Monday, December 7, 2015

The Year of the Office: Time for "The Year of the Cat"

You know how, when you make a decision to do something, you want to get started right away? (Except for when you decide to go on a diet; you always put that off until Monday.) Well, once I decided to go back to working at home, that was it. I started packing up my stuff and over the Thanksgiving weekend, hubs and I moved my office back home.



There it is: purple door, Winnie the Pooh wall border, Dragon Ball Z curtains--a mish-mash of boy/Mom decor. My new office.

Technically, I'm still renting the suite downtown. I haven't turned in my keys just yet. I'd like to keep my parking privileges open in case I decide to go downtown to shop for the holidays. But I'm home again.

When I was working at home before, my office was in a spare room filled with spare room stuff. This time, I decided it needed to be just my office...but more than that. I've also decided to start sewing again. So, I'm calling it My Creativity Room.

Squeakers loves it. He wants the door open all the time so he can curl up on the brown rug and snooze. A couple of times I lost him and searched the house top to bottom, only to find him curled up on the black chair in my office, invisible to all but the best cat hunters!

That was something I missed very much working at the downtown office: my cats. At my feet, on the desk, sleeping in a corner. Pestering me to let them in, pestering me to let them out, pestering me to let them back in again.

I told hubs the other day that we needed to scour every pet adoption center and every SPCA location for a special cat--a cat worthy of Internet fame, so I could take pictures of it and video, and sweep the Tubes with it. And he said, but will these people let you keep coming back to take pictures and video of this cat?

"No, no," I said. "We're going to adopt it!" A step in the plan I had, according to him, sneakily left out.

I just don't understand how a person could not want to live with, say, ten or so cats. Boggles the mind.

Still, I was pretty much joking. I've tried to take video of my cats doing interesting things and as soon as I turn on the video function of my ipad and aim it at them, they stop. That's the most interesting thing my cats do: thwart all my genius get-rich-and-famous-with-cats plans.

And there's this:

Rice Cake

And this: 

This is what goes on at four in the morning at our house

And here's the other cat, doing what he likes to do when I aim a camera at him:

Squeakers

That's right. Nothing.

I'm telling you, I've got to search around for a quirky cat. A cat that does more cat-like things. No, wait...more un-cat-like things. Nobody cares about the barfing, or the carrying in of half-dead lizards, or leaving off that last bit of poo on the floor outside the box, or the knocking glasses off tables, or the climbing on my desk while I'm trying to work.



People want cats that can act! Or are just deformed enough to make them cute. 

Or maybe not. I think people just like cats.

You know, I created my own imprint for my books: Wayward Cat Publishing. I have a banner for the front of the table when I go to book fairs and it has a picture of our logo on it. And I have a couple of children's books with cats on the covers. One of them is a zombie cat, but it still counts.

Inevitably, half the people who stop by my table (conservatively) assume all my books are about cats. My best selling books are those kids books with cat pictures on the covers. (After tabling next to Stan Bronstein one year and watching people buy up copies of his kids book Private Eye Cats, hubs said, "You need a book with a cat on the cover." So I wrote some books about cats so we could put cats on the covers and hubs was right. I should probably listen to him more often.)

This is why I think it's time I devoted more of my creative energies to cats. And so, I dub 2016 The Year of the Cat. This will be so much better than the Chinese Year of the Monkey. (I'm rather fond of monkeys, chimps, and gorillas. But I do not like orangutans.)

I need to create a list of ways I can celebrate The Year of the Cat.

Let's see:

1. Take more pictures and videos of my cats and share them with all of my social media acquaintances. (They are so going to love it!)

2. Buy my cats more presents, especially catnip.

3. Sew up some cat costumes and make them wear them around the house! (The cats are going to love that!)

4. Write some more books about cats so I can put cats on the covers. Just give in to the "You write books about cats?" thing. Embrace it.

That's all I can think of right now. You got any ideas?


Rice Cake helping me blog.







Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Year of the Office: You can go home again...

This is my spot.
Photo by Alan Turkus via Flickr


The decision has been made: I'm going back to working from home by the end of the year. This decision didn't come easy; I really like my little office downtown. I like looking out the window at the intersection. I like listening to the train rumble by. But I'm looking forward to going back home. Because, let's face it, it's home.

Here are the office pros and cons.

Pro: When you're at the office, away from all the distractions of home, you can get more work done.

Con: When you're at the office, away from all the distractions of home, you add distractions to your office. Suddenly my "work only" computer has Facebook and Twitter. I now check my email on my phone (which has a handy charger plugged in the wall by my comfy pink chair), which sits on my desk, instead of having to take a break and go to another room to do so. I often take a walk downtown, visit funky clothing shops, step into the fudge shop or the bakery...to clear my head, get ideas...not really. I'll tell you what clears your head and gets your idea-factory running: scrubbing a toilet. That's right. It's the mind numbing, mundane tasks, like emptying the dishwasher or taking a shower, that bring your story into perspective. Not shopping or buying brownies.

Lesson learned: If you're going to goof off, you'll find a way to do it no matter where you are.

Pro: I get out of the house regularly.

Con: I have to leave the house regularly. And wear clothes. And a jacket. (What is it about office buildings and air conditioning?) And walk through a parking lot sometimes having to say hello to people or thank them for holding open the door, or time my own trek to said door so I can hold it open for someone else. Wave a hello to the receptionist if she's out of her office, meet people on the stairs, pass offices with open doors, and sometimes have to nod at the people in the office next to mine as I unlock my door. It's very uncomfortable.

Lesson learned: Forced social interaction is anathema to the introvert. (Like I didn't know that already!)

Pro: There isn't a pro for this one.

Con: Using a semi-public restroom.

Lesson learned: I do not like public restrooms. Human beings were not meant to pee in public.

Pro: Again, no pro.

Con: Privacy. Sure, I'm in an office. The door is closed. But I can hear other people out there. Luckily, the people in the office on one side of me are rarely in. And as far as I can tell, so far, the office on the other side is empty. But I am still self-conscious. Of my occasional coughing and sniffing (allergies, I think). And sometimes, I admit it, I snort. Of my frequent (Are they frequent? Are people in nearby offices counting?) trips to the bathroom. I catch myself talking to myself. I know I talk on the phone (in those rare instances in which I talk on the phone) way too loud. Why does everything seem so open out here in the real world, and so close and comfy at home? I can't listen to music without earbuds. I can't laugh at a cat video out loud. And I'm not supposed to be watching cat videos! (See above about goofing off.)

