The Goddess of Hope

I make my living with my imagination, so I’m always on the lookout for information about how to do that more successfully. I read books about creativity, about break-through thinking, about solving problems nobody has yet solved.  Thanks to some smart folks, we know, for example, that successful entrepreneurs tend to share three characteristics:

First, they create a lot. Like the legendary Thomas Edison, they churn out the ideas, some silly, some brilliant. Beethoven, Picasso, Frank Lloyd Wright… they each left us a large body of work as they shaped the art of their time. Much of Beethoven’s music is merely pretty, but to get to the Ode to Joy, he was willing to slog through the merely pretty phase.

Second, successful entrepreneurs tend to work at the edge of their expertise, such that a surgeon (Dr. Judah Folkman) rather than an oncologist came up with angiogenesis as an angle for defeating cancer (cutting off a tumor’s blood supply). Working outside your wheelhouse means you have creds in some field, often big creds (Folkman graduated from Harvard Medical School), but you aren’t as invested in the “we’ve always done it that way” limitations surrounding the problem you’re tackling.

Third, successful entrepreneurs tend to be charming people who associate easily with all kinds of other people. You remember these entrepreneurs because they ask interesting questions and actually listen to your answers. This  intensity of focus and friendliness on the part of the entrepreneur means potential funding sources are favorably impressed. For the entrepreneur, a wide circle of acquaintances means they  constantly encounter fresh perspectives, because the janitor, the grad student barrista, and the tech innovator will not view life in the same light.

What strikes me about these magic beans–foraging beyond a developed field of expertise, burning the candle at both ends, keeping in touch with a big bunch of people–is how much easier all of that is to take on if a) you don’t have kids, or b) if you must have kids, then you have somebody else to look after them most of the time.

There are 950 Nobel laureates, only 48 of them are women who won the prize without sharing it with a hubbie (six couples have won). Only 25 Fortune 500 companies have female CEOs (and not a one has a black female CEO).  The US Congress is still not EVEN 25 percent female, and some state legislatures have as few as 15 percent female members (and they tend to be the least productive state legislatures, too).

All of which makes me more hopeful than mad (most days). Why? Because think of all the genius, creativity, and sheer inventive brilliance lurking in the half of the population that heretofore has had fewer opportunities to develop those creds, burn those candles, and establish those wide circles of acquaintance.

We have tremendous untapped potential as close as the girl next door, and increasingly we seem to realize how important it is that she have a chance to be the next successful entrepreneur, or the next anything she wants to be.

What gives you hope these days? Where do you see things moving in a positive direction? Christmas is coming, so I’m back to sending one commenter at $50 Amazon gift e-card.

 

Reverse Whole-NaNo-30

So my earlier post, about Forty Bags, NanoWriMo, and Whole 30 got me thinking. (This is easy to do.) I’ve lately been catching up on my doctor visits, which means doing a lot of lab work too. For months, I’ve been feeling like the air is seeping out of my tires. I told myself that was post day-job adjustment, except I quit the day job more than year ago. I’m adjusted already, and loving the change.

Then I decided it was the summer heat sapping my energy. Or traveling too much, or too many writing deadlines. I had all kinds of reasons for ignoring my own fatigue.

But I truly have no juice, and that’s on top of the chronic no-juice condition I’ve been battling since my early thirties. (Yes, the onset of symptoms coincided with the onset of motherhood. Pure coincidence.) I’m prone to iron deficiency anemia and pernicious anemia, I have Lyme disease, and then there’s ye old Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. None of those conditions actually hurt, and I’ve had them all for years, but I figured it was worth doing the labs because seriously… no juice. No physical energy, not much mental momentum either, and I make my living with my mental momentum.

Turns out I’m getting about half the thyroid medication I need. Well, heck. That’s easy enough to fix, but it’s not a fast fix. Thyroid medication can take weeks to move the metabolic needle, and that’s if the dose is correct and a bunch of other pieces of Swiss cheese line up correctly too (manganese, selenium, molybdenum… whatever that is).

So I started taking the higher dose in early November, but if the problem is thyroid alone, the best case is that nothing will kick in until about Christmas. So I did a reverse-Lent, reverse-Whole-30, reverse short-burst-of-high-discipline, and instead gave myself permission to ditch the step-counter for the whole month of November.

