Grace and Courage

I’ve noted in other blog posts that some competencies I had prior to the pandemic have deserted me–interstate driving, indoor socializing, even a protracted in-person conversation takes more effort and focus than it used to.

I’m also not riding my horse with the same energy I did prior to  the pandemic. Like a lot of people with underlying auto-immune conditions (altogether now: Hashimoto’s stinks!), I am taking a long, long time to get over a mild brush with COVID. Ten months on, and I still have heave-y days when the pollen is thick or the temperatures spike. While I was never a particularly athletic rider, I did have a reasonable amount of strength and stamina.

That’s two boxes no longer checked, and yet, I’m still enjoying my time in the saddle. As I was coming in from a little trail ride this week, and Santa was giving the bull next door a serious looking over, it occurred to me that a year ago, I’d stopped trail riding. I schooled in the arena, period. Then I put myself on doxycycline for months to try to kick out Lyme Disease (seems to have worked, at least for now), with the resulting side effect that I became very sensitive to sunshine. Five minutes in the May sun and I’d burn.

My schooling sessions became limited to the indoor arena, which I can tell you, thrilled our buddy Santa not one bit. I’d slid, slipped and slithered into a very circumscribed version of riding, each step back for understandable reasons, and each one yet smacking of defeat. In the middle of summer’s heat, I wasn’t going to make much progress on the strength or stamina challenges, but as the temperatures have finally dropped, Santa and I have done a fair amount of toddling over hill and dale.

We do this mostly on our own (cell phone at the ready, and having informed somebody of our itinerary), and the first time I aimed Santa down the driveway, it was mostly because I just did not have the energy to school movements. I wanted to be outside on my pony, and that was a wish I could grant myself. Instead of turning around at the foot of the driveway, we headed off around the paddocks.

Last week, we joined a barn buddy on a lengthier excursion farther from home, spooked at the tractor in the next field, and saw two monarch butterflies. As I was coming in from that ride, I realized that I had called upon my courage, even if my physical strength and stamina weren’t much in evidence. To ride out, to go down a new trail, to brave the scary tractor moment, took some resolve on my part.

Over the summer, I’ve changed where I shop for food, (Wegman’s–family owned, treat their people well, environmentally aware; and the Co-op–expensive, but as green as we get around here). I’m hiring a landscaper to get after the shaggier parts of my yard, and I’m planning on hosting my sister over the holidays. (Big long list of chores between now and Christmas, but it is well past time, Simba.)

Instead of looking at all the boxes that got unchecked in recent years, I instead took a look at the places where I am showing renewed initiative and heart, and lo and behold, there are a few.

Where are you investing your courage these days? Three commenters go on the Miss Dauntless ARC list!

 

The Great Stink

I started out drafting a post about climate change because thank the celestial powers I finally got to use an extra blankie one night this week. But climate change is in the news all the time, and we’re all worried, and we’re all doing what we can.

Then I got to thinking about other times when humanity has faced a gargantuan problem, and managed to muddle through or even solve it. Remember the hole in the ozone that would make going outside on a sunny day bad news? I do, and I also remember the Montreal Protocol, signed by every nation on the planet in 1987 (the first international agreement with 100 percent buy in!). Thanks to that agreement, ozone levels are recovering even faster than hoped for.

Crossness Pumping Station, photo by Christine Matthews

On a smaller scale, but no less daunting for those affected, was the problem of the London sewers. As Victoria took the throne, London’s sewer system included wooden pipes that had been in service since the Middle Ages. A patchwork of septic tanks, drains, small sewers, and covered rivers draining into the Thames became utterly unworkable as London’s population tripled in less than fifty years.

The Victorians believed that disease was transmitted by foul miasmas, and by 1850, the Thames River was mighty foul indeed. Cholera epidemics in 1831, 1848, and 1853 meant everybody was giving the reeking river a side-eye, but nobody wanted to take the politically unpopular step of spending money to implement a solution.

Then in 1858 came a big old drought and a mighty heat wave, with London temperatures reaching 118F. The level of the Thames dropped, and on its shores were  enormous, reeking piles up to six feet deep of you-know-what. The curtains of parliamentary chambers on the river-side of Westminster were drenched in chloride of lime to try to tame the smell, but can you say Utterly Hopeless Gesture? The Victorians called it The Great Stink.

