Special Office Organising Tools and Their Joy #29.237

It’s odd that the amount of excitement in life can bear almost no relationship at all to how much space one has. What’s even odder is that when life is so full of things to do that it’s bursting at the seams, when I need at least three more hours in any given day that the day starts to reduce to… at the moment… pink sticky notes. My desk is covered in these things. Each one I scrunch up and add to the recycling box is an achievement.

These pink sticky notes are not about achievement. I can edit a novel, or write a conference paper, or prepare a bibliography and not one of these pieces of work made it into pink sticky notes. In fact, I’ve done all three of things, in multiples, over the last few days and not a single pink sticky note was produced.

The pink sticky notes are for the little things that have to be done but can’t take priority over something as large as an approach to a 5,000 word essay. I’ve just scrunched up one that reminded me I had to confirm I’d be at a conference in a couple of weeks. I’ve already written most of the paper for it, but I have two sentences to add, and have a note for those two sentences. I’m about to scrunch up another note, that reminded me to use a consistent plural for an invented word. Yet another tells me that a shop delivers to my suburb once a week. I have no idea what I needed from that shop, or even if it was something I had to check for an entirely different reason. Let me find out and get back to you.

I hope you enjoyed your break. It’s the Canberra branch of a Singapore food outlet and I am missing my Singapore friends, so I was dreaming of getting something delivered on the once-a-week they are doing lockdown deliveries to my part of Canberra. It’s a dream, but a nice one. They have three of my favourite dishes (beef rendang, Hainanese chicken, fried chicken) and I want to know how good they are and I want to have a set and think of friends I had expected to see last year or this. I now know they exist and one day I’ll taste their food.

Now that I know why I wrote a note, I can throw it out. I’ve thrown out a handful of pink sticky notes and the only ones left are actions I have to take. I need to write an article, and some fiction. I have a rather special note that explains the pronunciation of a name in a world friends and I have been working on, and another for my coming New Year’s eve (5 pm, it says, which is a reminder that I’ll be meeting an old friend online at that time and on that day).

I like sticky notes. They look like litter, but are gems. I snuck them into a short story once, to pay tribute to the important role they play on days when I don’t want to use lists.

Basically, they’re a trick I play on myself when I’m not as sorted as I should be. They help me keep up with the small things in life. Not just books I want to read or restaurants I’m curious about. In fact, mostly not these at all. The first ones to be sorted when I am in that mode are the ones that have deadlines. Today I had one that said “Write to R.” That was about a novel, and I had to finish all the work to make the novel ready to write about before I could write that email then scrunch up the note.

Someone asked me the other day how I worked through stress. Sticky notes is one of my favourite methods. When I’m unstressed I can remember everything, or write lists. When the world becomes too much (as it has been for over two years) I deal with some of the stress by littering my desk then symbolically clearing it by recycling everything that’s done. It’s not at all efficient, but it’s very satisfying, especially on a bad day.

When I was young, I thought I’d grow up into handling big things with aplomb. That aplomb was going to make my whole life triumphant and full of vigour. I thought stress was a thing that teenagers suffered and that I would grow out of it. Neither of these things happened. Instead, I developed a raft of tricks for handling my life when it becomes tough. Today was a day when I had to do All the Things, but it was also a day when my body announced its discomfort with me being in it. I had to deal with pain and deadlines. I’ve not done all the things I wanted to finish, but I’ve done a very solid day’s work and I don’t have any outstanding sticky notes. There’s no triumph and hardly any vigour, but I am ending the day with the sense that I haven’t wasted it.

If I can do the same amount tomorrow, then I may even catch up with all the things I need to do before back to back meetings tomorrow night. I shall dream of such an outcome. For the day ended hours ago, and I’m off to sleep.

I suspect I might dream of pink sticky notes tonight. Just suspect, mind.

It’s Not Cute, Damn it.

Yep, it’s another month, another installment of “Better Humaning Through Dogs.”

Generally, I try to write about the positive elements of dog companionship – or at least, the interesting ones. And generally, people who love or work with dogs understand the psychology of these animals, or are willing to learn.

