Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Training Continues

I can almost read her mind.
Staying home all day is sooooo boring and the only thing to do is mess with the cats but I'm not allowed! Seriously?

Otherwise, Chase is adapting well to home life. She gets loads of attention, both positive and negative, but not owie negative (though sometimes she gets scared.) She gets to sneak cat food. She doesn't have to share her doghouse (although she has to stay in it at night.) She can vacuum the kitchen whenever she wants. There are fun new tricks to learn, like stay, though stay is very, very confusing. But getting released from stay is the best thing ever!

Bummer, though, she's had two baths this month. Two! Humans are so weird.

I'm a little worried that she might put on some weight, now that she's not chasing cars all day. She goes out about every two hours, but not for long and she's not allowed anywhere near the road, so she doesn't get past a doggie trot in speed. I'm thinking, maybe she should get a play hour in the morning and another in the evening, right around rush hour, so she can chase cars and get some exercise. My worry is, though, that she'll go right back to bullying Brian instead of going on patrol. So we'll see. If Brian came in during that hour, that would be one thing, but Brian is afraid of the floor and won't come in.

Wish us luck! So far, so good, though it's a process, like anything else.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Learning Overload

We have Chase, our OCD Border Collie mix, inside full time now. It's a lot of fun, but man oh man, it's a lot of work, too.

Chase is a rat-killer. That's her most-useful function. In her mind, though, her most important duty was to chase cars. (Hence the name.) That's how we originally got her, actually. As far as we can understand, her previous owner wasn't too concerned about her safety and just tossed her out periodically into an unfenced yard. She chased cars all the way to our place. We returned her once, after having no contact/no interest in her for a month despite fliers, asking around, and contacting the Humane Society in case someone went looking for her there. Ultimately a friendly neighbor let us know who she belonged to, and he came and picked her up.

We got the owner's phone number and the next time she turned up, we called for over a month. He didn't even bother to answer our phone calls. After consulting the Humane Society, we learned that she was essentially abandoned at that point, so we adopted her. Incidentally, the previous owner never contacted us again, though he lives less than a quarter mile from us and certainly drives by from time to time, if not daily.

She's better off here. Trust me.

Anyway, because of residual abuse issues (like I said, she's better off here) she guarded food and was generally badly or rather un-socialized as far as other animals are concerned. The food guarding gradually improved, but she started to get more and more aggressive with the other dogs. When I came home one day and saw her savaging Brian's face, that was it. She had to be indoors, full time, crated at night and while we're away from the house (to keep the cats safe) and is under constant supervision by day.

Sometimes she doesn't need us reminding her every five seconds. Those are the good times. I love having her inside all the time, but much better when she's snuggled up on the sofa with us. When she goes into endless predator stalk mode with Huntress, or gets into the cat food, or gets incredibly snuggly (as in she has to be licking your face with her forelegs on your shoulders and her body sprawled across yours) because she becomes consumed by epic levels of insecurity, confusion and general overwhelmed-ness, that's when my DH and I get really, really weary.

We can certainly separate her from all temptation. Move the cat food, keep her isolated from the cats, etc. but we want to train her, not make it so that it's not possible for her to do anything bad or bothersome ever again. And she's learning sooo fast! She's very smart. But she's bored and there's not much for her to do around here. We have to come up with stuff. For now, it's pretty much a full time job to herd our herding dog. In the meantime, she'll be stressed out some of the time because she doesn't understand all these seemingly-arbitrary rules, we'll be aggravated because it seems pretty obvious to us what we want of her, and the house will be in chaos. But chaos is okay sometimes. From chaos comes creativity, possibility, and a bunch of other -ity's. We'll discover new ways to interact with our 'difficult' dog, learn a bunch of stuff, and have the fun of having a dog around the house to play and cuddle with and to let us know when there's a horse in the orchard.

That's another story.

Monday, October 27, 2014

An Ode to Passion

Dr. Who takes Vincent to the Museum

This video has gone viral for so many reasons. For me it heals a wound I felt when, as a child, I learned about Van Gogh's art and a little about his life. I'm sure there's much more than what 'everyone knows'. Some of it can't be known because of the time period, lack of records, etc. Still, the popular portrayal of the man connects with a lot of people who struggle with rejection.

The questions–why did he paint, and what ultimately caused him to end his own life–go beyond one man's art and life. Every person exists with their own questions, whether they look at them or not. Why do we do the things we do, and what keeps us going? In some ways, it seems to me that Vincent Van Gogh had more consciousness and control, even amid the chaos that seems to have been his life, than most people who just drift. To act, to create with purpose and will, and to struggle to live every day, is the story of humanity and is linked the survival of our species. Those that fight and strive do great things. Not necessarily memorable things. Farmers that kept their families and communities alive don't have their life's work displayed in a museum. But their success, their art (and a well-managed farm is a wonder to behold) sustained the people all around them.

When you take away the struggle, when you take away the pain, that is wonderful and good and comforting to the animal part of us that needs food, shelter, water, etc. (And, apparently, a smart phone ....) But will a person who is always in such a good place ever become strong, ever create anything of their own? Maybe. When there's no struggle to survive, no necessity to run, to hunt, to invent things, to come up with new solutions to really tough problems, what becomes of us?

The Russians sent stuff and people into space first. If that hadn't happened, would the United States Space Program have achieved what it did? And when the U.S. got really far, far ahead of everyone else, what happened to the program? It gradually dwindled. In fact, it's dwindled world wide as other massive problems needed to be addressed.

And within these problems, there are people who are suffering ... and innovating, and struggling to live day to day. While big governments move the pieces around on the chess board, somewhere there's a man who is putting all his will and all his strength into keeping himself and his family alive every single day. He's lost in a sea of humanity, unknown, uncelebrated. Maybe he writes poetry in the quiet hours, expressing himself as a form of comfort or because he has no choice. It's in his blood. No one may ever find that poetry. No one else may hear his wife sing, or watch his daughter work out a better way to defend the family from invaders, or witness an innovation developed by this man and his friends. Their work could all be crushed. And maybe it may become too much to keep on going. In dark hours, exhausted, seeing no point in going on and finding it all too unbearable, because one by one family dies all around them or because they're isolated and ignored or told they're worthless, subhuman, disgusting, tainted ... sometimes they take their own lives. Perhaps it's to escape. Perhaps it's the last bit of control they'll have before others enslave or torture them or kill them at their own pleasure.

