Life’s Disappointments

I’m finishing up the first draft of Book Two in my Lord Julian series (links starting to populate for Book One–yikes!), and having great fun with my main character, Lord Julian Caldicott. In a mystery series, it’s often said that the main character doesn’t really change from book to book. The investigation of and solution to the puzzle are what rivet reader attention–but I’m not finding that to be exactly so.

Just as Lady Violet took eight books to sort through widowhood issues, re-evaluate her relationships with family, and end up with a re-marriage based on love and respect, so too is Lord Julian having to wade through some Stuff.

Wartime service has left him broken in body and spirit, and what wrecks him the most is that he has disappointed his family. In the eyes of society he’s a traitor (some memory problems make untangling that question complicated), but the greater wound is that he failed his brothers. Disappointed them with a bold, capital D. His brother Harry might have survived captivity, if only Julian had been smarter, faster, more determined… something.

Arthur, the Caldicott family duke, is too well mannered to call Julian a bungler, but Julian hears what isn’t said. As the series unfolds, Julian will have to get this business of disappointing his family squared away, and deal with the equally tricky turn of events when family disappoints him.

I disappointed my father with the books I publish. He was proud of me for other reasons–four academic degrees went a long way with that guy–but publishing romance? Without having read a single one of my books, he decided they were “disgusting.” (And oh, boy, did my mom ever let him have it when he let that one slip.) Dad’s narrow-mindedness hurt, but I wasn’t about to stop writing happily ever afters just because he didn’t respect them.

One of my riding instructors was so disappointed in me for not competing at horse shows, that he pretty much told me he didn’t want to be my trainer if I wasn’t going to show. I competed at a show to shut him up, but in hindsight I wish  I’d flipped him the bird. I’d competed in any number of shows with previous instructors, and all showing did for me was take one part of my life that was supposed to be fun and turn it into work. More work, and expensive, public, exhausting work when I have never been the Energizer Bunny to begin with, and courtrooms and genre fiction are quite public enough,  thank you very much.

My father’s disappointment earned a shrug–he wasn’t threatening to disown me, and by God, I’ve been disappointed in dear old Dad a time or two–my riding instructor’s shade got me to do something I didn’t want to do.

And that soured our relationship. I’ve never asked him why he pulled that power play–that’s how I see it–but I probably should. We’re both older and wiser now, and in many regards, friends.

Another friend recently sent me one of Luvvie Ajayi Jones’s newsletters, and therein Luvvie states: “Disappoint whoever you have to in order to honor yourself more and betray yourself less.”

Lord Julian must learn to be more nuanced in his handling of disappointments. If a relationship is so fragile that disappointment will destroy it, then how much of a relationship is it, really? If disappointment is expressed to manipulate us, how much of a relationship is it? Why did my relationship with Dad have the spaciousness and resilience to weather disappointments, but with my riding instructor–whom I’d worked with for years–no such luck?

I don’t know as it will take me eight books to noodle through these issues with his lordship, but two books in, and we’re still gnawing on the questions.

Has there been a time when you’ve persisted even when others expressed disappointment in you or your dreams? A time when you caved to their disapproval and in hindsight wished you hadn’t?



Riding Into the Sunset

Like most people, I have a lot of identities–mother, sister, neighbor, lawyer, author, flower gardener, appreciator of fine chocolate… and one of those identities is “horse girl.” I am inclined to quibble over any use of the word “girl” to refer to a female over the age of eighteen (Yes, Grace, we know…), but in the case of a horse girl, age has nothing to do with it.

Horse girls all know what it is to go out to the barn for morning feed-and-chores in muck boots and a bathrobe (and the muck boots will be newer than the bathrobe). We’ve made those late night calls to the emergency vet service, and get why an acquaintance who owns a backhoe can come in handy on a very sad day. We turn up sore in places few other people do, and we’re in the broke-but-happy quadrant much of the time. We pursue the only Olympic sport where men and women compete directly against each other, and we know why the term “therapy horse” is redundant.

