Thursday, August 21, 2014

My Garden and Two Spiders

A couple of things about spiders ....

I'm an arachnophobe. It took decades for me to be able to be around them whilst remaining somewhat rational. I was even afraid of killing them. I'm generally averse to killing things just because I don't like them or because I'm afraid of them, but I was also so physically revolted and terrified of them that their deaths and dead bodies were just as bad as the living things.

Years later, through education and working on being around them and observing, I'm now able to garden with them. It's not easy. They have to be 'my' spiders, the spiders that live outside in my garden and who generally leave me alone and if they happened to hitch a ride on me by accident, they're as eager to get away from me as I am to have them off of me.

I want to mention a couple in particular today.

The first is the so-called common garden spider, which I've found to be somewhat uncommon in my area.

I love these spiders. They're huge, which makes them somewhat easy to spot (so I can keep my distance) and they tend to make their webs in or around very tall grass, at least in my garden, so they've never once (so far) stretched their webs across one of my paths and nailed me in the face.

They're also artists. They weave something down the middle of their orb web to look like something an insect might want to land on, or that at least blends in a bit with the wheat and other grasses they prefer.

The other kind, although I garden with them side-by-side all the time (not by choice, they're extremely profuse) I'm not so fond of. They lurk on pale flowers and kill bees. Now, if it was a bee here and a bee there, I wouldn't mind so much. But these are first-rate bee killers, and they don't seem to have an off switch. I've seen one kill a bee when it had several dead ones already, and I can't imagine a spider that size needing that much food. But, what do I know? Maybe they lay a single egg on each one or something like that. I call them white crab spiders, but I'm not sure what they're really called. This time of year most of the ones I found were tiny. In spring, when I have my first flush of rose blossoms, they're all over the white roses, and the cream and apricot ones, and they also lurk near the pale pollen on my giant tree peonies.

I won't go on an active campaign to destroy them all, but I also don't care for them and given half of an excuse to mush one, I will. I also snip flowers that are the least bit faded that have them on them and put them in the compost. I'm sure that doesn't do much to them, but maybe, on their way to find a new pale flower, they'll be eaten by the heaps of jumping spiders and other hunting-style spiders that roam through the grass.

Happy gardening!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Reading that will Never go Viral

So here's me reading as Tammy Owen from House of Goats. I want to go into Muppet Show mode and continue that with "the continuing stooory of a quack who's gone to the dogs." (From Veterinary Hospital: here's an example.) Or in my case a suburban mom who's gone to the goats.

I tried to embed this video, but apparently the software can't find me. Ugh.  I'll try to add it later.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Angry Red Chest

This angry red chest is one of the many reasons why I haven't blogged in forever. Sorry for the long and unannounced hiatus!

I've rediscovered fishing. I've only gone twice, but considering that it takes the whole day away as far as days off from my day job ....

Totally worth it. It was warmer yesterday than last time, and I didn't put on massive amounts of sunscreen like last time, so I got singed quite a bit more due to shedding of the jacket early and having only some SPF 8 protection (and apparently very spottily applied at that.) Where I actually had a decent amount of sunscreen, the pink has already faded. Where I missed, well, it's still angry at me, like pink Hulk angry, only without the awesome amount of muscle mass.

On my other days off I've been feverishly working on book designs for clients. Here's a big thank you to those clients! I very much appreciate the business. But of course business before blogging, so ....

And I'm still quite massively busy, but I managed to squeak in a few moments this morning for this burning apology.

Quick updates: Hateful Bob, our first chick to be raised by his mother hen, is doing fine, except for the part where all the other birds other than his mom pick on him. Poor thing! And, he was attacked  by a hawk, and miraculously survived. Hateful Bob is one tough bird. Side effect, the birds are stuck in the coop except for an hour or two at dusk, which they hate and I hate too, but it's necessary for their safety. I'm hoping to get out there today (yay, two days off in a row!) and set up some sort of run other than the little patch of dirt we've got enclosed outside their coop door so they have some grass time.

The four baby goats, Thurston, Ginger, MaryAnne and Gilligan, are doing very well and continue to be very cute.