We all die. Maybe nothing we do, be it art or endless video gaming, murder or callous bullying, makes any difference to anyone. Someday, Vincent Van Gogh's paintings will crumble completely apart. All our works, all our lives, will be forgotten. So what's the point?

Vincent, and oddly the video, explains it all. Because it all goes away in the end, it matters all the more. Every day, every breath. And those that don't have to fight for it might not realize that until it's too late. Vincent didn't realize what an impact his life and work would have. He gave up everything. Even if he'd lived longer, eventually he would have died. But every moment he lived was precious to the art world, to the spiritual world, to so many of us that the number of people who adore his work can't be counted. So many people wish that he'd lived longer, produced more work. So many people who are dying right now wish for another moment, another breath, beyond all hope, one more day in which they could do something, see something remarkable, laugh one more time, hold their loved ones close, write another page in the manuscript. So many people, watching helplessly as a beloved friend or family member is taken away from the world, wish for five more minutes.

Loads of people have those moments, those days, those opportunities but don't take them because each moment doesn't feel imperative, there's no imminent threat, and they're not driven by a passion. Those with passion, under threat of loss or destruction or no, create anyway. Those with a passion for life live with an enviable exuberance. Those who love deeply and feel unworthy of that love and grace feel blessed and never-ending gratitude. Those who recognize the fragility of peace, good weather, and a safe harbor appreciate the cup of coffee early in the morning and that precious sense of being home. The video clip doesn't just heal a tiny but elemental fragment of the wound made in the world by Vincent Van Gogh's art, suffering, and suicide. It reveals the essence of life and living, art and love, struggle, achievement, and loss.

It's all bound together in a gift we're given the moment we're born. Time. What will you do with yours?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Not Quite an Edwardian Farm

It's that overwhelming time of year when farm work goes completely nuts. You'd think that with the weather changing and everything going dormant, we'd be pretty much done for the year. Time for hot chocolate and some quality writing time, right?

I wish.

Because the animals are spending more time indoors in their various barns, coops and stalls, that means more cleaning. The cooler weather means everyone is eating more, too. That means more trips to the feed store, or alternatively, setting up the barn to store extra feed in such a way that the rats can't infest and spoil it. I haven't decided which route to go, which means I have some feed in a half-assed situation that is sort of okay, and some feed that I'll have to keep running down to the feed store to re-buy every three weeks or so.

Shorter days means fewer daylight hours in which to do this stuff. It was dark at 7pm today. And when I woke at 7am, it was pretty darned dim outside. Plus, I have a long list of things I want done before spring. Remember the anti-deer fence around the vegetable garden? Didn't get finished. Now there's a new-ish plan that hopefully will be better in the long run, but there are some potential issues that have to be addressed if the plan is going to work.

I've been watching BBC's Edwardian Farm, and it's actually helped me a lot as far as trying to sort out priorities and setting things up so that they'll work more efficiently (which means less work for me in the long run.) All technology has done has taken some of the back-breaking out of the work. The work itself remains the same. And since we don't have nifty things like tractors around here (or horses, alas,) then any and all insights that might help are very welcome.

The farm on the show is both simplified and more complicated, probably to make for more interesting viewing and to make sure that a lot of history gets some stage time that it otherwise might not. After all, in the end, the show is an educational venture first and foremost. It's been doing a splendid job, and I'm learning a lot from watching. Small details jump out at me, like the depth of turned earth when they're plowing to suit various crops, and how their schedules adapt to the seasons. They take advantage of every single moment of every day. That inspires me to attempt to do the same, or at least look at how I budget my time.

For a while I used to get up early so that I could work out and have some quiet time in which to write. Now I'm thinking about getting up early to try to get some of those farm chores that just aren't getting done often enough (like cleaning and repairs) as a form of exercise and using the remaining time before work to write. Gone are the days when I could do some chores after work. Even when I work 'early' there's too little daylight left by the time I get home to do anything except maybe race around and make sure the animals are all okay.

This all means that even when I retire, I'll still have more work than I know what to do with. Typical farm life. I love it, but there are times when I think about how lovely it would be to sleep in or have a day off. But I would miss my animals, and I can't think of anything else I'd rather be doing. Good work, no regrets.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Genius Thief

I got to babysit a shoplifter. Apparently, he was a bad-ass and had done prison time (he'd recently turned 18) though he repeatedly asked if he could call his mother, and was quite concerned about whether or not he would be put under arrest.

The thing is, he was already under arrest. This was difficult for him to understand, though it was explained to him several times.

There were a lot of things he found difficult to understand.

For example, he didn't think he was a thief. When our loss prevention guy pointed out that he'd stolen stuff, and that, by definition, makes him a thief, he tried to wheedle around it saying that he's not only a thief. I didn't want to ruffle his little baby feathers, but it did sort of beg the question as far as what else he might be. Fashion model? I think not.

When asked why he stole, he replied that he wanted to go fishing. Okay, then.

When asked if he had money to pay for stuff, he said he had a dollar. (He took about twenty dollars worth of stuff.) He said he intended to pay for one of the items. It was worth more than a dollar. Hmm. He wanted to know if he could just pay for the stuff and leave. No, he couldn't, but out of curiosity, how would he pay for it? He would ask his friend for money. Did his friend have money, he was asked? He hung his head and mumbled no, his friend didn't have money either.

I realized then that I was in the presence of a mastermind criminal.

When asked what he did prison time for, he said that someone's uncle was on the property being scary and that he'd threatened him with a gun to get him to leave. When asked what kind of gun, he paused for a very long time, and finally came up with an airsoft gun. I guess it's possible that this may have actually happened. He was seventeen at the time and said he did three months. And he wasn't afraid of jail, he said, just prison.

He did look like a very, very sad kitty when the officer arrived and put him in cuffs.

So there you have it. A typical criminal, who now has an arrest and citation on his record, should he ever seek employment beyond fishing, which seems unlikely but hey, he may want some sort of job someday. Eventually. Maybe.

