Writing Life

Cat Tree Fun & Other Adventures

First adventure: I got up at a reasonable hour!

This is not a huge shock. Even when I don’t go to bed at what most people consider a reasonable hour, I end up awake around the same time. Most days, my brain knows when it’s time, and *ping* I am conscious. (unless I am ill or brutally exhausted)

As it happens, I did go to bed at a decent hour, meaning before 1 AM. Double win! Awake early-ish and full of energy. But did that beginning develop into a day of big productivity?

Yes! Also NO!

There was shopping. Because toilet paper is good to have. We also needed cat food, since I failed to account how damned much kibble a 15 lb cat could suck down when I set up the autoship for Pippin’s food & litter. We probably would’ve been okay through the weekend, but probably is also called “tempting fate” and the year is due to start with a big storm is. Peace of mind is also good to have, so the expedition began!

Evidently everyone else in Chicagoland went shopping today too. So. Many. People. SO MANY HALF-MASKED PEOPLE. Look, I know it’s hard to keep a mask up over a small, snub nose. But most of the people who don’t fucking do it right aren’t kids nor did they have little button-noses like mine. They just weren’t even trying.

It’s funny how half-masked and half-assed almost rhyme, isn’t it? I think so.

I’m also glad my KF94 and KN95 masks arrived Monday & Tuesday, because yay, better filtration to block out whatever miasma the maskholes are emitting. (Also, the shaped KF94 masks are MUCH easier to breathe through under a cloth covering mask than a surgical mask) Is the filtration really better? Welp, I can’t do a proper qualitative fit test at home, but I can say they fit nice and tight to my face,unlike a surgical mask, and they blocked the smell the overripe bananas on my counter a LOT better than either the cloth or surgical masks did.

Do I need a cloth mask on top? Well, no, but it doesn’t hurt either, since they both fit well and tight (fring benefit, less lens fogging!) And I like the look of patterned cloth more than unrelieved black or white, and that means something too.

But I digress. As always.

Driving and shopping got done, and we returned home victorious with bread, milk, TP, kibble, AND the cat tree we promised Mr Pippin back around Thanksgiving (when he only weighed 13.75 lbs instead of 15.)

Then we put together the cat tree despite much interference from its intended recipient, who seemed to think chasing the unassembled pieces was the point of the whole exercise. As you can see from the pictures below, he was not being shy about claiming it for himself once we got it completed and moved the other furniture to make space for it.

After that, I settled down by the fire for the afternoon and ended up on a wonderful long video chat with bestest of awesome friends Shannon Eichorn. Tales of holidays and wordcrafting and family and pandemic were shared, cats were admired, and muchcatching up conversating was had.

Discord did not play nicely with my phone (It insisted on calling separately for audio and video, so I could not have sound or images, but not both, WTAF) and then it wouldn’t play nicely with Shannon’s laptop, so we ended up on Zoom. (I got to send a meeting invite link to someone, and it worked! Tiny tech victories are victories, right?)

ANYway. The original supper plan was to make split pea soup with the last of the Christmas leftovers, but somewhere in the afternoon I developed a craving for steak, and also I never got around to starting the soup.

Spouseman was agreeable to a change in plans, (easier to make soup on on New Year’s Eve or Day than to get restaurant takeout, or so we rationalized it) so we ordered steak dinners & cherry pie dessert from our fave local steakhouse and enjoyed our impulse celebration supper in front of another movie.

Not another Studio Ghibli. It came to our attention (thanks Netflix) that everyone in America except us had already watched Red Notice. So we watched that. Thumbnail review: plenty of pretty people and a plotline of ridiculous, complicated heisty goodness. A fun way to spend New Year’s Eve-Eve.

Pippin enjoyed surveying the room from his Top Perch for most of the movie, then moved onto my lap just in time to get in the way of me writing this. But ha-HA, I am resting the laptop on him, and am now done.

The year is almost done. I just now realized tomorrow’s post will be the last of the year. WOWZA.

ANYway. Until later!

3. Other Things Detours Writing Life

Can I call you friend?

Can I call you friend? It’s a curious little question, one apparently more complicated than I thought it was.

Here’s the article that sparked this musing:  Only half your friends actually like you.

This study bugs me for many reasons. First and foremost, the assumptions and value judgments floating around the margins were not addressed in any way, and the conclusions have been rolling around in my brain ever since and bumping into other thoughts.

These studies didn’t define friendship for the participants. The study administrators used a word they assume has the same meaning for all participants. That’s a big assumption. Huge. Big enough to bury the methodology in muddied responses. If you want to compare opinions of a fruit and half your subjects think they’re rating oranges and half think they’re rating grapes, are the results meaningful? I say no.

