a hand over hers, I uncurled the clenched fingers from around her arm. A rose stain the size of my fist lay in the center of the cloth.

My heart fluttered. Red was a new color. Black and blue I was used to. Black and blue you could hide with make-up. Black and blue stays beneath.  But this…

“Mom?” I waited long seconds, but her eyes remain fixed and staring. After rewrapping her fingers around the bleeding arm, I strode into the living room.

I bent down next to Kyle. “What happened?”

Even at thirteen he knew enough to put a finger to his lips before pointing toward his room. My head a jumble, I trailed after him dreading what I’d hear. Once we were safely behind a closed door, he whispered that Ronny’s drink tasted bad so he threw it on the floor.

“Mom didn’t make it right,” he explained.

I give him an exasperated look but didn’t argue. He was always making excuses for his father. “Then what?”

“He told her to clean it up, well started to make her…” His voice trailed off.

“With his fists?”

“He didn’t mean it. He was just trying to get her to do it right.” Kyle jut out his lower lip and hugged himself.

There was no point explaining. Kyle would make this what he needed to.

With a sigh, I trudged back past my silent Mom toward the kitchen where I got out the broom and dustbin. Then, using my thumb and forefinger, I picked up four large pieces. Clunk. They thudded against the plastic trash bottom. Now you couldn’t even tell what had shattered on the floor. As I grasped the broom handle and dragged it across the floor, I understood why Mom always cleaned so quickly. Every pass of the brush erased some part of the story.

Sweep, sweep. The glass no longer sprawled in rubescent disarray but sparkled in piles. Brush. Swish. More of the quatrefoil pattern returned to its soft green.

The tinkling pieces cascaded into the trash like pebbles in a dying stream, yet the bristles kept seeking more fragments. I swept each corner, once twice, three times until every sliver was lying on the bottom of the plastic liner.

Soon the only reminder was the blood. Fucking smears on the linoleum garden. I ripped off a few paper towels and threw them on the floor. Then I stepped on the pile with both feet hoping that would soak up the stain. Still there. Shit.

With more urgency I grabbed another wad and moistened it. Get rid of it, now. I began rubbing like Hell to mop it up, but multiple strokes did little more than turn spots into blotches. I tossed a few bloody towels into the trash.

Began again.

Why the fucking stains wouldn’t disappear was beyond me. No matter how hard I scrubbed and scoured the smears remained. Without any help. Cartoons blared. Kyle kept his back to the kitchen. Mom’s gaze remained on the hole

Then I realized the stains were gone. Had been for several minutes. I hurled the last of the sopping pink towels in the plastic bag and tied it in a tight knot. This I carried to the outside bins. Slammed the lid shut.

When I returned to the living room everyone was gone.

Leaving me to float in silence like the invisible girl I was becoming.

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About Laurie: The author of The Pharaoh’s Cry,  Portal Shift, Kidnapped Smile, and Dragon Sky from the fantasy series The Artania Chronicles,  as well as the middle-grade Forest Secrets. Laurie Woodward  co-wrote Dean and JoJoThe Dolphin Legacy. Her poetry has been published in multiple journals and anthologies and she was a collaborator on the popular anti-bullying DVD Resolutions. Bullied as a child, Laurie is now an award-winning peace consultant, poet,  and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes on the Central Coast of California. More about her work can be found at artania.net