I felt a little bad for him, but you know, it's all about choices. Children take things that don't belong to them because they aren't socialized, and when they can't have what they want right now they kick and scream and put up a fuss or sneak it later. Adults recognize things like ownership, community, responsibility ... and these things are awesome, wonderful things. To a thief they're things that get in the way of immediate gratification, and are stupid. But an adult sees that:

With ownership, I can keep and take care of things. With no agreement of ownership, anyone can take anything and there's no point in taking care of stuff, having nice things, or even assurance of some safety within the home. In fact, the concept of home is fragile and one of the things that thieves destroy is a sense of personal space and haven. Thieves are, of course, outraged and upset when people break into their homes and take their stuff ....

Community: awesome. People looking out for each other, watching each others' backs, helping uphold rules that make things like homes and ownership work. Having a community is core to being able to have celebrations, conducting business, and finding help with jobs that are too big or complicated to do by ourselves. Thief boy doesn't get that his mode of providing for himself relies on the existence of a community. Without it, he wouldn't have a store to steal from. He can disdain law-abiding citizens all he wants, but without them he would be taking his life into his own hands to go onto private property in a non-community, isolated area where the resident is accustomed to protecting his own property by him or herself and takes care of their own business.

Responsibility. It sounds like a drag until you realize it has two sides: the stuff you need to do, and the fact that you can do it – you are able to respond. Responsibility sounds initially like slavery, but it is in fact freedom. Responsible people have options, capability, and by accepting the requirements of society, grow to become more and more able through practice of taking responsibility. By being a responsible mother, I become a better parent. By being a responsible animal owner, I can't help but become a better livestock owner and cat lover. When you take action to fulfill your to-do list, through action and practice you become better at things like your job, and fishing, and keeping house, and managing money. If you practice. If you work at it. If you learn and grow and change and adapt. These aren't easy things to do, btw. It's easier just to grab and demand and whine and spend most of your time sleeping both literally and figuratively, like a child. Thankfully, most children instinctively learn and adapt and change. But some get stuck at one stage or another and feel that they have all the resources and knowledge required to get by. I find it odd that so many of them get stuck at a stage when they have almost no resources or knowledge that can help them provide for themselves.

Thieves tend to consider themselves smarter than us idiots who pay for stuff that's so easy to take. I doubt he ever thought through the idea that if everyone stole, there would be no place to steal from because there would be no point in having things like stores and possessions and ... anyway.

So I gazed in wonder upon the genius before me, and thanked the stars that I am a fool.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Fan Robber

Sometimes it saves my sanity to look at it all as good blogging material when customers do things that might make me crazy if I thought about it too much.

So this guy comes in wielding a fan. Not carrying, not holding. He looks like he's ready to use this fan as a weapon. He wants to get a new fan, because apparently the fan he's wielding doesn't work. (I feel safer already.) Do we have any fans?

I have a few fans, but not the kind that redistribute air. I say, no, we have no fans. I resist mentioning that we've had no fans for a month because it appears that he bought this fan when we actually had them, and therefore, he hasn't actually done this to himself. He has no receipt, no box, just the fan. We look it up. We can give him $6.99 for it, since he has no receipt. He claims he paid $12.99. I'm not unsympathetic, but he has no proof of that, so .... $6.99, is all we can offer. Sorry.

But that's not acceptable for him. He wants a fan. Again, not unsympathetic here, but we have no fans. At all. There may not be any fans in our quadrant of the universe. I don't suggest this, but it occurs to me that he should take the $6.99 and see what he can get on Amazon. Which won't help him today, but hey, at least he'll have a fan. Besides, big box arriving in the mail – who doesn't like that?

He sees a fan sitting on top of the counter. What about that fan? he asks. Sorry, we can't trade for that fan. That fan is for store use. 

Well, you owe me a fan. Technically, yes, but that fan belongs to someone. We can't just give you someone else's fan. I'm afraid all we can offer you is a refund.

This is where he crosses into jerk territory. I don't care. I want that fan. We can't give that fan to you, my boss explains again. Someone else paid for it. It isn't our fan to give you. 

He sees another fan. What about that fan?

I can imagine S.'s expression if we gave this guy her fan. Sorry, but we can't give you that fan either. That belongs to someone. It's bought and paid for.

What about that fan?

Now everyone is losing their patience. Sir, that fan is also owned by an employee, who bought and paid for it with their own money, just like all the other fans you see at the registers. We can't give you that fan. There are no fans available in this store at all. All we can offer you, without a receipt, is $6.99. 

He stormed out with his fan. I felt badly for him, and yet ... was he really suggesting that we just take K.'s or S.'s or A.'s fan? I suppose we could reimburse them, but then they'd have no fan, and as I mentioned earlier, there are no fans to be had anywhere nearby. I know he wants a fan very badly, and the store does owe him a fan, but that doesn't justify stealing someone else's fan, though he probably didn't see it that way. After all, we owe him a fan.

If I was a mean person, I might have taken a sheet of paper and folded him a fan (for free!) but I let him go with his weapon fan and sincerely hoped he found a better solution than demanding other people's property. Maybe he didn't truly understand. Or maybe he didn't distinguish between the store and the employees, who work together but are in fact separate things with separate budgets and separate forms of existence.*

Or maybe, he just didn't care.

* I've even heard that employees have families and get to go home and stuff, and that they can take their personal possessions, like purses and shoes and even fans, home with them if they want. Crazy, I know!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Thinking Ahead More Than Two Seconds

Okay, people. You've made me cranky again. Not you, my devoted readers, but those other people who drive me crazy sometimes, despite my best efforts to be kind, understanding, compassionate, etc.

I was at the Warehouse Store Which Shall Not Be Invoked (okay, maybe I will. It's Costco) putting my stuff into the trunk of my car, minding my own business. The folks in the neighboring car seemed unable to mind theirs, however. I put stuff from the cart into reusable bags, since they didn't give me a box. Didn't even offer, but that's okay. The last thing I need is one more box to burn. He noticed that I loaded slippers, and said, "Slippers. It's ninety degree weather."