Lesson learned: I want to go home where I can snort and laugh in private.

Pro: Once again, no pro.

Con: Money. I don't like spending money on an office when I have a perfectly good home at home. I think I'd rather spend the money on other things. I've already got a list going.

Pro: I look professional. There's a sign on the door and everything!

Con: The thing is...there are two sides of being an author publisher. (Obviously.) The publisher side is the professional side. It's great to be able to make that side feel official and serious and business minded. But the author side is the biggest part of me. I'm not one of those writers who can write anywhere. I'm like a mouse. I need a nest, a cocoon. I don't write out in public and I don't want to. I don't think I need to look professional to be professional.

Pro: I have a space to write that is all my own and once there, I have nothing to do but write (once the little bit of goofing off is done).

Con: If I want to write, because I'm not one of those people who can just write anywhere, I have to leave the house and go to the office. I can't just pop into my home-office and jot down a few hundred words when I get a great bit of story in my head. I feel separated from my work now that I have an office.

There was a time this year when I was putting out the third book in a trilogy. At the same time, I was updating the first two books and their covers and preparing an omnibus edition. There was so much work that I did some at home on weekends. I got confused several times as to which file (the one on the laptop back at the office, the one on the PC at home, or the one on the thumb drive?) was the most updated. That never would have happened when I worked at home. At home, I wrote on the laptop in my office and I formatted and published on the PC in another room. Once the file left my home-office, it was, from then on, kept on the PC. No juggling. No carrying from one place to another because I worked away from home.

Lesson learned: It's just simpler to work from home.

So, why did I take an office to begin with? Well, I felt like I was wasting too much time. I was distracted by the laundry, meal planning and preparation, grocery shopping, housework, and all the gadgets at my disposal (television, etc.). I spent weeks, sometimes, not writing. I thought if I had an office, it would force me to write, even when I didn't feel like it.

And it worked, up to a point. Unfortunately, it also had its downsides. I'm ready to go back home and appreciate what I've got there. But I think I've learned that there is only so much force a writer can apply to herself to write when it's not in her to do so. Still, there are tools, tricks, and exercises that will help. I'll just have to force myself to apply them.

Yeah. Wish me luck with all that.






Monday, October 26, 2015

The annual Epcot pig-out...

Pikachu Skull!

Much as I like to pretend I attend the Epcot International Food Festival every year, it was more apparent than ever, this year, that I attend a food & wine festival. To put a finer point on it: It's the Epcot Food, Wine, & Beer Festival.

Drunks all over the place. They wear matching t-shirts so they can find one another in their stupors.

Not only were there plenty of drunks in the park, it was a school holiday. Yay! So, not only were there tired (many sleeping, a few screaming--but can you blame them?) babies and toddlers, the park was arun* with school aged kids in their princess dresses and Star Wars apparel.

It was a gloriously typical day at Disney World: crowded, hot, and buzzing.

I arrived with my handy, annotated printout, ready to eat.

So low tech

And this year, I brought some plastic storage boxes and wax paper for leftovers.

The foodie kit

It didn't work all that well. The boxes were too large to fit easily into my purse, and of course they had to go in sideways. But I only brought home the leftovers of a chicken sausage with polenta, and some duck. In another box, I brought home a candy and a cheesecake (neither of which looked like their names suggested) to eat at home. I think I'll skip out on this step next year. Not worth it.

So...what did I eat? Let's get started.

First stop, Scotland! Yes! I was looking forward to more haggis with neeps and tatties (mashed rutabaga and mashed potatoes). We also got the potato pancake with smoked salmon, the seared scallop with spinach cheddar gratin and the Tipsy Laird, a whiskey soaked cake. Oh, my! It was all scrumptious!



I think that's my ghostly hand in the bottom right of the picture. Anyway, the description of the haggis this year said "traditional," but at the booth, it said "vegetarian." So, I'm thinking I still haven't had true haggis. It was so yummy, with just a tad bit of liver taste to it. Reminds me of scrapple. Love me some scrapple. The spinach cheddar gratin was so-so--cheesy with a grassy aftertaste; I wouldn't eat it all by itself, but it paired nicely with the scallop and bacon crumbles.

The smoked salmon was a bit rubbery, but tasty, and the potato pancake was, I'm sorry to say, bland. I make potato pancakes with garlic salt, so that's the problem. I like a spicy potato.

The Tipsy Laird was fabulous! It was topped with a raspberry and included a bit of raspberry jam at the bottom of the cup. Because Hubs doesn't like raspberry, I had to eat most of it. I know. Awful. <snark>

After Scotland, I wondered if I was going to be able to eat much of anything else. I did my best!

Next up was Dominican Republic. We had to try the souffle de yuca, topped with "griddle cheese." We also went with the pescado con coco--seared grouper, pigeon peas and rice, with coconut sauce-- and the caramel flan with rum-roasted pineapple.

That mushroom-looking thing on the left is the griddle cheese.

I had high hopes for this meal because I was reminded of the Puerto Rico booth from last year with its fried plantains and caramel flan with the chocolate crust. Dominican Republic appears to have taken Puerto Rico's spot this year and it was a great disappointment.

The yuca souffle was akin to unseasoned mashed potatoes. The "griddle cheese" on top of it, which I can only describe as a cheese pancake, was wonderful, however. The pigeon peas and rice tasted like the Spanish rice you can make out of a packet you get at Publix and the grouper, well, it was fish, so...not much to it.


The flan...what can I say. It had a condensed, stringy texture to it, not at all like I remember last year's treasure. Maybe stringy isn't the right word...rope-y. Like thick ropes of pudding...soft pasta! That's it. It was like eating hard bland strips of pudding with a slight pineapple taste. I didn't like it. So sad.

On to Canada! Oh, Canada! We skipped the filet mignon with invisible (and un-taste-able) truffles a la last year and went for the chicken sausage with creamy polenta and Minus 8 onion jam.



Can you say nom nom? Nom, nom! The sausage was spicy as all get out. Woot! And the creamy polenta was sweet. I tried to eat it all, but I was already starting to get full and I knew I had a lot more to sample. As to the Minus 8 onion jam. Didn't like that at all. It made me shudder. What the heck was that? Apparently Minus 8 is a brand of vinegars. That explains it. Luckily, this "jam" was off to the side so I didn't have to eat it.

Next stop, Ireland! Yay. This year we passed on the lobster and seafood fisherman's pie. It's hot, and creamy, and not special enough to take up room when there is so much else to eat! But I can't not have the warm chocolate pudding with Irish Cream liqueur custard. OMG.



