Midnight Mass: A Meditation on Zealotry and the Allure of Groupthink

Be Not Afraid

This past weekend, I watched all seven episodes of the Netflix limited series, Midnight Mass. The show can reasonably be classified as a religious, supernatural thriller and was written by Mike Flanagan, who also brought us the Haunting of Hill House and The Haunting of Bly Manor. Like those shows (which I also enjoyed), Midnight Mass is about so much more than a mysterious new priest in town or the reasons behind seeming miracles. It is about faith, the dangers of zealotry, and the need to examine ourselves at the deepest levels.

Unlike many modern film and tv entries, Midnight Mass is not anti-Christian or even specially anti-Catholic, though Mike Flanagan has now left the church and admittedly has issues with it. Instead, the show he created (and the marvelous cast who brought it to life) left me with a sense of even deeper faith and a feeling that even though Flanigan may no longer share my religion, I think his time spent within the church has left a lasting understanding within him about the world and humanity. What makes us great. And what makes us wicked.

If you intend to watch it, I recommend you do so before reading the rest of this, because there will be some spoilers.

Midnight Mass takes place on a small New England island accessible only by a twice-daily ferry. After an oil spill that decimated the fishing industry in the area, the island has shrunk to a population of less than 200. It is run-down with an aging population and there is a sense of despair rather than the hope. The few children on the island are just looking for a way out and the adults are worn down from decades of hard, physical work and financial woes. But they have their faith.

Nearly all the residents are Catholic, though only a few are devout enough to attend Mass every week. They've had the same priest for several decades. 

But when the old man goes off to the Holy Land for a pilgrimage, another, younger priest comes back in his place. The Monsignor has taken ill, the younger priest says. And he, Father Paul, has been sent by the Archdiocese to stand in for him while he recovers.

Shortly after Father Paul arrives... the miracles begin.

  • A teen girl confined to a wheelchair walks to receive the sacrament
  • An elderly woman with dementia begins to recover memory and her physical ailments also improve
  • Father Paul himself dies of what appears to be poisoning...only to come back to life

These signs and wonders are observed by the tiny island and word spreads: God is with us on Crocker Island. Come and be faithful.

And they do. The whole island (except the Muslim sheriff, the Atheist prodigal son, and a few skeptical others) go to Mass every week. Their faith is restored, as are their bodies.

And it never occurs to them. None. Of. Them. That these signs and wonders might be coming from something other than God.

It is in this narrative backdrop that Mike Flanagan gives us a set of rules, or perhaps guidelines would be better to say, about how to live righteously. These rules are for everyone: The fervent Catholics crowding into Mass, the discouraged Atheist looking for redemption, and for everyone in between.

Groupthink Can Kill

There comes a point in the show where the mask is fully off Father Paul. He reveals completely that he is following his own will, his own desires, rather than God's. And he is using cherry-picked, out-of-context Bible passages to justify the horrendous things he has done and plans to do. At one point, he stands in front of a packed church giving a repulsive, blasphemous Good Friday homily, and I was overcome with supreme sadness.


The whole congregation, except one person, listened to that garbage... and nodded along. Because they had watched a young paralyzed girl walk. Because they no longer needed to wear their glasses or their back no longer ached. They saw the signs and wonders and they couldn't see anything else.

They attacked anyone who tried to point out "God doesn't work like this." They ignored their lifetime of sitting in Mass and listening to Jesus's words, his warnings, about false prophets. And they felt justified because the only people who rejected Father Paul were already outsiders, already misfits.

By the time anyone in the in-group realized how wrong they had been, it was far, far too late.

Do Not Presume to Stand in God's Place 

Father Paul spends the majority of the show firmly in the wrong. Everything he does is so, so wrong. But he convinces himself that it is right. More than that, he convinces himself that God approves. When he tells lies to the congregation about who he is, he asks God for forgiveness for the lies "he must tell in His service." When he kills a man, he says that his lack of guilt over it is proof that it is God's will. 

We watch both him and Beverly use scripture to justify the choices they have made instead of using it to guide them. And it is horrible to watch how assured he is.

But in the end, he realizes what he's done. Too late. But he is able to see it. He put himself in God's place and justified it however he could because he was afraid. Of growing old and dying. Of missing out on a life he wanted but couldn't have. He was an old man looking back at his life and wishing it could have been different. 

There is an order to things. And he decided that it didn't apply to him. Too bad he wasn't alone in paying for that hubris.

