In Praise Of Broken

If I had a dime for every time I’ve read that “every baby should be planned” and that “every puppy should be wanted” and that “everyone should have a fulfilling occupation” I’d have too many dimes to be contained in the universe.  But the question is: would every dime be shiny?

What are you getting at Sarah?

What I am getting at is that many people seem to have completely lost track of the distinction between ideal and actual.  Let me spell it out for you: ideal exists only as a perfect thing in your mind.  Like the battle plan not surviving contact with the enemy, it will never survive contact with reality.

That perfectly planned child will suddenly become unplanned when it turns out to be a girl, rather than a boy, or a boy rather than a girl.  Or when he/she turns out to have a personality completely different from what his parents’ expected.  While IQ might be broadly inheritable, at least in components (mostly from the mother, interestingly enough) the way it’s expressed isn’t necessarily.  So you’ll have the bookish parents with the mechanically gifted child, or vice-versa.  Planned?  Who told you you could plan a chaotic system?  It’s sort of like planning your day tomorrow – you’d best have three layers of plans in case it rains, in case a wildfire comes through, in case it’s fine and beautiful.  And even then, it will find a way to surprise you.

And the puppy who was so wanted?  The family that adopted him will get sick and have to give him away.  They’ll unexpectedly lose their jobs.  The puppy will turn out to have a condition that’s not fatal but is a life-long drain and expense.  Or something else will happen you can’t predict.

But, Sarah, you say, shouldn’t we PLAN for the ideal?  Then we just adapt to less than ideal.

It depends on the plan.  There is a type of positive planning, in which you leave the route open to the wonder of the broken (yes, I’ll explain) and the negative planning, where you won’t take anything less than absolute perfection.  The negative planning is usually what you get when government bureucrats or do-gooding busybodies get involved.

It concentrates on NOT LETTING the less than ideal happen.  These are the people who think you should be licensed to have children, after you pass classes that say you’re an ideal parent in THEIR WAY.  The people who think every unplanned baby should be aborted or killed up to three months after birth (you only think I’m joking.)  These are the people who post on craigslist screaming at people giving away puppies and kittens that they are terrible people and should have had their animal spayed.

Let’s leave aside for a moment the fact that I think overpopulation is lies, damn lies and statistics and that in fact the current worldwide crisis is caused by population ALREADY falling.  (I confess the evidence is circumstantial and thin, but there is some and – more importantly – the evidence on the other side is dubious and suffers from wrong-process.)  That’s the subject for a whole post and one I don’t have the energy to write right now.  Let’s leave aside the fact that I think our obsession with spaying and neutering in fact can act (is acting?) as a sort of reverse selective breeding, pushing cats and dogs back to non-domesticated (no?  We keep the cutest/friendliest from reproducing.)  And also that in some areas of the country – here – you either buy a breed dog, adopt a dog who turned out less than ideal for someone else, or … adopt a puppy imported from elsewhere.  In Colorado puppies seem to come from Texas.  But in some places they come from abroad.  Cats are more abundant because… they’re cats and harder to catch and confine.

Let’s instead look at the other side of the coin, and why negative planning for the ideal and temper tantrums at people who don’t follow your version of ideal, are stupid: because broken plans and broken ideals often come as a blessing.

Sorry to use the religious term, but I don’t know how else to express it.  Sometimes the crisis-unplanned turns out to be the best thing you ever got.

Right after our cat Pete died, we found ourselves adopting Euclid because otherwise he was going to be euthanized because he had an uri and our humane society euthanizes those, so it doesn’t spread throughout the pens.  We had about twenty minutes in which to decide.  We had – G-d knows – enough cats.  But he would have died otherwise.  We adopted him.

Yes, Euclid is broken in interesting ways.  My son calls him a feline Woody Allen.  Only Woody Allen isn’t into extreme body modification, while Euclid chews off his leg hair and gives himself a poodle cut.  Also, some right b*stard trained Euclid to fabric before we got him, which is why we can’t have rugs on our floors, not till Euclid departs this vale of tears. (On the good side, Euclid doesn’t show any propensity to love on adopted daughters.  Of course, he doesn’t have any.  Um…)

But in the days after 9/11, when it seemed I could not stop crying, he was the cat who came and loved on me.  He’s the one who sits on you when you’re sick or worried, and purrs and reassures you all is well in the world.  And sometimes that purr is your only connection to happiness.

Or let’s look at how many not only unplanned but disastrously unplanned children go on and make the world a better place.  Right now it’s early morning and only Leonardo DaVinci – unplanned, illegitimate, broken in interesting ways – comes to mind, but I know there are scores of others.  (Yes, there’s also people like Hitler – but there is no indication that it was the fact they were unplanned that sent him spinning towards evil.)