Nasty, tricksy things, assumptions. But, okay. Lets say we accept the (absurd) premise that everyone was operating with the same criteria when they rated their “friendships.” The conclusions still baffle me.

These studies found that perceived affection was unequal, and also that people are lousy at predicting the affection levels of others towards themselves. In other words, people overestimated how much other people liked them in ways related to how much they liked the person they were evaluating.

Let’s put this another way: studies show that if Beverly likes Ginny at a level of 10, she assumes Ginny likes her at level 10. But the reality is many of the Ginnys of the world only like their Beverlys at a level of 4. Okay, fine so far, right?

WRONG. The studies conclude that this is A Problem.  The horror! People like some of their friends more than they’re liked back? The inequity! /sarcasm

The conclusions–that unequal affection is inherently bad–reduces the value of a friendship to  a binary. Their conclusion is that anything other than full reciprocity of affection means the friendship itself is flawed.

I find this an immensely puzzling conclusion. It runs counter to my entire experience of friendships. It seems reductive and devaluing.

Friendships come in as many different shapes and varieties as humans do. The conclusion itself — that friendships are a singular type of relationship which somehow cheats one side if it’s not evenly mutual like a simple business transaction…it bugs me.

I like a lot of people. I consider them my friends if I like them. I  don’t ever expect to be liked back. (when it happens it’s a perpetual surprise and pleasure.) Why can’t I call someone friend simply because I like and respect them?  Why should my appreciation obligate them to hold me in precisely equal regard?

That whole idea seems silly to me. It even smacks of blackmail.  Consider this statement: “I like you, therefore you must like me back just as much, or else we aren’t friends at all!”

Does that sound odd to anyone else? It puzzles and itches at me, and so I shared it here.

(Note: I am not looking for anyone to “explain” the study to me. I understand its point I simply disagree with it on a visceral level.)

Not tired of my words yet? My published works are available on Amazon and all the other usual online retailers. Handy one-stop-shopping link:

1. Storysculpting Detours Writing Life

Sad Confession & Funny Story

Confession: I am not good at friending.  It isn’t that I am a total curmudgeon. I enjoy peopling. I like people. I see value in pretty much everyone I meet. People are cool.  Fascinating. Amazing.  It isn’t some self-doubt issue that holds me back either. If I could alter certain core traits I would be a much better person in the eyes of Society,  but I don’t want to change. I like myself as I am, flaws, quirks, and all. Or to be more precise,  I like myself more than I want to try to change.

The real problem is twofold:

  • One:  I am an intense, intelligent, opinionated person whose baseline personality is as subtle as Limburger cheese, which makes polite interaction damned difficult work for me.  I’m happy being me, but when I relax, I quickly wear out my welcome.
  • Two: I  don’t have a good grasp on the practical concept of nice, which means I have limited capacity to make the gestures that keep friendships strong.

The dance of human bonding is too complex to distill down to the behavioral formulas I use to govern casual and/or professional exchanges. (I have those down pretty well. A few decades of practice and all that. It isn’t easy, but I manage.) Take away structure, and I flounder. And panic, I’ve learned, follows fast on floundering.

Is calling intrusion or inclusion? What about emailing? When are gifts right? How much gifting is too much? Too little? Sharing versus oversharing –what is too much? Too little? Unwelcome? Repetitious?  Oh, geez, have I told this story? What one person enjoys makes another uncomfortable, but not always…and all that assumes that other people are nakedly honest about their feelings at all times. Big assumption. Big. HUGE.

Friendships have SO MANY variables —  not only who the friend is, but the circumstances, the occasion, their state of being, their state of mind. First there’s recognizing which of a zillion situations is in play, and then trying to remember which situational variants call for what reaction…

When in doubt about a proper relating behavior, I default to no behavior.

Be invisible is my conditioned response to overload, and that is lousy friending. (even I know that much)

A friend steps up in times of need. I’ll be the one off standing in a field, totally oblivious or wholly paralyzed. I do wish it wasn’t true. I do try. Often the best I can do is be honest and say, “I can’t.” Or else, “To help you, I need  you to tell me what you need. Specifically. Concretely.”

But see, that isn’t good friending either, because sometimes what people need is the freedom to not have to explain what they need on top of whatever concrete need they have. The best gift is often the one that arrives unasked. I know this. I just…suck at it.

Without direction, I will guess wrong and hurt feelings often deeply. That isn’t insecurity talking, it’s experience.  It is  also not a case of “I could get better at it if I tried harder.” I can point to dozens of burned bridges to illustrate the consistency of my failure.  Trying the same thing over and over expecting different results…what do they call that, again? Ah, right. That’s the facetious definition of insanity.

I’ll take sanity with a small side order of guilt over driving myself crazy. Call me selfish. You won’t be the first. It’s a bit awkward being me.