At a cost of more than a billion present-day dollars (as near as I can figure), using plans drawn up by engineer Joseph Bazalgette, and taking more than twenty years to complete the job, London got a working sewer system. The result was not only to foil further cholera outbreaks, but also to decrease the impact of both typhus and typhoid.

Plenty of people said it couldn’t be done, and at the time, the technology to make it happen was far from proven. But people also said the Great Barrier Reef couldn’t recover (it’s making a good try). People said electric cars would never catch on (sales tripled between 2018 and 2021). People said solar power would never be affordable (price has dropped 89% in ten years).

Amid all the climate worry and political worry and economic worry, what do you see that gives you hope? Yuletide Gems is already for sale on the web store, so I guess it’s time to start my ARC list for Miss Dauntless!

Grace-foolery

We recently had the a professional photographer come to the horse barn. Yes, this is a thing. Horses are beautiful, they don’t live as long as we do, and please don’t begrudge me this extravagance when I haven’t taken a vacay in four years.

The photographer requires two kinds of assistants. Somebody must hold the horse. This duty usually falls to the owner, who knows the horse’s secret passwords, favorite scratchy places, and dirty tricks. The second assistant has one job and one job only, and that is, to make the horse prick his ears forward.

The equine ear is a marvelous organ. Our hearing range is 30-19,000Hz, the horse’s range is 55 to 33,500Hz. He not only can move his head the better to position his ears to catch a sound (as we do), he can move each ear independently (ten sets of muscles compared to our three), and listen to sounds from two different directions simultaneously.

So you would think, when I stood behind the photographer, and shook that tin of horse treats, Santa would have been all ears-at-the-ready. No such luck. I shook the treats, I whistled, I snapped my fingers, I threw handfuls of grass into the air, and… nuffink.

I consider myself a dignified person, but the occasion called for extraordinary measures. I did some hitch kicks, which came off more like hitch-flops. I danced around with my finger on my head. I smacked the treats against my, er, hip, and I shook the overhanging branches while la-la-la’ing the Toreador song. The horse all but fell asleep, though the photographer and my riding instructor were both vastly entertained.

“I’m a lawyer,” says me, as if that sad affliction has any relevance. “If you DARED to take picture of me while I shook my booty at that horse, I’ll–”

“Too late, Grace,” says Madame Nikon. “First rule of horse photography, always get some blackmail shots.”

The horse remained toweringly bored, but the photo session became fun, because I allowed myself to play the fool, a side of me my riding instructor hadn’t seen before, and I hadn’t seen in much too long either. Since my impromptu barnyard pirouettes, I’ve been a little lighter of heart. More inclined to joke when texting, more patient with traffic and cats and life in general.

Younger children in large families often learn to play whatever role is needed in a given situation (sixth out of seven lest anybody ever forget), but I had lost track of how useful and joyous the role of jester-at-large can be. The horse won’t forget the photo session, and I won’t forget that I was a little silly, and the world did not stop turning.

Have you ever played the fool? Gotten the giggles? Had to leave because you were about to be ridiculous?

 

 

 

Skeptically Yours

So I’m hanging out at the horse barn as Santiago Wonder Pony Burrowes finishes up a session with his physical therapist. Santa is looking like he just scored a hit of the best stuff off the biggest doobie…

Madame PT says something to the effect of, “I  wish people still regularly curry-combed their horses. It would make such a difference.”

“You mean,” says me, “because we have super tech rocket science fly sheets now, and rain sheets, and sun sheets, and horse vacuums, and all that stuff so the horses don’t get muddy, and now all we have to do before tacking up is a lick and a promise with the dandy brush, and off we go?”

“Exactly. Carrying for the horse’s coat takes half the time but ten times the gear, and when we skip the currying, the horse loses so much that was beneficial.”

The benefit to the horse of a head-to-tail currying starts with the obvious: It feels good. He learns to associate the beginning of his work day with pleasure. The curry comb (a soft rubber device, usually) also get his subcutaneous circulation going, and begins to warm up those great big horsy muscles that will soon be supporting my un-dainty weight in addition to his. If I’m half-way paying attention when I curry my beast, I’ll notice any areas of soreness or swelling before I plop into the saddle and make those ouchies worse (or get a free lesson in how to imitate a lawn dart).