Addiction (to anything) Changes Who You Are 


The show starts with one of our protagonists, Riley Flynn, being sentenced to jail time for accidentally killing a girl while he was driving drunk. It is the guilt of this and his subsequent loss of faith that gives Riley such a clear view of what is happening in his home town. His addiction was alcohol, but the show goes much further in its condemnation of addiction than a simple matter of drunk driving.

In the last episode, when we discover what the "sacrament" really is and what it does, we have to watch in horror as good, decent people are overcome with a hunger they can't control. At the end, when reason once again returns, a young boy numbly tells a man, "I think I killed my mom." The man can do nothing but nod and comfort the boy, standing by him as they grapple with their lack of control and the horror it has wrought.

Power is the Strongest Drug of All 

"You aren't a good person, Bev... God loves everyone else just as much as he loves you. Why does that bother you so much?"


The villain in this series is Beverly Keane (played by Samantha Sloyan). Not the supernatural menace in the shadows. It's Bev. This horrendous, power-mad woman was a "Karen" in the best of times, using scripture as a weapon to stand in judgment of everyone for everything. For what they wore, for how often they came to mass. For even daring to have a pet dog when she didn't decree him to deserve such a thing. We have all known a person like this. 

They use some other authority to beat down those around them. In Bev's case, it was religion and her position as a church official. In other people's case, they invoke secular ideas like "common decency" or "public health." All with the idea that if you don't obey this person, then you are evil. And you deserve to be punished. 

Giving someone power, even a little of it, is the truest test of character there is. And unfortunately, it seems the majority of people fail that test.


The final rule is only for Christians. But if you identify as one, listen up. And listen close. 

The paradise Christ promised us comes in the next life. Not this one. 

Anyone who tells you that if you are obedient enough, good enough, faithful enough, that you will be rewarded with riches and protection from tragedy... they are not of God. And they are selling you something.

Just a week before I watched Midnight Mass, I watched The Way Down, a docu-series on HBO MAX detailing Gwen Shamblin and her Remnant Fellowship Church in Tennessee. If you saw it too, you probably noticed many similarities between the fictional Bev and the real-life Gwen. How they held themselves above others, how they felt empowered to decree who was worthy and who wasn't. 

One of the most disgusting things in The Way Down was Gwen's reaction after her infant granddaughter sadly died of SIDS. Because Gwen had preached the false doctrine that faithful Christians were immune from such tragedies, she and her church elders literally pulled in church members who were "struggling" for a meeting. In that meeting, they said Gwen's granddaughter's death was a sign God had withdrawn his protection from the church. And it wasn't the fault of Gwen or her children. They were righteous. They were obedient. 

So the elders were going to discover who in the congregation had transgressed. There was a sinner among them. And these "holy men" were going to find out who it was.

Ostensibly, the Remnant Fellowship Church is in the Church of Christ denomination. This is not one of those non-denominational churches that seems to make up their own rules. They have a firm (and strict) theology. So why did the majority of the congregants sit back and allow this? Why did so few leave? And the ones who did leave... it was only after they were ostracized within the church.

We saw the same thing in Midnight Mass. Though a fictional story, it tells us a nasty truth. We are willing to believe anything, as long as it comes from someone "on our side."

Even though we have been explicitly told about "the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak" (Deut. 18:20), still we fail to remember what we've been taught. Just give us something we want, show us something "miraculous," and it seems we fall like the walls of Jericho.

The power of a good story is that it makes us think. It helps us realize who we want to be. And who we were all along.

So watch Midnight Mass and The Way Down. Watch the signs of deception, both real and fictional. And ask yourself, truly, if you would behave any differently. I so fervently hope that I would.


Keep it Simple: Bigger isn't Always Better


I had a minor meltdown last week over how I had structured my business taxes. I won't bore you with all the details, but it boiled down to this:

  • I incorporated under an LLC to protect my personal liability
  • I chose to file as a C Corporation because a vaguely-written blog post on an entrepreneur's website gave me the impression this was the best thing to do
  • I filed my business taxes incorrectly for three years in a row
As you all know, screwing with the IRS is a bad idea, even if your revenue is only in the 5 digits. So at the start of this year, I hired an accountant and fully realized the depth of my mistake. And because I am a person who is pathologically prone to commitment (what Gretchen Ruben calls "an upholder"), I continued on with this corporation structure, even though I knew I was paying more than I should.