A friend who had a terrible childhood once told me that she supported abortion unconditionally, because it would have been much better to be aborted than to be abused.  What she was missing was that her parents would never have aborted her.  She WAS planned and needed in the family: as a scape goat.  The kids that get aborted in that type of calculus are the ones whose parents are afraid they can’t give them the very best – just like the animals who get spayed are those whose owners fear that they can’t find good enough homes for the litters – not those that are born to be mistreated.

Part of this, I think, is that our life has become so good compared to that of our ancestors that we think we can push it just a little further and make it ideal.

Every baby will be wanted!  Every pet will be loved!  And there shall be no more tears and suffering!

Never works.  Ever.  There will always be people who need a kid as a scape goat.  And even if you certified parents there will be parents who are fine young, and then get some illness or some other problem and – there you have it.  Less than ideal.  And before you say “but then the kids can be taken away” think of strangers evaluating and deciding family life from the outside.

I was a disastrously unplanned child, born premature with all the problems that implies.  I had the world’s sickliest childhood.  Mom has health problems that make her less than an ideal parent.  (She knows this.  She never wanted children.  She ended up with two of us by accident.)  Were there rough patches?  Oh, sure.  Aren’t there in everyone’s life?  But my family has a shared sense of humor, which helped.  And I got to live and write, and marry and have kids of my own.  Would it be better if I never existed because I wasn’t wanted?  Or even because I would, of necessity, always be at least partly broken?

Some of the best pets I’ve had have been mutts or even feral babies whom I tamed.  Right now we have Havey-cat whom we found on a mini-golf course, starved and covered in grease, and with a broken tail.  He now presents and behaves as a Turkish van.  Is he?  At least partially, probably.  But he’s not less loved because he came to us when we were maxed out on cats and definitely not in the market for one who is a fuzz machine (we’re all mildly allergic to cats.)  And he is, again, one of those animals who can lift your mood, because he’s a born clown and still kitten-like after three years.

Oh, yeah, and through no fault of anyone, I never fit in Portugal.  But my askew childhood and youth – difficult as they were in living them – resulted in my falling in love with a stranger from a strange land, and finding home that way.

Will some percentage of children you give up for adoption be abused?  Inevitable.  A controlling system can’t prevent that.  No system can.  What it can do is keep children trapped in foster care or convince people to abort rather than put the kids up for adoption.  Will some percentage of kittens given away end up as snake food?  Inevitable.  No system can prevent that.  I doubt it’s as many as we’ve been led to believe, though.  Most cats throughout history have been pets and not snake food.  Most humans are predisposed to at least not mistreat pets.  Call it co-evolution.

Look at your lives: really look.  Could you have planned everything that happened?  Would your ideal life have been REALLY better?

Take my career: did I intend to have my first trilogy tank, trapping me in ten years of midlist hell?  Well, no.  But let’s imagine it had succeeded.  I’d now be stuck in the “literary fantasy” niche, which btw pays lousily and where they expect only one book every two years.  Worse, I found by my third book that while I can do it and even enjoy it to an extent, if I do nothing but I become horribly depressed.

But the trilogy failed, and I was broke, and we were paying on two houses and I was fixing the “old” house for slae, and I couldn’t find a day job.  Then Jim Baen offered me money.  Then Berkley paid me to write Plain Jane.  My heart was broken, I didn’t want to write anymore.  The dream was gone.

But I needed money, and so I wrote, and even through the hell of six-books-a-year the dream came back.  And now I’m facing the chance for a better career than I hoped for AND I have the skills of incredible amounts of practice under pressure.

Would I have chosen this route?  No.  Was it rough as heck at times?  Yep.  Would I wish it undone?  No.  I wouldn’t wish any of the books unwritten.  I wouldn’t wish what I learned unlearned.

There is no perfect upbringing – for man or beast.  There is no ideal situation that can’t be reversed.  There isn’t any reason to believe that wanted – animals or humans – are better.  There isn’t any reason to believe the most peaceful places or eras are better.  Yes, the fourteenth century was a terrible time, but it gave us the renaissance and, eventually, the enlightenment.

Taking the broken and doing the best we can with it is all we can do.

And sometimes it’s much better than the ideal could have been.