Can some people not think ahead for more than two seconds? Seriously. It's September. Guess what? In two months it's going to get cold, if it even takes that long. Three months and we're starting to get uncomfortably chilly. Four months and it's going to be sixty-mile-an-hour gusts, snow and ice, wind chill down below zero F and guess what? You will not find a single slipper at Costco then.

I see this at my store all the time. The intelligent people see fans in March and go oh, hmm. Is my fan still working? And they go home and dig it out and test it and lo and behold! It doesn't work. And they deal with it the following week by picking up a new fan. Meanwhile, the grasshopper people go, hey, look at the idiots buying fans in March. It's cold out there! And the first hot day in July they run to the store, looking for a fan, and complain about the lack of selection. Or worse, they show up on the first 100+F degree day, looking for a fan, and there are none to be found. What about swimming pools? Sold out. Swimming pool toys? Got some divers and squirt guns, nothing else. Goggles? Gone. Flip flops? Do you wear size 4?

They are so used to getting exactly what they want exactly when they want, they have no idea what to do with places like Costco and my store where there isn't room to store the entire universe, and even if there was, the warehouses and distributors don't have the room to have it either. Yes, they keep pushing the seasons earlier and earlier. It's supply and demand. Manufacturers produce only so much stuff. Buyers buy them as soon as manufacturers offer them for sale, before they're sold out. They don't want to hold them in their warehouses because that costs money, so they ship it out and buy the next thing available. This will never change.

This will never change.

Those who wait, be it the customer, the store, or the distributor, will not get what they need. They might get the dregs if they're lucky.

Our ancestors grew up with this concept thoroughly ingrained. InGRAINed. If they didn't store grain over the winter, they starved. They couldn't go pick it up at the store. If they needed a coat for winter, they made it during the summer because they couldn't buy it in winter. They had to make it.

Even the super-huge massive stores like Walmart often don't carry everything year-round. Sometimes, due to the manufacturing and distribution schedules, it simply isn't available. And even if it is available, who is to say that you could battle your way through the ice and snow to get to it? I wonder how many awful wrecks would be avoided if people didn't rush to the stores after the snow has already started to fall to buy necessities that they could have stocked up on in, you know, October.

Or September.

So, ignoramuses of the universe, take heed. If you have slippers, fine, don't buy them in September (which to me doesn't seem unreasonably early anyway.) But don't come crying to me if you can't get nice ones for a decent price in January. At the very least, don't make fun of me for buying mine early, when I see really nice ones for a very, very nice price.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014


We built a new shed for our baby boy goaties! The days are growing shorter, which means young goat hearts are turning to thoughts of love. The baby girls are much to young to be mommies, so we had to separate our buckling, Thurston, from the others. Goats don't do well alone, so Gilligan, the wether we got at the same time as Thurston, will be keeping him company. And although goats are very hardy, they still need things like shelter, a source of fresh water, a small daily ration of grain, salts, baking soda, hoof trimming, stable spray when the flies get too bad, lice control, and daily health checks.

All the goats share a fence line, so they can still see each other and graze close together provided both groups are willing. In January we'll be able to put them all together again. In the meantime, every few hours or so, Gilligan and Thurston realize they're 'alone' and bawl. That usually gets the girls bawling back at them. I've had some short nights as a result.

There's one huge bonus to isolating two goats in the lower pasture. Thurston and Gilligan have been spending most of their time eating blackberries. They've really done a good job getting the brush down in a very short time. That whole section was starting to overgrow, and now it's reasonable again. I can foresee a day when the lower pasture is all grass like the upper pasture, and another large patch of this invasive weed will be eradicated. Yay!

In other news, we have at least three feral kittens living in and near the barn, and we're officially on chick watch, as it's getting close to time for some eggs to hatch. We just got a good tip about feed from our neighbors which will help our hatch-through considerably. Sadly, it may be too late for this group, but we're keeping our fingers crossed.

Stay tuned: we're going to try to trap the kittens so that they can be taken to the vet for shots, spaying/neutering, and a general health check. This is the plan, but they're sly little cuties and we may not be able to catch them. Wish us, and the kittens, luck.

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.

Saturday, April 19, 2014


Why are so many characters in fiction attractive? You only have to look at the word attractive and you'll know.

Writers write about attractive characters because they attract. They attract readers, and they attract the authors themselves. Authors don't generally have an immunity to beautiful people (although some will sneer and believe that beautiful people have easy success or that a beautiful person is always vain, etc.) While conceiving a character concept, especially when generating a love interest, they'll reach for that low-hanging fruit. Although not everyone finds the same things sexy, there are characteristics that most people reliably find attractive. Muscular characters suggest strength and stamina. Long hair has been a symbol of virility and an object of envy since ancient times. Strong chins, clear eyes, perfect skin, physical symmetry, upright posture, smoothness that suggests a healthy layer of fat without hiding too much of that coveted symbol of power, muscle ... these are symbols of perfect health and suggest genetic fitness.

But a character doesn't have to be beautiful to be attractive.

Chicks dig scars because scars imply strength and good survival traits. They also lend a sense of danger or imply that the person engages in risky behavior, which suggests a wild and uninhibited nature. Such a person might not necessarily be ideal for a stabile home life, but they could be passionate lovers, intimidating protector figures, and they might be wiser and more fit than someone who has never tested their limits to the point of failure.

Certain expressions of intelligence are very attractive. Knowledge of other languages or cultures suggests worldliness and self-reliance. Engineering skills can represent good planning, measuring, estimation, and thoughtfulness, all good things in a mate. Many skilled crafts are extremely attractive, and quite a few of the cliche lover-trades (blacksmith, for example) combine strength with a sensitive eye and long practice. Extended practice at anything difficult requires loyalty and devotion, which might be bestowed upon a lover. Even if it isn't, the suggestion is that there will be a level of care and attention to detail that might extend into sex and maintenance of a relationship.

Above-average height and weight can be powerful symbols of strength, intimidation power and success while simultaneously suggesting an appealing softness and heat. Weight has lost some of its glamour as the poorest members of society have gone from skeletally unhealthy to sugar drink (my mom calls pop hummingbird food for a reason) and factory processed food health problems. But a careful writer can still appropriate the traces of remaining admiration for certain kinds of fatness if they tap the source and head-off the negative stereotypes associated with fatness such as lack of hygiene, low intelligence, slowness, laziness, and lack of discipline. How? As writers always have, by showing the character engaging life with intelligence, nimbleness, discipline, etc. and describing them in appeal terms in regard to their physical traits including scent and strength.

