I am blessed to live in an area, that though rural, has an incredible amount of community theater.

I saw a production of a musical called Working last night. The musical is adapted from the book Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do, and is more a series of vignettes where characters discuss their working lives, and has some brilliant segues between different points of view.

While I enjoyed it, one scene kinda hit me between the eyes. It’s about a factory worker who makes luggage. As I was watching it, I ran my hands over a purse I bought at Wal-Mart many years ago because, well, it was cheap. I thought about all the interim steps to get that purse made, packaged, shipped to my local Wal-Mart, stocked, then checked out when I bought it. I thought about how many of those purses the person needed to make an hour to earn her (it was probably a woman, after all) wage.

The point of the musical and it’s an important one, is that every single thing you own, every product you use, every service you need, has a real, live human being doing that work. That’s an important point.

Go see the musical. It’s not just a Heavy Message. Parts will make you laugh.


March 1,2,8,9,14,15,16 at 7:00 PM

March 3,10,17 at 2:00 PM

at the Briggs Opera House, White River Junction, VT

Prompt: What are you proud of?

Another in a list of writing prompts. This one is asking what I’m proud of.

Like anyone who has led a reasonably active life, there are things I am proud of, and things I’m not. The prompt said to pick anything. That’s so wide open, I have no real idea.

I’d say I’m proud of my ability to learn new things.

I was born with that. I got lucky. That’s not something to take pride in.

I’d say I’m proud of my intelligence.

Again, that was luck. I was born with a good brain and grew up in an environment that encouraged creative thought and innovation. Not just my parents, mind. My grandparents were all about coming up with clever solutions to problems — even my very conservative and by-the-book paternal grandmother. I’m third generation on that one.

Accomplishments? Sure, I’m proud of them. I’d be silly not to be. Think of the things you’ve done/created/accomplished/overcome. I hope you’re proud of those things, too. ‘Cause wow, we humans can do some cool and clever stuff.

The thing is, I think I’m proudest of showing courage — doing something I’m genuinely, no kidding scared of doing. And no, I’m not going to talk about that swim I did last weekend.

I want to talk about a time when I was scareder than that and I showed a lot more self-control.

When I was fifteen, I got mononucleosis. I was sick, sick, sick — utterly exhausted and drained. I was also terrified of needles, and I’m one of those people that a phlebotomist hates. Tiny veins. As sick as I was, I was probably mildly dehydrated on top of everything else. My parents had a bear of a time getting me to swallow any liquid because my glands had swollen and my throat hurt so much.

So here I am in the doctor’s office. In protesting getting stuck with a needle in that office over the years, I’d screamed, cried, tried to run away, and fought. Once when a nurse was trying to give me a penicillin shot in the butt for one of my endless bouts of earaches, I clenched my muscles so tightly that it bent the needle.

So yeah, scared of needles in a big way.

How do they diagnose mono, boys and girls? Why yes. A blood test!

At fifteen, I wasn’t as likely to freak as much as I had when younger, but I would be a diamond studded liar if I were to say that I was over my fear of needles. (I’m over it now…. Well, at least no more than a mild distaste)

As I sat in the chair and the nurse put a strap around my upper arm to help the vein pop up more, a small child who was next in line for a blood draw stood in the door watching me — a big eyes and sucking her thumb.

The nurse was having a terrible time finding a vein and kept sticking me over and over. But looking at that kid, I knew there was nothing in the world that was going to make me react. Oh, no. I hated the needles and hated getting stuck, but I smiled at the kid and chatted with her.

So, it was the self-control I was proud of, right?

Nope. Not even a little.

That I knew in my soul I owed it to that little kid to try to set an example to make things a little easier for her, that it was truly the first honest adult impulse I ever had.


Oh, yes. I’m proud of that.

Why Do You Thank People?

This was an interesting writing prompt, but kind of a weird one to a Virginian reared in Virginia traditions. It’s how one is supposed to live, after all.

  • I thank people for opening doors.
  • I thank people for handing me something.
  • I thank my husband for making my coffee in the morning.
  • I thank my co-workers for helping me out with stuff.
  • I thank my students for their participation in class
  • I thank my son for setting the table (or did when he lived at home)

So, that’s a daily part of my life. Is it that I’m so jaded that the thank you doesn’t mean anything? Not in the least. It does mean something. I love the little exchanges of favors and small daily kindnesses. They’re what make life graceful and good. Yes, indeed, I’m thankful for them.