But sometimes, I swear to dog, er, god, media makes education difficult, and I just have to scream.

Recently I saw a People magazine article, one of those clickbait headlines squibs, about a puppy so protective of a new family member, it wouldn’t even let the baby‘s mama touch baby. And it was, as these things always are reported, done up in a sweetly twee, isn’t it cute! tone.  Isn’t that a good dog?

No, it’s not cute. At that level, it’s called resource guarding, and it’s not something you should be encouraging in your dogs, OK? (Or your cats, for that matter.)  Yes, dogs are excellent guardians, and are often very careful and watchful around the younger members of their pack, four or two-legged.

But when the family dog gets upset when anyone else comes near the baby, to the point of growling or showing teeth, Rover or Fluffy isn’t being protective over your offspring. Rover or Fluffy is claiming them as their property, their territory.  That’s a version of resource guarding, and it’s not a healthy situation, much less “cute.”

Resource guarding, within context, isn’t a bad thing.  Between dogs, it’s annoyingly common – I’ve seen this play out more times than I like, working with shelter dogs, with friend’s dogs, with my own dog. Between dogs, its a way of laying down boundaries: this is mine and I will share it, this is mine and I will not. Most dogs will recognize and accept those boundaries, and back down (when they don’t, that’s when you get dog fights).

But humans, for the most part, are clueless about the warning signs, and very bad about backing off.  And no, you can’t count on your dog recognizing you, and knowing that you are to be trusted.  Not in the instant of reaction, anyway.  To the resource guarding dog’s mind, everything is a potential threat to their possession of the beloved object.  Even another pack member, maybe even alpha pack members.  And they’re not going to sit back and rationally think it out; they’re going to respond the way they’re designed to, quickly, efficiently, and potentially bloodily.

And a dog’s idea of defensive behavior?  Involves teeth.

That means anyone attempting to reach for the child, in the case of this article, or a person in need of medical care, or even a partner attempting to show affection, risks getting bitten.  Maybe badly.

So yeah, articles like the one I saw are the worst kind of narrative, assigning emotions and motives inaccurately, and making it seem like a good thing. A trained guard dog does not behave that way. An untrained guarding dog is a danger to everybody. Including that dog. Because you know what too-often happens to dogs that bite. Even if they’re not at fault.

So yeah, please, please.  If you have a dog that is showing signs of resource guarding against humans, particularly if they’re resource guarding another human, get them (and you) professional help to stop it.

The life you save may be theirs.

for more information, I’d suggest starting here.

Random Thoughts on Revising a Novel

I just received editorial comments and a marked-up manuscript of the current novel from the editor. It’s such a joy to work with a professional who “gets it” and offers intelligent, insightful feedback. Editorial comments are quite different from critiques, by the way. At least, in my experience. While both can be valuable, the critiquer is essentially outside the story, jabbing at its shortcomings, whereas a good editor gets inside the story with the author, rolls up her sleeves, and says, “Let’s work together to make this book its best self.” And I have a great editor.
Next comes the process of working with the notes to formulate a revision plan. Yes, there is such a thing! Every author approaches revision a bit differently, and in my experience every book requires me to approach it from a slightly different angle. Sometimes the only way to grapple with a structural flaw is to take the whole thing apart, rewrite entire sections, and then put them back together in a different order. Think of it like a Christmas tree, where you’re going to keep only half the ornaments but must replace the others as well as the tree itself . That pine tree just won’t do—we need a noble fir! For other books, the basic structure or armature is sound but all the ornaments and branches are out of balance. There may be problems in pacing, for example, or characters that need to be more fully developed.
The first step is to read through the notes not once but several times, deciding firstly what comments are spot-on, which ones miss the mark—revealing how I failed to convince even a careful reader—which ones I have questions about, and so forth. From there, I make a problem list. By this time, it’s usually clear how much rewriting (as opposed to tidying up, minor shifting around, tightening, emphasizing, weaving in themes, etc.) I’ll have to do. Since it isn’t a good use to time to just dive in, willy-nilly, I also create a priority list or diagram, sometimes a flow chart. Novels can be like spiderwebs, where a tug on one thread affects the whole. Rather than have to go through multiple rounds of revision, I develop a sense of the order of changes. That said, I usually do a round of revisions and then a “jeweler’s polish” read-through to spot typos and inconsistencies introduced by the changes.
I love to revise and often fine myself immersed in it for long periods of time. This is a good thing because it involves keeping the entire story in mind—all 100,000-150,000 words (which is my typical novel length) of it.