Until now.

Last week, I completely dissolved my LLC. Why? Because sometimes starting fresh is the best thing. There were a lot of tasks involved, but it was quicker, easier, and more freeing than I imagined. What was especially freeing was the knowledge that I had unnecessarily complicated things for myself.

HUSTLE CULTURE AND THE MYTH OF COMPLICATED PROCESSES

My taxes weren't the only thing that I unnecessarily complicated for myself. From paying for a fancy website I didn't need to launching a course on MY OWN platform that no one had heard of, I fell into the idea that if you want to be taken seriously, then you need to go big or go home.

I don't buy into Gary Vaynerchuck's view of the world and you wouldn't catch me anywhere near one of the Boss Babe influencers. But I did fall prey to the idea that if I just spent a lot of money on fancy, complicated systems, then the earnings I gained would make up for it. Because I was "investing in my business."

Weird how people who are selling you something always insist you're investing in yourself. But really, you're investing in them.

So I've simplified just about everything.
  • My blog is free and my websites are now hosted through my newsletter service (at no extra cost)
  • I'm doubling down on how my followers and customers like to be contacted (Email and YouTube) and abandoning the platforms they DON'T like (Mighty Networks).
  • My new corporation is a pass-through LLC, meaning I file my editing earnings as a part of my personal taxes, not as a separate corporation
I feel lighter already, especially since this simplified operating budget makes my accountant happy. Do you sometimes make things unnecessarily complicated? If so, please tell me how. 

I sincerely hope I'm not the only one.

Beyond the Veil: A Siren Song Short Story

 Before the Siren Song Series:

Katie was kidnapped in 1999... on the same day as the Columbine shooting. So little coverage of what happened to her and precious few people who even remember the strange events leading to her escape. Five years later, Katie is in a convent instead of in college with her friends, but she hasn't been able to escape her past. Needing the truth in order to move on, she calls the cop who saved her life and asks for his help, even as she realizes the truth could shatter them both.

Prologue 

On April 20th 1999, the nation reeled from the Columbine school shooting. Horrified parents, traumatized children, and self-interested politicians were all too invested in the shooting to notice the kidnapping of two seventeen-year-old girls just one state over, in Kansas. The local news devoted only one segment to the kidnapping, squeezing it between weather and sports. They didn’t even mention the girls’ names, dubbing Katie Tahiri and Nirali Patel “the Piper girls,” even though neither of them went to Piper High School. 

By April 22nd, all three kidnappers had been found—two dead, one alive—and one day later, Katie was found alive as well. Nirali, the child of Indian immigrants, was found dead alongside her attackers. But the deaths of the thirteen young people in Colorado, and the heretofore unseen level of violence of the shooters, did not permit any deviation of the national attention.  

No one had time to wonder exactly what had happened that night. Or care about the pudgy brown girl who lost her life. The blonde cheerleader had been found. And that would have to be enough. 

1: The Survivor 

April 3, 2003 

Sister Thomas Moore did not receive many visitors at the convent. Having just donned the white veil and blue habit of the novitiate, she needed time away from her earthly family to truly commune with Jesus, to find direction for her spiritual life. Most of the sisters were involved in the school, which accepted kindergarten through eighth-grade students. But education wasn’t everyone’s calling and Sister Thomas was still very young. Just twenty this month. God may well call her to some other form of service.  

Her mother understood the need for prayer, for full immersion in her new life, and was actually supportive. Besides, she certainly wasn’t going to come all the way to Washington State just for a quick lunch with her daughter. So who could have come to see her? 

The identity of the visitor was mysterious enough but what alarmed Sister Thomas was who had come to tell her. The Reverend Mother herself, Sister Mary Paula, had come to the kitchen, pulling Sister Thomas from her cleaning duties and telling her she had a guest. 

“Dere is a woman ‘ere to see you,” Reverend Mother said in her thick French accent. “She tells me she is newspaper reporter and would like to speak to you about your journey to become a nun. Is dis some-ting you want?” 

Reverend Mother spoke to her quietly, her face flooded with both concern and a protective zeal. It was a familiar look—the same one her real mother wore when a policeman or a reporter had come to their house in the aftermath of the incident.  

The sound of water dribbling on the floor brought Sister Thomas’s gaze down to the floor. She looked to see her hands clenching the soapy dishrag, spilling the bubbles and dirty dishwater onto the chipped linoleum.  