I aim for 10,000 steps five days a week, even though the studies data is, you get most of the benefit from the first 3000 steps. Without recourse to the tread-desk, I usually hit around 3000 steps a day just between trips to the horse barn, grocery shopping, and pet food runs. I figured 30 days of reduced activity while I waited for the meds to kick in might not be a bad idea.

It was a GREAT idea. I stopped checking the step-count on my phone ten times a day, and anything that puts the phone in my hand less is a benefit. My hips didn’t hurt as much. I caught up on some sedentary tasks, I got thoroughly back in the writing saddle after weeks of travel earlier in the fall. I judged contest entries, and read some great  books. I enjoyed being a spud, because I knew come December 1, I’d be back at the tread-desk, and because I’m still off to the horse barn a couple times a week.

So now it’s December, and yes, I did my steps today, but I think I will build periodic step-fasts into my year. There are just some seasons when putting down a burden or obligation for a time is the smart, kind, prudent thing to do. The holidays and cold weather (in the northern hem) are looming. Is there something you can put on hold for a few weeks? A reverse-Lent that might make your life easier?

To one commenter, I’ll send a $50 Barnes and Noble gift card.

That’s Entertaining

The holidays approach, when for some families, the board games come out or the bowl games come on. Inherent in the concept of a holiday is leisure time, hours to linger over a great meal, to visit with friends and family, or to rest from over-exertions. My mom enjoyed putting together those feasts, so for her, the effort of making the holiday happen for others had some enjoyable components. Or so she said…

My six siblings and I recently got into a text-thread about a relative who participated in a donkey basketball game as a fundraiser. For those who’ve never heard of it, donkey basketball is exactly what it sounds like: People riding donkeys, usually bareback, try to play basketball. I don’t care for it. A donkey is designed to carry about 100 pounds safely, and donkey basketball is often played by full grown people. To me, donkey basketball is not entertaining because I regard it as inhumane, and I am very clear that watching another’s suffering is not entertainment to me.

Then too, because the donkeys aren’t having fun, there’s an enhanced probability somebody will get kicked, stomped, bitten, or forcefully dumped. That’s funny? Not to me.

But my tastes in entertainment are way down on the non-violent, non-serious end of the continuum. I don’t often watch serious movies (North and South is about as serious as I get), feeling that life has handed me plenty of unavoidable seriousness, thank you very much. For my downtime, I want happily ever afters and the triumph of the human spirit. Mostly, I want a sort of mental solitude for my entertainment. I expect entertainment to give me a break from the hard stuff, to divert me from work, while subtly fluffing the mental compost that I need to churn to keep the work moving forward.

And my entertainment has to do that without exploiting donkeys. I’m mindful that my species thought watching lions devour defenseless political prisoners was a great day out for the spouse and kids, and that’s not a trait I want society to ever regard as acceptable again. That same society not too long ago through public hangings were entertainment. Bullfights, cockfights, even boxing… to me, it’s all so much suffering offered as a frolic a pretext for profit.

I had a hard time reading Napoleon’s biography, because I knew he ended up dying in disgrace of a lingering and miserable illness on St. Helena. This is a guy who was regarded as a monster by most of the English speaking world, and I was still wishing things could have been different for him. (Though as to that, Napoleon seemed to grasp that he’d lost his throne but ultimately delivered the death blow to European absolute monarchy, and left a democratic legal legacy despite being a nepotistic autocrat.)

What are your requirements for entertainment? Must it be social? Humorous? Athletic? Nature-oriented? Rejuvenating? Relaxing? Make you think? To three comenters, I’ll send signed copies of Forever and a Duke, which hits the shelves Tuesday (and is–I hope–quite entertaining)!

The Workable Quirk

As an author, I’ve been told that characters with quirks will appeal to readers more strongly, because we ALL know people with quirks. Maybe we had an aunt who made the sign of the cross when passing graveyards, even though she wasn’t Catholic and never attended  services. I once worked with somebody who ordered grill cheese sandwiches at every restaurant because a grilled cheese sandwich is safe, fast, cheap, and filling. My mom could grow African violets that seemed to bloom ALL THE TIME.

We remember quirks, which helps build a character from an authorial standpoint, for two reasons. First, odd behaviors stand out–I don’t know anybody else who can grow African violets like my mom did–and second, there’s often a story attached to the quirk. The home where I and six sibling grew up was a fairly utilitarian place–big dining room, five bedrooms (one of them huge), enormous yard that backed up to a woods, and our dining room chairs were “radar” style patio furniture because that stuff is indestructible (and sixty years later apparently worth a mint, alas). But the house also had ten floor-to-ceiling picture windows, which meant a great deal of light all year round and significant solar gain even in winter.

