Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Twirl and Swirl

I frequently get asked where my general purpose user name, "twirlandswirl," comes from.  I usually flippantly answer, "oh, some poem," because saying I wrote it makes me feel like a teenager in a dark corner with a sketch book and a can of Red Bull.  But, fact of the matter is, it IS a poem I wrote, and it's probably the single piece of work I've created that I'm most proud of.  I'm not saying it is by any means "perfect," but I read it, and I feel exactly what I felt when I wrote it.  It stirs in me exactly what I aimed for it to relate to the reader, and, in that respect, I believe it is a success.  I wrote it in high school, and have made precious few revisions in the decade since.

I don't expect everyone to like it.  I don't expect ANYONE to like it, per se.  I'm not looking for people to assuage my ego, and don't want anyone to feel obligated to leave any feedback whatsoever.  (Do feel free to!  But I'm not fishing for compliments or anything.)  But, as I keep getting asked just where it is twirlandswirl comes from, I thought I would supply a more thorough answer.

My world is cloaked in the darkness only the dead of night can bring
Over my head hang a thousand tiny worlds, unknown to those who dwell here
Pinpoints of light, as numerous as the grains of sand on a paradise beach
Dance the eternal dance of years gone by
My heart yearns to be among them
To join in, and learn the steps that only time can teach
I feel so misplaced on this cold, hard chunk called Earth
My spirit longs to be away
To soar higher than mortal men have dared to dream
To brush the sky with wings of light
To twirl and swirl and loose myself
Feel my body enveloped by the very fabric of time and space
I long to work my fingers through the threads that hold the Universe together
Have the secrets of infinity whispered into my ears by beings I cannot even comprehend
And be at home, finally home
Away from fear, doubt, and the chains that hold me here
Finally free, finally among the stars

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Writing, or, How Twirly Fails at Titling Posts

I need to write more.

I'm not sure there's enough emphasis on the imperative here.  I'm not saying, "gee, I really SHOULD write more."  I'm not saying I NEED to write int he same way I NEEDED that piece of cheesecake I snuck yesterday.  I'm very blatantly saying I NEED to write more, in the same way I need air and water and food.  I'm dying without it... emotionally, if not physically.

For so much of my life, writing defined who I was.  It put my overactive imagination to use and gave it an outlet to keep my head from exploding.  Over the last several years, I feel like I've beaten that muse out of myself - I don't know how or why, and it wasn't really intentional, but through self-censorship and, to be honest, some laziness, my creative spark is definitely in critical condition.

A few days ago, I had what I've referred to since as a "plotlette" pop into my head.  It's not really an idea, because it's pretty concrete, and it's not quite a plot of its own.  It's a quote, really - or more of an exchange.  It's short and concise and maybe fifteen words long, but I feel it tells a story in those few words.  Perhaps more importantly, I feel it creates a thirst for MORE story.  It leaves layers upon layers of QUESTIONS, and they've been rolling around in my head for days, teasing my imagination and coaxing my muse out of hibernation.

The obvious choice, to me at least, is that I attempt to win NaNoWrimo in November for the first time.  I've had... 2? 3? 4? attempts, but only one even made a decent show of it, until the end of the semester (and, for me, the end of the course of my undergraduate university studies) derailed my efforts.  I haven't even attempted for the last few years, though the desire to complete the challenge has never left me.  I didn't connect to the local writers or general modus operandi of the group in Orlando the way I did in Gainesville, but I'm willing to give it another try.

The inherent problem with this, however, is that it's barely mid-September.  I fear that if I suppress this urge I've finally rekindled for another 8 weeks, I may kill it off again.  But, if I start it too early, I can’t use it for NaNo and may lose my motivation for THAT, then.  However... nothing is stopping me from writing something ELSE every day.  I’ll stretch my literary muscles!  And I’m not limited to fiction... I can write blog entries, poetry, commentary, reviews... anything I want!  I might accidentally start doing it all the time again!  That would certainly beat incessant Facebook statuses and my daily string of tweets....