Hubs never eats any--let's the princess have it all! It is so gloriously delicious. I don't recall it actually being called "pudding" before and it was much more liquid than I remember it being before, so I wonder if it's changed. No matter. Still a warm, chocolate, divine hug. Love, love, love.

Thank you, Ireland. I am forever grateful.

Then we did Brazil. We had the escondidinho de carne, also called "Little Hidden One," a layered meat pie with mashed yucca. (So, shepherd's pie a la America--with beef instead of lamb.) Note that in Brazil we got yucca, while in Dominican Republic we got yuca. I'm pretty sure they're the same thing. They certainly tasted the same--as in...not at all. But the meat--almost certainly ground beef--had a bit of spice to it, reminding me of spaghetti sauce, actually.

Shepherd's pie in a cup

We also tried the pao de queijo or cheese bread. It was...weird.


Imagine cheese, a white, mild cheese like parmesan...baked as a bread. You bite into it. The top is fluffy, light and airy, the bottom, gooey cheesy, and the bottom crust...crusty. Bland, vaguely cheese-like.

This is not a Red Lobster Cheddar Bay biscuit.


After we went around once or twice, we went back to Brazil to get the cocada, or coconut candy. I was expecting something like...candy. But this is what I got:


I took it home to eat later. Naturally, I assumed that once I bit into it, there would be something candy-ish about it. Maybe there's a creamy center, or better yet, a chocolate inside! But there wasn't. It was a coconut ball. A big ball of coconut. I tried melting a Dove dark chocolate on top of it, but Dove dark chocolates don't melt well and I only ended up with a hot ball of coconut with a hot Dove dark chocolate on top of it.

Of course I ate it anyway.


It was about this time that I saw a couple with these trays, designed to hold your food and wine samples. The wife was kind enough to let this stranger take a picture of hers. 

Next, China. I wanted to try the duck. I like duck. I had it once before in a Turducken at Christmas some years ago. This duck, alas, was no Turducken. It was "Beijing roasted duck in steamed bun with hoisin sauce." First, I'm, apparently, not a fan of hoisin sauce. And the duck was not juicy and tender as I'd anticipated. It was a bit dry, and its taste was completely overpowered by the sweet sauce.

blurry picture of duck in hoisin sauce and steamed bun

The steamed buns in China are just weird. They look shiny and smooth and their texture is doughy. They're tasteless, at least once you've had a bit of hoisin sauce.

doughy shrimp with tasty noodles

We also had the black pepper shrimp with Sichuan noodles. The shrimp, as opposed to being crispy fried in a breading, was doughy with breading. But it was still good. And the noodles? Excellent. Just like the lo mein I get at the local Chinese place. Too bad I couldn't eat them all. Maybe I'll get Chinese next weekend to make up for it.

Then we headed to New Zealand to try the venison. I've had venison once or twice and thought it was very tasty. But this venison was not. This was "seared venison loin with wild mushroom marsala sauce and kumara dumpling."


That thing, under and to the right of the dry, tasteless hunk of meat, that looks like a steak fry is the dumpling. Kumara is similar to a sweet potato, a root vegetable. Its dumpling here was bland.

We also tried the lamb meatball, because we never try the lamb, because I claim to not like lamb. But since this outing is supposed to be about trying new things, we tried the lamb.



Unfortunately, this was a lamb meatball and so tasted like a meatball. An Italian meatball. I think I got a slight aftertaste of lamb, but it was really hard to tell. It was sitting in a bread cup of some sort. We were way too full to try that. So we pretended it was a shortcake shell for making strawberry shortcakes. Dessert gone wrong.

We stopped off to get a pastel de elote con queso or sweet corn cheesecake, to go, from Mexico. It was in a creme brulee cup and topped with whipped cream, but I smashed it into my plastic storage case anyway. When I got home, the whipped cream had turned to...I don't know...curdled cream. And the cheese cake tasted like a condensed hard pudding of creamed corn. I didn't like it.


Finally, we asked for some directions and found the Cheese Studio. We intended to try one of their goat cheese offerings. We decided on the Le Bonne Vie goat cheese served with Craisin bread instead of the sweet goat cheese penna cotta, figuring the former would be more...cheese, as opposed to something made with the cheese.



As it turned out, that particular morsel was part of a trio of artisan cheeses. From left to right: Rogue Creamery Oregon Blue Cheese with berry port compote, the aforementioned goat cheese with its impressive hunk of Craisin bread, and Karst cave-aged cheese served with honey.

Well...

First things first. Karst is a landscape formed by the dissolution of soluble rocks. It's also a kind of cheese...I guess. Here is some for sale on the Internet: it says Karst is an American Original cheese. It was very mild, dense, somewhat dry and went well with the honey.

The blue cheese was so incredibly strong I can see why a person would want to mix it up with some sauce a la blue cheese salad dressing. I could only take two small bites. Powerful, moldy cheese it was. The berry compote was sweetly delicious.

And now for the goat cheese. Honestly, I didn't expect it to be that much different from any other cheese. I was wrong.

Goat cheese tastes like a petting zoo smells.

That's all I'm going to say about that.

That was it. That was all I could eat this year. We went on the Gran Fiesta Tour starring the Three Caballeros, as usual.


And, as I whined about last year, Maelstrom is gone! The Frozen ride might be open next year. There was an exhibit in Norway, tying the movie Frozen with that country, showing authentic artifacts and how they were used in the film, probably in an effort to make it okay that they took away Maelstrom, an authentic Nordic adventure, and are replacing it with a fantasy cartoon caricature movie and product tie-in ad.

Screw you, Disney.

Hypocritically, I saw this dress in one of the shops and told George that if we had a granddaughter, I'd totally be buying it. He begged to differ.


Seventy bucks.

And I took a picture of Thor.


Actually King Olaf II, patron saint of Norway. But still. Thor, guys.

Okay, the last few photos that must be shared!

I tried to take this picture of the Mickey-as-a-chef shrubbery.

No angle worked.

And then I caught some very friendly birds while resting outside one of the bathroom areas.


So cute! And then there was this:



The coolest person at the park!

I had a good time, but couldn't eat very much. Such a shame. Maybe next year.



*I invented that word: arun.





Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The self-pubbers guide to changing your mind (and Yetis)...

The good life
photo by Brian Sawyer via Flickr


Okay, first--I don't really like that word. Self-pubber. I don't even like self-published. It's an old term from days recently past when corporate publishers held all the cards and self-publishing your book meant going to a printer and getting a garage filled with boxes of your books.