So Mom beautified our dwelling with house plants, and making cuttings from African violets is a cheap way to propagate a flowering plant. The African violets were for pretty, but also cost-effective, and that reflects two realities of my mom’s version of raising a family: Her needs often came last, and one salary for nine people was a tight squeeze in a good year.

Trenton Lindsay confided in his horse because he’d grown up without friends and continued that isolation into adult life. Who else did he have to talk to? Eleanora Hatfield, heroine of next week’s release, Forever and a Duke, is fanatic about finding missing pennies, because she was raised with no pennies to spare  in a family full of shysters. Stephen Wentworth always greets animals because when he was a little boy with a game leg, nobody greeted him.

An interesting characteristic of a quirk is that from my perspective, my quirks are sometimes normal and it’s the rest of the world that really makes no sense. When writing, I am highly intolerant of noise for example. I get annoyed by the sound of the ballast humming in the florescent light in my kitchen. Crickets distract me, though I love them. Most writers thrive in a coffee shop environment, which turns out to be in the ideal zone for the sort of white noise that typically fuels creativity.

“A coffee shop?” I think. “People write in coffee shops? Human people intent on generating good books write in COFFEE SHOPS?! How can this be?” But of course this behavior is normal, to the point that you can download an app that will re-create the hubbub of a coffee shop to boost your writing productivity.

Do you have a quirk or know somebody with a memorable little habit? Is there a story  behind that human foible? To three commenters, I’ll send signed author copies of Forever and a Duke (international comments welcome!), but for those who aren’t print-readers, the pre-order price for this new release is $3.99. Get ’em while they’re hot!

 

NaNo-Here-We-Go

Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

If you frequent social media in any writerly circles, you’ll see references at this time of year to NaNoWriMo. What on earth is that? It’s shorthand for National Novel Writing Month, and the general idea is that you clear the decks for all of November, and write as much as you can each day, hoping to have a 50,000 word rough draft done by November 30.

This is year 30 for NaNo, and the official website shows about 800,000 people participating in this round. Doubtless many more are unofficially giving it a shot, or half a shot. People who find this exercise useful will schedule writing meet ups, make pep-talk-pacts, do on-line writing sprints together, and exchange accountability totals. Many a fine book got its start in the fun, grueling, determined, did-we-mention-grueling trenches of NaNo.

For me, every month is NaNoWriMo, but writing is my calling. Many others trying to hit the 50,000-word goal are raising children, holding down day jobs, maintaining primary relationships, and otherwise impersonating human beings. Coming up with the time and creative energy to average 1,666 words a day, without fail, is no mean feat.

The mentality of gutting it out for a month also characterizes the Whole-30 diet, which for many people is a fast from Everything They Hold Dear. No sugar, no booze, no legumes, no grains, no dairy, no MSG/sulfites/carrageenan. I’ve done it twice, with no apparent benefit (and a moderate sense of on-going deprivation), but what made it survivable was the knowledge that Day 31 was growing ever closer. The benefit of reduced systemic inflammation would supposedly be lasting, while the effort was time-limited.

I’ve also run across the Forty Bags in Forty Days decluttering challenge. The idea here originated with Lent (technically 46 days, but Sundays are for rest), and it’s fairly simple: Remove on average, one bag a day of clutter from your house every non-Sunday between Ash Wednesday and Easter Saturday. If you live in a spotless temple to organization and cleanliness, you can remove one item of clutter a day instead. The removed items can be donated to charity if appropriate or simply tossed.

These very different projects have several commonalities. NaNo, Whole-30, and 40 Bags are all social. They all come with forums, websites, FB groups, and a group effort element. They are all time-limited, and as the Whole-30 founder says, for thirty days, you can put up with black coffee. They all break down a significant challenge into day-by-day progress.

For me, anything that happens dans un troupeau is to be avoided. I don’t feel safe in crowds, I don’t like them, not even virtual crowds. There’s a force at work in crowds that weighs against individual awareness and judgment, and that’s a nope for me. But I do like the idea that in a relatively short period of time, I can nibble away at a big task, and get ‘er done. I like especially that at the end of my trudge, I will have something lasting to show for it (though clutter grows back, all by itself. It does).