My horse girl identity goes back to at least the age of three, when if it was a “pick out a present for your birthday” situation, I’d go for the horse picture, the stuffed horse, the plastic horse, the horse coloring book. Fortunately, my daughter was born with the horse girl gene, so equines have been a way to stay connected with her, and to keep at least one communication channel open even in the worst of times (and there have been some truly awful times).

My dear old Santa pony has reached retirement. His spirit is willing, but the demons of aging have started their infernal mischief, and keeping him in work would be neither productive nor kind. He has a great retirement home waiting for him, and a piece of my heart will go with him–a great big piece.

He was my gift to myself, a gift I clung to when menopausal anxiety was threatening to define me, when the pandemic was isolating me, and when the passing years tempted me to become one with the writing chair (or the rocking chair). The rhythm of my weeks was built around the two days I went to the barn, and most of my errands were wedged into those travels. But for Santa, I might have descended into staying home for weeks on end, living out the back of the Fedex truck. That would have been  bad for me, for a zillion and a half reasons, but soooo easy.

I owe this horse–and all the horses–more than words can say.

I don’t know if I will keep riding. You don’t have to ride to be a horse girl any more than you have to be sitting at the keyboard to be a pianist, or elbows deep in bread dough to be a baker. It will take a very special horse to replace Santa, but then, all horses are special to a horse girl.

Have animals pulled you through any knotholes? I’m still adding to my Miss Determined ARC list!

Your Splendid Life

As I was planting my first batch of pansies this week, a little onion snow commenced. By that I mean, the kind of snow that looks all fluffy and lovely coming down, but it’s just a gesture toward the real thing. No accumulation, no severe weather alerts, no matter how long it goes on.

That snow reminded me of another spring snow from maybe twenty years ago. My daughter and I were doing a road trip from Maryland to San Diego to see the Aged P’s, and then we were heading to Las Vegas to take in an international horse show. I asked around among friends and acquaintances about what sights we should see (I’d driven cross country MANY times, but never with a teenager riding shotgun), and one suggestion kept cropping up:

“Go see the Grand Canyon.”
“The Grand Canyon is the only national park I saw as a kid that impressed me even more when I saw it as a adult.”
“You can’t miss the Grand Canyon.”

Oh, all right. I did ask, and I hadn’t seen the GC in all my travels, so I made the reservation. We arrived at the hotel (South Rim) after dark, and got the last available  room on the canyon-side and a second room on the mule-palace-side. Guess which one I took?

About oh-dark-how-dare-you-thirty, somebody starts pounding on my hotel room door. “Mom, get up. You have to see this. Get up now.” I got up, which–being an experienced parent–I could do without waking up, more or less, and stumbled across the hall. “What? What is it? Why did you get me outta bed, when….?”

Darling child pointed to the window, which had a spectacular view of the North Rim. During the night, a dusting of snow had fallen, and the white frosting limned about the first thousand feet of the canyon face. I had never seen the Grand Canyon before, and this was the canyon in prize-winning photography form. We went outside and just goggled and grinned and stared (and shivered and tried not to step in mule deer droppings).

And that lovely memory put me in mind of a visit to Scotland in March of 2015. I try to sync up with the circadian rhythm of distant locations by getting outside early in the morning the day after I arrive, and so there I was, stumbling around at maybe 9 am, and wondering why the sidewalks were so crowded. I mean… everybody was outside. The hotel maids, the tourists, the skinny young guys in their then-fashionable skinny suits, schoolchildren… everybody was outside for some reason.

Then I saw people wearing funny cardboard glasses and I realized, “Oh, yeah. Scotland is having a near-total solar eclipse… guess that’s today?” The eclipse itself was interesting. The light got strange, the sky went gray, and because there was the thinnest overcast, the moon’s progress before the sun was starkly visible.

What was even more delightful though, was that we were all there, pausing our commutes, our sightseeing, our school day, our jobs, our everything to look up in wonder… together.  The whole city declared a spontaneous recess, and our amazement was even more joyous for being shared.