These days, we're all publishers. Some of us even have our own imprints. Some of us look at this gig as a professional undertaking. And I, for one, have no problem sharing the field with people who don't take it all that seriously.

I don't have a problem with sloppy covers, stilted prose, typos, bad grammar, and poor formatting. I just don't care. It's none of my business how much or how little you care about those things. Hold up a moment.

....

It would appear that I've gone off on a tangential rant. Back to business...

Here's the thing. I went to the Florida Writer's Association conference last weekend and had a BLAST! (You know it was great if I'm using all caps.) And I feel another tangent coming on. I have to say it:

Always Magnolia took First Place in the women's fiction category of the Royal Palm Literary Awards on Saturday night. Woot and all that. It was also the third highest scoring published book-length entry (tied with two others). So, yay me.



I have to say, I was glad that they did the whole top five scores published and unpublished, because Always Magnolia, as it turned out, was the only women's fiction title to make the finals. It was good to know that I didn't just skim by the minimum score required to be a finalist and win by default.

And Wayward Cat Finds a Home was First Place in the children's chapter book category. Yay me again!



I suppose I had gotten to a point some time ago when I felt like I didn't need to spend the money on conferences anymore. I felt like I had it all down, you know? I know everything I need to know, now I just need to practice it. But I got quite a lot out of this conference. Some of it was stuff I already knew, but clearly needed to hear again...to focus on again.

And I had a wonderful AHA! moment. That AHA! moment has led me to a very big decision.

Drum roll please...

I'm going to take Story Runners: Awakening out of print some time in the near future.



Why? Because the title is wrong. And the beginning is wrong. And there isn't enough oomph in the book to start a series. The first book in a series has got to be special. It's akin to the first chapter of a book. It's got to grab the reader and make her want more. I honestly don't think I did well enough with this book. There are some very good reasons that I failed and I understand them. So, I think I can go back in and fix it...do a better job.

And that's where this whole thing gets fantastic.

I can do that!

I can take my book out of print, change the title, rewrite it, and put it out again. Just like that. Easy peasy. Because it's all mine. I own every bit of it. I don't have to beg anyone to do it. I don't have to suffer through a bad book because I don't have any rights to it, or any control over it.

If I fail. I can fix it.

I think the biggest thing I've learned from this is that, I can fail. It's okay to fail. It's not the end of a career if one of my books tanks, or if it's done all wrong. It's just a matter of making things right.

The big question I had about it, though, was, how to do it. Turns out, it's not that difficult. Simply unpublish the book from all of your distributors. Do what you have to do with it. Make it very clear, both in the front matter of the book, and on the book's new pages, that it was formerly published under that other title. Use a new ISBN. (And if you purchased your own from Bowker, list the previous title as 'out of print' there.) And voila. You've got the old book, revised or not, under a new title.

Do you have to use a new ISBN when you change the cover of your book? No
Do you have to when you reformat, or make changes to the text? No... unless those changes to the text are major, in which case you ought to issue a Second Edition and yes, use a new ISBN.
Do you have to use a new ISBN when you change the title of your book? Yes. Absolutely. Even if the cover is, in all other aspects, the same.

I'm not sure when I'll be taking Story Runners out of print. So, if you want to read it the way it is, by all means, get it soon. And, if you have any suggestions on how to make it better, I'll listen. But under no circumstances will I be adding a Yeti. Maybe in a later book in the series. And even then it won't be called a Yeti, so you Yeti enthusiasts won't be satisfied. So, just forget the Yeti for now. Okay? I mean it. No Yeti.



Heads Up!
Next week I'll be posting my latest Epcot International Food & Wine Festival blog! I took a look at last year's entry and noticed that the foods I was too full to eat last year will be available this year. So I will definitely be getting the duck, and the venison, and the garlic whatever it was this year!

I'll see you next week, fatter and more satisfied (food wise) than ever before!





Monday, October 5, 2015

The Year of the Office: Writing is hard

Kerouac, the cat by Fellpe Miguel via Flickr


Professional Author: Okay let's get to work.

Artiste: Fine. What have we got to work on?

PA: We've finished the outline for the new women's fiction title. Write some of that.

Artiste: Ugh. Do we have to?

PA: Well, we could write a chapter or two on the new Downtown Divas Romance.

Artiste: I'm not in the mood for romantic comedy. And anyway, we haven't worked out that thing yet. You know, that thing?

PA: Maybe we haven't worked it out because we don't need it. Or maybe if we just start writing, it'll come to us.

Artiste: But I don't feel like writing that.

PA: Well...write some backstory or world-building on that paranormal thing we wanted to write.

Artiste: You know that was your idea. You're the one who wants to write something that actually sells. You're all about the bottom line.

PA: Seriously? Why the heck do you think we're sitting here in this fabulous third-floor office in Historic--

Artiste: --also your idea.

PA: --Downtown? We wanted to be professional about this. We wanted to write more books.

Artiste: Look, I'm an artist. I don't want to write something just because it sells.

PA: <smacks head> As long as it's a story you like, there's no compromise of our integrity.

Artiste: I do like the idea...but...

PA: It's the sex thing, right?

Artiste: You want us to write sex scenes.

PA: People like sex!

Artiste: I just don't feel like tackling that right now. I'm afraid it'll make us feel dirty. And anyway, you said people like romance, so we wrote that romantic comedy. Uh...hello? Are we famous yet? Just because I write a paranormal sex romp in no way guarantees the success you're counting on.

PA: We've been over this already. We're writing a paranormal romance. I know we are because we're thinking about it a lot and the story is coming together in our head. But, okay, not today. What else can we work on?

Artiste: What's the point?

PA: WHAT? What's the point? It's what we do!

Artiste: But why do we do it? To what purpose?

PA: <sputtering> It's...it's...who we are. We've been writing stories since elementary school. We wrote our first novel in middle school.

Artiste: Uh, hello. I don't mean to be rude, but that was all me. You didn't show up until 2012. I've been toiling away here, for too many years to count, so I think I know when we're having an existential crisis.

PA: We don't have time for that. We're in the office! We are professional now. We work even when we're sick, when we don't have any inspiration, when we're so depressed we're weeping into our Diet Coke.

Artiste: I'm sorry. I think we have writer's block.

PA: We don't believe in writer's block! Writer's block does not exist! Remember? We made Facebook posts and Tweets about it. About how we're professional now. Getting through the procrastination that we call writer's block is simply a matter of writing! Whether we feel like it or not.

Artiste: I'm just not there. Nothing inspires me. Nothing grabs at me. And you know as well as I do that if I'm not excited about the project, the reader won't be.