Reverend Mother sighed, closing her eyes briefly, then patted her shoulder. “I tell her to go away.” 

“No, Mother. I- I’ll speak to her. If she’s actually here to talk about my path to the Church, then that’s a message worth spreading. Especially to girls who are lost.” 

Reverend Mother’s lips, already well lined, pursed into a tight pucker. Not impatience, she was never impatient with her. More likely, it was worry. Perhaps indecision. But ultimately, she nodded. “Yes,” Reverend Mother said quietly. “But she is not from a religious paper. It is the Kansas City paper. We know the secular press is no longer kind to Christians. I will stay to listen, if you like. To make sure she has not deceived us.” 

She smiled, setting the dish rag down and drying her hands. Of course Reverend Mother should be present. She needed her strength, even if the reporter was perfectly nice and asked only questions about her vocation. There was always a chance something could go wrong, an unexpected swing of her moods. Reverend Mother’s presence would help keep her steady—keep her mind and heart firmly focused on God and away from… other influences. 

Together, they left the cramped kitchen and walked briskly down the hall to the common area, their habits swishing and the massive five-decade rosary tied at Reverend Mother’s waist clattering. The reporter no doubt heard them coming from a long way off. 

The middle-aged woman rose as they entered the common room, her eyes popping open in surprise in delight. “Oh, Katie I’m so glad to see you!” She enthused, clapping her hands as if she were a long-lost aunt. 

“My name is Sister Thomas Moore,” she snapped, quick as a rattle snake and just as full of venom. 

The woman froze, her fake smile falling off her face to reveal an affronted frown. 

Damn it! Sister Thomas swore to herself, embarrassed at her rudeness. This woman has done nothing to you. She’s not Catherine Sutterfield.  

“I’m so sorry,” she blurted, holding her hand up in an apologetic gesture. “We leave our worldly names behind us when we begin our postulancy. It’s the first step in our journey to become brides of Christ.” 

“Of course, dear. Of course.” The woman nodded, going to great effort to put some semblance of the smile back on her face. “I’m so sorry. It’s just in all my research and seeing your pretty face so many times, Katie is just how I think of you. I’ll do my best to change. Should I call you Thomas? Tommy?” 

Tommy huh? Sister Thomas felt her lips press together in irritated disappointment and she heard Reverend Mother’s equally irritated sigh from behind her. She had lied to get in here. The reporter had come to a convent and lied to the Reverend Mother. If this woman was reporting on Catholic vocations or had even a passing interest in the topic, she would know to call her Sister.  

She wasn’t here about the convent. She was here about the incident. Of course she was. The four-year anniversary was approaching and with that poor Elizabeth Smart being all over the news, it made sense reporters would want to tie in another pretty blonde’s kidnapping story. 

“Sister will be just fine. And you are?” she said, moving closer to the table where the reporter had made herself at home. It was one of the students’ lunch tables wheeled in here strictly for this occasion. The common room was used for so many things, including dance classes for underprivileged children. As such, the wall behind the reporter was lined with mirrors, allowing her to see the small recorder tucked in the woman’s belt, the record button no doubt already depressed. 

“Meredith Bueller for the Kansas City Star. I’m so happy to meet you in person,” she enthused, holding out her hand. 

Reverend Mother drew in a sharp breath—a reminder… or warning. One that was appreciated but not needed. Sister Thomas needed no reminders on the issue of handshakes. 

“Forgive me if I don’t shake,” she smiled, perhaps too broadly. “Shall we?” She gestured at the chairs, sweeping her hand in a friendly invitation. 

Darting her brow ever so slightly, Meredith withdrew her hand and took her seat while Sister Thomas sat across from her—and the bank of mirrors. 

“I wanted to write a piece on the anniversary of your kidnapping. When we got sweet Elizabeth Smart back, it really made me think about your case. So many young girls are taken every year with barely a whisper said by anyone. It was such bad luck your case was overshadowed by Columbine.” 

“It spared me the media circus,” she shrugged, hearing the bitterness in her voice and trying to get it under control. “And it was in the hospital I decided to become a nun. So there was a bright spot. For me anyway. Not so much for Nirali.”  

Her voice cracked on Nirali’s name and Meredith’s eyes flashed in barely disguised triumph. Obviously, she thought she’d found her angle, the soft spot she’d use to weedle information out of her. For a reporter, she didn’t have a very good poker face, but that wasn’t surprising really.  