That was a magical, transcendent moment, just as my first sighting of the Grand Canyon was magical for my daughter and me–and that she was the one to show it to me was doubly wonderful.

And I got to revisit these surprising, wondrous moments of connection all while planting my pansies in the snow.

Do you have any splendid little moments among your memories?

Hitting the Spot

“The “if I had time” lie is a convenient way to ignore the fact that novels require being written and that writing happens a sentence at a time. Sentences can happen in a moment. Enough stolen moments, enough stolen sentences, and a novel is born — without the luxury of time.”

I know authors who have written whole manuscripts on their cell phones while schlepping on the subway to and from the day job. I am in awe of that sort of focus and dedication–kudos, hats off, fair dinkum!  But the quote above, from a very respected authority on writing, still maketh my blood to boil.

This is the same shaming, simplistic thinking that would tell a couple overwhelmed by three kids under the age of five that making time for sex is easy. Just do the smooching part in the kitchen while waiting for the coffee maker to do its morning thing. You’re both standing there with nothing better to do for three whole minutes. Stop lollygagging!

The moaning phase can be dispatched during your commutes. Everybody else is wearing headphones on the subway anyhow, so just let ‘er rip, and wiggle a little too while you’re at it (multi-tasking!). So what if you’re on separate trains headed to separate parts of the city? If you get in some groping and carrying on while dinner’s heating, then all you have to do is the last five minutes when you fall into bed.

Easy peasy!

I could no more write a coherent scene one sentence at a time, separated by a thousand others tasks, thoughts, obligations, and wishes, than I could produce a healthy baby by gestating for the 31 days of March for nine straight years.

That’s not how any of this works–for me. And yet, I do keep a set of hand weights by the microwave. When my tea water is heating, I’ll do a few reps of a shoulder series or some parson curls. When I’m collecting my monthly sales data, I’ll round up all the figures at Apple and jot them down. Later in the day, I’ll visit the Kobo dashboard, and so on, such that by evening, I can do the data entry on a title for all vendors.

I do most of my housework in five-to-fifteen minute spot-chores, with few exceptions (the bathroom can take an hour to do properly and it is not a fun hour). But no, Oh Famous Writing Guru, I cannot write my books one disjointed, isolated sentence at a time, and more to the point, it would hurt to try. The issue with, “I don’t have time,” often isn’t a paucity of idle minutes, it’s emotional safety, imaginative breathing room, A Gentleman Worthy of Kisses by Grace Burrowesand the stubbornly non-linear nature of worthwhile creativity.

Says me, but for others–the stolen moments, spot-cleaning, approach is the only viable way forward. What tasks can you tackle in micro-measures, and which ones would you never subject to that strategy?

The next title I will have in Advanced Reader Copy shape, is the first Lord Julian MysteryA Gentleman Fallen on Hard Times–though I probably won’t publish that tale on the major platforms until late summer. Leave a comment, though, and you might end up with Lord Julian’s debut whodunnit this spring!



My Heart Springs Up!

Hot weather is not my friend. I have less energy, I don’t sleep as well, my mood sinks. Fortunately, where I live, we have only about 10-12 weeks of truly gross weather (it’s the heat and the humidity), and those weeks are still a good way off.

Right now, I’m delighting in early spring.

On mild days, I can open the windows, and for now, in this brief and lovely interval, still no bugs!

The birds are singing again. Birdsong reduces both anxiety and depression (while traffic sounds increase both), and I am blessed to live where the cultivated acres of the valley bump up against the timbered mountainside. We haz birds!

Crocuses. Every fall I plant a few dozen, and after a quarter century of planting a few dozen here and there, these little guys are likely to spring up almost anywhere in my yard. They’ve gone freestyle, and I love it.

Flowering trees. We aren’t there yet, but Maryland does a spectacular job with these. The red bud, dog wood, ornamental cherries, and magnolias go bananas. Add in the azaleas and some irises, and the average springtime Maryland residential street can be pretty wondrous.