I just think that sometimes there’s some real serious above and beyond going on and “Thank you” while exactly the correct thing to say, seems a bit weird when they’re the same words I use when handed a piece of paper, ya know?

Last weekend, I did a swim. I cut it short from the four miles I’d intended to do to two miles because I had gotten scared and freaked out. (Bad weather, a few other things. You can see my Slow as Christmas blog for the whole story).

During the whole event, I was thankful for the guy who organized it. I was thankful for the swimmer who talked me down from what I can only call a panic attack, and my husband who battled waves and wind and uncertain weather to escort me through the damn fool adventure and keep me safe.

You bet I was thankful to the people that made that swim even possible.

I think part of the reason thankfulness is a good habit is that it does remind you that you’re part of a whole. Sure, sure, your accomplishments are to your credit, but no-one lives in splendid singleness. Everyone who has every accomplished anything at all does it with support from other people.

Even the act of me writing this piece in my quiet living room with only the sound of the aquarium to bubble and soothe my mind through the process, it’s only possible because of the help I got from other people. I can write because of a mother who read to me and taught me the power of words and story. I can write because of the teachers who taught me to read and write. I have this computer because of my father who taught me to program, and friends who encouraged me to explore the possibilities of the Internet, which led me to earn enough money to obtain it. Shoot, the chair I’m sitting in so comfortably was a result of a shared purchase in my household.

Moreover, we’re all like this. The accomplishments of other people that we see are volcanic peaks sticking out over the vast ocean, but underneath, it’s possible and exists at all because we’re mutually supported from the collective magma pushing up through the crust.

From that, the only appropriate emotion is gratitude, I think.

Adult Video Gamer

adultvideogamer-1Think of a 45 year old man playing a video game.

Do you have a specific image in mind? If you, yourself are not particularly into video games, you might have a specific image of someone who is not particularly successful in life. If he has a job or family, he’s probably not very successful in either activity.


Gamers know the answer to this one. Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!

Here’s a dirty little secret about gaming. If you pick the right games, you’re training your brain to think along certain pathways.

I first encountered this phenomenon when I was playing Sid Meyer’s Civilization II. The premise of the game is to build a civilization from the Mud Hut stage to Space Flight. Think of developing technology. Think of how the terrain and available resources effect that. (Can’t make steel without carbon and iron, right?)

I mean, if you have a decent education, you already know it. You’ve been exposed to that fact. But chances are very good unless you’re involved in making metal objects you haven’t used that random knowledge, so it’s not something you’ll immediately think of as part of an intuitive process.

So what? I hear you asking.

Well… Knowledge isn’t useful unless you have the habit of accessing it outside of its acquisition environment. In human speech, learning Stop Drop and Roll in first grade doesn’t do much unless you’re going to remember that if you see someone catch fire at a picnic or something.

If you use something in a game, your mental pathways retain that.

I self-published a fantasy novel some years ago. When people gave feedback on it and were trying to be nice, the one common thread was how realistically the world worked. When I was doing the development work on it, a partner of mine at the time saw me swearing over a map I was drawing and suggested, “Play Civ.”

He was quite right. It worked very well, and having the many, many hours I spent playing that game opening the neural pathways to the integration of terrain and politics did, indeed, help me build a world that worked realistically and drove political conflict very logically. (Not that I can plot for crap, but that’s neither here nor there.)

It doesn’t just help creative work, though.

I work at a help desk. I was getting in early, so I was often the only person there to help someone to pick up a computer. Now, if it’s a laptop in a public area that isn’t locked down, we do have a cable lock on those computers. In reality, all I needed to do was hand this person a computer. But it was locked, and I didn’t know which key was the laptop lock. I could have tried individual keys from a ring I had access to. I would have gotten to the appropriate one easily enough, albeit with some fumbling.

But what I did, and this is because I had been playing a game called The Room, was look at the shape of the lock and then at the shape of the keys on the keyring. Got the key right away, first try. The customer had no idea that I had no idea which key to use or how to unlock her computer.

Trivial? Sure.

But to me it was illustrative of the value of video games and how they integrate the kinetic aspects of learning with the purely informational. It’s also why I hate lecture-based classes over hands-on classes for things that will ultimately have a kinetic component.

