Category Archives: Writing

There will be blood! And it was mine!

No, I didn’t have an accident, I finally donated blood on Thursday.

While I’d arranged my schedule to account for the wiped-out feeling a double donation of red blood cells gives me, this trip still threw me off my game. There was a rash on my left arm when they were ready to stick the needle in — probably a reaction to something on the blood-pressure cuff — and as a result they decided to use my right arm. The veins weren’t as good, so they slowed down the system and I got out 30 to 40 minutes later than I normally would have. Then I had to walk across the parking lot and almost to the street to call a Lyft because the Red Cross is in a cell-phone dead zone.

But it’s done! And with a double dose, I won’t be ready to give again until May, so being wiped out the rest of the day (the only thing I got done was a post on Death-Ray Mirror of Dr. Mabuse on Atomic Junkshop) is worth it to cut back the number of appointments. And overall this was a productive week. That’s good, as I’ll be starting back on Leaf articles next week, so there’ll be less time for other stuff.

I rewrote Death Is Like a Box of Chocolates which I’ll submit to the writing group in a week or two. Now that the McGuffin is a box of Stuckey’s praline candies, I’ll leave it up to the group whether the title still works or if I need an alternative (It Flutters on the Soul would be my backup).

I finished Chapter Six of Sexist Myths and went on to incorporate a number of bookmarked web pages into the book. I’ll jump back and start on Chapter Four next week (it’s much rougher so I figured I’d be more able to tackle it if I got a couple of other chapters under my best).

I went over the rewrite of Fiddler’s Black I did last week and it looks good. Next week I’ll start looking for markets.

I completed two more chapters of Impossible Takes a Little Longer. Despite all the changes from the last draft, it’s flowing very well. A big part of that is the first person voice works so much better than third-person did, conveying much more of the intensity. I’m on track to get to Chapter Eighteen by the end of the month, which was my plan. However it’s shaping up to be very short for a novel length work. Then again, so did Southern Discomfort and it’s now a comfortable 90,000. Fingers crossed.

I finished a first draft of Death’s Jester though that’s definitely not the final title. It involves a couple of teenage schoolgirls in 1960s London getting entangled in a supernatural struggle. However the ending is really rushed, because I was bone-weary this morning and I couldn’t think very well, so I just wrapped it up all of a sudden. There are some bits in the ending I like, but I may revisit it next week and mess around with other options.

And I gave blood which is something I take pride in doing as much as possible. So yay.

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Filed under Impossible Takes a Little Longer, Nonfiction, Personal, Short Stories, Story Problems, Time management and goals, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book

Controversial golden agers and other writing links

SF editorial legend John W. Campbell has become controversial in recent years. Cory Doctorow explains why. A friend of mine who showed this post to me added that it’s not just a matter of being bad personally: as the editor supreme, Campbell shaped and influenced what hundreds of writer got published. His ideas matter.

And then there’s Isaac Asimov. I’d heard about his fondness for grabbing or slapping women’s butts, but it was worse than I realized, At the link a good argument Asimov was not just “the product of his times.”

Several famous guitar riffs in classic songs are not in the sheet music used to register copyright. That could make them public domain. And lots of stuff made in 1924, such as Tarzan and the Ant Men and Rhapsody in Blue is now public domain. And if not for Congress extending copyright duration in 1978, material from 1963 would be available now, including Where the Wild Things Are and Spy Who Came In From the Cold.

Mystery novelist Sherry Harris says don’t write what you know, write what you suspect.

John Rogers of the TV show Leverage suggests “don’t write crime. Write sin.”

Male–male friendships are valued onscreen because, in addition to fleshing out male characters, they establish that men aren’t solely emotionally dependent on women, that they have lives and interests of their own. Female–female friendships are devalued for precisely the same reason, particularly in genre shows: they encourage the radical notion that a man, even a romantically suitable one, might not be the most important thing in a woman’s life. ” — Foz Meadows on representation and also how diversity in fiction favors white women.

Meadows also reminds us that while women and minority protagonists may be labeled as unrealistic, mediocre white protagonists get a pass.

The Mako Mori test: is there at least one woman in the story who has her own narrative arc, independent of supporting the man’s story?