Sunshine wins at this time of year. Without leaves on the trees, that old sun is everywhere, and gaining strength by the week without being the nuisance it soon becomes. My house is as full of light now as it’s ever going to be.

My circadian rhythm is happy. I think this is part of the reason I’m so enamored of fall. When the sunlight is too long or too short, I don’t feel as in sync with my sleep cycle as I do during the swing seasons. Years ago, I heard a couple of ladies on Orkney talking about which sleep mask each lady preferred.

The woman who’d been on Orkney for a mere sixteen years said it took her forever to figure out that it wasn’t the tourists that were making her cranky by mid-summer, it was sleep deprivation and lousy sleep. The eighteen hours of sun-above-the-horizon Orkney gets in June were far harder on her system than the eighteen hours of sun-below-the-horizon in December. Gave me something to think about, because I surely do get cranky in summer.

My birthday is in March (despite what I put on Facebook), and growing up, that was always an oasis of joy between the winter holidays and school’s-out in June.

One of my ridin’ buddies is the maternity manager at a horse breeding barn, and every year, she posts “foal watch” pictures on Facebook. When the mares are close to delivery, somebody has to patrol the barn all night, every night. My friend takes a four-hour shift most nights, and so we get pictures of each baby horse to safely arrive into the world. I look forward to her posts every year, and when the first foal hits the ground, I know spring is arriving.

The horses shed ridiculously. One barn even has a “biggest hairball contest.” You keep all the horsehair you’ve brushed from your beastie in the month of March and ball it up for weighing. First prize is a new set of brushes.

And the wonderful thing about my harbingers list is that they come around despite  pandemics, wars, supply chain baloney, or other man-made sources of despair. The joy arrives, and with it comes hope.

Seeing any harbingers in your neck of the woods (or harbingers of autumn for those Down Under)?



Authors are jealous custodians of any idea that could possibly turn into a story, be it a book, a short tale, a podcast, or a blog post. “What if…?” is our friend, and “What happens if you turn that around?” is our favorite mental yoga.

Any idea–for a foodie mystery, alternative historical fiction, a dystopian coming of age novella–deserves our consideration, and thus when the notion of writing a book about writing befell me, I gave it a spin. What do I wish somebody had told me as a debut author that I took fifty books to figure out for myself? What are the prose tweaks that have done the most to polish my stories with the least effort?

What are the quirks unique to the writing industry that all the lawyering or single-mom-ing in world did not prepare me for? Did I leave any do-overs undone?

I’ve begun drafting all that stuff, in no particular order. Some of it reads like posts cribbed from this blog, some of it is closely related to workshop presentations I’ve given, and some of it is material that I hope spares another author a few bad days or some self doubt.

I am enjoying the heck out of this project. I think about it far more than I work on it, but when I do turn my focus on writerly things, these topics give me a way to be an author even if I don’t have a work of fiction to occupy me. To a small degree, the “writer book” project is telling my story, and in another sense, it’s just messing around–no pressure, no deadlines, no  preconceived expectations. I’m not developing the book with an eye toward, “Who’s my target audience, what’s my residual message?”

Lady Violet Attends a Wedding — Book TwoI’m noshing along, thinkin’ ’bout things, filling up some hours while I wait for my fiction project to finish its nap. The work is restful, enjoyable, and interesting. This is the same mindset with which I approached the Lady Violet Mysteries, and those turned out pretty well, considering how much fun I had writing them.

Hobby projects aren’t much encouraged in our society. We’re to be working or playing or engaged in self-care, which usually means something akin to work that we don’t get paid for but had better see to if we want to keep working. We are not encouraged to pursue what fulfills us, particularly if our pursuit defies schedules, outlines, and–sing it with me–monetization, but why is that? Monetization for whom? Why not prioritize happy-fication?

