Happy Bloggiversary to Us!

Ten years ago! Exactly ten years ago Steve and I put up our first blog post, here. Right after I’d taken a blogging course at the local college. The instructor said to be sure to post photos, so Steve offered to model, and, well, the rest is history.

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Historic image of Steve, Aug. 1, 2010

Hmm, looking back at that photo of him, Steve has aged a bit in the last ten years. He’s spent a fair bit of time smooshed into travel bags and riding around in the bottom of backpacks; that’s what you get for being a world-renowned cover model. His natty necktie is looking rather more crumpled these days, and his fur is a bit matted. But he’s still the feisty small bear that he’s always been.

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Steve, herbs, and the old watering can, Aug. 1, 2020

Speaking of herbs (we were speaking of them, weren’t we? Well, Steve was. The rosemary and green onions were tickling him in the nose), I actually put up two blog posts that first day ten years ago. The first one was the bloggy birth announcement. The second one was on – Surprise! – food.

Under the heading of “Joyful Eating”, I said this:

I’m reading Julie and Julia, which is surely required reading for any new-baked hopeful blogger (book contract, here I come? Uh… never mind).

Apart from the fact that Julie Powell is a whole lot more foul-mouthed, albeit also funnier, in her writing than Amy Adams portrays her in the movie, what strikes me about the book is the sheer pleasure Julie gets from her cooking. She cooks not from a vague sense of “shoulds”, from a desire to follow the latest tenet in the religion of “thou shalt/shalt not eat this-n-that”, but because it’s sheer, unadulterated pleasure. Well, the eating is, anyway; the cooking, not always so much (the story of her first extraction of marrow from a beef bone is rather entertaining. Even if she didn’t find it so at the moment).Here, listen to this:

“Julia taught me what it takes to find your way in the world. It’s not what I thought it was. … It’s joy. […] I didn’t understand for a long time, but what attracted me to MtAoFC [Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia Child’s book] was the deeply buried aroma of hope and discovery of fulfillment in it. I thought I was using the book to learn to cook French food, but really I was learning to sniff out the secret doors of possibility.” (page 356 in the paperback edition).

She’s talking about a cookbook here, people.

In fact, that last quote reminds me of nothing so much as my favourite un-diet book, French Women Don’t Get Fat (Mireille Guiliano). It’s all about that: eat delicious food, in portions small enough so you can enjoy it, because it’s just so dang good. Because it’s all about life. Not about calories, not about “thou shalt”. The joy of eating, eating for joy.

Hmm. Maybe it’s time I re-read Julie’s book. Or re-watched the movie. Or both. Tap back into the joy of food, the joy of eating, the let’s-not-overeat-because-it-spoils-the-pleasure. Sometimes it good to take a trip down memory lane; you might find a few things you’d inadvertantly left behind.

Steve and I are a bit more crumpled these days, the fur a little matted, the hair going grey. We’ve accomplished some pretty big things together – university degrees, book publications, trips and events. And then there were long stretches of, more or less, curling up in corners wishing the world would go away.

But as you can see, in essentials we haven’t changed much. It’s still about “amo vitam“, “I love life”. It’s good to remind myself of it, because really, that’s never changed. Even the tag line is the same. Maybe it’s time for a new one? Naaah, let’s not fix what’s working.

So I’ll sign off with the old line from ten years ago – it’s still valid.

Life, the universe, and a grilled steak with greek salad, pita bread and hummus. Oh yeah.

 

#ThrowbackThursday: It’s a Mystery

This is a post from eight years ago, July 8, 2012, from my old blog over on Blogger. Still valid. Hmm, I think I could start rereading those M. M. Kaye mysteries again; I’ve probably forgotten whodunnit by now.

It’s a Mystery

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I really like mystery novels. It’s a little odd, that, as I loathe and abhor violence, and you pretty much can’t get any more violent that murder. But for some reason, reading about cranky old rich men being offed for their money doesn’t disturb me, probably because it’s not a fate that’s likely to ever befall me – I’m not a man, will (alas) probably never be rich, and as for being cranky and old, I’m hoping to stave those off for a while yet.

