Puzzled By Cruelty

Yesterday was all about line edits; Sons of Ymre #1 is inching that much closer to publication. (Yes, as soon as there’s preorder information, I will absolutely let my beloved Readers know.) I was up what passes for relatively late last night–the dogs went to bed without me, and are bright-eyed and fresh this morning while I drag.

I am a night owl by temperament, but years of having to get the kids ready for and delivered to school have left a mark. Now that’s over, the dogs are still on a schedule and creatures of habit who view All Change as Very Very Bad do not take kindly to schedules shifting. Left to my druthers I’d be up around 1pm, work until 3-4am, and fall into bed around 4-5am, depending.

Alas, it is not possible, and my body’s protests must be listened to though they change not a whit of what must be. Ah well.

The news from Texas yesterday put a dent in me, as well. I know a certain proportion of people just plain enjoy cruelty; it is a fact of existence on this planet, like gravity or nitrogen. Still, it’s puzzling. Why spend all your time being a racist, misogynist asshat when there’s a literal infinity of other things to fill one’s earthly time with? These people could go touch grass, learn how to unicycle, write songs, watch some movies, or even just take a goddamn walk.

Instead, they apparently want to be nasty little fascist dipshits. Why spend that kind of effort? It’s absolutely and literally easier to just…not, to simply be kind or at the very least leave other people alone.

I suppose that’s part of why I write. Not deepest, most overarching reason–I am, quite frankly, unable to stop, and have been ever since second grade–but an important one nonetheless. The addiction of some people to cruelty has baffled me literally all my life, starting with childhood caregivers who hurt me apparently just for funsies. It made no sense to Child Me and makes even less to Adult Me. (For whatever value of “adult”, I suppose.)

I wish I knew why. Attempting to understand might be the writer’s curse or just a function of empathy, I haven’t decided. Yes, I’ve written villains; I’ve even written characters who enjoy cruelty for its own sake–Perry in the Kismet series, for example, or a few of the antagonists in Afterwar, not to mention Summer in Gallow & Ragged.

Now that I think about it, “comfortable with cruelty” is a hallmark of many of my villains or antagonists. Yet those characters, foul as they are, cannot hold a candle to the petty, nasty, apparently endless brutality and mendaciousness of real-life authoritarians. Even Perry, and he was dead set on killing the entire world if it got him what he wanted from Jill.

Fiction has to make sense on some level. Real life, alas, does not.

I wish I understood. It’s long been my fervent belief that understanding breeds compassion, and while I’m fully aware sociopaths and narcissists view compassion as weakness it’s still integral to me, I will keep it that way, and it doesn’t mean I’m unprepared to enforce my boundaries. I can even view the understanding as a way of anticipating the behavior of those who like cruelty for its own sake, so I can protect me and mine from their depredations.

I suppose the only hope is to keep writing. There’s finicky little changes to go over in Ymre now that the bulk of the line edits are done, I just approved a shiny hardback for Moon’s Knight, and today is subscription day. The next major project is revisions on The Black God’s Heart diptych, but there’s a fellow writer’s book to beta read and an article to copyedit for another friend in the queue, so those will be loaded to the cannon first.

Not to mention walkies with a pair of excited, bratty, furry toddlers and a run to get in. The latter, at least, will help me concentrate and get through the rest of the day. I will mull over the mystery of why some people are cruel goddamn dipshits during both, I’m sure, and arrive at no answer other than, “They like it, and the best we can do is protect ourselves from them.”

It is not a satisfying explanation, but at least it grants some succor. It will, as I often say, have to be enough.

Over and out.

Resentment, Body, Détente

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So. 6k+ on HOOD‘s Season Three yesterday. The crisis is written–the apex of the season and incidentally of the entire serial–and now all that remains is a few scenes’ worth of falling action. I could have pushed through an all-nighter and gotten at least the scaffolding of those in, but it would mean more work later fixing fatigue errors. So I did the Reasonable, Adult thing and went to bed, resenting every moment of it.

There’s a particular state where I do indeed actively resent anything that isn’t writing. I’m still there this morning. Even this blog post is only glancingly acceptable because it involves typing. What I really want to be doing is writing that falling action, getting the characters to the new equilibrium.