One of my sisters has tackled playing the organ later in life (Maire was always one to take on a challenge). My friend Graham is gnawing away at learning the piano. I have another friend who’s taken up the casual study of French, and author Jennifer Ashley has lately been posting on social media about her re-entry into the craft of knitting.

Do you have hobby projects? Backburner pursuits that provide great satisfaction without following any schedule, pay scale, or predictable progress? If you were going to pick up a new hobby, what would it be?

Every Step You Take

I came across a reference this week to a study on fitness tracking devices. The study found that we are more active when we wear a tracker, even if the tracker isn’t counting steps accurately or working reliably. The researchers reasoned that to our minds, anything that gets measured is considered more important. If we start measuring steps, then steps matter more to us, and so forth.

It’s axiomatic in business that “What gets measured gets managed,” though the full quote, from a guy named V.F Ridgway writing in 1956, goes as follows: “What gets measured gets managed — even when it’s pointless to measure and manage it, and even if it harms the purpose of the organisation to do so”.

I’m reminded of Ridgway’s wisdom every time I’m supposed to respond to a customer service questionnaire–“Please take just thirty seconds to help us improve our service!”–when the problem is not the response I received after a problem arose, but the product I purchased in the first place, the website I had to navigate to find the door to the customer service rabbit hole, and the stupid tech design intended to bilk me of time and money after I buy the product and it doesn’t work as advertised, and can’t be terminated without following a NASA launch sequence. None of those topics appear on the questionnaire of course, but the company sure wants to know if Lauren-bot in support came through for me. Sure, they do.

So… deciding what to measure matters, and that led me to think about what I measure. Not my weight–not sure what it is, beyond, “A little too much of a good thing…” Not my bank account. There’s money in there most days, thank heavens, and I have a general idea how much, but I don’t micro-manage it.

Well, how ’bout… word counts? Now we’re talkin’.

Miss Determined is sitting at about 60,000 words as of today. I am aware of how many words I write each day, where that puts me regarding progress with the book as a whole, and how far I have to go until my draft is complete (though those goal posts are notorious for  moving). Some authors use little programs that turn word counts into pretty charts, some notch their plot outlines to estimated word counts. Word counts get measured, and yet… every author I know understands that a big pile of rough draft writing is only a limited accomplishment.

We measure the size of that pile because we can’t revise a blank page, but we can spin 100,000 bales of straw into prose-gold, if we’re lucky and work hard. Finishing the first draft gets us to the base camp, and there’s no expedition to the literary heights without reaching that first milestone.

Miss Determined by Grace BurrowesBut I cannot measure how much I miss my daughter, though I went for 1262 days without seeing her. I cannot measure how grateful I am to see the year’s first crocuses, or how much joy I derive from a little trail ride with dear Santa on a pleasant winter day… and those things matter to me tremendously.

What gets measured gets managed, but am I measuring–is it even possible to measure–what really matters?

So that takes me to another question: What do you measure, and why do you measure it?

And PS, because some anthems from my wayward youth deserve a regular re-hearing, here’s The Police, Every Step You Take  (originally released in 1983!).


I subscribe to James Clear’s Atomic Habits newsletter, and he often concludes with a question. This week, the question was, “What has been the best hour of my week? How can I make it easier to have more hours like that?”

My contrarian self reacted to that query with something close to indignation: My best hour was some REM sleep on Wednesday night, bro. You think I’m not already engineering as much of that as I can? Do you even grasp the concept, the hormonal chaos, of menopause? Can you spell the word? And then there was that hour when the Motrin kicked in and my headache receded–only receded, mind you–on Thursday. What the heck kind of entitled, deluded…?

And so forth. When I’d indulged in that little rant to my heart’s content (allow me my modest joys),  I settled down to consider the question objectively and why it set me off.

The why part is easy. I am leery of the notion of individual responsibility as the universal explanation for all aspects of one’s life. Too many factors lie outside our control, too many factors are structured to actively oppose our wellbeing.

So yeah, the question pushed my self-empowerment-is-the-whole-answer button, which is easy to do. But this query about “best hour” also got me thinking about the sweet spots in my week and in my life.