Meredith had clearly been a looker in her youth. She was well into her forties now, her massive chest resting on a protruding belly and her rings biting into her fleshy fingers. Pretty girls don’t need to develop persuasive skills or even hide it when they’re lying. People give them what they want regardless. Sister Thomas knew that better than most.  

When she’d been Katie Tahiri, one flip of her golden hair got her whatever she wanted, from both boys and girls. Even if she was shitty to them on a regular basis, all it took was a smile and they’d give her whatever she asked for. Help on her homework, the use of a graphing calculator, whatever. 

But when Katie became Sister Thomas Moore, she’d shaved her pretty hair all off and tossed away her form-fitting clothes. Under the habit and veil, her body was no longer on display, ready to entice or inspire envy. And the way people treated her changed accordingly. People were still nice, of course. She was a nun after all. But Sister Thomas had to earn her way through life in a way Katie Tahiri never did.  

It seemed in her middle age, Meredith hadn’t adapted to her new station in life.  

“My article is to give hope, to show girls who have been through trauma that there’s life on the other side. I think your story could be such an inspiration. And maybe help people remember Nirali.” 

Hot tears sprang into her eyes before she could stop them. A knot formed in her throat, the very thought of Nirali taking away her breath. Behind her, she heard Reverend Mother step closer. 

“I’m so sorry, dear,” Meredith said, fishing a small pack of tissues from her oversize bag. “I know it must hurt to remember your friend… when so few people do.”  

Sister Thomas nodded, reaching carefully for the tissues Meredith held out to her. But not carefully enough. 

The overeager Meredith leaned forward, rubbing her fingers against her hand as she passed her the tissues. 

At the moment their fingers touched, white-hot rage flooded Sister Thomas, a sour taste filled her mouth and a roaring sound flooded her ears. Voices and images hit her with the force of a speeding truck. She closed her eyes and yanked her hand back, breathing hard out of her nose. 

“Sister?” Meredith and Reverend Mother asked simultaneously. 

“Nothing sells like hot teenage ass. Isn’t that what you said to them?” Sister Thomas asked, her voice a low growl. She flicked her eyes open, staring in fury at the woman across from her. 

“What?” Meredith squeaked out, her face going ashen. 

“The Daily Mirror when you pitched this story,” she rose from her seat, leaning across the table. “You know, since your career in the US is circling the drain, you figured you’d get in the door in the British tabloids. So instead of talking about my dead friend or Elizabeth Smart or even the fucking West Memphis Three, you want to talk about the collective seventeen minutes where I had unwanted, uncircumcised penis inside me. That’ll get eyeballs on the website. Isn’t that what you said?” she snarled. 

“Sister, it is time to go now.” 

In the mirror, Sister Thomas saw Reverend Mother stepping forward carefully, her arms raised and her eyes wide. But she wasn’t done yet. 

“You think I don't know about the people in the chat rooms trying to find footage from that missing camera? You think you’re the first asshole who thinks I have it? Not even close, bitch. And yes, that’s what you are. A bitch. A skeevy, pathetic bitch in heat so desperate for attention from some British newspaper editor that you’ll exploit anyone or anything that will get you a pat on the head, you fucking—” 

“Sister!” The fear in Reverend Mother’s shout stopped her cold. Sister Thomas was able to tear her eyes from the terrified reporter’s face and see her own reflection—the flecks of spittle around her mouth, her knuckles gone white as she leaned into Meredith’s face. And her eyes shimmering a bright, electric blue. 

At once, the fury left her. With a sob, she backed away from the table, unable to speak even one word of apology or explanation.  

The sound of heavy footsteps approached from down the hallway and an Irishman’s shout demanded to know what all the bloody noise was.  

With a final gasp, Sister Thomas fled the common room, running down the hall at top speed. Away from Reverend Mother. Away from the approaching Father Sheehan. And away from the lying reporter she’d just imagined murdering. 



2: The Reckoning 

The icy water cascaded down the back of her beet-red neck, the groaning of the pipes the only sound as Reverend Mother bent her over the stainless-steel sink. 

Expecting to be forcibly escorted from the convent right along with the reporter, Sister Thomas had fled to her room, sobbing as she pulled off her wimple and veil. But Reverend Mother had been hot on her heels, swatting the wimple out of her hand and leading her back to the kitchen. Without a word, she’d slapped on a pair of thick rubber gloves and promptly bent Sister Thomas over the sink, shushing her gasping attempts at apology. 