I’m good at disappearing, though.  I got tons of practice growing up because invisibility was a survival skill. I was one of those perfect bully magnets. Physical awkwardness, emotional difficulties, and academic achievement all flagged me as a target. That’s when I learned how not to be seen. I  was so invisible in middle school even the teachers didn’t see me.

True story. Funny one.

Sure, each teacher knew I was in their class, but none of them saw me. I liked it that way. Thus in the fullness of time my mother found out I was not nominated to the Junior National Honor Society by any of my teachers. (Some of whom were Mom’s friends and knew my whole family well.)

Cue major parental outrage. Mind you, I did qualify for NHS membership. I was carrying a near-perfect GPA on an overloaded course schedule and involved in a ton of extra-curricular activities too. My records were identical to other children with multiple teacher sponsors.

But it never occurred to any one teacher that I might be acing ALL my classes. I “didn’t stand out.” Or so my mother was informed. KA-BLOOIE ensued. Apologies were made. I was inducted into JNHS. Life went on. Scholarship money eventually resulted.

And that’s how I learned being visible had an upside. I also learned (slowly) how to mimic basic social behaviors until they became habitual practice.  It took a lot longer to learn how to tell fake friends from from real. But that’s a tale for another time.

As often happens, I’ve reached the end of a post with no particular point made.  What’s a good wrap-up? Hmm. Oh. Buy my books, they’re awesome? Yeah, that’ll do.

Or you can hit the Shiny Baubles menu up top and check out the free reading selections and links. It’s all good either way.

1. Storysculpting Authoring excerpts Whimsy

BFFs: a bit from Flight Plan

I haven’t shared from this book yet. No idea why. Here’s one of my favorite scenes.

Naomi saw Serena’s feet first. A bare toe rubbed over the top step of the porch stairs beside her, and then Serena sat down while balancing bagels stacked on steaming mugs in each hand. She still wore nothing but the filthy camouflage sneak suit, and she smelled like garbage. Sleepy eyes gleamed at Naomi over a secretive smile. “I promised to go to bed,” she said. “But you’re on the way. Good morning.”

Naomi took a mug and let tears spill down her cheeks. “I love you so much.”

“It’s only tea, Naomi. It isn’t even good tea.”

“It’s more.” She wiped her face and sipped the perfectly acceptable black pekoe blend. “You don’t realize how much better you’ve been, the last few days.”

“Well, don’t get too excited. I’m still a moody bitch.” Serena wrapped her arm around Naomi’s waist. “I love you too, Bao-bao. You held me up until I could run again.”

Naomi put her head in the curve of Serena’s shoulder. “Whatever.”

Birds were peeping in the drooping evergreens somewhere, and the gray sky was lightening in advance of the sunrise. The breeze was light and cool. Naomi shifted the tea to one hand and took a bite of half-thawed bagel. While she ate, she went back to doing what she’d been doing before Serena arrived: wondering why Parker wasn’t freezing to death out on the lawn in nothing but a pair of cut-off sweatpants.

He squared his shoulders and flowed smoothly from one t’ai chi form to another. His balance never wavered as he pivoted to face them, but surprise came through: he hadn’t noticed Serena’s arrival. His attention went back to the exercise, and then he smiled.

Naomi couldn’t keep her lips from curving up, but she firmly put him out of her mind even as heat coiled through her. Boundaries were important.

“Why is ‘threesome’ the first thing every guy thinks when he sees us together?” Serena asked. She added loudly, “She doesn’t share, sorry.”

Parker came down flat-footed. Chest muscles and abs rippled when he took a deep breath, and his face flushed red. Serena hummed appreciatively.

Apprehension sputtered to life within Naomi’s heart as Parker turned away and got back on task. “Serena, I know you, and—please, let me have this? I can’t compete, you know I can’t.”

“No, no, no.” Serena kissed her on the ear. “Silly Naomi. Very much no.”

The cheerful emphasis was as confusing as it was a relief. Naomi went back to watching Parker. “Why not? You’ve been sniffing after him since you met.”

“Only because I could feel him, steady-safe like you at my center. Secure, not sexy. You and I don’t have sex.” A moment passed. “Together, I mean.” Another pause. “Except those couple of times way back when, but we were both stoned and drunk at once, so I don’t think they count.”

“Stop.” Giggles bubbled up. Naomi stifled them. “You are not helping.”

For a moment they were fifteen again, winding down from a night of harmless pranks and minor property crimes. They had been so young. So full of hopes and passion. Life hadn’t been perfect, but the future had been infinite. Their limitless reality had imploded, desperation had crushed them both into tiny futures with no room for dreams, and then even those unenviable lives had been torn to pieces.

This morning felt like rebirth.