House projects continue handsomely, which in sailor-speak means slowly (and carefully). I don't know about the carefully part, but we're moving along with the Great Kitchen Cleanup and the Decluttering Project of Doom.

I have a reading later this month in Hillsboro, OR and a presentation about letter writing in August for a library.

There's me, first in line, sans angry red chest.

I hope everyone is have a fabulous and angry-red-chest-free July!

Friday, June 13, 2014

The value of a blink

I'm definitely one of those people who believe that writers should write every day, and painters should paint every day, musicians should play music every day, etc. Even if it's just a few minutes. I think that the reason that many don't is because they decide, either consciously or unconsciously, that because those few minutes feel shallow and they can't really get under the surface of things before they have to stop, there's no value to a fifteen minute art sit-down or the addition of a single paragraph to a manuscript.

I think there's a lot of value. I haven't tried to put this into words before, so I hope you'll be patient with me while I thrash it out.

Probably the least important part, and the part that is a focus of programs like Nanowrimo, is that those individual paragraphs add up. And they do. But this is super-easy to shrug off, because if you feel like you don't get to go deep, they're probably lousy paragraphs anyway. I think they always have the potential to be just as good as anything else you might write, but we're discussing writer mentality here, and even I wonder if I might not be writing stupid crud when I sit down for fifteen minutes before work and tap out a quarter of a scene.

I think it's more important to look at it as mental exercise. At first it might be true that those paragraphs written in stolen moments are probably not worth much, but with daily practice, you can't help but get better at dropping in and making quick additions.

Ooo, here's a good one: I don't stop thinking about my books when I go to work, and I get some great ideas there. Or maybe while grocery shopping I'll pick up a can of olives that are on sale and I'll think oh, oh! the contrast of salmony pink/red with purple-y black! and I'll dash home and splash some colors onto a new blank Photoshop screen. I might not have time to do anything more than that, but it's there for me to riff off of when I get some more time. And for those who rely on inspiration, having that inspired moment captured is a good and precious thing, even if they didn't have time to see it through to completion. And an incomplete gesture of inspiration is the norm, unless you're one of those rare people who completes an entire project in a single day. Even then, wouldn't it be nice to have something small and perfect and good every day?

Speaking of incomplete gestures and notes of inspiration, there's no rule that says that when you sit down and write, it has to be on the prose within the manuscript. Especially for books but also for short stories and art, I take notes which end up scattered on all different sizes, shapes and colors of paper all around my desk. Note-taking and planning is also creative time, my friends, and very valuable creative time. That is definitely part of the writing every day rule, and shouldn't be undervalued.

These are all good and true things. So, no more excuses. Write every day, even if it's just for a blink. After all, if we didn't blink, our eyes would dry out. So it is with the arts.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Jay Lake (June 6, 1964-June 1, 2014)

All the things I want to say don't feel right except, fuck cancer. It took my father, also at age 50, and other fine people I've known since then. I have family and friends right now who are fighting cancer. Today ....

I don't want to say Jay lost his fight with cancer. But he died early this morning, and there's no way around that.

There's all this stuff floating around in my head, about how his battle made significant contributions to medical science, about Jay Wake, about how amazingly prolific and inventive he was ....


And that part of him is still with us, in the hearts of the people closest to him, in his work, in the genome project based on his cancer's DNA, on his blog.

That doesn't feel true, not at this moment. When I reread his books and stories, the telepathic construct called writing will be transmitting his thoughts and ideas into my mind, and I might feel, during that moment of immersion, that I've gone back in time and he's talking to me.

Small comfort for his daughter. Small comfort for any daughter.

Today, cancer ended the life of a unique and talented human being, as cancer is wont to do.

Perhaps one of the reasons this disease feels particularly cruel is because it almost seems treatable, and sometimes it is. Certain ones. If caught early enough. Sometimes, but not always, for good. Often, treatment delays the inevitable just long enough to put our affairs in order and to say goodbye.

It's such a twisted, evil thing, this disease of our body where our very cells rewrite themselves in a way that destroys our lives, that we've poured vast riches and engaged some of our most brilliant minds to try to find a cure. Maybe this battle will have proved to be a decisive one. Maybe this man's battle will help others not just survive a little longer, but maybe thrive and live long, healthy lives.