Somehow, even through the gloves, Sister Thomas could feel the warmth and care of the old woman’s hands as she gently held her neck, scooping water onto her skin to calm the fiery rage and shame. She was the only one Sister Thomas had told, the only one who knew what happened when she touched someone else’s skin and had put on the gloves as a precaution.  

The first time it had happened, she thought it was because of the trauma—of being kidnapped and raped… of seeing what happened to Nirali. She’d run as far and fast as her legs could take her and when they’d failed, the policeman had been there to catch her, pulling off his jacket and wrapping it around her naked body, pulling her close to whisper that she was safe now. 

But it wasn’t just safety she’d felt. In an instant, Katie saw this man, inside and out. The moment his rough hands closed around her forearms, flashes of his life filled her mind. His name was Frank and he’d been falsely accused of abusing his daughter some years ago. More than knowledge, she could also feel what he felt—his shame at finding out his wife had been unfaithful and that his daughter wasn’t actually his daughter at all. How he’d volunteered to help with Katie’s kidnapping case because she was the same age as his daughter and he needed to make up for abandoning her.  

There, in that field, as this stranger held her, she could feel how much he loved her… even though he didn’t know her. It had felt good in the moment, knowing she could trust him. If she’d known the sensation would be a lifelong curse, she might not have basked so long in the feeling. 

Unlike Officer Frank Cooper, Reverend Mother knew all about what she could do, understood there was no controlling it. Even so, she’d accepted her as a postulant, then as a novice, guiding her at every step through her commitment to Jesus and His church. But now, that was over. There was no way she’d let her take her vows after this. 

“Fader Sheehan showed de reporter out,” Reverend Mother said, turning off the tap. “She was advised police would be called if she ever returned.” 

Sister Thomas nodded, trying to suck up the tears and snot, genuinely touched Father would intervene for her, casting aside his gentle nature. If only he knew how unworthy she was of the gesture. 

Finally, she stood up straight, rubbing a damp dish towel over her neck and shaved head, unable to look Reverend Mother in the eye. 

“I’m so sorry,” she cried. 

“Yes, you are sorry I was in de room.” Reverend Mother eyed her sternly. “But you are not sorry for what you said.” 

“I didn’t mean—” 

“You didn’t mean to touch her. Yes, I saw it was an accident. But when you saw into her heart and found her to be your enemy, you could ‘ave simply left. But you did not. You gave into your anger.” 

“Because I’m evil!” she sobbed. 

“No,” Reverend Mother growled, briefly losing control of her own temper. But then, she sucked in a long breath and rested her bony fingers on Sister Thomas’s arm, directing her to the small kitchen window, which was always half fogged. Together, they looked out onto the deserted students’ soccer pitch below.  

“Listen to me, girl. Dere is nothing wrong with you. You can enter the church, can you not?”  

Sister Thomas nodded, wishing more than anything they were in the chapel right now, instead of the cramped kitchen.  

“And you can take communion, can you not?” This time, Reverend Mother didn’t wait for a nod. “No vessel of Satan can tolerate to hear the Holy name of Jesus. Certainly could not ingest his body and blood. You are a child of God and a servant of Jesus, even if we don’t understand… what gifts he’s given you. You are not evil.” 

The last of her rage melted away, as it always did when Reverend Mother soothed her. She drew in a deep breath, closed her eyes, and nodded to herself. Her real mom had dragged her from one psychiatrist to the next, trying to find the right diagnosis—and accompanying medication of course—to solve her daughter’s delusions that she could read minds. When that made it worse rather than better, her staunchly atheist mother had relented and called the nice elderly priest who’d visited Katie in the hospital.  

While her classmates were beginning their freshmen years at college, Katie was being examined by two professional exorcists—one Catholic, one Protestant—both of whom assured her she was absolutely not possessed by a demon. It should have come as a relief. But instead, it left Katie feeling hopeless and adrift. If not psychosis, and if not demon possession, what was wrong with her? And why couldn’t anyone fix it? 

“I don’t know how to live with this,” she whispered, leaning forward until her forehead rested on the condensation-streaked window. 

“When you first came here to us, I asked you if you wanted to become a nun to hide from de world, from what happened to you. Do you remember?” Reverend Mother wrapped her arm around Sister Thomas’s shoulders, pulling her back from the glass. 

Unable to meet Reverend Mother’s eyes, Sister Thomas gasped out, “I thought He would heal me.” 