Actually, there is a weird sense of safety in reading murder mysteries – the kind I like, anyway, which are the English cozies, preferably the genuine “Golden Age” article à la Agatha Christie & Co. They’re set in a proscribed circle of people, in a time and place far removed from my own reality, and the sleuth always finds out whodunnit, so justice is served and peace restored. And if the story includes a charming romance between a pretty young girl and a handsome young man (amateur detective, part of “the Force”, or simply mysterious stranger, I’m not picky on that), then my satisfaction is complete. Ah, escapism.

However, there’s one thing that strikes me as being a genuine mystery, in reading mysteries. It concerns those aforementioned charmingly beautiful young girls. In addition to being charming and beautiful, they are usually also quite intelligent – it’s part of what makes them so well suited for being a focal point of the story. They see the clues, they sense that something is wrong, they shiver in the cold draft emanating from the sinisterly-left-open window and jump when the soft-footed tabby cat silently brushes by them in the darkened room where they sit, thinking about the handsome young man who is so disturbing to their tender feelings but might still be the murderer. They even almost solve the mystery, usually. However, they seem to be afflicted by a peculiar disability.

See, it’s like this: whenever one such girl is told, usually by said handsome young man of chiselled brow and masterful demeanor, that she should not, under any circumstances, tell anyone of her suspicions (which she has just voiced to him in the darkness of the night, leaning on the balcony railing overlooking the rose garden) – or, alternatively, that she should not, whatever else she may do, leave the house without informing him of it (this is usually accompanied by a look of more than usual seriousness from the grey/brown/deep-blue eyes of said handsome gent) – somehow or other it seems to cause the girl’s brains to trickle out of her pink and shell-like ears. Or something like it.

Because as soon as a directive of this kind is issued, the girl is guaranteed to do the very thing she was told not to do. She hears the command, fully agrees to it, but somehow always figures that it must not apply to Mrs White (who is, after all, only the cook), or Colonel Mustard (who is surely too pukka sahib to have done anything so sordid as commit the murder), with the inevitable result that she spills the beans to and/or leaves the house in the company of the murderer him- or herself. Of course, as anybody could tell her, it directly leads to her undergoing several pages’ worth of hair-raising suspense, being menaced by said murderer in the kitchen/conservatory/ball room with the revolver/rope/lead pipe while he or she monologues about his or her reasons for committing the murder and gleefully prophecies that no one will ever find the girl’s body, foolish thing. All of which she could have avoided if she had only paid attention to what she was told.

So what do you think – auditory processing disorder? Something that affects only one very small part of what she’s hearing? Because it can’t be stupidity; the whole rest of the book establishes very clearly that the girl in question is not stupid.

Ah well. It doesn’t really matter all that much, because, fortunately, in the nick of time, just as the murderer is about to pull the trigger/tighten the rope/swing the lead pipe, he of the chiselled features comes bursting (or, alternatively, stealthily creeping) through the french doors, incapacitates the villain (having taken careful note of the monologued confession which clears up the remaining questions about the murderer’s guilt), then roughly pulls the girl into his arms while angrily exclaiming “Don’t ever do this again, darling!” and presses a hard kiss on her trembling lips, thereby removing the last vestiges of doubts that the girl had about her feelings for him, and/or making her realize for the first time why she always went weak at the knees whenever he glared at her (which she had previously taken for a sign of dislike). D’oh. The End.

Life, the Universe, and Mysteries. It’s a mystery, what?

Gratuitous Imagery

This poor blog has been rather neglected lately, after the flurry of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” (if you’ve not read that one – a Christmas story in twelve instalments – go do so. You’ll enjoy it. I think.).

Part of the reason for the long silence is that it’s been taking me longer and longer to write posts. I’ve got away from the fine art of knocking out a post and putting it out there in short order, and one of the reasons for that is that it takes me so long to find the right image to put with the post. Because, you have to have a photo with a post! It’s a rule.

I’m serious(ish) – I talked about that in my first blog post ever, which, now that I think of it, was almost ten years ago (hmm, tenth bloggiversary… might have to celebrate). “Never have a blog post without a picture,” my blogging course teacher said, so in that first post, I put in a gratuitous photo of my stuffed bear.

“That’s Steve,” I said. “He’s better-looking than me, not to mention more photogenic, so he gets to have his picture in the blog first.” Here’s the picture in question:

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Steve in 2010. He hasn’t aged a bit, has he?