The struggles to have a functional journalism in the 21st century.

“I don’t know about you, but I’d feel a lot more comfortable in a neighborhood full of Mr. Rogerses than I would in one patrolled continually by John Wayne wannabes with assault rifles.”

Another article on the question of whether we can separate the art from the artist.

“It was basically an early colonial version of Footloose.Atlas Obscura on America’s first banned book.


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The Rise of Skywalker and the Redemption of Sith Lords

Fair warning, this post will have slight spoilers for THE RISE OF SKYWALKER.

Some years back, Orson Scott Card, in a review of one of the Star Wars films, complained about Darth Vader’s appearance as a “force ghost” alongside Obiwan and Yoda at the climax of Return of the Jedi. By what logic has Darth Vader redeemed himself when all he did was turn on his master and trusted friend, Palpatine? Did that one moment of heroism when he saved Luke in Return‘s climax?

The same point could be made about Kylo: he chose his dark side, loyally served the First Order, murdered his father. Do his actions after Rey leads him back to the light really justify his redemption?

I wrote about this some years back and I don’t disagree with what I said then. But since I saw Rise of Skywalker I’ve been thinking about redemption in terms of Rabbi Danya Rutenberg’s breakdown: God absolves us of sin if we ask, the victim forgives us if they chose and we do the work of our own redemption.

To put that into a Star Wars context, as I said in my previous post on redemption I accept that despite all the horrible things Anakin and Kylo did (let’s not forget Anakin’s body count in the prequel trilogy is high), absolution for sin is possible. In a Christian context, there’s nobody so evil that they can’t attain redemption by turning to God. I can buy that something equivalent applies with Force ghosts.

Does that obligate Leia to forgive Anakin after his death? No, it doesn’t. She might — saving Luke and helping defeat Palpatine certainly counts for something — but Darth Vader still tortured her and blew up Alderan, her homeworld. If she doesn’t want to forgive him, or to forgive Kylo for killing Han, she’s within her rights. Getting into Heaven or Force Heaven doesn’t mean your crimes didn’t happen.

Did Kylo and Anakin redeem themselves by their actions? If they’d survived their final battles should the good guys treat them as trustworthy? Put them on trial for crimes against humanity? Suspected them of shifting alliances for their own ends?

All of these are possible options, depending how the writer shapes the story and stacks the deck. I’d be inclined to say that yes, they still have a lot of work to do: the Rebellion would be perfectly justified putting Darth Vader on trial for his crimes, though considering his final actions as a factor in sentencing. Or if there’s no actual punishment, Darth goes off and finds some way to balance the scales.

This is not a deal-breaker for me. I’m okay with both movies settling for one simple act of heroism to fix anything: movies are a dramatic medium so using a single moment as a turning point works for me dramatically. But if this were something longer form (TV, print, comics) where the creators can take their time, I think it would work better if they did.

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The setting is the story: two examples

In his various books on writing, Orson Scott Card says the core of a story is usually one of four things: Character, Question, Setting or Plot. Both CRAZY RICH ASIANS and AIRPORT, which I read earlier this month, strike me as examples of books where the setting is the essence of the story.

In a setting story, we start with our entry into the world — the milieu of the super-rich of Singapore in Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians, a bustling international U.S. airport in Arthur Hailey’s Airport. We end when we leave. The story doesn’t focus so much on the character arcs or the plot as telling us about the setting: how things work, why things happen the way they do, what’s going on behind the scenes. Both books are info-dumpy; both books wander away from the main characters and the main plot to show us the setting. That would be flaws if the plot or the protagonists’ character arcs were the center of the story, but they aren’t.

In Crazy Rich Asians, the nominal plot is a traditional romance one: can a poor-but-honest girl (Rachel, an economics professor) convince her boyfriend’s (Nick) fabulously wealth family that she’s not a gold-digger? Can she cope when jealous exes start sharpening their knives and setting out to humiliate her? The book starts when the relationship intersects Nick’s world: some of his Singapore friends spot the couple together, snap some photos and the gossip mill soon gets word to his mother, Eleanor. She despises American born Chinese, and would much sooner Nick marry a girl from a good, Singapore family.