Don’t Call Me

black rotary dial telephone I hate the telephone.

I used to think this was because my parents hated the telephone. When we moved from Houston to the country outside of the then-tiny town of Friendswood, my parents refused to get a phone.

They explained this by saying that it was because Daddy didn’t want work (The Houston Post) calling him in the middle of the night to go cover some breaking news. I mean, they were fine with phones at work, where they needed them (as reporters and editors).

This lack of a phone was highly inconvenient. I remember running like hell down the road to the nearest neighbor to get someone to call the fire department when the pasture caught fire as we were burning trash. (Note that there were oil and gas pipelines across our property.)

It was also inconvenient if I forgot something for school and needed to call my mother.

They finally got a phone three years later, making it a birthday present for me. They also put it in my name. This made it possible for my father to continue to avoid unwanted calls. There are a lot of Moores in the greater Houston phone book.

It also meant that I started getting obscene calls at an early age. Not to mention calls for other Nancy Moores (something I have gotten all my life).

It was also a party line, which is something that people who always have their private phone in their pocket probably can’t comprehend. I think there might have been six households on that line, each with their own ring.

This wasn’t much of a problem, since we rarely spent a lot of time on the phone. Long distance cost a bundle back then and it was long distance from my house to the town where I went to school. Even talking to your grandmother on your birthday you got off the line quick.

It was only in the last years of her life that my grandmother was willing to chat on the phone for half an hour. I am glad I got those calls in.

But I didn’t set out to write about the history of the telephone. I was talking about why I hate it. It’s not just the culture I grew up in; it’s something more basic. Continue reading “Don’t Call Me”

My Life in Dogs

I live with a geriatric half-Dalmatian former-athlete dog. She is sweet and stubborn and ridiculous… and approaching the end of her sell-by date. I had not thought to see my own mortality mirrored in my dog, but there it is. She’s not my first dog, but for a variety of reasons I didn’t get to see my earlier dogs age.

When I was seven and away at my school’s spring camp for a week, my parents had some friends over for dinner. As a hostess gift of sorts they brought… a beagle puppy. They had stopped at a gas station the week before, and found a litter of orphaned pups in the ladies’ room. They spent the next week distributing these tiny animals who were really too young to have left their mother to all their friends. This included my parents. I suspect my mother greeted this new addition to the household with mixed feelings. She wasn’t anti-dog, but she had two small children and here was another lifeform to be responsible for. By the time I suspect she was thinking that a beagle puppy was one lifeform too many, I got home from camp Continue reading “My Life in Dogs”

I’m baaack…

I’m sorry I’ve been away so long. I managed to get an infected bone. My finger is still infected but, bit by bit, I’m back to normal work. Routine has been very hard to regain, because of on and off restrictions due to the pandemic. I was restricted until I was vaccinated and now I’m vaccinated, my whole city is in a very thorough lockdown.

What have I been doing with my time? I’m working on my PhD. It’s the right kind of research for right now because I don’t actually need libraries at this point. I am being as clever as I can and working from my computer. It’s literary studies doctorate and my case studies are fantasy novels and it’s the perfect thing to do when life is sour. In The Wizardry of Jewish Women I made a joke about a demon-infested lemon tree throwing sliced lemons at one of the characters so imagine me turning those lemon slices into a delicious drink. It’s the best way of handling the impossible.

I’m a little public for a bit, too, because of Australia’s Reading Hour.