But finding images for blog posts, even gratuitous ones, take a lot of time – you can’t just use any old photo off the Internet, there are copyright issues. I’ve been mostly using my own, and well, there are only so many that work. But then I found out this morning that WordPress has a library of free searchable stock photos, courtesy of Pexels. Thousands of free pictures! How great is that?

So to try it out, I did a search for (of course) “fairy tales”. What came up are several ethereal-looking blonde girls with flowing-maned horses – cliché much? But then there’s also a couple of lovely pieces: 

gray bridge and trees


One that made me scratch my head a bit is this:

Because, steam engines are an integral part of classic fairy tales, yeah?

And then of course there had to be Neuschwanstein. Sigh…


But, there you have it – gratuitous imagery, readily available for the time-crunched blogger. I’ll be making use of it.

Life, the Universe, and Gratuitous Imagery. Let’s hope it’ll help wake up the blog again.

#CreateDaily

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It’s Kevan‘s fault. He just sent around a newsletter announcing a new project of his that began with a determination to “Create Daily” – in his case, write a blog post every day for the next year.

For some reason, that really struck me – “Create Daily”. Lends itself so well to hashtaggery. I had a lot of fun with #inktober this year, and of course right now it’s #NaNoWriMo, which you absolutely can’t get done unless you work on it every day or nearly every day while it lasts.

Having a motivation to do something every day is a good thing. So, Create Daily … something. Something small. YOU’RE ON, KEVAN!

But being an inveterate overthinker, I started ruminating about it. Do I really want to commit myself, in public, to do something like this? Every day? For a whole year? It’ll just create pressure again, performance tension. Which I need more of like I need a hole in the head.

And then I read something in Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly*: There’s one bit where she calls herself “a recovering perfectionist and an aspiring good-enough-ist” (p.128). And a couple of pages later, she says that “one of the most effective ways to start recovering from perfectionism is to start creating” (p.135).

Put those two together, and you’ve got the perfect (haha) recipe for how to approach this #CreateDaily thing.

Because creating can itself very easily fall prey to perfectionism. If I say I’m going to create daily for a whole year, the first day that I don’t, I’ve blown it. Aaaack! Perfectionism trigger! But, if you apply good-enough-ism to it, you’ve nipped perfectionism in the bud.

So, I’m going to approach the #CreateDaily thing in the spirit of Good-enough-ism. Start here, right now. With small (very small) acts of creation; maybe every day, maybe not; for a while (I’m not going to give it a specific time limit). I’m not even going to call it a “project” – more of a “practice”.

I’m defining “creating” as “intentionally making something that wasn’t there before“. So here’s some things that might count:

-writing a small, not-very-polished blog post

-writing a fiction fragment of three sentences

-knitting a few stitches on my current project

-playing half a song on the guitar or recorder

-taking a photo with my phone

-taking a photo with my big camera

-writing two-and-a-quarter lines of a poem

-cooking a pot of soup

-spinning half a metre’s worth of yarn

-making something in clay

-doing a five-minute sketch or doodle

-baking a batch of brownies

-growing a seedling, or a tray of sprouts

-writing a letter…

Of course, there are also the “big” creative things, like working on a novel (I’m still in the throes of NaNoWriMo at the moment), organising an event, completing a knitting project, baking a fancy cake, etc. And there are a hundred other small creative things one could do (Making ink! From walnuts! Or making soap! Or writing a song! Or arranging pebbles in the backyard in a spiral! Or learning a new cat’s cradle pattern! Or…).

All of that counts. And perhaps, even, what might tie into it is the celebration of other people’s creativity, like going to an art show or a stage play, or listening to a wonderful piece of music, or applauding someone else’s short story, or appreciating a lovely piece of homemade cake accompanied by tea in a handmade pottery mug. Because almost invariably, when I see other people’s creativity, I’m inspired and propelled towards my own.

Which is exactly what happened when I read Kevan’s post. “Go ye and do likewise.” Create Daily.

Life, the Universe, and Creating Daily. Thanks, Kevan, I will.

*Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead. New York: Penguin Random House, 2012.

**Another book that very much ties into this is Craftfulness: Mend Yourself By Making Things, by Arzu Tahsin and Rosemary Davidson, which I impulse-purchased this spring in the gift shop on the Vancouver Island ferry and have been living on ever since.