This isn't grief I'm feeling. It's anger and frustration, and no little fear, too.

I live in a place and time of great privilege. To live to age 50 was a much rarer gift not so long ago, and in many places it still is. In the modern, western world, it's too young. It doesn't feel right to ask for more. But I do.

I'm mortal. That can't be changed. I can accept exterior forces; storms, viruses, famines, car accidents–just about anything. But this thing, cancer ... that's a betrayal. That's treason, and a self-destructive, mindless, pointless sort of treason that gains the disease itself no future existence of its own. It buries itself when it buries us. It's a suicidal thing that shoots everything around it before it shoots itself in the head. The mindless, senseless, pointlessness of that enrages me as few other things can.

I think the reason there is so much research and money poured into cancer study and treatment is because I'm not alone in singling out cancer as being a particularly horrible disease. There are other things that kill people, things that can be prevented and treated, suffering that could be eased for pennies on the dollars that we spend to fight cancer. I'm not sure that makes sense, but I'm throwing in my support to fight this villain. Not because it's more likely that I'll die from cancer than a car wreck or heart attack.

But because I hate cancer.


May his daughter, family and friends find some comfort in this time of terrible grief.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

And then, my head exploded: Exploding Head Syndrome

Actually, my head didn't explode. But I do occasionally suffer from Exploding Head Syndrome, a weird phenomenon that, since I've had it for as long as I can remember, is probably more common than anyone realizes. It's just that, who are you going to tell? And what are you going to say?
(Simulated conversation)
"Honey, someone hit the house with a car!"
"Um, no they didn't."
"Then it must have been an earthquake!"
"Um, no. No earthquake."
Googles. Sure enough, no earthquake in the news. "All the doors in the house slammed at the same time?"
"Now you're just being silly."
"Okay, okay. It must have just been my head exploding."

I've felt burning, prickling, and even stabbing sensations in my sleep associated with dreams, or perhaps the dreams try to 'explain' the sensation by making me suddenly walk over sharp coral or getting shot or stabbed. And no, I don't wake up with a body part that's fallen asleep when this happens. So that's pretty weird. I've had full-color (which isn't supposed to happen) full sensation, vivid dreams that border on hallucinations. These dreams, separate in experience from my other dreams, are associated with a period of time when I had severe sleep disturbance issues that they tried to treat and ended up giving me epic nightmares. Ugh. I've also had 'normal' full color, no sensation dreams that nonetheless seem so vivid and important that I remember them for years afterward, like the one where I found a newspaper article about the first centaurs created by science in someone's tower-house attic. I've done lucid dreaming (fun, btw) where I can consciously seize control of the dream environment and continue to dream. And my creativity is clearly linked in a reciprocal fashion to dreaming. If I don't write with full engagement of all my powers of Kami every day, I'll start to dream weirder and more vivid dreams, then nightmares, until finally I find a time when I can do some serious writing and then the dreaming returns to my regularly scheduled programs. And if I'm in the middle of an intense writing period, I'll get incredibly lame, super-boring dreams where I'm shopping for an item and can't find it, or I'm at work. And then I have to wake up and go to work or go shopping. Ugh. What a waste of good dream time. It's like all the creativity that poured out of me into my writing drained my lake-o-inventiveness and left behind a sludge of boring.

But this annoying thing, this exploding head syndrome thing, though it doesn't happen very often (maybe a couple of times a year) is so bad, so frightening ... and yet it's happened often enough now that when it happens and I wake up (today it woke me at a reasonable hour, 5:30 am, which is nice because now I can get an early start on my day) I can accept (almost every time–not this morning though, whoooo boy!) that no, the house wasn't whisked away in a tornado and we didn't just land in Oz with a tremendous crash that killed one of the wicked witches.

As awesome as that would be.

And I can usually go back to sleep.

Not always, though.