186 thoughts on “In Praise Of Broken

  1. Happy ideal people don’t write books – they have nothing interesting or important to put in them. They don’t read, either.
    The broken is the actual inspiration for the books – twisted and modified and plagiarized into art.
    Books about happy people don’t sell – they are boring.
    Given the inevitable – nothing is perfect, and then you die – books make it survivable.
    I just shudder sometimes to think that maybe the even-better books will require even more pain. Though there is a natural break-even point: too much pain, and you can’t write.
    Other than that – your own toughness limit – I’m glad that writing provides a place to put the pain, to figure out the less-than-ideal, to aim for the perfect – and fail. And I’m glad other writers have shared the result of their demons with me.

      1. I’ve got a half-started story with that magic system, actually. That and “sacrifice for power (in the form of familiars).”

        I wanted to have court intrigue and stuff and never really fleshed out the intrigue part. >_>

        1. If you want to pulls some intrigue – look at the French court or any court for that matter. If you put three people together, you have POLITICS.

          1. Well, I started it back when I was early 20s, maybe just 19, so… I might be able to do the politics now. I just have to find the hand-written (!!!!!!) pages in those folders somewhere.

      2. Orson Scott Card has a similar system in a fantasy novel that no one talks about (except Card). The book and the ideas that it raises touched too many nerves, judging by the reviews on Amazon and a couple of other sites.

    1. Now I could see a book about a truly happy and contented person. How would such a person live? How would they act? How would the world around them react? I think that just about everyone around them thinks this happy person insane.

      1. There’s no such thing as an “ideal” person (for one thing, no one agrees on what the “ideal” is). But you can do a story with a generally happy person (granted, that depends on your definition of “happy.”). It’s a person who has no problems that’s boring. A lot of children’s books have generally happy main characters, they just wind up in a world of trouble.

        I’ve met a lot of happy people – I think I’m a basically happy person. But I’ve never met a person who didn’t have troubles. But I think of happiness as an overall or underlying state, while troubles are in the moment, if that makes sense.

          1. I am not sure if I am a happy or unhappy person. I had to train myself to appreciate what I had and to praise my hubby. At first I thought it was stupid and overdoing it. But, when I do it, I do feel happier even though I still deal with money, health, etc problems.

            So I guess retraining was my way to happiness. When I am alone, I am neutral. I feel what I am writing (the characters thoughts and feelings), but I don’t feel like I am me.

            I am not sure if I am “normal” or not. I could never understand why my parents were so miserable, but my grandfather was so happy. Grandpa was in WWII and had at least one ship shot out from underneath him. I think it might have changed him.

          2. Isn’t being a generally happy and functional person part of Human Wave? No glamorizing of dysfunctional grey goo stuff – which isn’t the same thing as having some admirable but screwed-up characters (I love Sherlock Holmes, but he is royally screwed up, which is why I prefer to be in Watson’s very un-screwed-up head).

            Being happy and functional isn’t glamorous, and I guess it won’t get any literary prizes. All those corny, schmaltzy terribly bourgeois things like happiness and contentment and doing the right thing and being so awfully un-cool.

        1. There’s no such thing as an “ideal” person …

          I beg your pardon! There is, c’est moi. Any contrary opinion, being held by a less than ideal person, is prima facie invalid.

          You see, this is just the kind of thing up with which I must put. Honestly, I don’t know why I continue to grace this world.

          1. Ah, of course! My most sincere apologies. I should have added “with one exception.” Deepest obeisances. My clearly-less-than-ideal self shall endeavor to see that it does not happen again. *salaam salaam salaam*

            1. pish-tosh, think nothing of it. I am, of course, forgiving; it is one of my more admirable traits, right behind humility. Please, don’t fash yourself, I cannot expect others to recognize such evident truth.

              1. RES,
                I don’t know whether to be mad at you for making me snort tea up my nose, or grateful you made me laugh. 🙂 I think i’m grateful, though

                1. Oh, grateful, certainly. Because you aren’t drinking fizzy beverages … and because you can’t hear me saying it a la Hugh Laurie’s incarnation of Bertie Wooster.

            1. Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble /
              when you’re perfect in every way. /
              I can’t wait to look in the mirror /
              ‘cos I get better looking each day /
              to know me is to love me /
              I must be a hell of a man. /
              O Lord it’s hard to be humble /
              but I’m doing the best that I can.

              1. More importantly, I keep her provided with chocolate, dark, dark chocolate to go with those raspberries.

                (The urge to employ such phrases as “I keep her in chocolate” and “I am her chocolate pimp” has proven irresistible. Lord, forgive me, I know all too well what I do.)

    1. This is like when we were exchange students, in a bus full of people from all over the world, and one would stand up and yell “You are all foreigners!”

  2. Huh. Go looking for a quotation dimly recalled, and who knows what turns up. Google “man proposes” and (oh geeze, I shoulda known) not only do a googleplex of Youtube videos turn up, but I get the quote in Latin!!! Whodda thunk?