Two Shawls, Eleven Years

twoshawls-1I got a wild hare and started wondering if a certain garment had made the cut during the Great Konmari Experiment of 2015. I dug it out. It had.

This is a shawl I made back in 2005. The yarn is actually much, much nicer than a newbie knitting project deserves, though I did not know that at the time. It’s a fairly heavy hand-spun and hand-dyed that I was given by a pushe^h^h^h co-worker who was also a knitting fanatic and wanted to encourage a budding knitter. This was an amazingly kind gift. I knew enough to know this was special wool and deserved to be used on a special project, but I was not skilled enough to figure out either what kind of project I had enough yarn for, or what kind of project the wool was appropriate for.

There are lots of errors in it (yarn badly joined, ends not woven in properly… a dozen other things), and it’s not a garment I wear out of the house much, but I do wear it at home from time to time when it’s a little chilly in the house, but I don’t want to dress heavily. The wool is quite warm on the back of my neck and my shoulders, so it’s a good in-between type of shawl.

For all the errors in it, it made that Konmari cut out of pure sentiment. I held it, and I smiled because it made me happy to think about making it and how proud of myself I was to be able to integrate knit and purl stitches in an actual pattern.


Eleven years on, this is the shawl I am working on right now. It’s a lot more complex. I’ll probably wear it to the office and other places quite a bit. It makes me happy for geeky reasons as well as because I am enjoying knitting it. The yarn is actually about as inexpensive as you can get and still be all wool, and possibly something this complex really deserves a high end yarn. The recommended yarn for this project cost upwards of $60. I spent more like $15.

I like to look at how I have progressed in activities – be it swimming or whatever. Not because I feel like I necessarily have a specific goal to reach, mind. I think people who happily knit garter stitch scarves are making as good a use of their time as I do with my knitting projects. But I do like to tack on and master skills. It’s a thing, and it’s ultimately useful, so I don’t mind running with it.

(It also took me well on to 40 years before the habit was in any way a big financial return, but that’s neither here nor there. Formal education would have been much quicker!)

But I am as proud of the first shawl I made as the one I am currently working on. I cannot bring myself to blow it off as too easy or amateurish. That first shawl made me a little nervous, was stretching my skill set and made me happy to make – just like the one I am doing now.

I just wish I could read my old writing and have that same attitude. With that, for some idiotic reason, I still wince and I shouldn’t. I was doing the same thing, right?

What if Happiness Isn't an Emotion?

I’ve often talked about love not being an emotion, but a set of behaviors, a commitment, and a way of interacting. That’s true. Sure, sure, emotions are included in that, but it is not the sum total of what love is.

One thing I’ve often pondered, chewed on and driven myself crazy with is the idea that happiness is an emotion and there’s something wrong because I don’t often feel it.

What if happiness (as in a state of being with one’s life) is like love, and actually an emotion, but a state of being over time that has to do less with actual emotion and more to do with life and choices in relationship to it?

(I know this is weird, but stay with me here. I just asked this question about thirty seconds ago when my To-do Beepy Reminder went off to tell me it was time to get some writing done. This is not a planned-out essay.)

There is some background to this. I am always looking at systems for things. It’s just kind of the way I am built. If there’s an underlying logic or method to doing or being, I’m going to run in that direction. It’s just the way I am, and in general, I like it that way.

So, I was feeling kind of upset and depressed and frustrated about things a few months ago when I downloaded a mood monitoring app for my smartphone. (How Are You mood tracker. You can get it on Google Play, I know).

You’re asked to rate your mood on several criteria — how determined and ready to act you feel, how frustrated you feel, etc. You get a beepy reminder to do this three or so times a day, and the results were kind of interesting to me.

No, more than interesting. They were an uncomfortable revelation.

My mood was pretty consistently above 70% on the scale as an average. Oh, sure, it dipped from time to time, but overall, my mood as I was self-rating in the moment was generally pretty damn high. You’re asked if you’re feeling: Alert, Hostile, Friendly, Determined, Active, and a couple of other things I forget. It’s nine different questions, anyway. You have this circle slider where you drag to estimate how much of each of the different states of being you’re feeling at that moment.