The heart of the book, though, is the setting. Kwan introduces us to Singapore culture: slang, food, neighborhoods, customs and schools, which I found interesting (it’s not a place I know much about). And we get the time-honored fictional fixation of OMG, Look How Rich These People Are (you can find the same thing in The Count of Monte Cristo). Characters constantly drop designer names. We get detailed descriptions of their trips to Paris, or rides on jets bigger than Air Force One, spectacular jewelry massive yachts, insanely over-the-top bachelor/bachelorette events, huge mansions, someone bringing in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to sing at their wedding … This is the kind of thing that normally bores me to tears, but the Singapore setting helped keep it interesting for 200-300 pages. Unfortunately the novel is 500 pages and it wound up being a slog.

The book ends when Rachel and Nick make it through the family gauntlet and leave Singapore. It’s also another info-dump as we learn a shit-ton about Rachel’s paternal family in mainland China (setting up Book Two, China Rich Girlfriend).

Airport starts with Lincoln Airport struggling to cope with a massive snowfall. Planes are delayed, passengers are pissy, everyone’s under stress. We soon meet Mel, the chief of operations, who alongside his right hand, Tanya, is struggling to deal with closed runways, a plane that’s frozen in place, and angry complaints from a nearby neighborhood about planes overhead (airspace is to crowded to stay away). Mel’s personal arc — his marriage is collapsing, he and Tanya are contemplating an affair — plays a role in the book, as does his brother Kevin (an air-traffic controller contemplating suicide due to stress) and Mel’s brother-in-law Vern (having an affair with a stewardess). But these are just the spine on which Hailey hangs the meat of the book, how airports and airlines work.

We get details of staff burnout, stewardesses slipping miniature drink bottles into their purse to stock their bars at home, how airlines handle pregnant stewardesses (back in the 1960s when this came out, they’d pay for the maternity care, then arrange an adoption), how you clear a snowy runway, conflicts between homeowners and nearby airports, the financial struggle to keep the airport equal to the boom in air travel, a discussion of airports of the future (that part didn’t age well), how stowaways sneak on board. Even the characters come with info-dump backstories that tell us more than we need to know — it’s like they’re another piece of equipment at the airport. The ending is Mel and Tanya leaving for dinner at her apartment while the snow finally eases up.

This worked better for me than Crazy Rich Asians because while the details did get to be more than I wanted to know, the various subplots do keep things moving a little faster. And it is an interesting time capsule back to the days when cockpits and business meetings were full of tobacco smoke, airlines serve high-quality delicious meals to passengers, abortion is talked about in whispers and someone can walk right onto a plane to give a passenger an item they forgot when they packed (there’s also a discussion about whether it’s time to tell passengers not to bring guns on board).

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Overpowered by pets! My week in review

I knew that with TYG out of town Wednesday through Friday, this week would be a little demanding. But like Don Blake beholding Dr. Doom’s scarred face, I never dreamt it would be like this!

First, the background: TYG has an alumni event around this time every year. Normally it overlaps with Illogicon, the local SF con, so we board the dogs for the weekend. This year, however, hotel issues led to the con skipping until 2021. Even though TYG was out of town last month, she left Friday; this year she left Wednesday. It’s been at least a couple of years since I had to cope with handling the dogs solo on a workweek morning.

(And this is not a complaint about my spouse: I’m glad she’s having fun, and it’s not like I don’t travel solo sometimes).

Knowing they’d want long morning walks, I figured I’d get up, have breakfast, and work until it was light enough to take them out. But Trixie and Plush Dog follow me downstairs when they don’t have TYG upstairs to snuggle with. That’s distracting, plus my brain kept insisting this was my warmup period before work, not a time for actual writing, and I couldn’t seem to get past that.

Plus Wisp, as I noted this morning, has been really keen on coming in for petting, and that took up some extra time. And so did the walkies. This morning I got back from the walk at 9:15, which is almost two hours after I’d normally start writing. And I just went screw it, and gave up.

Despite which I did get some stuff done. I’m getting close to the end of Sexist Myths Chapter Six, which is all I expected to finish this month (I may have been wrong). I got through another chapter of Impossible Takes a Little Longer, Contrary to my worries last week, I think I’ve figured how to progress through some key scenes in KC’s personal arc. Didn’t get around to working on it further, though.