    Homo proponit, sed Deus disponit

    The quotation Man proposes but God disposes may come down to us as a direct translation from a work of devotion written in Latin by Thomas a Kempis.
    This work, his celebrated Of the Imitation of Christ, is the second most widely read christian text after the Bible itself. It contains many sensitively and wisely expressed insights into spirituality and morals.
    In Chapter 19 of Book 1 we find :-

    “For the resolutions of the just depend rather on the grace of God than on their own wisdom; and in Him they always put their trust, whatever they take in hand.
    For man proposes, but God disposes; neither is the way of man in his own hands”.
    [ ]

    Which over all is a reminder of the virtue of humility and the sin of hubris which teach us that, however brilliant our plans they are derived from incomplete understanding of complex systems and disregard the fact that machines have ghosts within.

    1. Sigh. Erratum: the last paragraph, beginning “Which over all is a reminder” apparently omitted the slash from the final BLOCKQUOTE, producing an additional unintended inset. If all plans went as intended there would never a typo be.

      1. Thank you for the unintended inset.
        The WIP is called Pride’s Children – and the quote on humility and hubris is a nice addition.
        Another example of “if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”

  3. “Sorry to use the religious term, but I don’t know how else to express it. Sometimes the crisis-unplanned turns out to be the best thing you ever got.”

    God answers prayers in three ways. Yes, maybe, and I’ve got a better idea.

    You see to be flying in the face of good ol’ Sixties-Boomer feminism here. Good. Why it’s taken two subsequent generations (Gen X and the Millennials) to figure out that you can’t have it all, all the time, no way, no how, I have no idea. I have always given people more credit for being smarter, but I’m finding out ’tis not the way things actually work. Perhaps this is why someone inncorectly attributed Churchill with the “if you’re 20 and a conservative, you have no heart; if you’re 40 and a liberal, you have no brain”.

    In any case, women trying to “have it all” which roughly equates to living a life they THOUGHT men were living, are finding out just how much it can suck to be a man.

    1. Chuang Tzu put on cotton clothes with patches in them, and arranging his girdle and tying on his shoes, (i.e. to keep them from falling off), went to see the prince of Wei.

      “How miserable you look, Sir!” Cried the prince.

      “It is poverty, not misery”, replied Chuang Tzu. “A man who has TAO cannot be miserable. Ragged clothes and old boots make poverty, not misery”.

      Chuang Tzu – (Taoism)

      Regrettably, what so many people mean by “having it all” is a self-defeating pursuit of more, rather than acceptance of what they do have.

      1. Regrettably, what so many people mean by “having it all” is a self-defeating pursuit of more, rather than acceptance of what they do have.

        It’s all relative and temporal anyway. For instance, my wife is out of town and I’m in charge of the three spawn. At this moment, they are all busy with various kid-important endeavors that have nothing to do with anything electronic in separate rooms, leaving me in relative peace. My house is sound, the AC is running, my fridge is stocked from last nights grocery run, this week’s bills are paid and we did the cleaning chores after breakfast this morning.

        Currently…I have it all.

  4. Books about happy people don’t sell – they are boring.

    I disagree. GRRM’s “Game of Thrones” series is littered with happy people. And by littered, I mean they are lying about, stacked six deep in the ditches.

        1. actually that’s my “goofy grin.”

          Also, there NEEDS to be a word for that type of thinking — in this case — they present themselves as “reasonable” and “planners” but they’re actually kill joy control freaks, unwilling to let anything unplanned happen — a form of hubris that convinces the sufferer if only they cut off enough avenues of escape for other people, the universe will be JUST as they planned, and therefore perfect.

          1. Australians have a word. “Wowser”. Usually it refers to the moralistic flavor, but it applies here.

  5. Thank you for writing this. I don’t think I’ve previously encountered the terms “positive planning” and “negative planning,” but as soon as you described the latter something in my head dinged and I thought, “Aha! So there’s a word for that peculiar way of thinking!”

    So much of what happens in life is unexpected. If you’d told me fifteen years ago that I would end up owning a business before I graduated from college, I’d have just stared at you. On a smaller scale, if you’d told me the feral kitten I rescued last fall would feel comfortable using our dire pug* as a pillow not eight months later, I’d have snorted. She pretty much hid in the closet for a couple of days when we first brought her in. But I would not trade her for a “known” breed of cat, nor would I redo my “college years” to graduate as I’d initially planned, even if I could wave a magic wand and do so.

    *Dire pug = mastiff / pug mix. No, we don’t know how this happened. Sweetest dog ever. Also twice the size of a normal male pug, with (thankfully) fewer breathing problems. Dire pug seemed to fit, as we named him Summer back before he grew so large….