I just took the test and it had my mood at 86%. Now, I’ve been pondering Life, the Universe and Everything most of the morning, and it’s a gray day, so I wouldn’t have said I’m all that happy at the moment.

But, maybe I’m tagging the wrong state of being as happy. I mean, the test could be a load of crap, but I’m wondering if my point of view is really what’s been messed up. I’m wondering if I’m mapping joyful to happy, and happy is a quieter thing. Seriously. To me, happy is being on a boat on the ocean or being at the beach or swimming or finishing writing a novel or teaching a class or knitting something or being with my family.

Maybe those things are better than happy. Maybe those things are joyful. Which is cool, ’cause I get a lot of joyful stuff in my life, and that’s pretty awesome.

But if happy is really more about some ratio of Attentiveness, Determination, Active, and Inspired over Upset, Hostile, Nervous, Afraid, Ashamed (yes, I looked it up rather than guessed), Determination, Attentiveness and Inspiration are almost always pretty strongly present in my mental landscape. They’re gonna be there whether or not I am feeling what *I* would call a positive mood in the moment. That means, I’m going to be rated as “happy” by this scale more often than not.

While I’d never really considered myself a particularly positive person, I’m beginning to wonder. Maybe I kinda am, and while I’m moody as hell, that may have less to do with my overall state of being than once I thought. Maybe it’s like waves, you know? They knock you down, or you dive under them, but if you know how to swim, and pay attention to the push and pull of the water, you generally can cope and even have fun with them.

Maybe it’s like my view of love, and happiness isn’t entirely an emotion, but a amalgam of many sometimes conflicting things, just like swimming in the ocean can be.

Whether or not it’s true, it kind of makes me feel better about Life, the Universe and Everything.

Freebies, Discounts and Author Benefits

libromancerI recently picked up a book that really charmed me. It’s about a librarian who has magic powers that comes from books. Now, I’ve always felt books were a little magical, so it was cool to read a book that took this idea, ran with it in a clever way, and told a good story in the bargain.

Oh yes, bargains.

I picked up the book because another author I liked mentioned that Libromancer was a Kindle Daily Deal that day, selling for a $1.99. Heck yeah, I’ll risk a couple of bucks on a book that an author I like liked recommended.

I have since bought the second book in audiobook format and am going to be treating myself to listening to it as a way to take the sting out of having to clean up the truly impressive clutterpit my house has become.*

Thing is, it’s really not unusual for me to get a freebie or serious discount on the first book in a series, really like it, then go on to buy the rest of the series.

This did start for me with using the Baen Free Library –also my intro to reading mostly in electronic format. I had a Palm Zire and got the biggest kick in the world from a library in my pocket. (This was early in the century, when smartphones weren’t as ubiquitous as they are today). I loved Oath of Swords, The Philosophical Strangler, and An Oblique Approach. They were all freebies, and parts of series I went on to buy.

I’m also an audiobook addict. I adore being read to and love to listen to stories when I am doing work that requires more hands than brain. So, when Audible offers a freebie, I usually take them up on that. This is how I got hooked on the Retrieval Artist series by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. They offered The Disappeared as a freebie and I wound up being hooked on the entire series. It’s a base canard that any of its charm is because one of the main characters is a snarky cop named Noelle. I firmly deny anything of the sort!

I get hooked on writers in other ways, of course. I got into Heinlein because of the Friday Whelan paperback cover (no, seriously. Totally did. Saw the cover and was going to get that book, but got Stranger in a Strange Land first because the library’s copies of Friday were all checked out). I got into Seanan McGuire as Mira Grant because a friend recommended Feed. I got into Margaret George because I knew a relative of hers on an online forum and she sent me a signed copy of The Memoirs of Cleopatra. (While a very good book, I liked The Autobiography of Henry VIII better). I got into Asmiov when I was a little kid because The Fun They Had, a short story about going to school online (It was written in 1951, by the way) was part of the curriculum that year. Got me excited about the concept of science fiction and I had to go to the library and check out all the books with the atomic symbol or a rocket ship on the spine. (I also got into Frank Herbert and Ray Bradbury from material I studied in school).

But the real point is that I like the freebies and discounts you often get on books in the online era. Oh, they do what they’re meant to – to attract me to buy more stuff. But I’m okay with that, because it has lead me to some great books I’ve really loved.