Which means Guy of Gisbourne, Alan-a-dale, and Robin Hood have a scene that needs to happen, Maid Marian and Little John need to have a conversation followed by Guy’s visit to the woman he’s loved since childhood, and Robin needs to stand in the ruins of his own childhood home. I think I can do it in three scenes, now that I’ve gotten some sleep and food in my reluctant corpse.

I shouldn’t be so mean to my body. It’s hauled me around, largely uncomplaining except with good goddamn reason, for a very long time now. We have somewhat of an armed détente; we’ve both done things we regret. Parents, men, and society have tried to make me hate my closest and oldest friend, the flesh that carries me. Working against that current is difficult, especially when I’m used to escaping into worlds of my own creation.

The fact remains that my body is my ally, and when I stopped lobbing shells at her, she was more than happy to relax into a peace without negotiation, pettiness, or ill feeling. I don’t deserve that grace, but she offered it without rue or anger. Better than I deserve, I suppose. We can’t live without each other, so I should stop being cruel to her and myself.

I suspect that particular trick will take a long, long while; I’ve been working on it for about a decade. It’s hard to shake the first thirty-odd years of training and the constant cultural (and advertising) yelling to lose weight, be fuckable, you’re too old, you’re too ugly, buy this product, starve yourself, who do you think you are?

Patriarchy’s biggest victory is getting women to hurt themselves. Wrestling that weapon away from the grasping invisible hand of the market is huge, uphill labor.

I’m sure my body will like a few days off with the relief of finishing this zero draft. Before that can happen, though, I’ve got to finish absorbing the coffee both of us like, walk the dogs, and give the ol’ corpse the running it craves to purge stress hormones and stretch the lungs. Then it’s back to writing, where each word echoes in the secret hollows of my bones, the threads of my capillaries.

Writing is hard on the delicate structures of the wrists, it’s hard on the back; I don’t know about other scribes, but every combat scene or narrow escape hikes my adrenaline and fills me with characters’ pain or uncertainty. Ironic that the thing I long to escape into relies upon my body; every word is intimately bound with my flesh.

Even when I’ve hated her, she’s given her help unstintingly. She throws herself, often to the limits of endurance, at every task I set her to. She does her best, despite the ill treatment I’ve made her endure. Her complaints are always founded in deep effort; she never wants to betray me. I’m going to spend the rest of my life undoing the damage inflicted during the first few decades while she winds down, doing her absolute best to carry me while time, ill chance, and mortality gnaw at us both.

I wish I’d learned to treat her better earlier, but at least I have this opportunity now. Gods grant I don’t squander it.

In any case, it’s time to care for the corpse before I can achieve the end of the story we’ve both been working on for a long while now. Plus, the dogs are patiently (but energetically) waiting for their morning ramble. All of them are kinder to me than perhaps they should be.

May they teach me to be better, each in their own way.

Been Here Before

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It’s still dark outside, yet I have resurrected.

Well, that’s a strong way to put it. “Too nervy to stay in bed since I went to sleep early yesterday, yet still exhausted because my entire self, body to soul, is recovering from years of constant retraumatization,” would be more precise. So maybe I’m just clawing my way up out of a very deep hole.

At least I’m not being dragged back down, drowned, and repeatedly punched by the news cycle. Small mercy, but I’ll take it.

In any case, it’s Imbolc, the return of light, and I’m still shaky. Normally I love winter; normally it’s my most productive time. Nothing about last year (not to mention the three-four before) was normal, however, and I’m reaching the end of my resilience.

I’m trying very hard to focus on the good things–the solidarity, the lessons in carefully harboring my energy, the reinforcing of my deep belief that cutting toxic people out of your life is absolutely okay and healing. Otherwise a survey of the damage might just cause me to sink below the surface with only a faint, grateful ripple to mark where once I floundered.

At the same time, this feeling is familiar. Been here before, my bones whisper. After I left my childhood home, during the divorce (both times), after buying the house, after any number of massively stressful life-changing events (or disasters), oh yeah, I’ve been here. There’s crisis, where mere survival is the victory. Then there’s the relief just after whatever abusive bastard is punching you has worn himself out and you find yourself bruised, battered, still trapped in hell, but alive nonetheless; it’s comparable to (although not nearly as deep as) the relief of standing on the other side of a burning bridge, breathing deeply and having no way to go but forward into a wilderness that has to be better than what you’ve left behind.