I can go on, but by now hopefully it has become clear that in order to make a character attractive, you don't have to make them into some sort of supermodel cardboard cutout. In fact, some of the most attractive traits in a human being are their ability to provide and care for others. Students of writing know this and utilize this by revealing charitable, courageous, self-sacrificing or other kinds of behavior to show how good a character is. We care about people who care about others and who contribute to society rather than leech off of it.

Besides, fashions come and go, markers of health change from lean to fat to skeletal to huge, or muscle-bound to super-flexible, but the core traits that make humans appealing, like the capability to think, protect, act with decisiveness, care about others, and to weather adversity mentally, emotionally and physically, haven't changed and probably never will.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Fitness and Fiction

I think there are a couple of destructive attitudes that exist out there about fitness that get in the way not only of realism but also are missed opportunities for character depth and development.

Attitude One: It's good genes, is all.
Um, no.
A very good friend of mine a very, very long time ago gave my DH a dirty look when he mentioned something about physical fitness and said, to paraphrase, "Well it's easy for you. You've got good genes."
It's never easy, even with good genes. As the years have gone by, my DH and I have to work harder (and eat less) to stay in reasonable shape. And we are not in particularly good shape. I try to look at my workouts as tricks I'm training my body to do, rather than view it as a routine, because routines are boring and never, ever end. For example, the latest trick I'm trying to teach my body is to be able to push up with my hands under my shoulders, flat-backed, from a position where I'm flat against the floor. There's not much leverage from that position. I can do it once if I arch my back a little initially, but that's cheating. After my morning attempt (failure) I usually do some plank exercises in hopes that the next morning, I'll be able to do a real one. And after I've done a real one, I'd like to do, say, five, and then I'll make up some other weird goal for my upper body. For abs, I'm working on a full body belly roll. And for my dex/aerobics, I'm learning how to jump rope again. I used to be pretty good ... when I was eight years old. Now, not so much.
Anyway, even those of us with decent genes can't slack off, so neither can our fictional characters. And many of them don't have gyms to go to, or even a culture that embraces exercise. So either they're going to be engaging in some sort of physical labor, or walking or horseback riding everywhere, or doing some other sort of practical training where there's an obvious pay off.* It's not going to be auto-magic. And by practical, I mean life-saving training where the goal may not necessarily be to look buff, but to stay alive. As the beautiful quote in Zombieland goes, "The first rule of Zombieland is cardio."

Attitude Two: Well, fictional characters have all their off screen time to get into shape and stay in shape, or they can do it with a montage.
Yes, but if it's a daily thing, and there's a lot of variety or a ritualistic quality to it, there's opportunity to show what your characters are made of. Some of them may be the equivalent of gym bunnies and work on their bodies all day, while others could do a short stint of intense exercise and then they're done for the day. Either way, it doesn't have to be some automatic thing to blow off. They should work hard, and be punished or rewarded accordingly. (Don't forget your overuse injuries!) By the way, new research shows that ten minutes of intense exercise a day has the same benefits as hanging out on the treadmill for hours reading a magazine. Sweet! But it has to be intense. So give them an excuse to do something intense every day, or make it part of their training routine, and create some consequences and characteristics that carry over to your story, and see what happens. Three letters. MIB. His fitness and spirit carries through the whole first movie. It's a beautiful thing.

Failing that, consider giving a character an average or even overweight body. Why not? They can still be attractive. In The Ladies' Number One Detective Agency, the main character is 'of tradition build' and is very desirable. We can celebrate health in all different sizes, a full range of capabilities and disabilities in our characters, and have it make sense. Which reminds me, remember, a lot of folks in wheelchairs are athletes too. It's not all about the chair. It's about the person in the chair.

There's a huge variety of awesome humanity out there. If the Phantom of the Opera can be seductive, than anyone can be.

I guess what I'm suggesting, ultimately, is that realism doesn't have to be a drag, any more than real exercise has to be a drag. I love my exercise time (when I get around to it. Ahem.) That's me time. And for those that don't ... you don't have to be Arnold or Demi to be sexy, healthy, happy and effective. Neither do your fictional characters. Give the reality a chance on the page and see what happens, just for fun. There are zillions of sexy long-haired whatevers out there in fiction who get their sleek, fit bodies for free. Dare to be different. Dare to be closer to life, and see what truths you reveal in your story that might not have turned up if you hadn't thought about physicality beyond a description of height and eye color.

And that super-fit guy with the lightning reflexes? There are few things that will gut him faster than not being strong enough to succeed when he's the strongest thing around. Then we'll get to see his real strength, and that's powerful stuff to see on the page, and in real life.

*One of the most painfully laughable scenes I've ever seen on exercise was in Cave Dwellers where the characters had rigged up a weight machine with rough rope, pulleys and rocks. WTF? He's a sword-slinger! You don't think his arms would be strong enough just from that? And he can't afford to be muscle bound. Oh for pity's sake ... but at least they were trying to explain why he looked like a body builder, I guess. Still. Oh. My. Gawd. That was so silly. Conan the Barbarian? Way better. Just saying. Although, it would have made more sense if that wheel wasn't in the middle of nowhere. It would have made more sense if it was in the middle of town or at least near a town and they were grinding wheat or something. Still, better than rock weights. A lot, lot better.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Learning From the Worst

I took my first creative writing college course in 1986. I had a really bad teacher. He could be described by many of the clichés as far as bad instructors* go, and yet I learned a lot from him. Some of the lessons he taught were unintentional, but much of his good advice had a solid foundation and he had some idea of what he was talking about.

So, even if you happen to end up in a really cruddy class or you pick up a book on writing and it's, let's say, almost completely wrong, you can still get a lot out of it, and not just the right parts.

For example, that really cruddy teacher? He told me that my writing was outstanding (yay!) and he suggested that I not waste my time in 'genre fiction.'