My "Idea Generator" seems to have run out of steam, however, and I could definitely use some ideas, or directions to some resources, on that front, however.  I think I'm going to set an initial goal of 1000 words a day.  1000 words of anything with a coherent purpose... blog entries, letters, poems, short stories, etc.  Blurbs aren't going to count... I need to set some standards!  But when 1000 words gets easy, 1500 will soon after, and so on.

Let’s reinvent ourselves through writing, shall we?

PS - This was 587 words.  Good start, Self!

Friday, July 6, 2012


Some of you may have noticed I haven't been posting about my weight loss progress lately (of course, I haven't posted HERE at all, but I've not mentioned it, specifically, on other social media accounts, either).  There is a two-fold reason for that: firstly, my time has been limited as I've recently started a new job that I really like, but has thrown my routine out of whack; secondly, and disconcertingly... there's been no progress to report.

Here's an entry I posted on my SparkPeople blog on June 28th:
So I posted 3 nights ago that I'd lost 14 pounds so far and I was thrilled! However, the next day, I'd gained two back... no idea why. It disappeared again the following day, but I've been steady for the last two, with no cumulative progress at all. It's difficult to remain focused on the goal when you are not seeing any progress being made. I know this is one of the reasons it is suggested that you only weigh yourself once a week or so - daily fluctuations, and little "stalls" like this one, which will probably resolve themselves in a few days, but are terribly demoralizing at the time. 

Regardless, I've been trying to put one foot in front of the other and keeping going. I've done well on calories, not so great on formal exercise - but, my daily activity level picked up significantly with the start of my new job. Which is the driving force behind why this is actually a *positive* entry. 

One of the pairs of uniform shorts I'd been issued had a broken zipper. I brought it in today to exchange it for a pair that would actually, you know, stay on. When I got there, however, they told me they were out of my size and asked if I'd like to try a size up or down. Feeling optimistic, I decided to try a size down, knowing how devastated I'd be for them not to fit. I grabbed them and ran into the fitting room before I could chicken out. 

They fit perfectly. 

Such a small victory came at such a decisive time in my stream of motivation. I needed to see progress when the scale wasn't moving, and here it was, in durable khaki. I asked the woman behind the country if they looked alright, and she told me they looked great. 

I thanked her, and told her I'd be back when these didn't fit, either. 

Unfortunately, since that point, I've made no progress at all.  The scale is just STUCK at -14 pounds.  Since early last week. The fact I could move down a pants size was briefly motivating, but as yet another week passed and I saw no results, though I was sticking to all my routines, my gung-ho attitude slowly began to wonder if it was all worth it in the end.

I know, of course, consciously, that these things happened.  I dropped weight VERY quickly at first, and, chances are, my metabolism is just balancing out after that and I'll pick back up at a normal 2ish pounds a week (instead of 6!) after that happens.

I can sit here and type that paragraph 85 times, but it isn't going to help how I feel, emotionally, about this.

So I did (what I believed was) the logical thing - I gave myself a cheat day.  On July 4th, we had free ice cream and a pot luck at work.  I made a sausage and cheese rice bake to share and helped myself to a large portion.  I had donuts, a cookie, and a fried chicken wing.  At home, I ate some noodles.  I thought it was all delicious, and glorious, and wonderful.  Except, I realized... I felt terrible!  All my energy was gone and familiar gastric issues crept back up.  Now, 24 hours later, I'm balancing back out, but I had another epiphany moment as a result of my "cheat day."

What I realized was: even when all the work I put into calorie counting (measuring, logging, tracking all other nutrients, finding a meal to fit into what I need to eat, etc) isn't paying off on the scale, I'm still getting healthier.  The benefits are still there, in my energy level, my mood, my attitude - they're all improved!  Maybe the scale isn't responding how I'd like it to, but the feeling of being HEALTHY is just amazing.