PA: Uh, well, number one: There won't be any project for readers to diss if we don't--

Artiste: --I can't believe you're bringing up that one-star review thing! You know how upset I've been about that.

PA: Oh, get over it, already. And number Two: the only way for us to get excited about a project is to work on it! Come on! Butt in chair! Let's go!

Artiste: Our butt is already in the chair. Nothing's happening.

PA: Write anything! A poem.

Artiste: You know we have to be really, really depressed to write poetry.

PA: A short story!

Artiste: We haven't had an idea for a short story in months.

PA: Just start writing and something will come to us.

Artiste: I don't think you are fully grasping my existentialist pit of despair.

PA: No. I got it. You feel like you're a tiny voice in a maelstrom. You feel alone and abandoned. You feel like no one understands you and no one cares. You feel like you'll never be successful at the only thing you're really good at--that it's possible that you're not really all that good at the only thing you're good at. Part of you feels like you are under appreciated--that life isn't fair--and the other part feels that you get what you deserve. You feel like you're going to die having never been read--really read, like, widely.

Artiste: Thanks for laying it all out there. I feel so much better.

PA: Sarcasm?

Artiste: I realize you're too professional to delve into the intellectual's true artistry.

PA: But I'm right aren't I? About all of that?

Artiste: Yep. I think you nailed it. I just don't see the point in writing, anymore.

PA: So, we're going to get a job at Walmart?

Artiste: Maybe we'll go back to school.

PA: Oh, for the love of Grumpy Cat, not that again!

Artiste: Woe is me. Woe is I? Woe are we?

PA: Okay, how about this? How about we accept that we will never be successful while we're alive. But just think. Once we're dead and buried, somebody might discover one of our books. Camelia, for instance--a masterpiece, if we're allowed to say--

Artiste: --We're not supposed to think that highly of ourselves.

PA: That's our artiste talking.

Artiste: Uh, yeah.

PA: As I was saying, once we're dead, we could be discovered.

Artiste: Couldn't we just Tweet something super offensive to a whole lot of people and create a Twit-storm? Then we could be famous and read widely in our lifetime.

PA: You want to go with the no-such-thing-as-bad-publicity ploy?

Artiste: You're right. We're too nice. The only sorts we'd feel comfortable offending are writers and I'm not sure that would generate the Tweets.

PA: Look, you're stepping over your bounds...entering Professional Author territory. Let me worry about marketing.

Artiste: Why bother? What's the point of going on?

PA: I just told you! After we're dead, we're going to be famous! So, get our fingers on the keyboard and let's write something worthy.

Artiste: After we're dead...hmm. That might just be morbid enough to spark something...

PA: See, all we need is a little push. This office is totally worth it.

Artiste: Don't you miss working in our pajamas?

PA: A little. And by the way, blogging doesn't count as work.

Artiste: Of course it does.

PA: No. It's not work. We're still not working.

Artiste: We are. This totally counts.

PA: You can keep going, trying to up the word count, all you want. It doesn't count.

Artiste: Does so!

PA: Does nah-ot...

Artiste: *&$#






Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Marmite and other crazy ideas...



I've been racking* my brain, trying to remember what it is that Marmite looks like. It looks like...cold molasses...like...thick glue. It looks sticky. When you dig your knife into the jar and pull some out it doesn't want to let go of itself. It's got a slightly burnish red look to it. But it really looks just like something I've seen before; I just can't remember what it is.** Arrgh. It's driving me nuts.

As for what it tastes like...well. Salt. And something hinting at metal. I didn't shudder...not bodily, anyway. But my mouth and tongue did all they could to get rid of the Marmite once they were assaulted by it. And nothing could overcome the unpleasant aftertaste. Not Diet Coke. Not dark chocolates. It was just something I had to live through.

I gave it two bites. And I should probably try it again. But my stomach revolts at the thought, so don't hold your breath.

*It's "racking," after the torture device; means to torture yourself. Not "wracking," which is related to the word "wreck." These are the things you learn when you obsess over words.

It's been a crazy week. Here's what's been on my mind:

NFL Quarterbacks. They used to look like my dad. Old guys. In fact, back in the day, the other girls said my dad looked like Joe Namath.* He didn't. He was cuter than Joe Namath. But still, you're getting what I'm saying, right? Then, at some point, they got hot. After a while, they looked like they could be my sons, so it wasn't cool that they might be hot. And now, they look like children. I'm wondering if, when I'm ninety, they're going to look like they're twelve.

*Maybe it's wasn't Joe Namath. Maybe it was Bert Reynolds. (Especially in his bushy mustache phase.) Maybe it was both; I don't remember. I just know that some of my friends thought my dad was cute. 

Have you seen this commercial?*



Explain to me why this is okay and not creepy? If it was old men, and a young, sexy woman, feminists would be freaking out, wouldn't they? I think they would. But these lustful old bats making a young man uncomfortable with their sexual innuendo...that's just okay, I guess. It creeps me out.

*For when the ad is no longer available and I don't figure it out for months and months and have to find a new link, it's the VW ad (and others like it) featuring a trio of old ladies coming on to a young car salesman. 

Okay, so here are two things I really just do not get.

One. The Wounded Warrior Project. I don't get it. I don't understand why people in the military, especially those who are wounded, need donations from the general population. The military is supposed to be "service" to our country. It's all supposed to be paid for with our tax dollars. Isn't it? People who are in the service get a free college education. I'm pretty sure their kids get it, too.* So why am I paying for free college for them all, but there isn't enough money for the wounded? What the hell is going on?

Azog statue by William Tung via Flickr
*[update 09/24/2015] See the comments about the whole free education thing that I thought the military was given. I am so clueless!

One A. I don't get why we are calling them "warriors." It's so barbaric. Archaic. Violent. Makes us sound like crazed madmen always starting wars and sending in our WARRIORS! I guess it fits. Still. Wouldn't it be more respectful to call them service men and women? I know, I know; people don't like the whole gender thing. And we can't dare call them all servicemen because that's just not fair to the women, even though the word "men" is right there in the word "women." And even though we could all just be men. I mean, why not? Maybe we should start saying servicewomen and say that includes men and women, which it does. How would the guys feel about that? Do we care? Anyway, there ought to be a better word than WARRIOR! which makes me think of an orc in a loincloth with a giant ax. I wouldn't want to be a WARRIOR! I'd want to be a peacekeeper, or something like that. But that would be laughable. That would be like the Patriot Act, which isn't really all that patriotic. And the Defense of Marriage Act that did nothing of the kind.