This morning, it's good that I'd pretty much had a full night's sleep because I could not have gone back to sleep. My heart was going a million miles an hour, I felt hungover (and no, didn't have a drop of alcohol, actually hadn't had even a nightcap since Sunday–hey, could that be my problem? :P ) and I was absolutely, positively sure that an intruder had dropped something incredibly heavy, as in, the entire house when the jacks had given way (except there was no falling sensation just before so maybe it was just the half of the house I wasn't in.) (And there were no associated rattles or glass crashing so clearly it was emptied already of all our stuff.) (And the wood framing had to be stabilized in some way because there were no snaps, crackles or pops.)

It was really unpleasant and frightening, to say the least. I was actually afraid to explore the house, I was so sure that there was a crazy, clumsy intruder downstairs.

Some doctors believe that you'll get clusters of these exploding head thingies when you're stressed. I don't know about that. I am incredibly stressed and overworked right now, but I've been incredibly stressed before and I didn't get them. There's no way for me to remember if I was stressed when this happened before. I suppose, now that I've blogged about it, I can make a little note on future blogs at the end and we can track it together.

So, if you see something about my head exploding at the end of future blogs, don't be alarmed. It's for science.

And now that my head has exploded, I can start my day. I hope you have a great one! And may your head never explode.

Friday, May 16, 2014

+5 vs Scammers

I thought something smelled funny, but I kept it around anyway. Today I looked it up because it was really starting to stink, and I found this:

How did I not know about Salty Droid before? This is awesome.

I love a lot of things about the internet. Probably my favorite thing (besides cute overload and instant communication with family and friends) (and art stuff) is how it can be such a great tool for education. I've been educating myself via the web for a while now, and I'm learning to get better at it.

Sadly, the internet is also a great place to get scammed and misinformed. Well-meaning friends (myself included) unknowingly spread stuff that isn't true or even actively harmful. This is why we need resources like Salty Droid, which outs scammers, and Snopes. What? You haven't heard of Snopes? Please. Please please please become acquainted with Snopes, an urban legend website. It's not perfect. No site is. But when you get one of those forwards from someone about the dangers of eating pop rocks and drinking cola at the same time, before you send it to everyone on your email list, first, go to Snopes and check out if it's true or false. There have been false positives and false negatives, of course, but they do have a mechanism for correcting those. At the very least, it's a great place to start.

Whatever you do, though, don't start reading around Snopes or Salty Dog because you'll get sucked in and before you know it, three days will have passed and you'll have no clean dishes or laundry. (But at least you'll be better informed!)

Often, the easiest way to keep your identity and your money safe on the internet is to simply use the internet itself against internet scammers. Salty Droid, just like Snopes, is one resource out of many and may not be perfect. For one thing, you have to be able to read nerdish, which can be byzantine in construction and unclear as far as what is meant as sarcasm and what's meant as an actual statement. Anyway, Salty Droid and many others out there exist purely to help you make certain that money or time (and let's face it, the time is usually more important than the money) isn't wasted on someone or something awful or potentially damaging to you. A few minutes of searching is time well-spent to defend yourself against bad things.

Of course, no Kami blog entry on scams and lies would be complete without a (re)mention of Writer Beware!®:The Blog and the Absolute Write Water Cooler. All you writers out there, if you get the least bit of opportunity, be sure to spread the word about this invaluable resource. There are still plenty of newbie (and some experienced) writers out there unaware of the horrid that is bad publisher and agent behavior, not to mention the many other pitfalls of writing.

Sometimes it feels like there are more pits than road.

The more mention there is on the internet of these kinds of resources, the harder time bad people will have stealing, and the better educated we all will be as lies and misinformation are snuffed out. Or revealed for what they are, which are stinky piles of stink. Or perhaps just laughed at. Maybe turned into silly videos we can all enjoy on YouTube. With cute kitties illustrating the main points.

Thusly armed, you can enjoy the wealth of educational materials (for free!), business opportunities (real ones with real value provided!), and of course, the ability to quickly communicate with family and friends on a scale unfathomable just twenty years ago (and look at cute animal pics and videos) and have a far smaller chance of getting ripped off or victimized by people abusing the awesome that is the internet for selfish gain w/o actually generating any value for the people they're hustling to.