I wish I could say I'm 100% renewed in my motivation and ready to take on the world again, but I'm still fighting reservations regarding my ultimate success and feelings of failure and inadequacy.  I do, however, have another purpose now, and another gauge to track my progress.  I certainly won't pretend I'll never cheat again, but at least now I feel like I have another path to follow even when the trail isn't leading where I thought I wanted to go.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Wasting Away

For any readers who know me in the mythical land of "Real Life," or have simply seen photos of me, it's obvious I am more than a little chubby.  If you wanted to be medically accurate but slightly less tactful, "morbidly obese" is another applicable term.  Maybe it doesn't sound nice, but sugar-coating an ugly truth doesn't impede its veracity.  To be fair, while the fact I am overweight is apparent, most are shocked if they hear my ACTUAL weight.  I carry it well, and have a very large frame.  Even my doctors have been shocked.  As such, I don't think I will ever be at a "normal" BMI - as flawed as that scale is! - nor do I strive to be.  It's not the numbers that matter, but how I feel, physically, and how I feel about myself, mentally.

The problem is, however, that the answer to both of those has been increasingly negative over the past several months.  I haven't decided yet that I'm going to blatantly tell you how much it is I weigh, but I will say that on June 1st, I was at or around the highest weight of my adult life, 30 pounds heavier than I was when I started dieting while engaged and nearly 70 pounds heavier than I was when I said my vows just three and a half years ago.

For me health, for my self-esteem, and for the hypothetical possibility of ever carrying a healthy pregnancy, these truths were rapidly becoming unacceptable.

I think whenever anyone makes a major life change, there is some big "a-ha!" moment.  I've had several little moments like that, but they haven't been enough to spur me into the lifestyle changes I need to make to get my weight under control.  What was?  When I was at the NASASocial event for the SpaceX COTS 2/3 launch last month, I was on NASATV several times.  Many friends helpfully sent me screen shots of me from their own streams while I was at the event.  While I should have been thrilled at this (and I was, believe me), I was also absolutely disgusted.  I look at myself every morning in the mirror, true - but here I was, and I repulsed myself.  (Don't say anything to reassure me - this is about how *I* feel about myself, remember?)

That was my "wake up call."  Almost accidentally, I immediately began calorie counting again, via SparkPeople (the same method I used to lose nearly 40 pounds before my wedding) and before I knew it, I'd lost 6 pounds in the first week!  It's addicting at that point, honestly, and now, at just over three weeks in, I've lost 14 pounds.  Today was the first day I really FELT like I was wasting away.  I still have a long way to go, granted, but the fact was, the scale was showing progress, but I was still just feeling like a blob.  AND not eating junk food.  Not a good trade-off.  But I wore a skirt today that has been tight for years and it was comfortable.  A shirt that's been too small fit fine!  I'm noticing little changes, and they are keeping me on track when the path seems difficult.

So what's my plan, then?  I've been asked this over and over, usually to a chorus of "oh, I tried all that, and it just didn't work for me."  Here's a fact that isn't evident when I simply lay out a list of what I'm doing: I am REALLY REALLY REALLY OCD.  I am EXACT in everything I can be.  I weigh EVERYTHING I eat.  I even bought a new, more precise digital kitchen scale.  I don't squirt dressing onto my sandwiches or salads - I measure it by the gram or tablespoon.  I don't sneak licks or bites if I can't get an exact figure to account for later.  I do a LOT of math to get all my figures right.  I weigh empty peels and vegetable rinds and measure cups of water.  In order for calorie counting to be effective, you MUST be exact!  Over OR under are bad, and tracking nutrients is just as important because eating 1700 calories a day is FINE if it's nutritious - you can lose a lot of weight that way!  But, eating 1200 a day of, say, chocolate frosting, isn't going to do it.  It's a full, balanced menu.  When I say I "calorie count," I mean I EVERYTHING count, as precisely as I can.  It isn't easy, no.  But I get results through my effort.  I'm not trying to belittle anyone for whom this method DOESN'T work... I just want to explain why I have had so much success with it - basically, because I'm crazy.  ;)