Then there’s the process of gluing yourself back together, which takes five to seven times longer than one ever imagines and can be interrupted by any number of things. Not to mention the risk of re-injury once you start feeling a little better and the tiny voice of self-harm inside your head begins whispering, “you’re fine, you should get back to work, you should push yourself, you’re lazy not to, you’ll starve if you don’t.”

It doesn’t help that our society is set up to keep the vast mass of us starved and in constant fatigue. A quasi-serf class is easier to control if they’re tired, overwhelmed, and focused on sheer survival.

Been here before, my blood whispers. It makes me wonder if we age merely because the business of living is such a burden. Especially when some of humanity thinks it’s best to greedily tread upon the backs of everyone else.

Still, it’s Imbolc. And I’m fortunate, as such things go. The kids are healthy, the dogs are content, there are seeds to plant and stories to tell. Rebuilding and recovery feels familiar because I’ve been doing it all my life. I build, I make, I create, something comes along and wipes everything out, I pick myself back up and build, make, create. Rinse lather repeat, so on, so forth, ad nauseam, ad infinitum.

I tell myself each time I’m lucky to have ruins to build upon, a foundation to use. Even if the ruins are completely gone something in me still remembers the towers, and that can’t be erased. Not until I stop breathing, anyway, and at my lowest it’s sheer stubborn spite that keeps the bellows of my lungs operational.

What, you thought it was hope? Nah. It’s sheer fuck you that keeps me going through the deepest night. I could wish it wasn’t, but I’m old enough to know working with what I am is easier than tormenting myself with what I’m told I should be. Pointing myself in my best guess of the right direction and using spite as fuel to get me there is far more effective.

Been here before, my soul whispers.

You’d think it would get easier. But, like writing books, each one only teaches me how to deal with a particular, not really a general. What’s strengthened instead, each time, is that sheer stubborn spite rising when even mute endurance fails me.

I don’t write this to open old wounds or to congratulate myself. I write this to tell you–yes, you reading this–that you’re not alone. If you’re exhausted, if you think, “I should be doing better, more, something else”, believe me, it’s okay, you’re in good company. All our coping has been focused on sheer survival, the biggest purveyor of constant news-cycle trauma has been muzzled (however temporarily, though that’s a post for another day), and now we’re left in the ruins, staring at smoking wreckage and exhausted by the mere idea of attempting to rebuild anything at all.

It might be faint comfort that we’re not alone. Still, I’ll take it. I mean, there’s nothing else on offer, so one might as well.

Been here before, after all.

Some Victories, Not All

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The dogs are quite upset that I won’t go anywhere without finishing my coffee. I try to tell them it’s for the best, that dragging me anywhere uncaffeinated is a Very Bad Idea, but since they’ve never known1 the glory of tea or a latte they are unwilling to be convinced.

Yesterday was… not very productive. I should have known that two days of normal work would require a day of threadbare wandering the house, muttering to myself and being utterly unable to settle or produce anything like real text. I did roll around in a couple trunk novels and change a hair color in the portal fantasy–what on earth did we ever do without Ctrl-F, I ask you–and savaged myself internally for being so apparently lazy I can’t produce at my usual rate during a pandemic and attempted fascist coup.

I’ll take “Things you say to yourself that you would never dream of saying to a friend” for $400, Alex.2

I do know what we did without Ctrl-F; I wrote two novellas on a manual typewriter when I was a very young sprout. Both are resting safely in a landfill somewhere; I couldn’t go back to retrieve them like a gecko running back to eat a tail they left in a predator’s claws, even if I wanted to. Still, both burn in me, and sometimes I think of them and my old diaries, safe amid tons of rubbish.

When you have to throw away things that matter to you to survive, their ghosts can still comfort you. The important thing was that my adult caregivers–I don’t really want to call them parents–couldn’t grab and befoul them. Some victories, even though Pyrrhic, are still worth celebrating.

Not all. Just some.