It's like using the internet against the internet to better enjoy the internet. Somehow, it works.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Again with the Creds!

A couple of days ago, I read another 'would like to be a panelist' email. I'm not trying to be mean here. This is for educational purposes. But dang, it's hard sometimes to keep a civil tone. I know agents and editors get this way too, just because they see it so much. Have you ever seen the Palpatine on the Escalator skit by Robot Chicken? (Warning, language, politically incorrect, and, btw, Palpatine, not a good guy, right?) Anyway, the point being that, try as I might to not be, I think I'm getting jaded. Which is bad. The 237th person to query might be annoying because they're making the exact same obvious, dorky mistake that 159 people made before them, but it might well be their very first time querying, so how could they know? They're like Gary the Stormtrooper on the escalator (the one that bows his head and says aww) who gets cussed out for doing the same thing everyone else did, the thing he was supposed to do as far as he knew, btw. They totally don't deserve the brunt of someone's annoyance that has built up from the gizillion people before, right?

So, with that in mind ....

The person emailed the programming department, which is the right place/people, with their micro-publisher hat on, saying that one of their authors was local to a con and was interested in attending as a panelist. The person then asked who to contact about this, and signed with their first name, last initial, and the name of the press.

What's wrong with this, you ask?

Nothing, except that the email was phrased exactly as I paraphrased it, with no specifics. No name of the author. Last initial instead of full last name? Really? No link to the press website? (Turns out there wasn't a website, at least not one I found.) You're going to make me Google you? Seriously? Oh, and, this is the killer part. They did not mention *which* author was interested.

So, I do the Google dance. At this point I'm only mildly annoyed. The only thing I could find of any substance (and by substance, I mean something more than just a listing on a list page) was on B&N, so I click on the link. There are four books on the B&N publisher page. As far as I can tell, it's a full list. Four books, well, that's pretty tiny even by my standards, but I'm not going to knock them for that.

So, Name F. looks like he wrote two books that were authored by Name Full-last, but it could be coincidental, right? Maybe. At this point I'm grinding my teeth. Is Name F. inquiring on behalf of Name Full-last, which is probably himself? Then why the flip not say so in the email? Hi, my name is Name Full-last, I wrote a couple of books and I'd like to come to your convention. Here's a link to my stuff. Thanks for your time!

See how easy?

Sadly, this story gets worse. One of the authors of the four books is clearly a pseudonym. Either that, or a family that coincidentally has a fantasy-sounding last name decided to name their child after one of the major characters in LotR. And I can't help but think, could this be a pseudonym for Name F.? Which makes me suspect that the other author name (which looks like a traditional American name, more or less) might be a pseudonym for the same person too. At which point I'm so done with this person. Because 'one of our authors' should actually be 'I'. Anything else is a lie.

I must operate from the benefit of the doubt position, and assume that there are at least two people working together here, but that didn't stop me from developing a bias against this person. I'll combat that bias to the best of my ability, but, sorry I can't erase the experience from my brain and I don't feel I should have to. Every email I get builds the relationship between us, whether its a 'argh, more spam, I hate you!' relationship or 'yay, an email from my friend!' relationship. If there's more positive than negative, I'll look forward to our next correspondence. If, OTOH, it starts with vagueness that stinks like bullshit, and continues on to even more odiferous bullshit, that's hard to recover from.

The publisher's cause is so-not-helped by really poorly designed book covers that look like they were done by the publisher's art department, namely him again. If he hired out, he needs to change book designers and find one of a multitude of pro designers that work for cheap.

I haven't seen a response from this person yet. I'd like to think he's too busy doing publisher stuff or doing day job stuff. Hopefully he's not thinking up vague specifics to the questions the official staff sent back along the lines of which author? What creds? What experience/knowledge would this person bring to the con?

Things the staff shouldn't have to ask, because it should have been in the first email.

I hope that by writing about this stuff, more people will have a better idea of how to present themselves. Because cons need fresh ideas, new people with unique backgrounds to trot out and entertain their members. I hate to think of all the people that got passed up because they put their literary feet in their storyteller's mouths. Much of the time, I think it's like a slush pile–there isn't enough development there to be at the pro level yet. But sometimes I think the ability is there, but the communication disconnects as people try to present themselves as something more than they are.