I redrafted Death Is Like a Box of Chocolates part-way. It’s improving steadily; I hope my next batch of beta-readers agrees with me the title works even though there’s no longer a box of chocolates — I think it’s funnier if death comes from a box of Stuckey’s praline candies.

And I submitted three stories Monday to various markets, as well as reworking and finishing Rabbits Indignateonem (thanks to feedback from my friend Cindy Holbrook). I also revised Fiddler’s Black based on feedback from the last market I submitted it to, tdotspec. They thought one of my two leads was undeveloped, and that the opening needed tightening; after looking it over, I agree on both counts. I’ll go over it again before I resubmit it somewhere.

So pretty good, even if I didn’t stick the landing. And after all my dogs are worth losing time over. So is my wife.#SFWApro. Dog photo by me, cover by John Buscema, all rights remain with current holder.


Filed under Impossible Takes a Little Longer, Personal, Short Stories, Story Problems, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book, Writing

Sometimes we need a laugh.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a big fan of Sullivan’s Travels, Preston Sturges’ film about a pretentious director who wants to make serious movies about man’s inhumanity to man and injustice and suffering so he sets out to experience suffering. Only without actually suffering, so it isn’t very effective. But then things change and in a startling twist, he gets some real suffering handed out. And thereby comes to realize that for some people a movie that simply makes them laugh and forget their troubles for an hour or two is a precious thing.

Which brings me to Michael Chabon, who says he’s stepping down as chairman of the art-centered MacDowell Colony’s board of directors because contrary to his early optimism, art isn’t saving the world: “Yet here we are, nine years into my tenure, and not only is the world not a better place—it has, in so many ways, gotten so much worse. I mean, really, what other conclusion is there? I’m sorry. Don’t hate me. I tried.” But in the end he concludes that even if art can’t stop the looming fascist night, it’s worth creating. Art connects us, art inspires us, art brings us together. “We’re just going to keep on doing what we do: Making and consuming art. Supporting the people who remind us that we are in this together. We are each only one poem, one painting, one song away from another mind, another heart. It’s tragic that we need so much reminding. And yet we have, in art, the power to keep reminding each other.”

An essay on the last decade in American theater ponders the same question: “Tony Kushner’s A Bright Room Called Day (his 1985 first play, rewritten and revived this year at the Public) is an extended meditation on how creativity can counter fascism, and he comes up with zero, bupkus, the big goose egg.” More optimistically the essay concludes that theater, being anything but a cash cow, has the freedom to push boundaries and open us up to the wild in us all: “What if we thought of theater as big wilderness corridors, cutting through all the polite, useful, domesticated stuff that makes up most of life? What if we stopped trying to tell people what not to do in the theater? What if we just abandoned all talk of how silly it is to spend time there instead of at a protest? Ecologically, we already know that we need wilderness so the world can breathe. Purposelessness is itself a kind of sacred purpose. A theater is a place for chaos, thievery, destruction, misrule, recklessness, imagination, adventure, courage, provocation, and possibility. Throw your MFAs into a bonfire! Forget the rules! The wilderness has always been the place for wild beasts—but also hermits on their pillars. Don’t despair if you don’t find an obvious mission there. Go back into the wild. It’s where saints go to study.”

I like that (with the understanding that running wild does not excuse being a jerk). I’m not sure how I’d apply it in my own writing, but … I’ll give it some thought. Even if I apply it, I don’t think my art or my work will change the world or stop the world that may be coming. It’s still better to create. Better to write books than burn them, better to lessen pain or give an our of respite than make people suffer more. As C.S. Lewis says, in Norse mythology Ragnarok will destroy everything no matter what the Aesir or mortals do to stop it. None of that changes our duty to fight against the darkness, the Fenris Wolf, the frost giants. If the night is coming, let’s at least offer a few candles.