Serena set down her cup to nestle closer, but her breath stank and so did the rest of her. Naomi pushed her away. “Dirty girl.”

“I am.” Serena was still watching Parker. “He is hotter than a chili pepper, and you haven’t even nibbled on him yet. What is wrong with you?”

Boundaries, Serena.”

“I can’t help noticing. He’s in the same place you are.” She rubbed a fist between her breasts. “Steady-safe, the pair of you. Like my heartbeat.”

“Notice away, but I will not talk about anything we do or don’t do. Ever.”


And because this one’s from a book that’s available for sale, the mandatory promotional link:

Kindle, Paperback and Audiobook.

(audio available through iTunes, and Amazon)

3. Other Things Media Consumption

Letter to a Dead Friend

We all cope with grief in our own ways. Writing letters to a dead man is one of mine.

Until the end of 2016 I spent hours on the telephone each week chatting with Dan Berli Brown about books, movies, television, games, tropes, philosophy, life the universe, and fuck knows what else. We both adored overthinking the deeper truths stories reveal about ourselves and our society. And we both loved to talk. Past tense, him being dead and all.

I miss him fiercely every single damned time I think “I need to remember to tell Dan’l about that,” and that’s too many times a day to count. So this  Other Things media post went all epistolary on me, and the next few probably will as well.


It’s been entirely too fucking long since you last called and said, “Hey, what’s up?” because you’re bored, can’t sleep or are waiting for the coffee to brew. So here’s the rundown on what I’ve been doing — because if I don’t tell you, you’ll get all pissy when you find out about it later and I say, “Oh, yeah, I knew about that.”


You’ll hate my latest movie marathon. I did all the Harry Potter movies. In order, binge-style. I watched the last one twice. I dunno. I felt like wallowing in heroism, sacrifice, and happy endings for some reason.  And then I watched the Adventures of Baron von Munchausen. Terry Gilliam. Because nothing says life like a big dose of absurdity.

I also went to the theater for the first time in forever! With friends! We did the brunch & big screen bad movie thing, and it was stupendous fun. Underworld: Blood Wars. How bad was it? It started with a longer monologue than Highlander 2. Yeah. Highlights (if I can call them that) lots of the Discount Lesser Hemsworth (Theo Gates) flexing in fight scenes and Kate Beckinsale in black latex. Lots of ridiculous action and plot holes big enough to drive planets through. It’s setting the 2017 movie quality bar very low.

What else have I been doing…watching TV of course.

Black Mirror, man. Wow. Did you tell me I should watch this? I should’ve seen it YEARS ago. Like the Twilight Zone stretched into hour-long episodes. Writing, acting, production all top notch. Brain-twisting, heart-wrenching, gut-turning. Bleak and all-too-believable.

The OA.  The soundtrack is first-class, the direction & cinematography are beautiful, and it touches on some intriguing concepts: life after death, dimensional travel, healing after trauma. Alas, it suffers from a severe case of 21st century sllllooooooows. (slower than Battlestar Galactica: Pocket Knife, I kid you not.) Plus the reveals are a mixture of hokey and “Are you fucking kidding me?”   It’s reaching for a “mystery wrapped in an enigma” feel, but the long, lingering redundant reaction shots suck the life out of it. Skip this and re-watch Stranger Things again instead.

Sherlock. Season 3. You totally missed out on this one. Started dark and deadly, bounced into epic with the middle episode, and wrapped up…well. NO SPOILERS AMIRITE?  Yes, yes, you were right all along about the other Holmes sibling. Go ahead, say “I told you so.” Smartypants.

And yeah, I’ve been reading.

One of those Regency romances.  I don’t have the title because the library keeps not sending the email receipts. It was the latest Mary Balogh. Reliable and enjoyable. No facetious comments or eye rolls, or  I will counter with,  “Star Wars novels you read even when you hate the author.” We all do odd things that make us happy. Never could understand why you did that to yourself.

Burning Page.  I was telling you about the first in this series the day before you went in for your last clinic visit. You know, the one where you ended up in the ER and then the ICU? The stories just keep getting better. Dangerous fae just the way they should be, a Sherlock Holmes analogue, a multiverse of great magic/tech mixes, and a feisty Librarian with a capital L. You would eat it up like candy. Well. Not candy. Not you. Red meat, maybe. Read meat, even. There. A bad pun for your collection.

Oh, and I’m writing again. Jack Coby and Amy Goodall are getting into trouble with a big supporting cast and some unfolding domestic strife. I wish you were still around to give me the usual snarky lines for them to say.

That’s all the trouble I’ve been getting into lately. I would ask for a new batch of effusive recommendations and pithy warn-offs, but you won’t have any, so I’ll have to muddle along.

Anyway. I’ll let you get back to whatever you were doing. Talkatchalater.