So here's what I've been up to:

  • Calorie counting
  • Drinking a TON of water, very little of anything else
  • Weighing in on my Wii Fit at least once a day to keep myself accountable
  • Eating breakfast to jump start my metabolism
  • Upping fruits and vegetables
  • Snacking responsibly to avoid hunger
  • Compensating for calorie overages by shaving a few off my totals for subsequent days
  • Exercising!  SO important... my Wii Fit has been great, because it's FUN, and I've also enjoy many brisk neighborhood walks
  • Trying REALLY HARD for at least 7 hours of sleep a night
  • Reading SparkPeople/other health and weight loss blogs - enhances my mind set
  • Posting about my progress frequently on Facebook and Twitter, again to be accountable, and to mentally reward myself with encouragement

As you can see, there are a lot of typical "diet" things, but there are also lifestyle changes, and there are "healthy habits" that may not directly impact my weight loss, but get me in a healthier mindset by surrounding myself with information that keeps me on track.

One of the important things, I think, is that it's OKAY to splurge a little, as long as I keep myself accountable for it.  I had a few M&Ms today, and they were wonderful and fit perfectly into my calorie and nutrient counts fort the day.  I've found if you deprive yourself of something entirely, all you do is crave it more and more.  Furthermore, when something is "forbidden," it's always just THAT MUCH MORE enticing!  Having a few (portion control!) candies, cookies, or chips a day isn't going to kill you... and that's so important.  If you're going to stop enjoying your life just to lose a few pounds... what's the point?  I know there's a niche for stricter diets, because some people have trouble taking only an inch and leaving the mile, but for me, personally, a little sweet or salty reward or distraction is important and stops me from ever wanting to sit here and eat an entire pizza with a chocolate milkshake.  It keeps me sane!  And once I get to the "maintain" stage, I'll have a little more freedom... but I also know that once you wipe junk food out of your habits, you honestly don't crave it as much anymore.  And it makes you feel HORRIBLE!  I had a few fried cheese sticks last night at a family dinner, and, while I enjoyed them immensely, I really enjoyed the steamed broccoli more!  I've found my body WANTS to eat healthy, and knowing that has made it so much easier to stay on track.

Of course, I haven't been perfect.  But I'm making progress, and slowly wasting away, in the most excellent of fashions.  I have a long long long (long long long long...) way to go, and I don't know if I'll ever get to where I want to be, or if I'll ever be "thin." But I want to be HEALTHY, and I want to be comfortable in my body.  I'm doing this for myself, and I'm actually enjoying it!

So this is what I've been up to lately... and will be up to for some time.  Naturally, as it goes on, it takes more of a background role in my life, but I wanted to talk about it, because it's important to me, and because I'm sure I'll have plenty to write about later that references it.

But for now, I'll keep on trucking.  And maybe sometime soon, I'll post some pictures of my progress... or my cooking.  When it looks edible, at least.

Which is becoming a more frequent occurrence, I swear!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Washing dishes

My dishwasher broke several weeks ago.  I mourned briefly, but set out on an mission to hand wash everything and keep my kitchen sparkling, despite the lack of machine.

Those of you who know me in person are laughing, because you know my kitchen doesn't sparkle, even WITH the aid of a dishwasher.  So, needless to say, I was rapidly overrun by a pile of menacing Corning Ware foes.  Now, from July 2008-July 2009, the Husband and I lived in a very small, rather old apartment that had no dishwasher and a one compartment sink.  (Though it did have one of those squirter-hose things, which I miss so much!)  While it was only a year, and I DID occasionally let things get out of hand (I was in my last semester of undergrad AND planning a wedding), I had the "wash everything by hand, at least relatively soon to it being used" thing totally down.  I expected that to all come flooding reluctantly back.

Ah, naivety.

I spent a lot of time just staring at my sink and willing the dishes to clean themselves.  I never quite got that to work, but if I DO, I'll let you all know ASAP.