Anyway, I’m vertical, if not technically awake, and sucking on some lovely espresso-ground caffeine sent by a dear friend. The dogs are patrolling up and down the hall, ready to nudge me for where the leashes hang near the sliding glass door to the deck upon the very instant I seem ready to take them for walkies. Yesterday held no thunderstorms–for which said dogs are grateful, even if I am slightly disappointed–despite the unsettled rain-sun-rain bands moving through. That’s probably the cause of the throbbing headache I barely even noticed all day, being occupied with kicking myself for being unable to work.

I even went so far as to think “it’s raining, I don’t deserve to be in this house because I’m not working, I should go out and stand in the rain and be miserable.” I know it doesn’t make sense, but apparently control over making myself feel bad is the only control I feel like I have left with the world spinning so violently.

Fortunately I did not go stand in the rain. For one thing, the dogs would insist on accompanying me, and I didn’t want them cold or wet. For another, I realized it was a ridiculous thought, though it recurred at jet-takeoff volume inside my head all throughout the day. Instead, I made myself hot chocolate, texted friends, snuggled the dogs, attempted to read, touched shelves of books, and tried to watch Richard Armitage smoldering in a cravat.

Finally, I settled in bed last night with old war documentaries. I don’t know why they’re so soothing–probably the fact that the situations in them are long done with, nothing I can affect either way, and the narrator’s voice stays at a steady droning pitch throughout, maybe. It does mean my dreams are mostly in sepia with weird flashes of hypersaturated color instead of all-color, which gave me a bit of startlement when I surfaced this morning. I thought holy shit, have I lost dreaming in color too?

I have absorbed a bare minimum of caffeine now, so am probably safe to leave the house for dog-walking and the running of the Boxnoggin. Said Boxnoggin is prancing up and down the hall, attempting to drag me forth by sheer force of will; Miss B has settled on my feet as I type, on the principle that the instant I move she will be alerted and ready to supervise and heeeeerd me.

Suppose I’d best get going, then. This is the downside of priding oneself on sheer endurance; one can’t even mope in the rain like a silly romantic poet.

Be gentle with yourselves today, dear Reader. I know it’s rough, but it’s survival, and that is a victory. A non-Pyrrhic one, even.

Over and out.

Nadir, Recovery

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Yesterday was the nadir as far as physical recovery; I spent most of it in bed. The release of tension, knowing that I don’t have to walk into the sea just yet, is almost as painful as illness itself. I’m still shaky and raspy, still coughing every once in a while, and there’s still so much work to be done.

At least now I can work without obsessively refreshing the election websites, staring through a screen of fever and physical misery, expecting the worst. I know this is the most dangerous time, that the malignant narcissist and criminal cabal squatting in the halls of power are well into the discard phase1, I know that they’re going to break everything and smear ordure everywhere, I know that even in the best case scenario this gives us a mere four years of breathing room I should use for emigration.

For the moment, though, I’m crying with relief at some moments, laughing with mad relieved glee at others, and generally feeling as one might when one is let out of unjust incarceration or realizes, for the first time, that an abusive “family” member isn’t coming back and one is free. The only thing I can compare it to is when the realization I never had to go back to my childhood home, not ever again, truly sank in on more than an intellectual level.

So. I have coffee. The dogs need walking, and since I have to ease back into running (just when I got my mileage back up to a respectable place, dammit) it’s time for Boxnoggin to learn how to keep in his ‘sector’ while jogging with Mum. It shouldn’t take too long, because it uses the same instincts pack hunting does, but I’m so used to running with Miss B instead we’ll have to go very slowly. It wouldn’t be fair to be frustrated with poor young untrained Boxnoggin because he doesn’t have the years of trust and work B and I developed on near-daily runs.

So today will be a good day for me to deliberately be gentle with myself, and with others as far as I can. The adrenaline crash from the last five-six years of constant retraumatization is not done yet. I have some work on HOOD planned today, a little revision on Moon’s Knight, and scheduling/looking at revised wordcount goals for The Black God’s Heart.

Before the election: Chop words, carry words. After the election: Chop words, carry words. But maybe at a slightly reduced pace for a short while. Everything inside me feels breakable, slightly too-stretched, frangible, friable.

Don’t think it’s over, because it’s not. Don’t think everything is fixed, because it isn’t. Don’t think it’s hopeless either, because even with massive voter suppression and the attempt to sabotage the Census, the USPS, and literally everything else, we still sent a ringing defeat to Papaya Pol Pot. We’re all tired, goodness knows.