Though I was a rather impressionable young thing at the time, I silently disagreed. I also didn't argue with him. I did, however, learn that I had talent from someone who disdained my subject matter. Normally writers can't hear praise and focus on the negative, but in this situation I didn't hear the message that my story was crap because it was fantasy. Instead I heard the message that he loved my writing even though he didn't like the story. That was a very valuable lesson, though I didn't realize its importance at the time. I also learned that no matter what anyone said, I would write fantasy. I might have suspected that about myself, but I didn't know until this instructor applied pressure.

I try not to say bad things about books, so I won't name names, but I'm reading a book about writing technique that had a lot of muddy and poorly-illustrated examples to support flimsy points that weren't helping me learn more about writing. I persisted and now I'm in chapters of that same book that are fantastic and will hopefully improve my writing game.

This book inspired this post because the author admitted that he gave very bad advice in previous books and during creative writing courses he taught for various universities. (No, he wasn't my instructor, although that would have been fun if he had been!) I'm learning a lot from him, despite the fact that he's flawed, is occasionally unclear, and has admitted that he (potentially) led impressionable young writers astray. And that's important to realize and accept when we learn anything from anyone. Not everything someone teaches will work for us. And some of the instruction will be absolutely wrong for everyone, including the person doing the teaching. That person, like my first college creative writing instructor, might be working on an insipid, self-absorbed piece of so-called literature aimed at a small section of society he feels nothing but contempt for (this really happened, and as far as I know that thing was never published, thank goodness) but he may be the right person at the right time to talk about the use and abuse of adjectives and adverbs in writing, or active voice, or economy of language, or any of the gizillion things that need to be in a writer's brain working in the background while we take a roller coaster ride on the chemicals zipping between synapses in our brains.

You can learn just about anything from any instructor. Even the worst ones. It may not be the lesson they're intending to teach, but you'll learn just the same. And, there's always the chance that what you think is wrong and awful is actually right and good. You might not know enough yet to tell the difference. So it's important not to rely on one source for learning. More importantly, it's a good idea to look beyond the instructor and focus on the material itself. After all, it's not the teacher who is the focus of your work. Your work is the focus of your work, and the teacher is there to help you decide how to accomplish it, either by way of good example, or sometimes, by bad example.

*The bad college creative writing instructor cliché is as follows: has never published except perhaps a thesis or academic paper, worships 'literature' and disdains all other forms of prose, is ostentatiously well-read and reads all the correct literary magazines (preferably ones you haven't heard of with very small distributions,) helps edit or is senior editor of the university's own literary magazine that no one reads except the contributors, has a small stack of form rejection slips from the New Yorker that collect dust because the writing goes very slowly, and is very sure of self despite limited or zero credentials. Optional: has a substance abuse problem, is involved in an adulterous relationship or a relationship with a student, believes s/he is disliked because s/he is too intelligent to be understood by the common person, and consciously or subconsciously dislikes the characters about which s/he writes (which leads to a rather unpleasant form of writing where the author tortures or destroys that unlikeable character for no apparent purpose).

Tuesday, April 08, 2014


Another amazingly gorgeous sunny day in the Pacific NW.
I will, of course, be at my day job. I have to laugh. Well, I'll have a walk during my lunch, and sometimes I have to do stuff outside, so it won't be a total wash.

About leadership as depicted in fiction and film:

Rewatching The Hobbit always does this to me. Why are revered leaders sitting on their asses on thrones? Good, evil, doesn't matter. What exactly made their flat butts worthy of sitting in such an exalted place?

Let's ask this another way. What do good leaders do?

I have a good leader at work. If it weren't for his snappy dialogue, the look in his eyes, and the big red vest, you wouldn't necessarily peg him for the leader if you came into the store in the middle of the day. He stocks shelves and helps customers same as the rest of us. A customer interrupted him as he was answering yet another call (probably from someone needing leadership advice–he fields such calls all day–or from his boss) and he stopped and helped them. Didn't just tell them what aisle something was on. Led them to the product, asked them if he could summon additional help for them as he was on his way to answering a call. Excellent customer service, just like he drills into our heads every day. Leading by example. Working by our sides. Relentless in his mission to make us the best store in the system, and demands more of himself than his employees. This, from someone who will retire in less than two years.

Contrast that to the great orc chieftain, sitting on his ass, barking out orders. Even his ride sits on its ass when the killing of a subordinate is required. I wasn't filled with a sense of dread. I thought, this dude makes his lackeys do all the dirty work, and criticizes them when they get it wrong without any investigation whatsoever. He's got nothing. He's not a badass, he's the kind of bad manager/war cow-er-leader who gets his people killed. Why are they even following him?

The goblin king was even worse. He was comical, pathetic, lazy, self-aggrandizing ... he must have oversnacked and overslept his way to the throne somehow, because he sure didn't get there through leadership or even prowess. He fell over without a fight when he faced his enemies. I couldn't wait to get through that scene because watching that bad guy made me groan in sympathetic embarrassment for whoever designed and executed that scene. If his people had been insubordinate, if there was danger to him and he was barely holding on through bravado, I would have bought it. But no, his minions cheered on their weak, useless leader without sneers or sarcasm, and without backstabbing attempts to take advantage of enemies in their midst to finally get rid of the idiot.

Watch Band of Brothers if you want to see creative non-fiction depict a real leader. Major Dick Winters was so famously good at being a leader that despite his long years of quiet retirement and his death early in 2011, he still inspires the people he led.

One thing  The Desolation of Smaug got very right is the sense of decay, frustration, and misery that comes with bad leadership. (Can't wait to watch that part again!) The kingdom of the wood elves still has splendor–there are those that still care, and passionately–but many are self-medicating, there's the ever-present threat of insubordination, and the leader, terrified of what he sees coming, is barely holding it together. He clings to his throne because it's the only thing he has left. Without that symbol, he's got nothing to keep his people together with anymore. That's drama. That's awesome. I'll watch that all day. That's real leadership, not at its best, but compelling and real and I even sympathized with the king who is slowly, painfully losing everything he holds dear and doesn't know how to save it. And, perhaps not surprisingly if you think about it, I feared the King of the Wood Elves because I could tell how desperate he is.