It's been a fight with my apartment complex to get the problem fixed.  Originally, we had run the dishwasher and everything came out coated in a layer of grime.  We rinse/scrub our dishes VERY thoroughly before putting them in the dishwasher, so we new the error was not ours.  They came out, investigated it, turned up the water temperature (now, I burn myself in the shower... woo), and said all was fine.  They ran it and walked out.

Well, it never drained after that.

We spent the entire month of May trying to get them to come back, as there was standing water in the bottom of the dishwasher, and who knows what bacteria was making a peaceful lakefront home in the bottom.  (Hi, I'm Twirly, and I'm a germphobe.)  We also, however, asked they don't enter without us present, because we have a cat who might run out the door.


Apparently, instead of coming after 1pm, like we asked, this just meant they came whenever, and marked  our work order as "complete" if we didn't answer the door.  We had to resign our lease yesterday, and we brought this up before doing so.  They promised maintenance would come by at 1:30pm the next day (i.e. today).

So, 3:30pm rolls around.  We get a call that maintenance is on their way and to please make sure the dishwasher is fully emptied.  And lo and behold, they arrived with a new dishwasher and installed it.

It matches!

Um. Nice rack?

Despite the fact the maintenance worker who installed it left the manual IN THE DISHWASHER when she turned it on while leaving, I was thrilled and absolutely more excited that one should ever be to do the dishes after tonight's company left.  I filled the top with cups first, and the pulled out the bottom rack to load it with plates.

Only to find out it's bent and doesn't slide back in once its pulled out.

Whatever.  I'm using it anyway.


Last Tuesday morning, I had the overwhelming privilege of witnessing history.  I'm fairly certain if I could go back in time and watch the first ape figure out how to use a stick as a crude tool, I would have walked away with much the same feeling.  Yet, as I returned home, ablaze with passionate fury and ecstatic beyond common sense, I realized many of my fellow human beings has no idea what had just occurred.

If you aren't familiar with a NASA Social (previously "NASA Tweetup"), it's an outstanding outreach program through which NASA selects followers on various social media platforms (originally Twitter, as the name suggested, but now expanded to include Facebook and Google+) and brings them to a NASA or NASA-related site and presents them with a program designed to engage and inform and spark that very same passion I erupted with after my experience.  Some of them events surround missions, visits from astronauts, or advances NASA technology, but the most sought-after social events surround launches.  While I never received the opportunity to attend a space shuttle event, I was honored to be invited to the NASA Tweetup event for the Juno launch in August of 2011.

Attendees were treated to an informational program at the Kennedy Space Center Press site (which made me realize that all previous delusions of any supposed intelligence I may personally possess were purely fabricated) and were then escorted around the space port, as well as Cape Canaveral Air Force Station where we were allowed to act like 5-year-olds on Christmas morning as we witnessed that which we'd only dreamed of seeing before.

Yeah, it's me and my BFF, Discovery.  No big.

Oh, that? It's a rocket. Whatevs.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd be lucky enough to be asked back AGAIN, but when word was posted to the whole of the Interwebz that a NASA Social event was going to be held for the SpaceX COTS 2/3 launch, carrying a private capsule (the Dragon) to the International Space Station for the first time in history, I threw my name in.  I was excited I was picked for the wait list, but as the launch date changed over and over and finally drew near, I had not been "promoted," and had resigned myself to watching from the sidelines.

The launch was scheduled for May 19 at 4:55am.  May 14 around 1:55pm, I was sitting at work, idly playing on my phone while I waited to pick up the students from science lab, when I got that fateful tweet that would change everything:

I may have squee'd like a small chicken.

I ran to the science lab, excited to tell the class about my amazing opportunity, and was met with this, a statement the few, the proud, the space enthusiasts know well:  "But I thought there were no more launches or anything!"

Despite the fact that NASA's planetary exploration division is going strong and several revolutionary military satellites have been launched into orbit already this year, as far as many of these 5th graders knew - and, indeed, as far as many Americans, nay, HUMANS know - NASA is over, kaput, total history.