If you think you're not enough as you are, then either grow to be what you dream to be, or accept that you may in fact be awesome enough as you are and run with that. Lying, bad. And misrepresenting or puffery is lying. Be honest, true, clear and specific, and you should be good, no matter how it breaks.

That works in writing, art ... everything.

Friday, May 02, 2014

How to Get on Convention Panels & Generally Impress Folks

I just reread someone's application letter for a convention. I reread it because he resent it, most likely because he didn't get a reply the first time. There's a reason he didn't get an immediate response.

Here's the deal, all y'all who want to be panelists on conventions, or want to include creds in a bio, etc. People aren't dumb. They can see right through the very thin veneer of vague to your lack of applicable experience. Trying to gloss over a thin or non-existent qualifications does a lot more harm than good. Trust me! Especially when it comes to hitting up a convention committee for inclusion on their panelist list. This goes double for cover letters for submitting writing to a publisher.

Here's a classic: twenty years of experience. That particular number irks me because it's used so often by people who are trying to sound impressive, when really they've been part-timing or hobbying for that twenty years. Which is cool to do, and extremely valuable time spent while learning your craft, but trying to make it sound like you've been doing something full time for twenty years seems to say one of several things. I'll mention two here:

A) You've been struggling to break through for twenty years and yet can't point to a single, specific, wow-worthy example of the fruits of your labors in your letter? Ouch.
B) You're seriously going to make me Google you instead of giving me something exact and definable so I can gauge your skills?

This person may be amazing. I can't say one way or another, and that's the problem. I feel like I'm being lied-at, even though the words may be true. I've had this happen to me before, quite recently*, actually. Most of us have. I would be far happier if, say, this person said that they've worked on this movie or that script or published in this magazine or through Cute Micro Press than try to sound all important about how they've been in the biz for twenty years.

My mood was not improved when I did Google this person and found some stuff that could have been easily included, and would have sounded a lot more appealing than the generic, hand-wavy references made in the letter. In fact, it wasn't a lot of accomplishment for twenty years. He did, however impress me with what he'd done. If I hadn't known it took him twenty years to do that, I might have said, kewl, this is nifty and worth exploring further. Instead, perhaps unfairly, I had the feeling that it wasn't a lot to show for the time expended.

So please, dear persons trying to impress folks with your creds:

Time spans aren't as important as specifics. Look at Stephen King's cred list sometime on his books. For the man who seldom needs an introduction, there's a mention of number of total books so far and a couple of current ones. For someone who hasn't been writing prolifically and famously for that long, a couple of specifics are fine, or even none. Yes, I said none. If you're working on a novel, say you're working on a novel, not that you've been writing for twenty years. If you have written a novel based on your experiences at a Space Camp, that's awesome. I want to know more about the Space Camp and maybe other folks want to hear about it too! If you're writing a cover letter and this is your very first short story, let the short story speak for you and just write hey, I wrote this thing and I hope you like it. Thanks for your time. I did that on cover letters for years, and it works just fine. If you want to be a panelist at a convention, think about the things that people might want to hear about, and if you have something to offer, mention that. Say, that you worked for three weeks with script writers for a movie produced by Twentieth Century Fox ... that might not sound like much compared to twenty years of something if you look at it one way, but from where I sit, I don't feel like someone is trying to deceive me, and that's something specific and true that I can consider.

Besides, as much as you might want to be at a specific convention or sell at a specific time to a magazine or whatever, it's better to look at the long term than the immediate pay-off. Maybe you don't have quite enough going for you this time, or this specific story doesn't fit in with what the editor wants right now. Selling it harder isn't going to make it happen. Living well and working hard is going to help you achieve your goals. And as you achieve them, you won't have to write vague letters anymore. Maybe they'll even hunt down your email address to invite you to conventions and anthologies and all kinds of kewl stuff.