I have a memory of Christmas Eve, 1992. My daughter was about fourteen, and her dear mare was no longer spry enough for the skills and ambitions of her rider. The mare and the previous campaigner were living mostly retired in our backyard, and we’d gone to see a potential replacement horse the week before. The new guy didn’t know a whole lot–he was only five–but he was sweet, willing, and well bred.

Heather and I went for a trail ride that Christmas Eve. I was up on the mare, Heather was on the old Arab. We didn’t often do that, but it was Christmas Eve, and we were waiting for the results of the vetting on the new guy. We toddled on horseback around the neighbors’ fields and even hopped a little stone wall. Snow flurries started up, and when we arrived home we got word that the new guy–Delray–had passed his vetting with flying colors.

Me on Delray the Wonder Pony (I should be looking UP.)

A few years later, when Heather’s abilities mandated another equine partner upgrade, Delray became my Wonder Pony. This was the day Del joined our family. The weather was my definition of lovely, the company–equine and human–so dear, and the activity delightful. The sweetness of that hour goes in my personal record books. What a Christmas gift!

And revisiting that hour got me to thinking about other moments of sweetness, however microscopic–the instant when my head hits the pillow, and I can say to myself, “Well, you tried your best today, and now you can rest. Tomorrow will get here soon enough, sufficient unto the day, and all that. Time to fire up the Nook.” A peaceful, sweet moment.

When I sit down to the writing in the morning, and start up the computer, ready to play let’s pretend yet again, or to buff yesterday’s efforts, I’m aware that I get to do this work in my play clothes (no “courtroom attire!”), my fave cuppa tea at hand (bottomless refills!), and all my lovely readers figuratively cheering me on… that’s lovely.

Miss Devoted by Grace BurrowesSo the value I take from the question, “What was your best hour this week?” is not a challenge to enhance the probability of snow flurries in my life, but rather, an invitation to stop and notice all the joys I have right now, and to appreciate them as they bloom.

Any nice moments this week? Sweet hours? Do they bring any lovely memories to mind? My ARCs for Miss Devoted will go out this week, so if you’re interested, please email me at [email protected] (though I’m pretty sure most of the regulars are already on the ARC list.)

PS: Ordering links for Miss Determined have gone live!



Sleeping Beautifully

When first I did peep open my eyes today (Thursday), I asked myself, “Do I FEEL like getting up just yet?” I love being able to pose that question, and I grasp that it contemplates significant privilege. So many of us, due to jobs, family obligations, and other constraints must arise when the alarm bugle (or marimba) sounds. That was me for decades, come migraines, cramps, illness, or exhaustion.

Up I did get, out I did go (and fat, tired, and auto-immune sick I did become.)

My question wasn’t entirely self-indulgent, though. I am prone to what I call doughnut sleep. I toddle up to bed on time (between 10 pm and 11 pm), I read a little, and then I commend myself to the arms of Morpheus. In the middle of the night, I wake up, and for the next few hours, I’m resting rather than sleeping. This is a fine time to contemplate book plots, the state of the planet, strategies for the most effective use of my time, or reasons to be grateful. I might do some yoga poses in the dark, or get in quality time with the king of the upstairs, Augustus the Cat.

Toward dawn, I drift off for another good sleep cycle. I’d rather sleep through the night, but doughnut sleep is simply an intermittent fact of my life, despite regular exercise, blackout curtains, a bedtime routine, blue light filters, and all the other strategies we’re supposed to try.

Today, though, I’m also coming off several days of bustling about. I’ve made two trips to the barn this week, where my darling Santa was not feeling necessarily 100% (nothing serious, thank heavens). I completed the third dentist appointment in a series that has not been fun at all (but is happily done). I got after extra house work necessitated by excessively muddy winter weather and pets who do not wipe their paws. I’ve been dogged by looming book deadlines (c’mon, Miss Devoted!) and tax season aggravations..