How wrong.  How sad.

And even more disturbing is the heart-wrenching fact that, by and large, everyone is okay with this!  They've accepted it and they've moved on.  Sure, space was fun while it lasted... but really, it's just an expensive fireworks show that results in some videos of men and women with crazy floating hair slurping balls of orange juice as they float around the cabin, right?  No practical usage.  Politics aside, Newt Gingrich was laughed out of an election for even SUGGESTING colonizing the Moon.  Whether you support his specific proposal or not, it was evident that the underlying problem here were images of 1950s sci-fi movies with unrealistic heroes and unachievable space stations danced through everyone's heads.  It was childish folly that a grown man held on to - not hope for the future, not that burning impetus for mankind to reach out and touch the stars, to claim his place in the cosmos.  And that mind set is what allows mankind to "settle" for what we have right now.  Sure, the space station is nice.  We'll refuel it until it burns out, and then... well, there it is.

The future belongs to those who refuse to accept that humanity's boundary is firmly carved in Low Earth Orbit.  It belongs to dreamers who look at the stars and say, "why not?" and the doers who pour every ounce of inspiration into saying, "here's how!"  It's the same spirit that brought us out of the oceans and down from the trees.  Why did humanity evolve?  Because it REFUSED to settle!  It's against our very nature to underachieve.  Being human, in essence, is a lifelong quest to attain something, anything! To die leaving the species just a little better off than it was before you existed. Everyone has that spark in them, but so many have learned to quell it.

When the space shuttle program ended in 2011, some Americans dared to ask "what's next?" against the prevailing current of apathy.  Some were brave enough to seek out an answer, and SpaceX answered loudly, "this! This is next!"  In December of 2010, they became the first private company to launch a capsule into orbit and successfully recover it.  With America lacking transport, under its own power, to it's orbiting outpost, the International Space Station, SpaceX said, "hey, guys, it's cool - we got this."  (May not be an exact quote.)

And so, fueled by that nagging human spirit within all of us, and driven by heroes who refuse to let it down, on Tuesday morning, May 22 at 3:44am, SpaceX's Falcon 9 lifted off.  The capsule would successfully berth with the International Space Station on Friday May 25, putting the United States "back in business" through commercial resupply.

I stood there Tuesday morning, in wet grass, barely on my own two feet due to exhaustion, and stared up at the sky.  There were more stars visible than I usually remember in this specific area, and I tried to take them in, to imagine their immensity and felt that familiar feeling of insignificance wash over me.  But I felt something else, too - something I know a lot of readers here will recognize.  I felt that flame within me, the one that carried humans through time, across the globe, and into space in the first place.  The urge to go farther, the absolutely necessary and vital drive to explore and push and never stop.  I knew that someday, every single person in the world, every single human being would look back at this moment, united not as countrymen, but as kin, and realize that THIS was the moment we refused to say NO.  This is the moment we refused to submit to earthly bonds and carry on never knowing what the Universe held.  NASA brought us to the moon, and it probes even farther every day.  It's contributions are invaluable and can never be fully appreciated.  But this was mankind itself, no politics, no agendas, saying, "those stars?  Bring them to me."

And the Dragon roared into the night.  And we stood there and watched it vanish into the sky.  And I'm sure I wasn't the only one whose heart went with it and whose mind dared to dream of what we'd reach, as a species, if only we keep striving to BE human.

That's how history was made last week - not by anything greater than the simple determination to be more than we are.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Prompt: One

She had one dollar in her worn, tattered pocket.

It was raining - a cold, December morning, the sort that gave them all a bad name. It was yet cold enough to freeze the droplets into crystalline flakes that would dance in the air and flutter lightly to the ground. Instead, fat, angry drops plummeted to the ground, exploding as they hit unyielding concrete.