Two. I don't understand why some schools are better than others. Honestly. I don't get why, when you want to buy a house, you need to check out the school that your kids will be going to. I don't understand why poorer neighborhoods have worse schools than wealthier neighborhoods. Aren't public schools supposed to be financed by our tax dollars? Shouldn't those tax dollars be spread out completely evenly? I don't get it. If we're going to have public education, your kid ought to be able to go into any public school and have the exact same experience as in any other. Same quality of textbooks, same standards of teachers and curricula. What the hell is going on in this country?

That's it for the things that I don't get lately.

**I'VE GOT IT! I remember! Marmite reminds me of this sticky stuff that comes in a tube that I once fed to a rat. That's right. A rat. You squeeze it out onto your finger and the rat licks it off. Either that's what Marmite reminds me of, or I've gone completely off my rocker.

All right. Back to work.



Monday, September 14, 2015

Ah, Monday: Kim Davis, Church of Bacon, and other oddities...

"Well, as far as I'm concerned, the Internet is just another way of being rejected by women."  --George Pappas, You've Got Mail


My plant outgrew its pot so I took it home. Hubs planted it in the back yard and left me with a baby. I think it's adorable. But it's starting to droop just a bit, like it's lonely. I can't tell if that's real, or just my imagination.

And I'm happy to report that I now have had an office spider. (In the time it took me to sort out this post, it either disappeared, or was attacked by a much larger bug and left in pieces in the corner.)



This means, obviously, that I have been accepted by the building's creatures. (Conversely, the spider's presence was meant only in context of its demise: a warning to get out!)

Still, I'm not sure if I'll go another year in the office. I've been wondering about it for a month or so, going back and forth. And now, I'm just stuck.

I'd love to be back at home in my little spare-room office. I wouldn't have to get dressed to go to work and I'd have my own private bathroom and the thermostat just where I want it Hubs let's me keep it. There's an entire kitchen at my disposal back home, which, I suppose should be on the "con" side, not the "pro" side. And working at home would save a lot of money.

I really hate this time in my job--this in between time. I've sorted and reissued all the Kell Stone Prophecy books with new covers; published the third in the series and put together a Complete Trilogy edition. I got Bookish Meets Boy off and away. And now I'm trying to get into my next projects, still reeling from fatigue, doubt, and self-loathing.

Self-loathing, you ask? Yeah, what's up with that? It's not at all to do with that horrid one-star review I blogged about recently. Not at all. With each and every new book, I crawl away feeling...dirty. Is that weird or what? I think it's the exposure. Publishing a book is like walking down the street naked, hoping people will look at you. It feels wrong somehow, and yet, I'm compelled to do it.

Okay, so thoughts...?

I read Patrick Rothfuss' blog the other day and it appears that he works at home. He writes really thick books, too. I'm a fan of really big books. Aren't you?

I read a lot. Seriously. A lot. I keep track of what I read on my personal website. But I try not to say too many bad things about the books I read. It's not always easy. I think there's a part of me who thinks that it's not fair to criticize other people's work when you do the same work yourself. It would be like...if I sold bread and went around tasting everybody's else's bread and telling people that some of the loaves I ate were moldy, or had chunks in them. There's probably some sort of code to abide by in commerce. Nobody's abiding by it, but that never stopped me from obsessing.

I wish broccoli tasted like mint chocolate chip ice cream.

I gave a beggar a few dollars the other day and when he reached into my car to take it, his fingers touched mine and I couldn't wait to get home to wash my hands. I couldn't tell if this was some kind of bigotry on my part--being that the guy was dirty and creepy--or had more to do with my weirdness about touching people and eating food past its expiration date (not necessarily at the same time). It's like in Zumba class when the instructor has everyone get together and do a kick line, or worse, some country music doh-see-doh-ing and then I spend the rest of the class grossed out and trying to forget that slick, sweaty feeling on my arms where I was forced to touch another sweaty person. If you make me touch another sweaty person in Zumba class, I won't be back for a while. I'm at home wondering if you've taken that song out of your rotation, yet.

I heard that Kim Davis was going back to work today...in a manner of speaking. It's hard to imagine being in the mind of someone whose worldview is suddenly becoming a minority view. It looks scary from here, in more ways than one. I mean, I can see that she and people like her are scared--the world is changing in ways they don't like. And those people are becoming increasingly radicalized, which scares the rest of us. Isn't there enough terrorism in the world?

But then...isn't it weird the way in which radicals can't see their own radicalism, but are very quick to point it out in others?

I forgot to try my Marmite this past weekend. I got some at the British store here in downtown Melbourne: Julie's British Shoppe. (As a plug, in my Downtown Divas Romance series, the British shop is called Across the Pond and is run by Imagen and Harry Trentham.) I guess I shouldn't mention the Marmite since I really have nothing to say about it.

I think there should be an activist media along with the social media, so that when someone posts a picture of a drowned toddler or a starved Polar bear on social media, we can all yell at them to go post that awful stuff on activist media where it belongs. Seriously, do you go to parties and hold up pictures of tortured animals or beheaded journalists? No? Then it doesn't belong on social media.

I joined the United Church of Bacon today, quite by accident. I signed up for the newsletter and voila, I'm a member. I've got no problem with that. I love bacon.

Speaking of skeptics. Margaret Downey is all over my Facebook page lately...wearing a nurse's hat. At first, I thought it might be some sort of costume party, but no one else seems to be wearing one. I don't think Ms. Downey is a nurse. I'd ask her about it, but I don't feel that I know her well enough. You know how it is, right? You're 'friends,' but not really friends. And I don't want to be that person who comments on #26 of a 30-picture series asking what it's all about, because that person clearly hasn't been paying attention.

Football is back.

This month, I'm going to the Florida Heritage Book Festival, where I will smile for a full day.

Next month, in addition to attending the fabulous Florida Writers Association conference (I've got three finalists up for awards!), I'm also going to do the Epcot Food & Wine Festival. You know what that means? That's right, another fabulous food blog!

This is the greatness of the Internet Tubes. I can post a food blog every year and no one can stop me!

So...until next time...




Friday, August 21, 2015

Ten stages of grief over the one-star review -- The Year of the Office

I had to come into the office today. If for no other reason...to climb the stairs and work off the four cookies and half-bag of white cheddar popcorn I ate last night while sobbing and watching Project Runway.

Okay. I wasn't really sobbing. But there were a few tears. Why? I'll tell you why...