She felt Reverend Mother’s head nod. “Dere are many types of healing. It may be our Heavenly Fader will heal your heart, but choose to keep your gift in place. To serve Him. If dat is so, do you still wish to wear de veil?” 

An unvarnished clarity settled into Sister Thomas’s heart. No. I don’t want to spend my days in prayer. I definitely don’t want to feel other people’s emotions and see their most private moments. I want to be well. That’s all I want. 

Finally able to look up at Reverend Mother, she braced herself for the sadness she expected to see on the old woman’s face. But there was none, only a sheen of loving acceptance radiating from her. 

“Do I have to leave now?” she cried, careful to wipe her tears on her own sleeve instead of Reverend Mother’s habit. 

“Not right now. Do you want me to call your mozere?” 

“No. Not my mom. I- I need to call someone else. Do you still have my cell phone?” 

Reverend Mother nodded. “It is wit de rest of your tings. I bring it to you tonight after vespers.” She gave her shoulders one final squeeze, then nodded at the dirty pots and pans, still sitting on the counter. “I leave you to your work.” And with that, Reverend Mother left her alone in the kitchen. 

Relief and fear collided within her as she started washing the dishes—for the last time. There would be no healing until she knew what happened to her. And her memory was no help. She needed an impartial observer. An unblinking eye that saw the truth and documented it without passion or prejudice. She needed the camera. She’d run all the way to Washington State trying to scrub that certainty from her mind. But here it was, every bit as strong as the day she’d stepped off the Greyhound bus.  

She couldn’t get the camera herself. She needed help, which is why she didn’t want Reverend Mother to call her mom. She needed Officer Frank Cooper, the man who wrapped her in his arms when she’d needed it most. The man who had checked on her daily while she lay in the hospital, and at least weekly once she was discharged. The man who needed redemption every bit as badly as she did. He would help her. Hell, when she called him tonight, he’d probably offer to drive all the way to Washington to pick her up. 

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Beyond the Veil Kristin McTiernan

New episodes posted every Monday.

Sabotaging Your Own Creativity

My writing is at a standstill and has been for almost two years.

Sometime around 2019, as I was finishing out the third book in my paranormal mystery series, I realized that writing had become hard. And not the way I was used to. It was no longer a struggle to find the right words or a battle with perfectionism. It had become hard to see the story and the characters. Somehow, I had gone from a prolific writer to one of those people who says "Gosh, I can't imagine how you would even begin to write a book!"

How did this happen to me?

I'm currently reading Daniel Pink's A Whole New Mind, which examines how our society has started to shift from valuing strictly left-brain thinking to more right-brain thinking--the kind of thinking computers can't do for us. As I listened to the introduction, I had a rather massive epiphany. 2019 was the year I unintentionally walled myself off into a left-brain world. 

  • I chastised myself for spending time on anything that wasn't contributing to my bank account
  • I read fewer novels and more business and self-help nonfiction
  • I stopped watching movies almost entirely
  • I listened to 3 hours of current event/political podcasts a day, 5 days a week

Of course, you're looking at that list and thinking, "Well, yeah. Obviously, that would sap your creativity." But it didn't feel obvious then. Or in 2020 as I sank into the same lockdown-based funk as everyone else. And now we're past the halfway point in 2021... and I'm just now seeing the absolute disservice I've done to my brain and my happiness.

So what am I going to do about it?

Well, I started by purging my YouTube subscribed list. No more political content AT ALL. More than that, no YouTube at all except between 11-12 on weekdays. The remaining channels I subscribe to post twice weekly at the max and their videos run between 10-20 minutes. So I will ingest short bursts of positive content, and then be done with it.

I will replace the current events commentators with fiction, both in written and television form. 

And of course...

I will write. Right now I'm working on a short story in the Black Magic series to get my "sea legs" back. And since Kindle Vella isn't available for readers yet, there's no pressure. I'm doing this just for me right now.

Add to that I have a true vacation coming up this week. No day job, no freelance. Literally nothing demanding my analytical brain. I'm hoping it's the refresh I need.

Siren Song: Paranormal Mystery for Grownups

 

Siren Song Trilogy Covers

In ninth grade, Tess turned a boy down for a date. He didn't take it well.

Twenty years later, Tess Cooper's whole life will change. The quiet existence she's lived since coming of age... gone. Because now her stalker has found her again. 