The PT’s remark about currying reminded me of this talk, by the late Dr. Neil Postman, Ph.D, given in 1997. (Big creds to Austin Kleon for the link.) Postman was something of a canary in the brave new digital coal mine, though he described himself as tech skeptic rather than a tech critic. I hope you watch the talk. His remarks are 52 minutes of substantive thinking wrapped in exquisitely skilled delivery and communication.

One question Postman encouraged his audience to raise when considering any new technology is: What pressing problem is the new technology needed to solve, whose problem is it, and who will pay for the solution? Like 99% of equestrians out there, I saw the new, lightweight, affordable, washable, blah, blah, blah flysheets coming out and thought: Roll in the mud all you want, Big Guy, but first we’ll just buckle you into this horsey-fashion-burrito, and I will no longer spend half the morning in the wash stall with you and the other half grooming you back into recognizable condition.

The problem–lack of time to groom–was mine, not Santa’s, and I’d shell out money at the tack store to solve it–but the horse would pay for my decision in many ways.

Postman refers once or twice in his talk to the Luddites, and of course, my Regency author ears pricked up. The Luddites were labor activists who generally came from the cottage weaving tradition. They saw exactly where factory production was leading–not to good quality cheap goods for the masses, but to starvation wages, child labor, work place deaths, and an enormous increase in demand for the dangerous and health-wrecking mining jobs. Factory production led to destruction of craftsmanship, villages, ecosystems, and families that had thrived for centuries under a different “less productive” manufacturing model.

The Luddites were hanged, shot, banished, and otherwise convinced to get out of the way of “progress,” as slums multiplied, the environment was ravaged, and enslavement in the New World and colonization generally got a second wind thanks to that progress.

Being a skeptic of innovation can challenge well-funded and powerful interests who stand to benefit from the new mousetrap, however pointless or even harmful the updated model is. As artificial intelligence is starting to write books, and Ring technology is reporting to law enforcement with out meaningful customer consent, I think Postman’s question deserves more attention than ever, and you can bet I’m going to be regularly currying my darling pony.

Is there innovation you regret? Have a lover’s quarrel with? Wish you’d had access to sooner? I’ll add three commenters to my Yuletide Wishes ARC list!

A Bigger Bucket

The darling pony I ride, Santa by name, has been lucky to be well taken care of most for his life, and to have jobs for which he is physically and temperamentally suited. That notwithstanding, he’s a good-sized guy (16.2hh), and he’s 22 years old. He’s at the stage where maintenance is ongoing, including periodic injections of joint juice in some weight bearing locations.

After those treatments, he has to take a few days low and slow, and my most recent ride was one of those days. We were scheduled for about 30 minutes of walk-toddle, though to be honest, some days that’s all I can manage, regardless of Santa’s situation. As we trundled around the arena, I was struck by how much maintenance I need these days. I’m fortunate to have mostly working parts, but keeping them that way…

As we finished a very unambitious trot set, I patted Santa on the neck, and realized… He and I aren’t that far away from eligibility for the Century Club. What is this? It’s an award given by the United States Dressage Foundation to any horse and rider pair whose combined ages equal or exceed 100 years, who can complete a dressage test at a horse show.

My bucket list doesn’t have that much on it, mostly because I’m very lucky. I have a job I love where work and play blend on the good days. The bad days don’t signify, compared to the many bad days I had as a child welfare attorney or working single mom. I’m healthy enough to do most of what I need and want to do (knock wood). I’m on good terms with family, I have good friends, and my readers are the best readers in the universe. Politics, finances, and climate change aside, my life is truly very sweet.

I’ve walked barefoot on a putting green (just something I wanted to do), and I’ve ridden on the beach in Ireland. I’m four states shy of visiting all fifty states, and the ones I have left–Alaska, New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont–are gorgeous. But I did want to ride in Hyde Park some fine day. Given how much weight I’d have to lose, I’m not likely to ever check that box.

But I could qualify for the Century Club. If I keep riding, if I’m blessed with good ponies, if fate is kind, and the bad old tiddlywink doesn’t gobble up the scillery-scallery alligator… I could do a Century Club ride in a few years, and that wish feels like it belongs on my bucket list. It’s a participation award, and that is my objective at that phase of my life: To keep participating, to hang in there, to rage and laugh and curse and write against the dying of the light.