*I was trying to work with a guy on a design and during the hour-long conversation he kept bringing up the fact that he'd been working in the biz for fifteen or twenty years or whatever. All I could think was, how is this relevant to getting the job we have to do done right now?

Monday, April 28, 2014


I've probably written about this before, but it's petting my peeve again, so forgive me while I go on about animals in fiction.

As fun and terrific as talking animals, telepathic animals, anthropomorphized animals, and were-critters are, I have to say that I'm ready for some more actual animals to turn up in fiction. It's all over the place in non-fiction. James Herriot (James Wight: Herriot was his pen name) is one of my favorite authors, and I reread his stuff over and over again. Animals and people make an intoxicating combination for a lot of readers, not just me, and a good writer will not only recognize that but understand how it works.

I think anthropomorphizing or giving human voice and/or human dialogue to an animal can be charming, but it takes something away, maybe even more than it gives to the story. The challenge of communicating with an animal, working with an animal, even just taking care of an animal on a basic level is an almost magical interaction in and of itself, and requires no embellishment.

For example, I feed hummingbirds. At the moment I have three, or four, maybe more. It's hard to tell. They go through a lot of sugar water, enough that I don't have to worry about it spoiling before I have to make another cup of it. (One cup of water microwaved for one minute, 1/4 cup of sugar (plus I add a smidge. It's not like they have teeth to rot) and left to cool, covered, on the counter until it's room temp. Spoils in about three days, less in very warm weather and/or if the feeder isn't kept scrupulously clean.) Although they keep their distance and are very wild, we communicate through the feeding. They watch me take the feeder, and bring out a full one. (It's hard to say if they know it's the same feeder.) They're growing used to me, though they still don't trust me. And they have very full, at times stressful, social lives. I've watched them defend territory, build nests, court, feed, and I've watched them watch me. Turning them into an aggressive, vain companion with lots to say about my choice of husband takes away that odd and enchanting relationship that I and many others have had with their wild birds. I've held a hummingbird in my hand. I've had wild birds land on me and fly away without an 'oh shit' moment because they understood somehow that I wasn't a threat, despite the fact that many people are.

It's the same thing with cats and dogs. We tend to take them for granted and put words in their minds for them, and that's all good. I don't mind seeing that on the page at all. But how much deeper and more awesome it feels when an author captures that sense of 'other' in the dogs and cats they describe. I especially like it when they capture the feeling one gets when approaching a large, strange dog they don't know and the careful maneuvers both dog and human make to determine if they're going to be friends or enemies or whether they're just going to go their separate ways because the trust just isn't there.

Life of Pi captures this well. I was relieved to see that the animals remained animals, even though they were also symbols, and in many ways mystical. Animals are just as mystical and fascinating as humans just as they are. And this can extend to fantasy animals as well. I enjoyed Smaug's dialogue in The Hobbit, but honestly, non-speaking dragons that display cunning and intelligence in many ways are more frightening. The creature in Cloverfield never speaks a word, but it is utterly terrifying ... and fascinating. Creatures that don't speak and yet display intelligence equal or greater than ours in non-verbal ways are even scarier, and more awesome.

I think, too, that the more we pretend to know, the more we steal from the mystique of animals and monsters. One of the reasons the Godzilla remake didn't work for me was all the explanation and science they put on the screen. Not knowing has so much more power. And, though we can predict with fair accuracy that the purring cat on our lap will sit contentedly and knead our thighs with sharp claws until we shove it off, as a visiting friend found out, they may also unexpectedly, after a few minutes of mutual enjoyment, give a little love nip, or as another friend experienced, a not-so-loving swat from a claws-extended paw and a rapid, raking departure. For reasons unknown. For reasons unknowable, if we want to be honest about it.

And not-knowing can be good. We don't have to be know-it-alls. We can just appreciate and experience without claiming them. They, along with all other living and non-living things in our universe, are our companions in existence, and that existence at its core is mysterious, mystifying, and fun (and harrowing and painful and full of grief) in part because we don't own it. We're a part of it, within in, together. And because we don't truly own our animals or communicate as effectively as we communicate with each other, though we take responsibility for them and take care of them (or kill them or torture them) there's always that edge in any relationship with an animal.