Every year Australians are encouraged to stop for an hour and read, and the world of libraries and schools and bookshops works together to encourage that reading. One of the key ways they promote it is to nominate writers as Ambassadors, and me, I’m one this year. This year is a bit light-on for events, because everything has to be online, but there is one that is free. Three writers (Sophie Masson, Juliet Marillier and me) will be chatting about books. Here is the link to it: https://www.newc.org.au/what-writers-read.html

While I was dealing with everything, my new novel came out. I call The Green Children Help Out a Jewish superhero book, but it’s a bit more than that. I wanted to build a contemporary magical world where the ground crunched underfoot, that is, it felt as if we could be there. I wanted the people who were saving it to be people who are heavily undervalued in our own world but are seriously, seriously cool. And I wanted to show that coolness. Now I want to move to that world, for it’s COVID-free and being Jewish is not something that needs explaining all the time. Also, I want to be one of the Green Children. I have absolutely no idea what my superpower would be, but I’m open to suggestions.

Angry These Days

The latest IPCC report makes it clear that climate change is happening now and that we need major, concerted, international efforts to slow it down and deal with the ongoing crises it will cause.

After 18 months of a worldwide pandemic, it’s pretty obvious that major, concerted, international efforts will only happen in a fantasy world. And not in a fantasy novel, since I’m sure no editor would accept a novel that posited major, concerted, international efforts to do anything.

“Too implausible,” they would say. And they would be right.

I haven’t thought about the report very much. I knew what it would say when I heard it was coming out. Good news about important things is in short supply.

In truth, I’ve been depressed lately. Anxious, too, though not as anxious as I was last year. And angry. Very, very, very angry.

This might seem to call for therapy. But I’m depressed, anxious, and angry because of the pandemic, the atrocious US public health response, right-wing extremism, and climate change.

A therapist can’t fix any of that. All a therapist can do is help me put up with this nonsense.

And I don’t want to put up with it. Continue reading “Angry These Days”

How Stories Save Us

Stories can heal and transform us. They can also become beacons of hope.

Quite a few years ago, when I was going through a difficult personal time, I came across a book about the inherent healing power of telling our stories. No matter how scattered or flawed our lives may appear, as we tell our stories, we gain something. Patterns emerge from seeming chaos, and our lives begin to make sense. It may be dreadful, agonizing sense, but even tragedies have order and consequence. I found that over time, the way I told my story changed, reflecting my recovery process and new insight.

The mirror side of story-telling is story-listening. While a confidential diary or journal can be highly useful, having someone hear our words can be transformative, especially if all that person does is listening. Not judging, not analyzing, not wondering how to respond, just taking in our words, a silent partner on our journey. Often we feel less alone in retrospect, no matter how isolated and desperate we might have been at the time. Additionally, a compassionate listener invites us to be kinder with ourselves.

Perhaps this is how Twelve Step programs work, apart from any Higher Power mysticism or Steps: that by simply hearing our own voices relate our histories, and having the experience of being heard, we open the door to viewing ourselves through the lens of new possibilities.

Personal storytelling calls for discretion, of course. Although it may be true that “we are only as sick as our secrets,” casually (or not-so-casually) violating a confidence from someone else is not the same as choosing to include the listener in our own private lives. Some of us never learned healthy boundaries about what is safe to share, and when, and with whom. We, or others, can be harmed by indiscriminate broadcasting of embarrassing, illegal, or otherwise sensitive information. The kind of storytelling I’m talking about, on the other hand, is as much about the journey as it is the facts.

Stories can get us through dark times by giving us hope and inspiring empathy. Stories work by creating a bond between the narrator or central character and the listener/reader. Who wants to read a story about a person you care nothing about? And if that appealing character has a different history or journey, or learns something the reader never experienced, so much the better. We accompany them into darkness and out again. Continue reading “How Stories Save Us”

Changing the Rules

When I was young and trying to break into places that were marked “no girls allowed” (like practicing law and training in martial arts), I used to say, “Women don’t want to change things in [insert male-dominated space here]; we just want to be allowed to play.”

That was a lie. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was. First of all, bringing women into those spaces inevitably changes things. Secondly, as demonstrated by the recent decisions by people like Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka to refuse to participate on other people’s terms, it leads to changes in the underlying rules.