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Trixie sees her shadow (and other events)

So Wednesday morning, TYG and I took the dogs for a walk. On the way home we were upon a slope with the sun to our right—And man, when she saw our shadows, she wanted to run down and meet us. It was adorable. And the walk also let me photograph the first heron and first sunrise of 2020:New Year’s Day was otherwise quite relaxed. New Year’s Eve was very relaxed as we don’t go out: TYG has no urge to stay out somewhere until midnight, and I worry about drunks on the road. I was also exhausted so we went to bed without even trying to stay up to midnight. It paid off though: I had a solid nine hours of sleep, which was amazingly refreshing.

Now, as to the rest of the week:

I redrafted Death Is Like a Box of Chocolates and it’s getting close to the point I can show it to someone — either the writer’s group again, or one of my out-of-group beta readers. And I’m keeping the title, even though it doesn’t quite fit as it’s now a box of Stuckey’s praline candies that kicks off the plot

I worked on a first draft I’d largely forgotten about, involving a couple of teenage girls in 1969 getting caught up in a battle with a mysterious sorcerer. I have a lot of unfinished drafts on my laptop, so one of my goals for this year is to get twelve of them finished. This one’s not there yet, but it’s 2,500 words closer.

I worked two chapters on Impossible Takes a Little Longer. I might have gone further, but I ran into an obstacle: I’m now at a couple of chapters where KC’s personal arc takes precedence over the action, and the arc’s changed completely. I like having a pause in the action but a lot of the discussion and conflict no longer works. Hopefully when I look at it again next week, I’ll see the path.

And I finished Chapter Five of Sexist Myths. Reordering the chapter’s argument and entering all the time was a slog … and that’s chapter was in good shape. Chapter Six is a lot less ready, so that may be all i get done on the book the rest of this month.

And I made samosas. They tasted great, but didn’t look at all like the ones you get in restaurants. I’ve had that problem before — next time I make them, I’ll make sure I have enough free time to really work on them.

A good start to 2020. Hope it keeps up.

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Filed under Impossible Takes a Little Longer, Personal, Short Stories, Story Problems, The Dog Ate My Homework, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book, Writing

Chaos at the Romance Writers Association (and other links)

Romance novelist Courtney Milan criticized a book as racist. The author filed an ethics complaint against Milan with Romance Writers of America, which sided with the author. At the link, Camestros Felapton details a fairly complicated mess in which the RWA seems to be digging itself in deeper every day. Plus a from Camestros here about the challenges for RWA and similar groups as what’s acceptable regarding racism/gender/homophobia shifts.

“The opinions of critics and reviewers should be used as guidelines for where to spend our time and money, not as a means of completely outsourcing all the work of critical judgement to other people.” Foz Meadows on accepting stories don’t have to be perfect to be worthwhile.

“If you can’t afford $4 to rent a movie, or $10 a month for a streaming service, or whatever it is you’re trying to watch or listen to, then you don’t get to do it.” — Creative Future cracking down on pro-piracy arguments.

Subsidy presses lie to make themselves look like legitimate publishers, for example claiming traditional publishers also require you buy a ton of books. Given how many aspiring writers I know who were clueless about legitimate publishing, I don’t doubt it’s effective.

How to write satire in the age of Trump.

John Scalzi on the possibility of becoming “problematic.”

How not to write a Hanukkah movie.

What Scooby-Doo teaches us about writing.

An answer to the perennial question why do ebooks cost so much?

There are trolls posting fake reviews on Goodreads. Because some people suck.

Laurie Penny on what she learned from fanfiction.

Joker director Todd Phillips says “woke culture” killed comedy. Joker actor Marc Maron counters that the only thing you can’t get away with is “shamelessly punching down for the sheer joy of hurting people, …For the sheer excitement and laughter that some people get from causing people pain, from making people uncomfortable, from making people feel excluded.”


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What’s the way forward: my 2020 goals, both specific and vague

One of the basic rules of goal-setting is that they should be measurable and clear. By which standard amorphous goals and resolutions for 2020 are a bad move. If I had, say, a goal to “live my best life” … well, how would I define it? And if I did, wouldn’t it make more sense to write the definition (e.g., travel to Paris, try new sexual positions, that sort of thing).

Nevertheless, I have stuck some goals in that aren’t clear and measurable: doing stuff that’s “out of the ordinary” for instance. Right now, all I can think of is cooking stuff that’s outside my usual range, like the fried bread I made last weekend. Hopefully I’ll think of more spectacular stuff — but the point is, a goal that pushes me to do something, even if I’m not sure what it’s pushing me toward, feels like a good thing. And it’s not as if there’s any penalty if I don’t get it right.