This, That, Jealousy and Herding Cats

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Steve guarding the old watering can (it’s a family heirloom)

I keep getting emails from WordPress these days: “Shenoptikus Caractacus [or whatever other name] is now following your blog. They will receive an email every time you publish a post. Congratulations.”

Oh dear, I think to myself, I wonder what Shenoptikus Caractacus thinks he’s getting into. Perhaps he started following because of the advertising on Enchanted Conversations’ newsletter, and expects regular erudite Editorial Pontifications. Or he picked up my blog because of a fairy tale story post, or a cooking one, or a “Wordless Wednesday” snapshot, and he thinks that’s what there is going to be on a bi-weekly basis – writing, recipes, photography.

Instead, Shenoptikus, what you’ll get is a hodgepodge of topics (not unlike the hodgepodge of my house), posted with less-than-perfect-regularity. Sometimes I drop out of the blogosphere for weeks or months at a time, then there’ll be a flurry of posts and blog engagement for a bit. And every once in a while, there are posts involving a small stuffed bear – his name is Steve. You’ll see him in the photo above.

So I apologise in advance if my blog doesn’t meet your expectations. But it’s not like I asked you to follow my blog, is it?

Aaagh, yes – yes, it is like that. I did ask; I want people to follow my blog. I’m jealous of bloggers who have a huge following, who get dozens of “likes” on their posts and lots of comments. Truth is, I have a jealously problem. I’m jealous of others who’ve achieved what seems so far out of reach for me – for example, writers who have traditionally published books, or an actual income from their self-published ones. Or editors who have a large clientele of gifted writers lining up and clamouring for their expert services.

For that matter, I’m also jealous of people who have clean and tidy houses and neatly weeded and trimmed yards with thriving plants and beautiful cosy patio nooks (yes, I’m looking at you!), and whose ducks are all nicely lined up in a row, doing synchronised swimming.

Mine – well, I don’t even have ducks. I have cats, and you know what they say about herding them.

However, cats are also far more comfortable to cuddle than ducks (I think – I’ve never tried cuddling a duck). And, sure, they shed fur (Louis currently exists in The Cloud, i.e. he raises a fur cloud every time you pet him), and they bring in dead things (or even worse, live ones), and they claw the furniture (my dining room door post is completely shredded). But they’re soft, and cute, and such personalities; and it makes me happy to have them around. They’re part of my life, in all its messiness.

So I think I’d rather have my cats than someone else’s tidy, cold, quacking ducks, even if they’ll never neatly line up in a row. Like my blog posts – they don’t line up neatly under one topic, either. Which might mean I won’t ever get that really large blog following, and once Shenoptikus figures out what an eclectic mess this page is, he might unsubscribe again. Oh well, too bad.

Then again, if Shenoptikus Caractacus is a spam bot, I don’t care about him anyway. Steve and I don’t need him; we’ve got all of you.

Life, the Universe, and Herding Cats. Jealousy is a waste of time, isn’t it?

Thoughts on Social Media

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Another one of my friends announced on Facebook today his intention to delete his account, so as to no longer feed his time and emotional energy into the social media monster. Well, when I say “friend”, I really mean “acquaintance”. I’ve met him only once in real life – he was one of my grad school profs, and as the school in question is an online university, all of our contacts happened in the cyber world. I was sorry to see him leave Facebook – there goes any further opportunity to get to know him a little better.

However, I also very much understand where he’s coming from. I’ve just come off a six-week hiatus from the FB world myself – I didn’t cut it all altogether, but restricted my facebooking to checking in on specific messages, and tried to avoid browsing and scrolling through my feed, let alone actually posting status updates or engaging in conversations.

Unfortunately, with the kind of work I do, I can’t really avoid Facebook and other social media altogether. I write books and try to sell them online. I write for an online magazine. I edit the work of writers who work online and I get new clients and professional contacts online. Getting off the cyber merry-go-round isn’t really an option – much as I sometimes want to.

But you know what? For all that I hate the amount of time and energy suck that social media generates, there are some real benefits I’ve derived from it. Apart from my professional contacts, I have made real friends through the Internet, and have rediscovered old friends and deepened existing real-life friendships. I have a network of connections all over the world.