When you have a big job to do, or a big change to make, how to you tackle it? Step by step? Blitz? Round up your team? Chase off all the non-essential personnel? To one commenter, I’ll send a $50 Amazon gift card. I’ve also updated the Deals page for November, and the half-off title this month is Jack (who faced a big job, and didn’t have a lot of time to accomplish it).

I Want the World For Christmas

When I was a kid, I would lie awake of a summer dawn, and listen to the birds sing. They made one heck of a racket, and it was a beautiful sound. Day was breaking, and for a child who was terrified of the dark, there was no greater joy.

I don’t hear the songbirds much any more, despite living in a more rural environment now than I did growing up (which was, admittedly, pretty rural). My herd of cats has something to do with that, but it’s also true that the birds are dying off. In my lifetime, we’ve lost a quarter of our birds in the United States.

Maryland is also losing its bat population, thanks to something called White Nose Syndrome (and wind turbines aren’t helping either). This problem has arisen in the past decade or so. A fungus that likes caves has attacked hibernating bats, and disturbs their rest. Long story short, the bat die-off is costing US agriculture billions.

Bee Colony Collapse Disorder is another problem that is costing us billions. Monarch butterflies, one of our busiest pollinators, are also imperiled, and I am frankly terrified that my government, which commands enormous resources, no longer seems to be focusing on these looming tragedies.

So I’m focusing on them. For Christmas this year, nobody is getting fuzzy socks from me, nobody will receive any chocolate. No delicious collections of designer teas, no cashmere scarves from Scotland.

It’s a green Christmas in the Burrowes household. I will send out milkweed seeds for the monarchs, tailored to fit the recipient’s ecosystem. You can browse here for the best variety to plant where you are here, (and fall is the best time to plant most species). For the bats, I’ll send bat boxes. They discourage the troublesome fungus, and on Amazon, they retail for as little as $30.

For the bees, I’ll give pollinator perennial seed packets, using the website here to make sure the flowers I’m sending will work where they’re planted. For those with the room, I might send a bee house, because pollinators need places to raise their young. My Christmas present to myself will be to plant more flowering trees and fruit trees on my property.

If all else fails, the hard to buy for on my list will get some danged birdseed and a bird feeder to help the non-migatory species get through the winter. I still want everybody to have good books for Christmas, (see the November Deals here), and I want peace on earth and wellbeing for my human family too. I also want to have a world like the one I grew up in, where the birds and bees were abundant and happy, and a summer dawn was a noisy, joyous time.

How is your holiday shopping going? Do you stick with some old reliable gifts year in and year out, or will this year take a little different direction? To one commenter, I’ll send a $50 Amazon gift card.

Driving Me Nuts

For years, I drove pick-up trucks. I needed a vehicle with enough power to pull a two-horse trailer, and I wanted one with good crash test statistics. Got me a Tundra, and fell in love. Driving on the California freeways, I felt safe in that truck. I had excellent visibility and plenty of oomph. In the snow, it handled well for a truck even without 4WD, and with 4WD that truck was a beast.

Except, it was a beast that was killing the planet. 15 MPG was disgraceful, and once I no longer needed to haul a horse trailer, I could not justify owning a truck. I passed the truck onto my daughter to be her barn vehicle and got myself a used hybrid. (Daughter drives a hybrid for everyday too.)

I HATE my hybrid. Yes, it gets nearly 50 MPG, but I can’t see over the bedamned hood when the car angles uphill–not something I knew to check out on a test drive, because what idiot would design a car with a blind spot in the direction of travel? I can’t see out the back because the back seat is too high, and the little back-up camera doesn’t work for doodly-squat in high contrast light.

Last week, I ended up with flat tire. I probably got some tree limb caught in the undercarriage because the idiot car has about four inches of clearance from the road surface. I got out The Stuff, loosened the lug nuts, jacked up the vehicle… and could not get the tire off.

I kicked, I cursed, I whacked at it with my trusty hammer, but nope. I know better than to get under the car and kick, and besides, I don’t FIT under that car. Had to call the nice man, who also kicked, cursed, and whacked, but being about a foot taller and four stone heavier than yours truly, he was able to get the blasted thing off.

So fast forward a couple days later, and I’m having new front tires put on, because the hybrid “spare” is just a donut. The nice guy at the garage told me they are now making cars with no spare. Instead you get 24-hour roadside assistance connected to your on-board blue tooth.