So take a deep breath, dearies. Get those shoulders down. Hydrate, get a snack if you haven’t in the last few hours, and remember that while it’s not over, we did something great and should celebrate it. We’re not going to erase four years of fascism overnight. We won’t erase it with four years of a “centrist” caving in to regressives’ violent demands, either, but at least said “centrist” has a sense of shame and can be pressured by public outcry.

The big thing is that we’ve all been traumatized, violently, over and over again for multiple years. The release of tension isn’t going to start with relief, it’ll start with the feelings we were too deeply in survival mode to acknowledge, swamping us wholesale. Just… be ready for that, okay? You’re not crazy, you’re Feeling A Lot that you weren’t safe enough and didn’t have energy to feel before. Extend to yourself the same grace you would to a beloved friend–after all, who else do you spend 24/7 with? That’s right–your own damn self, and your own body. Be kind to both of them, beloveds.

And with that, I’m going to go see if I can’t follow some of my own advice (for once). I’m braced for the next disaster, of course, but I’m also going to use this peace to the fullest.

Boxnoggin’s nose it at my knee, and his big soulful brown eyes are weapons of mass cuteness. Time to walk, and then haul us both through a short, easy learning experience of a run.

See you in a bit.

Emotional Weather

I’m not allowed to look at Twitter until noon1–partly so I can get some damn work done, since the kids and I will starve if I don’t, and partly so the persistent pain in my stomach I thought was just stress anxiety doesn’t develop into a full-blown ulcer.

After all, I live in America, where healthcare is nonexistent.

The weekend was… rough. I kept refreshing various feeds–news, social media, et cetera–waiting for the other shoe to drop. Plenty of people are celebrating victories, which is great. (After all, someone has to.) But my gut–the same gut that’s aching with anxiety and tension–isn’t so sure it’s time for flying ticker tape just yet.

Growing up with periodically violent domestic abusers means I’m intimately aware of emotional weather patterns, and what are dictators, fascists, and the like but abusers writ somewhat larger? I can’t be the only one to have noticed they all play from the same thin handbook.

So I have a sinking feeling the current small gains in a few American cities are sops thrown by “authorities” attempting to defuse the protests and get everyone back under the boot, perhaps with the heel painted a different color but still crushing as usual. I fear what happens when an abuser of whatever stripe senses his victim slipping away–a honeymoon period, but if that doesn’t work, a massive escalation in violence to re-batter said victim into quiescence.

It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t celebrate the gains, but now isn’t the time to relax our demands. Of course, with a worldwide pandemic on and unemployment at a historic high, there’s little chance of relaxation in any direction.

There are people who have been working for abolition and reform for decades, and they know better than I do. If they’re hopeful, so am I. There are also people like Sarah Kendzior who predicted this whole goddamn thing (and nobody listened, of course) and people who study or have lived under authoritarian regimes who are still sounding the alarm.

This isn’t even close to finished. It’s not even close to a tie, let alone a win. The wannabe dictator who attempted to declare martial law on June 1 is still in power, as are his criminal cabal and loyal apparatchiks, and the military is still weighing its options.

No wonder so many of us are sick with anxiety. I won’t even ask “what else can happen” because I’m sure the gods will show us.


I did finish Orlando Figes’s The Crimean War this weekend; Figes is problematic at best (due to his habit of giving gushing and pseudonymous reviews of his own books and scabrous ones of fellow historians’ on Amazon) but it’s a good overview of the entire affair. I did appreciate the first few chapters carefully and patiently giving a grounding after essentially stating “You’re not going to understand this without some background, so we’re starting a few decades before the damn war.” My understanding of the Crimean War was spotty at best, mostly gleaned from British literature, so it was good to see behind the curtain. I mean, it’s still spotty, but less than it was.

Next up is Lawrence James’s history of the British Raj and Ibram Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist, both for obvious reasons. Since I can’t sleep worth a damn, I might as well amp up my reading time.