So today I felt like proceeding in a lower gear. I am so fantastically wealthy in freedom that I don’t have to wait until the weekend to ratchet down my pace. I will get plenty done–write a scene (fingers crossed), tidy up this or that, format Miss Devoted. I have plenty to do, but I also have my own permission to cut back on the full quota of steps, to eat a few more carbs (I’m on a garlic naan and cheddar kick), and to  mess around a little more diving into rabbit holes like why hasn’t the hydroelectric potential on both slopes of the Hindu Kush (of K2 fame) been more fully harnessed?

If I had to choose between doubling my income or keeping the flexibility I have in my schedule, I’d keep the flexibility. I’m pretty clear that the income I do have depends on me being able to say when to accelerate and when to throttle back, when to write a blog post and when to dive into the next scene for Miss Determined (pre-order links starting to populate). The quality of my output, my environment, my financial management, and my health depends on me being the boss of my time.

Miss Devoted by Grace BurrowesI suspect, pre-industrial revolution, and certainly pre-agricultural revolution, this is how the species was meant to function–with a lot of autonomy and a lot of responsibility, though in the context of a tight tribal social network. Seems to me, though, we still have the responsibility, but with a lot less daily autonomy and relatively puny social networks (the leading reason Americans seek counseling is loneliness). I am soooooo glad that I’ve hit a stretch of life where I have that autonomy. It’s helping me stay healthy, happy, creative, and productive. (And to ensure Gus-Gus gets all the scratchies he needs.)

What’s good about your life right now? What is getting better, even if it’s not quite where you want it yet? Three more commenters go on the Miss Devoted ARC list!


Be Haven

My sister’s visit over the holidays went well, for those who’ve been wondering. I picked Gail up at the airport (on time!), we spent a night at my house, and then we tooled down to DC to take in some museums. The highlight of the excursion was the Vermeer exhibit, which was small but interesting. (And he’s one of my faves, for the domesticity, elegance, and warm-heartedness of his images.)

The whole exercise of sprucing up the house in anticipation of company got me thinking about safe spaces, and what they’ve meant in my life. There haven’t been  many, which is odd, because I have rarely been at risk of physical harm. The courtroom, for all its procedure and pomp, is not a safe place. People lose their kids in courtrooms. They get wrongfully convicted, they get away with murder.

Churches have not been safe places for me. Let’s start with I’m female and I was raised Catholic, and leave it at that.

But I have known places that felt safe to me. One was the newsroom of my college newspaper. The ensemble cast was full of quirky characters, but the job of getting out a morning daily made for camaraderie and a focus on getting the job done rather than backbiting or grumbling. By contrast, the Fortune 100 offices I have worked in (several) were full of politics, senior managers breaking rules, and a culture that demanded employees lean in to a company that was leaning with avaricious glee into profit uber alles.

My house is a safe place. I can be myself here. I (mostly) control who’s allowed in (Blossom the Possum and I are in negotiations). I can do pretty much as I need to do in this space, but for me a truly safe place has an element of emotional refuge that goes beyond the pleasures of solitude. Robert Frost wrote, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in… something you somehow haven’t to deserve.” A truly safe place for me encompasses an element of acceptance–I’m not only welcome, but I’m welcome to be myself.

American culture, in my humble, does poorly at creating these places, for all our foghorning about individualism and community values. Maybe for some of us, the knitting club does the work of a safe place, or the horse barn, or the yoga class, but we lack “safe place” institutions. I think of the British local pub as such a place. For men, the hunting cabin or fishing trip might meet the definition. Libraries certainly have the potential.

My nephew, who teaches political science at a Swedish university, has a colleague who concluded that pub closures during COVID boosted political radicalization. If your pub really is a safe place, then people you don’t agree with are allowed to share it with you, and in that place, you treat each other civilly, even kindly, because them’s the house rules.

If you had to choose one place to interact compassionately and constructively with people whose beliefs diverge significantly from yours, where would that place be? I’ll add three commenters to my Miss Devoted ARC list!