How much more powerful and dangerous would the orc leader seem if he led by example, praised his troops when they did well, rewarded success, gave them working strategies and tactics to succeed when they failed to succeed on their own, and swore to avenge them when they died? He could still kill his own people, but not for failing him, no, for failing their own brethren and getting them killed through bad strategy, cowardice, etc. What makes evil leaders evil is not their thoughtless savagery. Thoughtless savages don't become leaders. Thoughtless savages need leaders to accomplish anything of any real scope beyond serial killings. Evil leaders can ramp up a sense of rabid devotion like no one else, because they can reward with things that good people would rather die than allow to exist. And evil leaders don't have to feel bad when they employ scapegoats, tap into addictive tendencies, publicly give rewards to undeserving scum to give the star players a little more motivation to prove their worthiness, betray a good soldier to establish a better one for the good of the organization, throw weak and underperforming minions under the bus, etc.

Perhaps the most painful moment in The Hobbit though, from a leadership point of view, was the telling of Thorin's history with orcs. Seriously. Stand on the edge of a cliff and brood while someone sings your praises and tells of your sorrows? Gawd, every real leader I know would be shaking their head and either insisting that it's ancient history and we've got real problems to deal with now, or they'd walk away in embarrassment. They'd protest, don't build me up to the newbie, please. Or, that's not how it happened (because from their pov they were scared spitless and not heroic at all at the battle that cost just about everyone they know their lives. Can we say survivor's guilt? Can we say, thinking over and over about what he could have done instead so that just about everyone didn't have to die that day?)

So, please, writers, get your fictional leaders off their butts and into the action. Even the bad guys. Maybe especially them, so that they don't just fall over at the climax of your big confrontation scene. Thanks!

Monday, April 07, 2014

Sexy Tears

After four rainy days off, I go back to my day job ... on a spectacular sunny day. I think my work schedule is more accurate than the weather man as far as predicting sun and rain.

On to today's topic.

I rewatched Star Trek: Into Darkness, and I have some observations that I hope will be useful. Forgive my wee preamble, please: I actually like this movie a lot, and I'm sure I'll watch it many times. I don't want anyone getting the idea that I thought it was painfully bad and in dire need of shredding.

Uniformity of reaction:
One of the tougher things to do as a writer is to characterize. I mean seriously characterize, as in define and express character. To use a great example of characterization, every one of the Avengers has their own way about that. Part of that is great acting, but acting is restricted by dialogue, the situation, and correction–which means that some of the fault falls onto the shoulders of the writers and director. Into Darkness had characterization problems.
Writers are people (I know, I know, that's just crazy talk but let me finish) and have their own personal reactions to situations. They have verbal tics, like saying "this rocks!" when they like something (or "awesome" or whatever) and they may cry readily ... or stifle sobs rather than go into full cry mode whenever possible. Their own responses are what they know at gut level. The difficulty is to then write characters who react in imagined ways to imagined situations who are not only different from oneself, but different from each other, but still fall into what the writers and director classify as worthy of admiration. In Star Trek: Into Darkness, there's a monotone. Just about every major cast member sheds a sexy tear, including Khan. Khan? Really? Khan the Ice Rage Machine? This very specific, fairly rare, delicate emotion becomes so repetitive that it could be turned into a drinking game.
Characters need to react to emotional situations differently from each other, especially in film where it's all visual and the internal stuff is harder to define and differentiate between characters. In writing, the difference between characters should be crystal clear. Which means, if a writer wants to have any range to her or his cast of sympathetic, admirable characters, that writer has to imagine, before a word is written, how a hothead can express grief and passion in an admirable way, how a genius creative can express grief and passion in a different way, how a cunning, savage mastermind can express grief and passion ... you get the idea. And that's true for every emotion characters express.

The homage:
I was on board with the re-envisioning of the original Spock/Kirk death scene from Wrath of Khan, right up until Spock cried out Khan's name. The original Kirk, yes. New Spock, no. Spock could have gone animal (and I loved how the actor went into enraged gorilla mode on Khan's ass in the following fight scene) right there, total predator. He could have lost it in any number of ways. But the Kirk echo didn't work for me. Wrong character. Not the way Spock would have expressed rage ... with a word. Howl? Maybe. Or total silence, or a growl .... lots of choices. None of them taken. I'm not sure why. Because they went a different route with the New Kirk. I'm scared? Gorgeous. Beautiful. Human. Very unlike the composed and calm Old Spock in the same situation. So why not give New Spock the same option–to be Vulcan-ish, but in the way we don't see Vulcans very often because it's so rare for that primitive side of them to escape? And what is a primitive Vulcan? I propose it's the mindless gorilla with the looping fist strikes that will smash an enemy to unrecognizable pulp before it gets its mind back, and that sort of critter doesn't have words. Yes, yes, Spock is half-human, but that's not what makes him different from Kirk and the other characters. It's his Vulcan nature, a nature so volatile that as-a-race they have tied themselves up and caged themselves because they fear it so much. So, writers and directors of Star Trek–show us why they're scared of it. Maybe there's something even scarier, something truly alien in there that Spock would have revealed. Lost opportunity.

The take-away:
Working out who characters are is something writers like me, who don't outline, discover as we go along (and then sometimes we have to go back and make changes, which is annoying! but necessary.) During the formative period, characters may sound and act the same. Usually they sound and act like whatever idealized heroes we have in our heads. If the writer has been at the game a long time, they may have their go-to archetypes and have some variety in the beginning. Some writers rely on what they've seen and read, so they'll have a cast that strongly resembles, say, the Avengers, or the Fellowship, or Griffindors .... I think that's better than having characters that are all Dirty Harry, but still. Characters are the heart of great stories, and some attention ought to be paid to the important details. Those details aren't in hair and eye color, or shallow details like whether they're a clothes horse or like curry (unless they take it to radical extremes–then it becomes really important!) The details are in the devils, and angels, inside of them. Every scene that evokes powerful emotions in characters is an opportunity to express the uniqueness and beauty of living creatures when they're at their best, or their worst. I hope more writers take advantage of those opportunities, because I want to see what happens when they do.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Weight and Self-Image, Part 2

There's a lot of fantastic stuff in the comments in the last post. I'd like to continue thinking out loud in an actual post rather than writing vast blocks of text in the comments. I tried to be succinct, but I got carried away, so, here we go.