As for this morning, there is coffee to be finished, there’s dogs to be walked, and the day’s work to plan. Since I’m now juggling three paying projects at once, the morning planning and boiling inside my head has to be carefully structured so when my fingers meet the keyboard I know what I’m doing–at least, as much as I ever do. We’re coming up on the last half of the third and final season of HOOD, where everything I laid out in the first season comes full circle and little things I seeded throughout every previous season now show their effects. Also, the proof pages for The Poison Prince landed, and I have to address those while also catching up with The Bloody Throne–another third book, where things I’ve been foreshadowing and seeding since Book One finally show their flowers. There are also huge set-piece battles to write, which is going to be a certain variety of fun.

And I’m excited about The Black God’s Heart. Now that a few business things have been taken care of I can work on it in good conscience, which means the characters who have been champing at the bit can finally be allowed to canter. We’re not going to gallop just yet.

A surfeit of work is better than a paucity. It’s a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t thing, though–I feel guilty for having work, guilty for not being able to work because of current world events, guilty for not doing more, guilty for not doing better self-care, on and on. There’s no winning in this hurricane, so I’m just doing what I always have, putting my head down and doing the best I can with the stories crowding around me to be told.

It’s all I can do, I suppose.

I wish you a pleasant, peaceful Monday, my friends, despite the fact that it will likely be anything but. I keep saying it, but I hope to be wrong about what I see coming down the pike. I long to be wrong the way I’ve longed for little else in my life.

Over and out.

Doctor Sleep, Meet Siouxsie

I’ve completed a website redesign! How do you guys like the new look? Also, there’s a new giveaway; I should just do a dedicated giveaways page, shouldn’t I.


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I spent a restless night, falling into the deep well of sleep late. Maybe it was watching Doctor Sleep that did it–I bounced off the book pretty hard, but the movie has some good visuals and I always like Ewan MacGregor. The biggest draws in the movie are Rebecca Ferguson’s Rose the Hat and Cliff Curtis’s Billy, both of whom are much better than the movie deserves. Especially Ferguson; without her the entire edifice collapses.

I could also have been too warm; after a couple nights hovering near freezing and days of raw high-30s (Fahrenheit, of course, America is Still Imperial) it’s a relatively balmy 50F and the dogs are eager for their morning walk.

And the dogs. Boxnoggin isn’t too bad, he picks a single spot and stays there, moving only glacially all night–always towards the back of my knees, the dog has a magnet for them, apparently. But Miss B is an elderly statesdog, and the bed gets too warm and too soft, so she hops down and pads for the tile floor of the loo regularly, then comes back and settles next to me when she’s chilled enough. I don’t mind, but every time she hops down I wake up, thinking she might need to visit the yard.

So I have coffee, and Siouxsie and the Banshees playing. It feels like my early twenties all over again–the good parts, when I could find CDs I liked at work instead of just playing radio roulette. When I began to realize I could live in places where my books wouldn’t be shredded, my journals stolen, my body battered.

I had terrible experiences after I left home, sure. But none of them were bad enough to drive me back, and none were as bad as home even on the worst days. So all in all, that was when I began to live.

Maybe it was the child endangerment in Doctor Sleep that disturbed me. It’s one of the few things I have trouble watching in any movie; I’ll fast-forward through scenes of mounting dread even if I know the child is fine. King’s IT is one of my formative books, despite being nothing but child endangerment, but somehow it’s easier for me to process while reading. Seeing it on a hyper-detailed screen instead of on the screen inside my head, where I can fuzz details and move characters to my heart’s content, might be the problem.

Anyway, today is for me to be gentle with myself and get some more work done. I want the first scene in HOODs Season Three done and dusted today, since so much in the later stream of the book depends on where I start the cataract. And I need a car accident in Sons of Ymre, not to mention more whispering insanity.

The good thing about the sudden warmth is that I’ll be able to get a few things done in the garden when I break from the scenery in my head. It would be nice to get the large beds down the hill weeded and some seeds scattered, since we’re past the danger of freezing. Or so my nose says, and Miss B agrees.

Her nose is much better, after all.

It’s also subscription day, which means around 2pm free fiction will be flying to inboxes–always pleasant. I wish you a happy and productive Thursday, friends. We’ve almost, almost made it through the week.

Still, “weeks” are largely a concept beyond the dogs. They are concerned with the daily, like the walk they want now and are prancing with impatience to get to. I suppose I’d best get started, then.

Over and out.