Playing hurt isn’t a good idea, even at the Olympics. Putting up with abuse should never be necessary.

Add in the women refusing to compete in uncomfortable clothing — a proxy for all the stupid dress codes that dictate to women just how they’re supposed to cover or uncover their bodies — and you’ve got women changing the rules of the game.

What a wonderful thing. Continue reading “Changing the Rules”

Raised in a Barn: A War on the Front Forty

Note that even my father’s dog Nellie got a new outfit for the occasion.

My father was born to be a king. Or at least lord of the manor. He had the eccentric manor and the acreage.  And when some friends of mine from the Society for Creative Anachronism came to visit, with the express purpose of deciding whether the front lawn would be a good place for a war, Dad was all in.

By the front lawn, I mean the approximately 20 acres of pasture across the road from the Barn, proper.  When my parents bought the barn, 180 acres of land came with it: the front 20 (often referred to as the front forty, perhaps because of the alliteration) separated from the Barn and the rest of the mountain by a county road, and the 160 acres around and behind the barn, most of which was hilly, forested, and not much in the way of farmable.  The front 20 was rather rolling, and ran down about a quarter of a mile to the Housatonic River, storied and sung in my youth for its horrid pollution. My brother and I had never stuck a toe in it for fear of having it dissolve.

My SCA friends returned to their barony and pitched the idea of a battlefield event, and the War of the Roses was born. I was kept apprised of the planning (since I was more or less the intermediary between my parents and the machineries of war), and some basic ground-rules were set: the war was across the road from the Barn, but people were permitted to come up and draw water from the hose spigot outside the studio door. Digging a hole in which to roast an ox (my father’s face was incandescent at the thought) was okay, and smaller fires likewise, so long as they were rigorously tended. This area for parking. This area, marked out with pennons, for the battle, and That area—essentially the rest of the field—for setting up temporary residences.

Of course I made my parents suitable garb. My mother didn’t want anything particularly fancy—”your basic medieval schmatta,” as she put it. But my father… I told him to find a painting from any period from 1000-1600 and I would do my best to make the clothing depicted for him. Of course he went for Henry VIII. My father, barrel chested with knotty, muscular calves that would have made the Tudor court swoon, was made for this.  I made him the outfit, and he wore it for the weekend and…did I saw born to be a king? Yeah, like that.

My recollection of the whole weekend is rather kaleidoscopic: I bounced back and forth between the camp and the Barn (and slept in my own bed). The fire over which the ox (well, the half-cow) was to be roasted wasn’t lit early enough, which meant that the meat wasn’t actually cooked until half past 10 that evening. The battle itself was spectacular—a series of individual fights first, followed by a melee, all framed against a sky full of gray clouds. Despite the overcast of the day it was warm, bordering on hot, and after the war was over, some of the combatants took themselves down to the river to skinny dip. Apparently the river had been cleaned up a lot while I was living elsewhere: no one dissolved or emerged from the water writhing in agony (and at the following year’s war skinny dipping was a feature, not a bug: the day was hotter and sunnier, and immediately after the battle the banks of the Housatonic were teeming with naked warriors).

Possibly my father’s favorite moment of the weekend came on Saturday evening. People camped pretty much where they wanted, and one young woman had pitched her tent three quarters of the way down the field, just before the river bank. And she started having belly pain. Among other things, my father was a member of the volunteer ambulance squad, and a qualified EMT. Someone found me and reported a woman in pain, and I charged up to the Barn, where my father had retired for the evening was wearing his civvies. Within a minute of my outlining the problem Dad had his kit in the car, slapped the green flasher on the roof, and tore down the hill to the campsite. “Hot appy!” he announced, and judged this was not the time to wait for the ambulance. He loaded her into his car and took her off to the local hospital, where her appendix was removed just in the nick of time.

The next day the Baron and Baroness of the presiding Barony made a presentation to my parents, and they were roundly huzzahed. I think my mother enjoyed it, in an “I’m just here to watch the young folks being crazy” sort of way. But Dad was in his element: how often do you get to be the Lord of the Manor, Rescue the Maiden (from the fearsome Appendix!) and dress like a king?