I'm a hack. That's right. A hack. I got it. I got the dreaded <begin echo chamber> ONE-STAR REVIEW.

"Oh," I can hear you saying, "don't worry about that. Nobody pays any attention to those reviews."

I beg to differ. There's nothing worse out there than a book with only one review. And it was, I cannot stress this enough: ONE STAR! The book was sitting there like a dud. A turd. A one-star pile of poo.

My life was over.

They say you aren't supposed to respond to negative reviews. Some even argue you aren't supposed to respond to positive reviews. Reviews are for readers, not authors. Authors have been honed, sharpened, roughed-up against the fires of criticism. We're tough old bastards. You can't get to us.

Bugger that.

Here is, laid out before you, exactly what it feels like when you prick us. This is all true. Every bit of it happened to me. I would not lie.

1. Confusion sets in. Cue: Genesis. There must be some misunderstanding. There must be some kind of mistake. I worked on this book for hours. And you hate it? I'll sit here refreshing the book's Amazon page for several hours, waiting for you to realizing you accidentally one-starred that book when you meant to five-star it. Okay, okay, clearly not five stars based on your comments. But....three? Maybe? Nothing's happening. You mean...seriously?



Like. What gives? Did you read my book? MY book? Are you sure? Maybe you want to sleep on it? I'll check again in the morning.

2. Humiliation. You realize you're clearly not as brilliant as certain people keep saying you are. You're George Costanza, having mistakenly let Elaine Benes take your IQ test for you. And now look at you. ONE STAR! One star, Jerry. A one-star review.


How are you going to outside again? People will KNOW!

3. You start to bargain with your skeptical reviewer. I mean...look at all the funny! Look at the cuteness! What about all the fab writing skills? Don't you see what I did there with the main dude? Behold the award-winning author! LOOK AT THE BONES!


4. Then you get a little bit angry. Could be from all that bunny violence in number three. But really. Why would somebody do something like that, right? You're not going to just let them do it, are you? You're not Janice Joplin, letting people just take pieces of your heart out if it makes them feel good. Hell no!


5. Of course, you're a nice, civilized person. Not prone to violence. So you calm down and start to defend yourself in a more...whiny sort of fashion. I write fine. That reviewer doesn't know what he's talking about. I'm a good writer, right? Do I stink? But I really enjoy writing!


6. Then there's complete denial. What's with these readers dissing me and my book? I don't care what they say about us, anyway. I don't care about that.


7. Of course, it still hurts. You can pretend you look like Buddy Holly all day long, but that review is still there. Maybe it's time you realized the truth: your career is over. It's a big fat pile of turds all over Amazon. You had it good for a while, though. You could have been a contender. You could have been somebody. Instead of a hack. If it weren't for that awful, one-star review.


8. You cry. And you eat a bunch of chocolate, chocolate-chip cookies, a half-bag of white cheddar popcorn. You give in and let it all out.



 9. After all that blubbering, you figure, what the hell. It's not like you're going to stop writing. You don't write for the reviews anyway. You write because...well, because that's what you do. And if you're out there telling the world one-star stories, well, make them the best one-star stories ever! Seriously. The sun will come out tomorrow. So, buck up. Wipe your face. Get used to it. No use crying about it. There's no crying in publishing! You think you got it bad with a one-star review? There are plenty of authors out there with a hundred one-star reviews. Hell, be thankful you got any review at all. That means someone's actually reading your stuff! Got it? No crying in publishing.



10. So, you wipe the snot from your nose and take a few ZzzQuil and go to bed and get up the next morning, hold your head high, act like nobody out there in the big wide world knows you're a one-star paperback writer (come on, really, it's not like it's tattooed on your forehead), climb those stairs to your office, sit down and...blog about it.

You will go on to write again. You will put out another book, and another. And one day, damn it all, you're going to get more and better reviews. One day, that sickly-yellow, demeaning, demoralizing, soul-crushing one-star review will be buried under a bunch more reviews that may or may not be better than one-star. I mean, truthfully, let's be honest and all--it's possible that you're going to have a lot of mediocre reviews and you'll never rise to the level of greatness you see in your head when you're writing.... You know, when you're reading your own stuff and laughing or crying and thinking you're brilliant. Nope. Truth is, it's probably going to be more like those times you read your stuff and wonder what the hell you're doing, why on earth you thought you could be a writer, anyway.

I digress. What I mean to say is, you come to understand that life goes on. After all, tomorrow...is another day.



Monday, I mean. I'll get back to serious work on Monday. This weekend, there's another half-bag of white cheddar popcorn and some open packages of Toll House cookies in the fridge calling my name.









Monday, July 13, 2015

My Southern Heritage...

photo by abbamouse via Flickr


When I think of my country, the United States of America, I don't feel pride, so much as privilege. I'm privileged to be an American. I wouldn't use the word "proud" because I did nothing to become an American--I didn't earn my citizenship, so there isn't really anything to be proud of in being an American.

That being said, I am proud of my country. I'm proud of it because of its ideals more than its practices. The United States of America was founded on the ideal of all people being equal and having certain inalienable rights, namely, the right to life, the right to liberty or to live freely, and the right to pursue that which makes us happy.

Of course, when our country was founded, these ideals didn't actually apply to all people, only to white property-owning males. Hence, my pride only at our ideal: e pluribus unum and all that. Not so much pride in the way we've struggled to reach that ideal.

I was born and raised in Florida, but my parents are both from North Carolina. I can trace my father's ancestry, on his mother's side, all the way back to one Johan Adam Bolch, born in Germany in 1728, emigrated to the Colonies in 1753, and died in 1794, in Catawba County, North Carolina. On his father's side, I can trace my dad's ancestry to a Martin Trantham, Sr. born in Staffordshire, England, in about 1690, emigrated to the Colonies, and died in North Carolina in 1769.

While I can trace my mother's lineage through her father to a Joseph Cole who died in 1840, the best I can prove is a Joseph Cole who was born in 1816, and died in 1886 in Rutherford County, North Carolina. But on her mother's side, through her grandmother, I can trace her line back to a John Holland, born in Virginia in 1735 and died there in 1801. His son, also John Holland, was born in North Carolina in 1773 and died in 1856.

My Fifth Great Grandfather was born three years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

The next time you shout out that it's time to take America back, I'd like to know from whom you wish to retrieve it. Certainly not from me and others who share my views. My heritage is in the making of this country. I am as much an American as you...maybe more so.

I hear a lot of people these days talking about the Confederate flag. Heritage, not hate, they keep saying. I wonder how many of those people can trace their family ancestry to people who actually fought for the Confederacy. I can.