* I wish I could blame that on other people in the house, but in looking at all the crap around, I notice that it’s mostly my possession and projects. Ah well…

Astride the Border

I really need to buckle down and finish footofthroneAstride the Border, the end to At the Foot of the Throne. Nope, it’s not going to be a trilogy, and frankly the two “books” are really one novel. Not that I have the slightest idea what to call it as a single work. Possibly it could keep the original title, though I expect as the plot of the second story unfolds, one would question that as a good one. *grin*

I actually have the book notecarded and some 65,000 words written on it, so I’m really more than halfway there. Just a matter of getting a writing schedule and applying butt glue. Since my other big Life Goal is pretty physical, this is really a pretty good counterpoint to that. You know, the whole “healthy mind in a healthy body” thing. (And my son, yes, I’d love to read your essay on that very subject you did for school!)

Here’s the thing. I’m not in love with the characters. Oh, this is much better fiction than I usually write, being only an egg in the learning process. But no, I don’t love these characters the way I love others I have come up with, but no-one has ever seen.

This isn’t to say that the work isn’t good. The reason I don’t love the characters?

They’re too real. I frequently want to yell at them for being stupid, or knock them upside the head for being foolish and prideful, or blind and selfish. I can’t look up to or be enamored with them because they’re too real and flawed.

This isn’t to say that anything I love has to be perfect. I love plenty of people, but I know of no perfect ones. It’s just that for the most part, no, I wouldn’t really want to be close to or trust any of these characters. No, not even Marra. Seija, maybe. Sometimes. When she isn’t being thick as a yard of lard. And okay, Berat, but he’s shamelessly based on a real man I was missing at the time I came up with the characters.

So for now, I need to come up with a realistic writing schedule that takes into account the other stuff I do. I may wimp out at 500 words a day. But slow and consistent gets it done better than fits and starts of Heroic Effort.

Another Jelly Bean

This is totally going to be a rambling piece to get my words in.

I was reading an interesting article about training for an event. The metaphor the author use was a jelly bean and a jar. Each workout, each training session, no matter how good, bad, short, long, successful or not, was one jelly bean. The idea was that to be prepared to participate in an event, you needed to put a certain number of jelly beans in the jar.

I am definitely doing that swimming. Sure, sure, I have my epic swims like last weekend, and oh my word was it fun, but the more usual swim is the 5:30 am one where the most exciting thing I can say was that it was done. And that’s cool.

I think it also applies to other endeavors. We love flow when we are working on something we enjoy or want to improve, yes. We love to get into that zone where the words are flowing, or the sculpture we’re creating just soars. And those moments are wonderful and godlike. But unless we come to the practice of what we are doing often enough to fill our jelly bean jars, we’re not going to invite flow, nor are we going to improve.

It comes to me very strongly as I am writing these words. Honestly, I had intended to write some drivel about housework, my swimming and how I love my new coffee maker. And I was going to be a little contemptuous of it.

My practice of writing a certain amount each day as a free-write is no more worthy of contempt, though, than any swim I do, no matter how clumsy or awkward I feel as I am doing it. Both are a jelly bean in the jar — another practice session that needs to be done that not only helps to refine technique or skill, but also is another opportunity to invite flow.

So, as I am doing this free-write, I am now stuck for more to fill in those words. I hate running out of gas or running out of an idea before I hit those seven hundred fifty words, and yet it does happen a lot.

What I want to write and want to do is fill in this space with something really profound and interesting. It suits the vanity better. It’s hard to remember that to keep writing has a value in and of itself. Just like keeping swimming does when I am working out.

I think we get the idea that working out is like a Rocky or Karate Kid training montage. Those movies are fun, exciting and even inspiring, which is cool. They’re also misleading about what daily practice, the really IMPORTANT stuff, looks like. That jelly bean in the jar might very well be licorice, just saying. But it’s a jelly bean nonetheless and it takes up its proper space in the jar just as well as the orange. (Yeah, I like the citrus-flavored jelly beans best. You got me)

I’m slowly learning that dailyness might not look brilliant in the experience, but it is that very dailyness of effort or creation that does make for a body of work that looks awfully impressive when taken over time.