And Hyde Park can be the stretch goal, but for now… the Century Club goes onto my bucket list. Have you added or subtracted anything from your bucket list? Do you have one, however short? I’ll add three commenters to my ARC list for Yuletide Gems!

Heavy Artillery

Michael Delancey is a character we’ve met in the Mischief in Mayfair series. Quiet, gentlemanly, already getting noticed in clerical circles, and sinfully attractive. This guy has Write Me a Book tattooed on his handsome… forearm, and yet, he’s stonewalling me.

I’ve tried writing prompts, journaling from his point of view, interviewing the characters who know him best, and putting him top of mind as I fall asleep and wake up. No joy–or no defining trauma, which is usually my way into a character. No howling character flaw, which can be another point of entry. No deathbed promises to Mama, no secret baby… yet. I’m stumped and the fact that the character is fighting me so hard just confirms my hunch that he’s keeping a good book under his hat.

But I’m not defeated. I know what I must do if I want to appease the goddess of book plotting. I must put my pride aside, go down on my knees, and START PULLING WEEDS.

My neck of the woods has been enjoying terrific growing seasons in recent years. Rainfall nudged up from the previous norm along with temperatures, so what used to turn into a hot dry summer is now more like a tropical rain forest. Everything grows like mad, and because it has been so hot, I blinked on the weeding. Silly Grace.

The weeds are spectacular. I could weed whack ’em down, but that would obliterate the flowers lurking among all the lambs’ quarters, purslane, and jewel weed. So I yank and I pull and I mutter and I dig, and gradually, my flower beds emerge from the jungle. In a few weeks, everything but the dahlias will give up, but that’s not the point.

The point is that weeding by hand is exactly the sort of task that lets my mind wander. Weeding isn’t entirely an auto-pilot job, but it’s simple, repetitive, a little physical, and good for letting my imagination go walkabout. I tend to use a broom instead of a vacuum cleaner for the same reason. The slower pace of manual labor, the very lack of automation, frees mind from body and me from reality.

I hope the pandemic gave us a renewed appreciation for weeding-level jobs. I came across one blog post from a guy who gave up using his noisy hedge trimmers for clipping by hand. He realized how quiet the old clippers were, how precise, and how they cut rather than tear the plant, which makes them far kinder to the ecosystem.

Lady Violet Pays a Call by Grace BurrowesWe got sick of our screens during the pandemic, could not go to the gym, and found pleasure in walking the neighborhood, baking our own bread, and crafting. I am hopeful that our investment in slower, lower-tech pastimes has paid off in more active imaginations, and more creativity–also much better quality bread than that eternal shelf life stuff we pick up at the store.

When you need to ponder a problem, do you turn to hobbies, pastimes, or play? Did the pandemic send you in any of those directions to a greater degree?

PS: For my mystery readers, Lady Violet Pays A Call, book seven in the series, will be available from the retail outlets on Tuesday, and is already on sale in the web store.

PPS: Michael is talking to me now. Muttered asides, but that’s a start.

 

Playing It Cool

As a kid, I used to love summers. All that freedom, all that wandering in the woods, all that time (when I became a teenager) with my horse, all that reading… Where I grew up in central PA, very few people had air conditioning, and we really didn’t need it. We slept with all the windows open, hearing the crickets and birdies sing, the owls hoot, and the chickens crow…

That was fifty years and two climate zones ago. The freedom from structure that gave summer its sparkly halo is now mine fairly consistently (sweet!). But friends and neighbors, I have had it to the gills with 95F days and high humidity. I do use a window unit air conditioner in my bedroom at night, but other than that, I deal with the weather “organically.” Outdoor activities mostly in the early morning or after dinner. Light clothes and few of them, frequent showers, buckets of cold de-caf iced tea, fans, lights off, and a firm faith that fall will come again.

Riding the noble steed in the heat is hellish, and cooling him out takes a lot longer than the ride itself. Don’t get me started on the flies, skeetos, wasps, ticks, and all my other little buzzing, crawling, flying neighbors and house guests.

My house runs on renewable energy, but I make myself deal with the summer weather by day because I want to be a good global citizen, and other people have much worse climate-related burdens than I do. (Though when you learn that the top earning 5% pf us are creating more than a third of our carbon footprint… kinda frustrating.)