During a writing course, one of the things the instructors hammered home is the idea that most writers can't hear positive things about their work. Even when they do hear it, they often dismiss praise. I was taught in the class to write any praise I receive down and study that part of my writing *more* than the negative. The aim is to reproduce success rather than try to eliminate failure.

I try to extend this to the rest of my life, too. I try to hear praise like Rory gives, and see myself how he sees me. That way I keep fighting to 'stay in shape' or to work on physical goals that have some other payoff than a number, like to be able to run a certain distance, achieve balance in a yoga position or be able to stand on my hands. I think that's healthier than 'get in shape,' which doesn't work from a premise that I'm okay where I'm at too. I also try to avoid aiming for a certain number of pounds (up or down, thank you Regolith for reminding me that some people think they're too thin), or to 'look good in a bikini' – I have to repeat over and over that Rory likes the way I look in a bikini right now, rather than listen to the self-revulsion of the thought of myself in a bikini (or LBD, or whatever.) And if he didn't like the way I looked in a bikini, why in the world would I strive to try to look good in one? As if that would make him love me more ....

I'm sure he'd be pleased if I had the flexibility of a gymnast and less excess in certain areas, but he's not unhappy with where I'm at right this second, either. I don't have to do a damned thing if I don't want to, and that places the things I do in the arena of my choice for my own purposes, rather than trying to satisfy some idea of what I think he might want me to look like instead of the way I look right now. My DH has the power to make me feel overweight, underweight, ugly, old ... and he has more power in my mind than society. He's not just my friend and lover and husband, but an ally in my mind when I battle self-image monsters.

If I remember to listen to his loving words, hear them, and believe them.

If he wasn't an ally, well, why would I listen to him? But that's a whole 'nother post about relationships.

It's still there, of course, the self-talk that emphasizes the negative. And it's tricky. Working from this paradigm seems to say, be happy with yourself the way you are, The End, and that's not a concept anyone will buy, for sensible reasons. We don't want to lose our drive to constantly learn, improve, to grow. If we're satisfied with the way everything is, from the state of the housekeeping to the mechanical soundness of our vehicles, what's going to motivate us to get off the couch?

But that's not what being happy with yourself actually does. Time moves on. We can be happy with the mechanical soundness of a vehicle, but it's going to need an oil change in X number of miles, and tires need to be rotated or replaced entirely, and inevitably there will be a crack in the windshield bad enough that a new windshield will be required, etc. I can love my car as it is, but I still need to take care of it.

I love my car, therefore I take care of it. If I'm okay (see, I can't even say if I love myself–ugh) with myself, that doesn't mean I stop doing all the things I always do. Nor does it mean I'll lose all motivation to try new things, or to get better. I will paint that old pick up truck, not because I don't love it the way it is (and I really do! Scratches and all!) but because I do love it. I want to play with it. I want to express my love for my truck by turning it into an art project, and of course I want to maintain it too so that it runs as long as possible. Would I fuss with the truck if I didn't love it? Of course not. I would let it languish or ignore it.

So if I didn't love myself, would I be motivated to take good care of myself? Would I only take care of myself because I'm supposed to, or because there's a tiny hope that if I take care of myself maybe in some distant future I'll be lovable? That's working from a place of pain and despair. That's less motivation, not more. And some people, because they don't love themselves, let themselves die or even speed their deaths.

Self-love also seems to mean vanity, arrogance, hubris, and other nasty things that we can safely agree are bad. I love Steve Barnes' approach, though I have to say this is my read on it and may not be his actual words or thoughts. We've known each other a few years, so what he's written and taught are tangled up with my own thoughts. Anyway, one of the lessons I've learned from Steve on this subject strips away all the bullshit, negative, backward-thinking societally-reinforced garbage we allow to rot in our minds.

Most people want to nurture children, love their friends, etc. If you saw yourself as a child, would you want to protect that child? If your friend was in pain, would you want to comfort your friend? If your favorite cousin needed help to survive, would you give it? So, assuming you say yes to these things, and assuming you consider this a positive aspect of yourself, can you see your self as your own child, your own friend, your own favorite cousin who you love? Sometimes I picture myself as a little girl and give her a big hug and tell her I haven't forgotten her, and that I love her. That's easier for me and reaches deeper than looking in the mirror. In the mirror, the whole world seems to see my flaws along with me through my own eyes. But when I picture my child self, the little blond, fragile, creative, loving, sensitive, horse-adoring, kitten-nurturing non-stop reader who loved playing by the water and building miniature architectural wonders with child-made ponds and rivers, I adore her with all my being and if the world wanted to hurt her I would destroy the world to save her.

Is it a trick of the mind? I don't think so. Looking back, there are things that hurt so bad and I wish I could go back and tell her that she's loved. So I do. I go back and hold her and tell her it's all right, I'm there for her. I'm her friend and ally, her mother and sister, her dragon if need be to fight her monsters and turn them into bits of charcoal. I don't want her to be so sheltered that she never grows up and never becomes strong, but by the blessed world she deserves to know she's loved and that she's not alone!

It's harder, maybe too hard, to extend these feelings to my grown self. I don't know if there's value in trying, when there's so much power in embracing the child within and honoring her. It's hard to see myself as Rory sees me, but I don't know if there's value in that either, when there's so much strength and joy in not just hearing the words, but accepting his love.

So that's where I'm at. By hearing and accepting praise, we let ourselves be loved, and can love ourselves. If we love ourselves, we're more likely to take care of ourselves, nurture ourselves, and grow. We can't always be stronger, or wiser, or more beautiful. Disease, age, genetics and all kinds of other stuff stand in the way. But the only thing that stands in the way of accepting love, loving ourselves and taking the best care of ourselves that we can is ourselves. I see nothing to be gained with self-loathing, and everything to be gained by being a friend to myself and help myself achieve my goals.

Maybe someday it'll be easier to do that. Even now, after all I've written and knowing it's true, it's hard to accept that liking myself isn't narcissistic horror. And maybe that's a check-and-balance within ourselves, to keep from become self-centered monsters that don't give a crud about anyone or anything else. But negativity and self-doubt should be just that, a thing to help keep balance, not the only thing in our minds. Ever.