Granted, the kind of relationships you form through social media is of a peculiar type. “Facebook is so terribly fake!” I’ve heard people say more than once. “I don’t want to see pictures of your lunch or your kittycat!” In fact, one of the several reasons my abovementioned friend gave for cutting the Facebook strings was the triviality of so many posts.

Yes, I agree – there is a lot of idle chatter, a lot of fakeness, a lot of posing. But, at the risk of sounding judgemental, the kind of person from whom I’ve most often heard comments of this kind is male and of the Baby Boomer generation. I don’t know what he (this generic middle-aged man) expects from social contact. In my experience as a slightly younger (i.e. GenX) middle-aged woman, trivialities are the very stuff relationships take their beginnings in.

You want to show me the snazzy lunch you had on your business trip? Please do! You like posting pictures of your funny cat? Bring it on! You think your kid’s jumping on the furniture is worth broadcasting on the Internet? Yes, I agree! Because to see how your children are growing, or that you love your cat, or that your favourite food is sushi, tells me things about you. You become more of a person to me. And what, may I ask, is a relationship but a connection from person to person?

If you’re the kind of person who has lived in one place their whole life, whose birth, education, career, friendships, and family life have all taken place in a 20 km radius, then what I’m saying might not apply to you. You know that your friend loves their dog because they live next door to you; that your buddy from Grade 2 just had another baby because you’ve run into her at the grocery store when you picked up milk; and that the guy you met at a professional development seminar is an arch-conservative because he has political placards all over his front lawn at every election.

But that kind of relationship circle has become very, very rare today. A Facebook friend (another grad school prof, as it happens) recently posted a quote that said something like this: “When future generations look back on us, the thing that they will find most puzzling is that we thought our online life was separate from our real-life existence.”

Just this morning, I was enjoying the stunning landscape photography of a childhood friend who now lives in Switzerland. I saw that an online friend whom I’ve never met in real life is having a great time on a trip to New York. I watched, in slow motion, as a friend’s small grandson leaped off the bed, his floppy blond hair flying, and it brought a smile to my face.

All these things are real. I know that if my online friend’s travels ever take her out my way or mine hers, we’ll meet for coffee and spend hours talking about everything under the sun – I know, because it wouldn’t be the first time that happened. Seeing the pictures of the sun gloriously glinting on the Alps means I’ve shared in a small piece of my now-Swiss friend’s life – before Instagram, I had no idea she was such a great photographer; in fact, I hadn’t spoken to her in decades. As for my other friend’s grandchildren, they are growing up so fast, I would never be able to enjoy the exuberance of their little lives in even such a small way as I do now if it wasn’t for Facebook.

This might all sound kind of Polly-Anna-ish. “Aren’t social media great? Don’t they give you the warm fuzzies? Isn’t getting the warm fuzzies the best thing ever?” Blah blah blah. Yes, I know that most of what scrolls by in a social media feed is sludge. I hate the politics, the mud-slinging, the preaching, the arrant nonsense, the sheer volume of all the jabber and beak-clacking. It eats into my sanity, drags my mind down into the muck of arguments and darkness. And that’s not even considering the big-picture societal problems that the social media phenomenon is implicated in.

There have been times when I’ve wanted nothing more than to hit the “delete” button on that Facebook account, be rid of its drag on my life. But I never did, because – see above.

I wonder if 15th-century Europeans felt about books and newspapers the way we do about the Internet. “Oh, I wish I could be rid of all this print! Shelves full of clutter, of people’s opinions, of paper! Let’s just go back to the day when people actually talked to each other!” But, of course, they didn’t go back. They learned to live with it, live with the new reality their world had evolved into. Yes, the invention of print brought problems – enormous upheavals, in many ways – but it also brought so much good.

And that’s the place we’re in right now. We need to learn to live with social media, learn to use it, instead of letting it use us. Oh, good grief – what am I using the “royal we” for? I need to learn it, need to get a handle on social media.

Sometimes, I think, that could mean pulling the plug entirely, like my friend is doing. I’ve never chosen to do that yet, although that’s not to say I might not do so sometime if the sludge threatens to overwhelm the joy. Or sometimes, it requires taking a step back – staying away from social media for a few weeks just to prove to myself that I can, and to build new habits.