What fresh hell is this? The reason I can’t see out of my car is because all cars are designed to accommodate “average man,” who is five foot nine, and has the weight distribution of a man. Visibility, dash layout, airbag deployment, seat design–it’s all for Average Man. Even the crash tests are done for Average Man because there are no crash test dummies built like a woman. None.

The result? Women are more likely to die or be seriously injured in traffic accidents. Well, OK. We can design seats that heat, cool, vibrate and recline, but we can’t design a car that accommodates a woman’s smaller frame or the anatomy she’s had since moving out of Eden. What are a few more dead or injured women anyway?

Then I find out we have cars with no spare tire now, the better to force drivers into road service contracts. But–oops!–there is a stretch of road not five miles from my house where there’s no cell service. There’s another stretch of road I’ve driven across where there are no services of ANY KIND for a 100 miles, and no cell service either.

Maybe a breakdown under those circumstances is fine for Average Man. But for this little old lady, or her daughter, that’s not going to fly. Why should I have to choose between a truck that gobbles up the planet and a reasonable amount of personal safety as a female driver–because those do seem to be my options.

What do you drive? Do you feel safe in that vehicle, or did you choose it for some other reason? Did you even have a choice? To one commenter, I’ll send a $50 B&N gift card, and I promise I will be a in cheerier mood next week.

Olympic Gold

I’m getting ready to take a master class riding lesson with a very skilled instructor I used ride with years ago. I was fortunate to snag a lesson with this guy earlier in the year, and as I was toodling around the arena this week, my current teacher asked me, “What do you think has improved since you last rode with Todd?”

Huh? Aren’t my myriad weaknesses of much greater import? How am I going to be the oldest perpetual beginner ever to win Olympic gold in the saddle if we don’t obsess on my many shortcomings?

And yet, to focus on weaknesses is bad, albeit venerable, pedagogy. Looking instead at strengths–on the things you know you do well, look forward to doing, and focus on easily and completely–results in better general job performance, better self-motivation, and better relationships with the people around you. You are happier and more fun to be with, in addition to being more productive.

I think about how much of my life I’ve spent trying to compensate for, overcome, and eliminate my weaknesses.  How I struggled with trig and calculus (in both high school and college) though I’ve never used either one. How I wedged myself into business suits that were never going to flatter a woman with my endowments. How I went down in a hideous ball of flaming mortification trying to acquire the ability to perform at the piano in public. (It was awful, and I do mean awful to the hundredth power.)

I heard things like, “If only you could hack the math you could go into the sciences…” Or, “If you wore contacts, Mr. Right might notice you…” (Granted, that was 30 years ago, and from my mother.) “If you want the promotion, you have to look the part…” “You can’t get a teaching position in music if you can’t perform…” If, if, if, if…

In a society driven by the lie that all discomforts, ills, and anxieties can be eliminated if  we buy or consume something, we all but lose sight of the the little old truth that we each have vast areas of abundant natural competence. Happy people involved in joyous careers are doubtless a lousy advertising demographic.

I love to write–love it like this is what I was born to do–and I should not have been 50 years old before it occurred to me that other people might enjoy reading my books. My siblings eventually made that suggestion–and thank heavens they did–but having kept a journal since before I could write cursive; having scored 200 points higher on my verbal SAT than on the math; having earned consistent, easy straight A’s in English; with a reading habit that ate up every spare minute… why did it NEVER occur to me that the joy I took in my native tongue was a really important signal about where I ought spend my time and energy?

Why? Because I was too busy fretting over differential equations, which–to this day–make my eyes to cross and my blood to boil.

What were you born to do? What are you just naturally good at? When did you figure that out? Did somebody help you to see it or like me, did you go down in roaring flames trying to become something you’re not? To one commenter, I’ll send a $50 Barnes and Noble gift card.

When Grace Falls

And here we are, thanks to a merciful Deity, once again in my favorite season of the year. Summer is my least fave, sorry to say, mostly because of the humidity and bugs, which are abundant in Maryland and can run from May to late September. The bugs are awful. At one point, I was sporting a brown recluse bite on one arm and a European hornet bite (“not very aggressive,” my bloomin’ aspidistra) on the other. Phooey!