When I woke up yesterday, the thermometer read 55F and I about started doing nip-ups. I’d slept better because it was cool enough to leave the roaring AC unit off. Instead, I could open the windows and hear the cows across the lane munching the tall grass and making happy bovine noises. I’d kept the whole house open to the merry breezes, so when I went downstairs to start morning chores, the air was wonderful.

My daily cup of jasmine green tea was extra delightful because of the cooler air. I could cover up more of me with comfy clothes and for whatever reason, I’m happier that way. The shower is not a mental health coping mechanism saved for right before bed. I can once again contemplate yard work without dread, and–be still my thumpin’ heart–the thirty-day forecast suggests the worst is behind us for the year.

I hadn’t realized how much the crummy weather was stealing my joy and energy. Since the heat broke, I’ve had back to back good writing days, I’m getting Ideas about scrubbing out the fridge, and I want to hire a landscape crew to get after some projects around the property.

It’s like I’m no longer stuck battery-saver mode, just because the temperate dropped out of the 90s. I thought I was doing pretty well dealing with the heat this summer, but now that more reasonable weather is here, I can see the I was losing altitude despite best intentions.

When did you last find yourself in battery-saver mode? What bumps you out of it? I will put two commenters on the ARC list for Yuletide Gems.

PS New cover and lower e-book price for Tremaine’s True Love!

 

 

See the Joy

As I’m preparing to offer a webinar on staying joyous as a writer (wish me luck), my attention is drawn to the larger topic of happiness. I came across this post, about how to make it easier to think happy thoughts. The gist is, make a list of eight things you’d enjoy thinking about, then take some time to think about them.

How hard can that be? Well… for some of us,  it’s not easy. We are habituated to entertaining ourselves with screens rather than with our own cogitations, and our default thoughts might be worry, loneliness, or anger rather than fluffy bunnies or that time we got the giggles with the book club.

When I made my list, I had to ponder some to come up with ideas that were almost exclusively joyous. Bunnies are wonderful, but not if they are spreading tularemia or wrecking the garden,  and yes, that’s how my mind works.

My list included: My daughter, yard flowers, landscaping my stream (naturally, and this one’s aspirational),  Scotland, my next book, San Tome chocolate from the Highland Chocolatier, Dave Brubeck’s Time Further Out Album (and Take Five from Time Out, of course), and horses (especially dear Santa).

Having revved up my good-thoughts engine, I could come up with more (which would include my bloggin’ buddies!), but items five through eight took some pondering. The interesting thing about the cited study is, everybody derived some enjoyment from thinking of their favorite things, so to speak, but people who made the list visible had an easier time staying with the joyous thoughts. I was reminded of last week’s post, about how controlling our environment plays a big role in helping us pursue goals and accomplish tasks.

And my reflections from there go in all directions: The attention merchants of Big Tech (author Tim Wu’s term) win when we lose awareness of that environment and become absorbed in the screen world. Open office plans, with hot-desks, team benches, and other dehumanizing abominations, deprive us of a work environment we can visually influence, much less control. COVID tossed us all back into the one place we do control–our homes–and most workers (especially non-white-male workers) are apparently happier spending more time there.

What we see matters in terms of guiding our thoughts. Many of my writing buddies have an ego wall–a place to keep awards in plain sight, to frame a copy of each published book cover, to display glowing reviews, or a photocopy of that first advance check. I have referred to my home as a roofed campsite, but from my computer chair I can see a sketch my brother did when he was sixteen, the admission ticket to the 2013 Highland Games in Braemar where I first saw Her Majesty, a plastic rubber ducky with the Scottish saltire on his chest, and an inspirational quote from Lorin Oberweger’s Free Expressions writing seminars.

I’m going to make a greater effort to put the joy where I can see it. What joy do you keep in plain sight?

 

Work Easy, Play Often

I came across a post for authors about how to stay motivated, and the central comparison was, “A writing session is like going to spin class. You put it on the schedule, you dread it, you think about bailing, you hate it while it’s happening, but then you feel so good when it’s over. You just need discipline and aggressive commitment to your goals, and your book will get written.”

This kind of thinking maketh me to curse. First, creativity has its own schedule. I could go to court on Thursdays and know which cases were on my docket, but writing a book isn’t like that for most authors I know. Relationships aren’t like that. Tending a home isn’t like that. So much of what’s important in life refuses to yield to linear,assembly line thinking.