“It’s not you, Internet, it’s me…” – and that’s the thing to keep in mind: I don’t have a relationship with social media, but with the people on the other end of social media. The Baby Boomer’s lament that “Kids today are always glued to their phones!” completely overlooks the fact that it’s not the phones the kids are interacting with, it’s their friends on the other end of the phone.

The word “social” in “social media”? It’s there for a reason. Social media isn’t good or bad – it’s what we make of it. I for one want to learn to use it, not be used.

Life, the Universe, and Social Media. Oh, in case you’re wondering – even my stuffed bear has Facebook.

 

Enchanted Conversations Introducing… Yours Truly!

Meet Angelika (2)

Just look at this: “Meet Angelika – The EC Team”!

That’s right – I’m being interviewed over on Enchanted Conversations by way of an introduction as their new “Contributing Editor”. What that means is that a couple of times a month, I get to write a post for their blog (sneak preview: some of it will be fairy tale flash fiction, which are short pieces between 100 and 500 words long), and I even get paid for it!

So head on over to Enchanted Conversations and find out what’s my favourite fairy tale (okay, one of them – they made me restrict myself to a single one, cruel people), whether I work from an outline when I write, and other fascinating and earth-shattering information about Yours Truly that I know you’ve been lying awake at night wondering about.

Life, the Universe, and a New Endeavour! It’s all very exciting.

A Reboot

I’m rebooting my research blog, quillandqwerty.wordpress.com. Some of it (quite a bit of it, I think) will be reblogs from over here – no point in writing two posts on two sites, right? Anyway, quillandqwerty ho!

quill and qwerty

Has it really been two-and-a-half years since I finished my degree? Looks like it has. If you want to see what I’ve been up to in that time, you can check it out over at www.amovitam.ca.

However, in honour of the new “Beauty and the Beast” movie that’s about to hit the theatres, I think it’s time to start up again here at quill and qwerty. So, with an updated tagline and renewed vigour, we once again burst onto the stage of the blogosphere… Or rather, we quietly putter onto it, mumbling to ourselves as we turn the pages of an old volume of fairy tales.

Huh, what? Yes, quite. Just put the tea over there, will you? Thanks.

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This and That

We just spent a few days away, south of the border (they call washrooms restrooms there, and Mars bars are Milky Ways), which meant I didn’t have time to read all the blog posts that dropped into my inbox for the last few days. Which, in turn, made me realise just how prolific my bloggy friends are and how un-prolific I’ve been on the blogging front myself this summer.

But then again, that seems par for the course for me in summer. It gets hot and I get miserable, plus there’s all the canning and other food processing to do, plus there’s company, and trips away, and…

But I’ll spare you further excuses. And just so you can’t say that I never say nothin’, here’s a post for you today. With a picture, no less – highly symbolic, I’m sure: a guy painting a house a brand-new colour, right in the middle of Vancouver. New beginnings. From dated sky-blue to a tidy neutral white. Plus, the painter looks so decorative standing there on his ladder, like somebody put him there just for the sake of the composition. So that counts as significant and meaningful by way of a blog post, no?

painter

Life, the Universe, and New Paint on an Old Building. Happy September, what’s left of it!

 

What Happens Next? Add To The Story…

Helen over at Journey to Ambeth started a chain story. Check it out! Read all the comments and join the fun. At the moment we’ve got a green-eyed drooling monster menacing the archaeologist in a gloomy crypt…

Helen Glynn Jones

IMG_2594On Thursday I posted my usual Thursday Doors post, although my door this week was blocked up. It happened to tickle the fancy of Craig Boyack, who started to write a tale based upon what he thought was behind the door:

For over a thousand years, the ancient evil remained walled up behind a blessed doorway at St. Mary’s Cathedral.
In the summer of 2016, an overzealous archaeologist detected something behind the wall using electromagnetic sounding equipment…

Then I added another bit:

…entering through the old crypt, the archaeologist made their way through the vaulted chambers, footsteps echoing as they headed deeper into the dark…

Then Craig wrote another bit, adding that maybe we could invite participants:

The smell of moss and rot filled their nostrils. The light failed. A slight dragging noise came from farther down…

So I added another bit:

… the smell grew stronger, but…

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