A couple weeks back, we went from mid-90s and yucky one day, to low-40s and wonderful the next night. I woke up after that low-40s night and felt as if I’d been put on pure oxygen. Doing my 10,000 steps was no big deal, my mood was great, I got a lot done.

But being more comfortable when I exercise is only part of the reason I like fall. Because the humidity drops, the quality of the light changes, colors are sharper and contrasts more vivid. The hours of daylight no longer exceed the hours when I have energy to do stuff, so my circadian rhythm and Mother Nature are in better harmony. I sleep so much better in the fall. I enjoy a pot of tea so much more thoroughly in the fall.

I can open up my house–windows and doors, both–and work with a sense of being connected to the out of doors. I hear the birds, I hear my neighbor’s cows munching the fall grass, I hear when a squabble flares up among the cats on the porch. I do not hear, at least not as much, the lawn mowers, leaf blowers, and weed whackers that seem to drone on all summer.

I am no longer barricaded in my kitchen, a window unit air conditioner roaring all afternoon along with a box fan or desk fan. The quiet is scrumptious because it’s natural quiet. Yes, the crickets are still singing–slowly, tiredly–and the farmers are getting out the trucks and combines to bring in the corn and soybeans, but for much of the day, all I hear is nature. My stream trickling over the rocks, the dry breeze teasing at what leaves remain, an occasional rooster or barking dog.

One other aspect of autumn that makes it special to me: I know of nowhere that this weather is available year round. In San Diego, my parents had something close to perpetual summer. The seasons were subtle, but in any month, most days, you didn’t need to turn on heat, you didn’t need to wear a jacket.

Other parts of the world tend colder, but the spring and fall seasons are always just passing through. So I am wallowing in this glorious weather, and in gratitude that it’s finally here.

To three commenters, I’ll send advanced reader files for Yuletide Wishes, the novella duet I’m publishing with Christi Caldwell on October 22. If you could create a Camelot for yourself in terms of weather, what would it be?

Curiously Wonderful

I’ve been home from my travels for more than week, and I’m still not all here. Metabolically, I’m waking up too early and yet I’m also a little tired. In terms of mood, I’m grumpy because a few domestic matters fell seriously apart in my absence, and I’m somewhat daunted. “Picking up where I left off,” creatively, is easier said than done.

So this is me, rolling up my sleeves and gettin’ on wi’ it, as the Scots would say. Post-travel adjustment is a very privileged, first-world complaint, and despite these re-entry megrims, I hope I will travel again. At a basic level, shaking up my routine gets my brain out of predictive text mode, and that’s good. On a more global scale, when I travel, my curiosity gets a boost.

And curiosity is worth more than rubies. Older folks who retain a strong sense of curiosity about life live longer than those who don’t. People who get a little adventurous with their daily schedule–trying a different piece of equipment in the gym, googling rabbit-hole questions for the sheer pleasure of learning, picking up books that simply look interesting–are likely to show more goal-orientation and persistence on those same days. It’s as if letting our brains off the leash a little makes our thoughts happier to stay on the porch when we need them to.

One of the three characteristics of highly successful innovators is that they are curious. Where most of us have a healthy sense of caution about novel elements of our environment–Could be snake! Might taste yucky! Everybody might laugh at me!–the innovators who do well balance that caution with curiosity. They go through life more wide-eyed and inquisitive than most other adults. (The other two characteristics: A large and varied circle of human connections (they are charming or at least interesting people), and a capacity for generating a volume of ideas rather than only a few good ones.)

We know when we’ve met one of these curious cats because they ask questions that make us think instead of sticking to the weather, sports, and superficial smiles. What’s on your bucket list? What’s your perfect day? If you had three wishes, what would they be? We remember the people who pose those queries, and remember even more when they listen to our answers.

Curiosity solves problems. Why does Valerian Dorning feel unworthy of Emily Pepper? Is it possible to make spray-on or feed-through birth control for feral cats? (Somebody please say yes.) What do people who’ve moved to Oregon say about making that work out well?

If you were going to award a research grant, or take an all expenses paid sabbatical (say, to Scotland…), what would you investigate? What would you like to know more about? What recently made you stop and think, “Now, why izat…?”

To one commenter, I’ll send a $50 Barnes and Noble gift card. Which reminds me: The B&N discount this month is BNPTARTAN50, which gets you half-off Tartan Two-Step, a story about a Scotsman who had some first-rate questions about a particular Montana whiskey distiller…