Second, I feel like crap after a workout. Mean, resentful, ugly, exhausted crap. Always have, which makes sense to me, and I often feel even worse the next day.

From an evolutionary standpoint, we aren’t meant to sit on our butts for eight hours, then hustle to the gym and impersonate an Olympic hopeful. If longevity and quality of longevity are the goals, we are far better off going for four fifteen minute walks in the middle of our work day, stretching before we get dressed, keeping hand weights where we’ll use them throughout the day, and doing some yard work in the evening.

In other words, the hunter-gatherers had it right. Nobody ever outran a cheetah.

Athletes, I am convinced, simply find joy in the exertion. They do not dread spin class–most days, they love it. My former husband (the ultra-marathoner) was very clear that his long runs–10 to 20 miles–were mood-altering as he was running. When he got home and showered off, he crashed both emotionally and physically.

But more to the point, the people who study will power and high achievement tell us that delayed gratification is a lousy motivator. Folks who can stick to a task over the long term have cracked a couple codes, and neither of them is unrelenting self-discipline. The first code they crack is how to find joy and pleasure in the task itself, how to build in micro-rewards rather than simply, “It feels so good when it stops,” rewards. Sometimes the pleasure is an organic gift–my former spouse loved to run, I love to write. Sometimes lacing in the reward means bundling a joy with a chore, sometimes it means focusing on the happy parts first, last, and most often.

Snitch some dough, arrange the floral centerpiece first, always queue up the playlist before attempting housework. Add the joy at the start and find it along the way, don’t expect yourself to slog away for days or years before you see a payoff.

The second code most highly “motivated” people crack is how to make it easy to go straight to the desired task. They don’t have tremendous willpower, but they are good at structuring the environment–from social relationships, to physical surroundings, to activity sequences–so the path to the task is simple and short. Their phones are set up to let people know, “I’m meditating now. Will get back to you later today!” or, their running shoes and socks are on the floor on the side of the bed they get up on.

They think systemically, and design a strategy that puts the least effort and will power between them and their goals. (They also get enough sleep.)

How do you approach the things you find it hard to do? How did you arrive at that strategy? I’m starting my ARC list for Yuletide Gems, so…

 

Make Good Courage

“To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives… And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future… To live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”

From You Can’t Be Neutral in a Moving Train by Howard Zinn

As a child welfare attorney, I had to learn to find my balance by some means other than cases won or lost. I would advocate zealously for a child to be re-united with a parent, because that was what the child wanted, and the parent had made enormous efforts to address whatever the family’s problems were.

And against all odds the judge would (sometimes) agree with me! The Department of Social Services, the other parent, the meddling relatives were all defeated by my superior lawyering (so I hoped)… and home that child did go, only to witness a murder thirty days later when their custodial parent got involved in a drug deal gone sour.

I got knocked on my emotional backside regularly (as did everybody in the child welfare system, especially the children). Because I never knew when I was winning or losing, I had to find meaning in being as constructive, compassionate, and competent as I could. If my client felt listened to, believed in, supported, and understood, that was a win, and maybe as much benefit to the client as any legal service I could have provided.

Writing commercial fiction has an element of the same challenge. If I make it all about the sales figures… some of the books I am most proud of are losers, and some of the books I just kinda tossed over the transom on a lark (looking at you, Noah and Thea), have become consistent reader favorites. The object of the exercise is not to top all the charts, but rather: Are my readers for the most part happy with the work? Am I proud to have my name on it?

Similarly, in light of current events I have resigned myself to the fact that I will not be appointed to the federal judiciary or elected Chief Poobah in Charge of Fixing Everything, but neither am I powerless or without courage. I ask myself: How can the kind of courage I have now be put to constructive use?

I can be a decent human being, I can vote, I can help the food bank and my local library makes ends meet.

I can also get off my Warp Nine Introverted Duff and help other writers polish their craft and expand their tool kits. My lazy, overwhelmed, scared self would rather sit at home playing cribbage and spider, (and I do play a lot of cribbage and spider), but I also still have contributions to make and candles to light. To that end, when I was recently asked to present at writers’ conference scheduled for Spring 2023, I said yes, because that’s something constructive I can do, a small step toward the light that I can take.

And it felt good, if a little wobbly, to say yes. In these daunting times, what candles are you especially good at lighting? Has anybody helped guard your flame recently?