I’ve also put down that I want to be more activist this year, because lord knows, this is the time for all good people to come to the aid of their country. I’m not quite sure what the best use of my talents is. Writing is obviously one of my talents, but since And resurrected itself as a conservative outlet I haven’t had anywhere besides my blog and FB to write. I’ll keep pitching more prominent markets but I honestly don’t think that’s the most effective way to have an impact.

Money is another, but there’s a practical limit to how much of that I can donate. So what more can I do? I’ll try to figure this out before it’s too late, and do what I can in the meantime (like giving blood).

Turning to writing, things are a lot clearer. I want to finish the next draft of Impossible Takes a Little Longer, do a quick revision, have it beta-read, then start on the next draft. I’d put “finish it” but I think that’s overly optimistic.

I want to finish six short stories and complete 12 first or second drafts. I have a habit of starting stories then just forgetting about them; I think if I devote a little time to writing new stuff, it’ll be beneficial. I’ll submit shorts 36 times, at least.

I’m going to finish Sexist Myths, probably for self-publication, and self-publish Questionable Minds.

There’s also a lot of stuff about specific fun things I want to do, ranging from going to the North Carolina Zoo to visiting Florida again. I want to do as much stuff with TYG as possible, without actually pushing her to do stuff (her schedule is intense, she doesn’t need pressure from my end). The personal stuff has quite a number of things in it — it may be the largest part of the list.

And more meditation and other stuff to center me and keep me in the here and now.

While I’ve used a Plot Your Work planner the past couple of years, I have a bad habit of writing stuff down, then never checking it. So this year I simply erased everything I wrote in it last year, and I’m reusing it. If I succeed in checking it regularly, I’ll order a new one for 2021. Otherwise, I’ll just go back to relying on my laptop and BusyCal.

My list doesn’t look wildly ambitious, but if I accomplish most of it, I’ll be pretty damn impressed.

#SFWApro. Cover by Wendy Pini, all rights remain with curren tholder.

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Filed under Personal, Short Stories, Time management and goals, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book, Writing

2019: How’s my year look in the rearview mirror?

Well, in terms of goals accomplished, not so good. Normally I hit around 50 percent, this year it was 39 percent. And I fell particularly short on my writing goals. Though partly that’s because I aimed insanely optimistic in terms of the amount of fiction I could get written. My goals for 2020 (which I’ll cover tomorrow) are a lot more modest.

I finished three short stories, and Southern Discomfort. I marketed the latter to agents (no success) and I’m now sending it out to publishers. I sold no short stories out of 33 submissions. I didn’t finish Sexist Myths, which I’d expected to do. However thanks to my extensive Leaf work, I did make my financial goals as a writer. And I’m still self-employed in my chosen profession, which is cool. But I would have liked to do a lot more, especially as I don’t have as many paying gigs demanding time as I did last year.

On the personal level, let’s see … I traveled outside the Raleigh-Durham area four times, only one of them with TYG due to her schedule. I returned to Fort Walton Beach to see friends and family. I did not bicycle as much as planned, only partly to be blamed on the ever-increasing summer heat. I did not improve my amateurish juggling (everyone should have a hobby) or practice sign language as much as I did last year. I did, however, get much better at using the Alexander technique to relax and position my body. In 2018, my bread-making fell by the wayside. I wanted to get back into the swing of it, and I have. I fell short on a whole bunch of goals (cleaning, for example) because of one or two periods where I got crazy with sick dogs, busy spouse or the like. So I won’t beat myself up over that (some goals I allow myself to make up for lost time. Things like weekly cleaning are not one of them).

Wisp was not on my goal list, but things have gone well with her nonetheless. We got her to the vet for her annual checkup and she still likes us.

Despite the lack off accomplishments, I feel pretty good about the year. While TYG’s job remains demanding, it became a lot less stressful this year for various reasons. And when she’s less stressed, I’m less stressed. That’s been particularly true in the later part of the year. And there were no major crises.

But that said, I still wish I’d gotten more stuff finished.

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