My great aunt was a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. I was told that documentation could be had, should I wish to apply for membership. I did not wish to do so.

The Confederate States of America was nothing less than treason. 

My ancestors were most likely not the wealthy plantation owners and the statesmen of the South. No. They were more likely poor farmers or sharecroppers. They may have owned slaves. They fought for the Confederacy because they were ignorant followers of rich statesmen, or because they truly believed in the "cause" of "Southern Independence," I have no way of knowing.

But there is nothing there for me to be proud of.

As an American, proud of the ideals this country was founded on and strives to achieve, I can only look back on my Southern Heritage with disdain, sadness, and shame.

Sure, there were, no doubt, some people throughout the history of this country who were disgusted by slavery, who didn't consider certain people as subhuman, and who didn't buy into the vulgar idea of "benevolent slavery"--that of the civilized man caring for the savage.

But I am almost certain that none of those people were my ancestors. My ancestors in the South, particularly North Carolina, were racists. I know this for a fact because I lived among them as a child. These racists I knew were raised by racists, who were naturally raised by racists of their own.

There can be no doubt that the Confederacy was built on racism. The words of those statesmen upon seceding from the Union--upon committing treason against the United States--prove that they fought against the abolition of slavery. Why? Because the South was built on slavery. And instead of accepting the enlightened notion that human beings are not property for other human beings, my ancestors dug in and chose to fight to keep themselves ensconced in bigotry.

Even when they lost their dirty treasonous war, they continued to fight against the notion that they were no better than anyone else simply because of the color of their skin. The failed Confederacy brought us the Ku Klux Klan and Jim Crow. Segregation. Lynchings.

That is my Southern Heritage.

Don't tell me it's not about hate, because that's exactly what it's about. The flag of the Confederate States of America is a symbol of treason, of a failed attempt to maintain white supremacy and slavery, of racism and bigotry and ignorance.

I'm ashamed of it. And I'm ashamed of my ancestors for fighting under it.

But I don't have to live with this shame, or be branded by it. Because I'm not a Southerner so much as I am an American. My flag is the flag of the United States and it symbolizes the ideals that our country was founded on. Those ideals are in stark contrast to the goals of the Confederacy.

Fly the Confederate flag all you want and proclaim its heritage as yours. But don't expect me to not view you as an ignorant racist bigot, no different from my treasonous ancestors. And don't expect me to think of you as an American patriot. How could you be, when you honor the flag of a treasonous attack on my country?

Heritage, not hate? I don't think so.


Monday, June 15, 2015

On "The Swerve" and being nothing...

Good news: you're nothing.
Photo by Salvatore Gerace via Flickr

Some time ago I wrote a post called What if We are Nothing. It's basically an essay on the idea that humans are nothing more than a material part of this world and this universe, no greater or lesser than any other life form..or any other form for that matter.

The essay was an attempt at helping me live better with the objective world I am presented with daily--murder, defeat, death, horror. I didn't expect the idea was new, of course, but it was something that I don't think I have contemplated with any seriousness in the past.

Recently, my husband and I were on a road trip and the radio stations in the car kept going in and out so we did quite a bit of surfing. At one point, we caught part of an interview on NPR with Stephen Greenblatt on his book, The Swerve. What I got in the little bit that I heard was that the book was about an ancient poem by Lucretius, written in about 50 BCE. It was lost to us for centuries, then found by a scribe on the hunt for just such literary treasures. The finding and dissemination of this poem, Greenblatt said, helped to usher in The Enlightenment.

As soon as I got home from our trip, I ordered The Swerve.

More than about Lucretius' On the Nature of Things, The Swerve serves as an early history of books, literature, and writing or rather, copying. Various parts fascinated me, while others angered me. The discussion of the manner in which Christians murdered Hypatia and went on to effectively destroy much of our world's literature, as well as our pagan and freethought culture, was difficult to accept. Suffice it to say, we're lucky we have what we do of the time period in question.

But what surprised me most--so far, as I haven't finished reading yet--was the synopsis of points found in Lucretius' poem. If I'm understanding correctly, the poem was not merely Lucretius' philosophy of life, but also an homage to Epicurus--a much maligned and denigrated individual (along with his philosophy) by...you guessed it...Christians.

In general education, we are taught in these modern times that the idea of evolutionary theory is relatively new, sparked by Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species. Not so. Evolutionary theory--early, rudimentary--is there in Epicureanism and outlined beautifully in Lucretius' On the Nature of Things.

But what spurred this blog post was this passage, in which Greenblatt explains Lucretius' thoughts on being and nothingness:

Understanding the nature of things generates wonder.
The realization that the universe consists of atoms and void and nothing else, that the world was not made for us by a providential creator, that we are not the center of the universe, that our emotional lives are no more distinct than our physical lives from those of all other creatures, that our souls are as material and as mortal as our bodies--all these things are not the cause for despair. On the contrary, grasping the way things really are is the crucial step toward the possibility of happiness. Human insignificance--the fact that it is not all about us and our fate--is, Lucretius insisted, the good news.
It is possible for human beings to live happy lives, but not because they think that they are the center of the universe or because they fear the gods or because they nobly sacrifice themselves for values that purport to transcend their mortal existence. Unappeasable desire and the fear of death are the principal obstacles to human happiness, but the obstacles can be surmounted through the exercise of reason.
The exercise of reason is not available only to specialists; it is accessible to everyone. What is needed is to refuse the lies proffered by priests and other fantasymongers and to look squarely and calmly at the true nature of things. All speculation--all science, all morality, all attempts to fashion a life worth living--must start and end with a comprehension of the invisible seeds of things: atoms and the void and nothing else.
It might seem at first that this comprehension would inevitably bring with it a sense of cold emptiness, as if the universe had been robbed of its magic. But being liberated from harmful illusions is not the same as disillusionment. The origin of philosophy, it was often said in the ancient world, was wonder: surprise and bafflement led to a desire to know, and knowledge in turn laid the wonder to rest. But in Lucretius' account the process is something like the reverse: it is knowing the way things are that awakens the deepest wonder.

I struggle trying to understand and come to terms with the behaviors of humans and I still cannot understand the ability of most of them to turn away from what is all around them every day.

My first thought on reading this passage was a revulsion of the human condition--one that suffers and scratches and tears at existence with no awareness of what we really are. We are temporary; what we are is eternal. I wonder if there aren't some of us who imagine a future in which humans have evolved into a deep and satisfying understanding of their existence--I bet there are.

I'm not one of them.