*grin* My husband and I are watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy this week. One of the things we sometimes do is joke during walking sequences about how it reminds us of a Dexter’s Laboratory cartoon where the ditzy sister DeeDee is the Dungeonmaster and is constantly telling the characters, “We’re walking; we’re walking; we’re walking.”

And yet, that’s exactly how Frodo got to Mount Doom. Walking, walking, walking. Walking, step by step, not always making brilliant progress, but always making at least some, and never stopping. Each day brought the Ring closer to its destruction, even though the process was hardly glorious or exciting.

And that’s something I like about what I’m doing. No, my days are not gloriously impressive. That’s not the point. The point is to keep going. The point is to make some progress, even a little. Because each time one makes progress, it’s another jelly bean for the jar.

I’m halfway tempted to buy a jar and each time I do a swim, put a jelly bean in it. *Grin* then I’ll EAT those jelly beans as part of my feeds for a long swim. Swimmers eat jelly-like candy on long swims all the time, so it would be appropriate.

The idea is oddly appealing and happy.

Harder than Heroic Effort

I’m not good at what I can only call a “tedious slog.” Short-term heroic effort? Hell yeah. Got that down and buddy it can be impressive.

There’s a downside to that. You’re either going all out, or you’re… Well, not. Going, that is.

What I am generally not good at, though I am trying very hard to learn, and getting better at, is patient dailyness. I can do the Big Huge Thing towards goals, but doing a little bit every day is much, much harder.

The problem is that over time, that little bit accomplishes much more than the periodic heroic efforts. The person who goes from no exercise at all to a marathon isn’t actually in better shape, long-term than the person who takes a walk every day. The person whose house goes from complete chaos to sparkling clean and staged for a real estate agent to show isn’t going to have a neater home, overall, than someone who does a little bit every day. The student who pulls the all-nighter doesn’t write a better paper than the student that breaks that up into increments, does a bit of writing every day and then goes on to do a bit of editing every day until the job is done.

I was in my late thirties before I really got started with the continual small effort thing v. Heroic Effort. It started with housework, which is really a fantastic place to start. I wanted a neat house, but nothing outrageous was really riding on it. Totally low-risk, which was perfect for this. I did a little bit every day, and forbade myself to put heroic effort into it. Over time, yes, my house is rarely more than fifteen minutes to a half an hour away from being okay with guests, and I wouldn’t die of embarrassment at any drop ins. When spaces get cluttered (a home is a dynamic process, not a showpiece, after all) I really do dedicate small amounts of time over a period of days to take care of them.

Where I am trying to apply this now is exercise. That’s a whole lot harder. For all that I am hardly slender, I do get interested gaining physical skills. You only have to look at a list of the physical things I’ve been into to realize that I’m all about the technical and easy to obsess about — dance, martial arts, swimming… They’re all activities that have a high level of technique, and experts at these activities really do dedicate hours a day to it.

But while the technical aspects are enough to keep me interested, my real goal isn’t mastering X skill. My real goal, as it pertains to exercise, is just to DO it for a half an hour to an hour a day five days a week. That’s IT.

I was thinking about it this morning when I was trying to decide if I wanted to swim today. I already did my M-F swims, but I was wondering what a mile would feel like and thinking, “Yeah, I have time today, I oughta try that!”

In reality? No, I shouldn’t. Not because it would be bad for me to swim a mile today. It totally wouldn’t. But it would be bad for me to give in to the obsession only to become tired of it next year. I need to be in the pool next year, too. This isn’t something like getting obsessed with Tudor history or lace knitting where I can put it down any time another shiny obsession takes my fancy. Working out can’t really be a hobby for me. For physical maintenance, I need to damn well be active for half an hour a day five days a week. I don’t even have to put Heroic Effort into it. I just have to show up and move.

Which circles back around to the consistent, daily effort. There is another thing that’s helping me learn that. You notice that I’m posting a lot more to my blog than I used to. I don’t post every day, but I do many days a week.

The reason I do is another small, daily practice. I write seven hundred fifty words a day as an exercise to keep my writing skills up. Some of those writing sessions are really more stream of consciousness pieces to write SOMETHING to get in my word count. But notice that as I do it consistently, the more valuable essays and stories actually happen.

It is the small, consistent, daily practice that builds up better into a lifetime of worthwhile work if you can make yourself do it.

Whoda thunk that it’d be harder than Heroic Effort?