The boy she rejected was a Brujo, a practitioner of Central American magic. And apparently, he has neither forgiven nor forgotten.

Facing serious jail time because of her stalker's curse, Tess has no choice but to trust a man who absolutely does not wish her well.

Godzilla: Rooting for the End of Humanity

When I watched Godzilla: King of the Monsters, I was ready for a good time. Yes, I knew the plot might be silly, the writing half-baked. But the cast was wonderful and I love a good monster movie.

However, the plot was not silly. It was… troubling. And to be honest, I’m concerned Godzilla vs. Kong might continue in that same troublesome vein. Let me explain.

The main conflict in the first movie is that scientist Dr. Emma Russell (played by the lovely Vera Farminga) works with a band of violent eco-terrorists to intentionally awaken all of “the titans,” so they might destroy the earth, or at least a good portion of it.

Why, you ask? Because when Godzilla wrecked great portions of US cities, one of her two children died. Her son. As a result of that trauma, she adopted the ideology that Godzilla and the rest of the titans are rising to cleanse the earth of the virus of humans. That the titans are the rightful lords of earth and that they were the original gods of humanity.

In furtherance of this ideology, here is a list of what she did:

  • Circumvented the defenses of her own lab and allowed terrorists to shoot and kill dozens of men and women, all of whom Emma knew and worked with.
  • Set off explosives to intentionally kill members of the US military and her ex-husband, the father of her children.
  • Used her proprietary technology to incite the titans to destroy specific targets, killing thousands, if not hundreds of thousands.
  • Gave a speech about humans being a virus and deserving of terrible death, while she and her daughter remain safe from the rampage in a bunker. Hmmm.

Her reasoning seems to be, “my kid died. Now everyone else’s kids should die too.”

Right now, you may be thinking, Good. A movie’s villain should be complex. But here’s the thing…

Emma is NEVER painted as a villain.

Screen Junkies rightly pointed out in the Honest Trailer that the whole “I’m going to destroy the earth to save it” motivation is so overdone as to be cliche. But as far as I know, this is the first time the writers and producers of the film are actively endorsing it. Why do I know they endorse it? For three specific reasons.

  1. In her monologue, Emma talks about how cities destroyed by the titans were now green utopias, showing footage of trees, flowers, and other greenery growing around the once-grand casinos. Under normal circumstances, this should be a horrible sight. But in the closing shots, there are newspaper headlines flashing across the screen, accompanied by upbeat music: “New Ecosystem forming in Boston!” “Air Cleanest Levels Ever in Washington DC!” Yeah… because everybody is EFFING DEAD.
  2. Godzilla and at least some of the titans are treated as the heroes in this movie. The humans are really just a framing device. This is brought into stark relief when the team is tracking an injured Godzilla into the depths of the earth. Using an unmanned sub, they find him in the remains of a very ancient city — older than ancient Egypt, older than the Sumerians. So what do they do when they find this treasure, this great trove of knowledge of our species? They. Blow it. Up. With a nuke. Because Godzilla needed a hit of radiation to bring him back to full power. These men and women of science just blew all the evidence of a pre-historical advanced civilization to hell. To save a monster.
  3. And finally, Emma was given a hero’s death. She got the dramatic quip and everything. She had a heartwarming reunion with her husband where they searched for their daughter together. She got to stand up and be praised for giving her life to lead the soon-to-be critical-mass monster away from the rest of the group. And then she got to go out like a boss. Everything about her character arc painted her as a sympathetic character, a good mother who had the right idea, but went a little overboard.

For any one of her actions in the list above, Emma deserved to be given a traitor’s death. She did not deserve a hug from the man she tried to kill, forgiveness from the daughter she deceived and brainwashed, or the opportunity to bring about the new “cleansed” world she imagined.

The hundreds of thousands of deaths she is personally responsible for are never brought up.

Some of the people most influential in our culture are getting to a weird place. Some broadcast to the world that they refuse to have children because of climate change, despite the fact that their country has below-replacement birth rates. And some people shoot up the city of Dayton because “humanity is a disease.”

We know internet enclaves like 4-Chan have a strong nihilistic streak. But are we really in a place where those ideas will be present in our blockbusters? I sincerely hope not.

I hope this was a one-off, even a mistake. I hope those BS headlines at the end of the movie were a set-up for Godzilla vs. Kong, a sequel that will return us to a vision of heroic humans fighting monsters to save the people they love. I hope it makes monster movies fun again.