She’d found the dollar in puddle, up against a cracked, dirty curb. The fingers on her gloves were already torn and her fingertips numb, so they didn’t sting when she reached into the icy water for it. Proud of her catch, she’d held it close to her chest and sighed, a small smile working its way across her haggard face. The lines in her face were those of a much older woman - her 15 years were multiplied over and over again on her weary countenance. But this dollar shed a few years as her eyes brightened and her chapped pink lips turned up at the corners for the first time in weeks.

One dollar wouldn’t get her a place to sleep tonight, or shoes without holes in them, or a dry coat. It wouldn’t solve any of her problems - but it would buy her a hot sandwich to get through one more day.

Or, it could buy that same warm sandwich for her young brother, huddled a block over, too cold to move, but so very, very hungry.

Prompt: Not my idea of a good time, but....

Using magic in front of others isn't really my idea of a good time, but sometimes, your options are limited. This was one such circumstance. I found myself cornered, in mortal danger, and armed only with my fledgling complement of supernatural abilities. In case that wasn't enough, I was also at my mundane day-job in a squat little office building, surrounded by not only MY supervisors, but THEIR supervisors who had chosen today to grace us with their lofty presence. Clearly, whatever powers I may have garnered over the course of my study, "manipulation of fate" was not one of them.

At this point, I essentially had two options. The first was spectacularly unappealing - death. The second was only marginally more tolerable - use the full power I was capable of wielding to banish the opposing spirit, theoretically epically destroying him in the process, but, at the same time, blatantly exposing my predilection to the preternatural to a bunch of terrified businessmen in overpriced power suits who had a lot more control over my future endeavors that I seemed to have at the current moment. Since accepting Option A meant forgoing any change of HAVING any future at all, ruined or otherwise, I took a deep breath, cracked my knuckles as noisily as possibly, and stepped over of the cubicle in which I'd been cowering in my indecision. To the unbridled astonishment of my Armani-clad on-lookers, I spread out my arms, focused my mind, and began to drain excess energy from the surrounding environment. The was so afire with tension - fear, confusion, helplessness - that its electrifying tingle was tangible even to those without any enhances sensitivities. It wasn't difficult to harness its power and it flew into my fingertips in glowing veins of raw energy, lighting up the room with a brilliant aura, and ensuring I was the exact center of everyone's attention.

You know those dreams where you're at school and everyone is starting at you and suddenly you realize it's because you are clad solely in Care Bears underwear? Suddenly you feel alone, exposed, and completely vulnerable. Using magic in a public arena is kind of like that - except, exponentially worse. No one else can help you because they don't have the ability - the success of your conflict rides uniquely on your shoulders. You've revealed you not only BELIEVE in the supernatural world, but believe in it so thoroughly you sought out training as a practitioner. You'd think the blaring physical evidence presented to them would convince you witnesses you were in the right, but a surprisingly percentage of observers will still regard you as a crazy loon with an especially convincing stage act. You are vulnerable, not only to mortal judgment and consequence, but also literally, physically vulnerable, as using magic requires a shift in focus from shielding to invoking and from defensive awareness to offensive action. Your defenses are stripped to nil as you advance, and there is little time to brace for retaliation.

I didn't spare a glance behind me at my unwilling audience - I didn't have the attention to waste, and I didn't want to see their horrified expressions. I could feel their eyes drilling into my back; I knew their fear was redirected at me. I was now an "unknown." People I saw every day, who I knew and cared for, didn't know who or what I was anymore. They didn't know which side in this stand-off was "good" or "evil," but, either way, I had irrevocably outed myself as "otherworldly." I was no longer one of them, and I couldn't be trusted. I'd made myself an outsider.

Now that nothing would ever be the same, I had to at least ensure the sacrifice of my "normal" life was worthwhile. I felt myself begin to levitate, ever so slightly, as the fire crackled within me. If I didn't act soon, I'd be overcome and lose control, and then I'd be useless. I took a deep breath, drew back my arms, and channeled my focus. I was shaking with the intensity of what I was about to do as the electricity arced between my quivering hands. I chanted quietly to myself, closed my eyes, reached out, and attacked.