    1. “Aha! So there’s a word for that peculiar way of thinking!”

      We have far too many high-forehead types with far too many useless doctorates for there not to be far too many words for every way of thinking.

    2. I once knew a chihuahua-boxer litter. Well, I saw it being conceived. The Chihuahua father got on top of the washing tank to reach. (No, I’m not joking.) There are probably still descendants around my native village. And there SHOULD be. I mean, think about it. Smart dogs. Beyond incredibly ugly, but smart.

      1. “The Chihuahua father got on top of the washing tank to reach” Sarah, that must have been a sight. [Grin]

        1. It was. It was at my friend’s house and the adults with us were so shocked they didn’t think to dump water over the dogs. Hence, puppies. They’d locked every gate. They didn’t count on overachieving puppeh TM digging UNDER the gate.

      2. Our landlady has four chihuahuas and her sister has two chihuahuas. We are the official holders of the dog. I love these dogs so much. They are smart, interesting, and incredibly funny. 😉 Most of these chihuahuas are rescues. Apparently people around here are not smart enough to live with these little dogs.

        1. I hear that chihuahuas are high-strung. Which makes them (and some other small-dog breeds) excellent “hearing-ear” dogs for people with disabilities of that nature, actually — they are very alert and react strongly to noises.

          Of course, high-strung does mean that they just won’t fit with some people, who don’t necessarily realize that some breeds are higher-maintenance than others. *sigh*

        2. Cyn, I think you are right.

          The Daughter and I were shopping patterns at a craft store recently when a woman with a chihuahua in her purse came into the department. The dog was not so much high strung as its owner was unsuited. The dog would yip and she would sharply tell it to be quite. It would be quiet a breath and then start up again. I was particularly irritated when the owner, consulting a sales person, walked away from her cart, purse and dog leaving them next to me.

          Now, my Momma was a bit of a dog whisperer. So I channeled her as best I could and spoke to the dog. The dog, somewhat shocked, got quiet, and stayed that way for the time we were together. (Unfortunately, by this time a small fussy child elsewhere in the store decided to really let loose…) I don’t think there was anything particularly wrong with the dog, other than the owner not knowing how to handle it.

      3. At least the Chihuahua was the father. When my German Shepherd/Collie mix got puppies on a smallish (maybe 15 pounds) Beagle, we were afraid it would kill her. Fortunately, she had 5 pups just slightly larger than average Beagle-pup size, but they were some odd-looking things.

        1. When I was a kid I had a Jack Russel Terrier (great dog) and the neighbors cow dog got to her. We had to have her spayed as a result.

  6. So you’ll have the bookish parents with the mechanically gifted child, or vice-versa.

    I recall when expecting trying to figure which would be worse: a child who was not a reader, or one who would be addicted to NuRGs (nurse-romance-gothic). The Daughter, of course, found yet a new twist. Lots of reading, barely overlapping what we read. Example: we all read history, but rarely about the same place, time or aspect. Therefore the house has yet one more contributor to the overwhelming lot of printed paper…

    1. BOTH OF MINE! This is why we have four kindles. It was getting to the point I was afraid the house would collapse. Which reminds me, we MUST have a garage sale with hardcovers at $1 and pbacks at 50c. a preliminary quick-count indicates we have about 15k dollars in books at those prices. No, sorry in books we can get rid of. (The ones we won’t read again. References now available electronic. Old books now on Gutenberg and more portable on kindle… etc.)

      1. we MUST have a garage sale with hardcovers at $1 and pbacks at 50c.

        Well, for this, I am glad we live too far away. (I, too, have fears of a house collapse.) 😉

        The Daughter Gutenbergs, thankfully. Both The Spouse and she have e-readers. Still some things that are not available in electronic forms. And then there is the little volume The Spouse showed me the other day, a Tor which reads across the top: Jim Baen presents: Poul Anderson The Guardians of Time First Complete Edition. I don’t think he could part with it.

          1. Cadfael was so good. (And totally unwatchable on PBS.) Since Ellis Peters is dead, you won’t find anything electronic coming out commercially.

            What’s heartbreaking for me is Dorothy Sayers. Half her corpus is in the public domain and the other half tied up in copyright with rights holders unwilling to publish the other Lord Peter Wimsey stories electronically–no doubt to deter piracy. We have this big hole in our culture with free Gutenberg texts at one end, and the newest stuff at the other end. File this under market failure.

            I’ve seriously considered scanning all my books: Cadfael, Hornblower, Wimsey and converting them to ebooks. But the OCR just hasn’t been up to snuff and/or the scanner I’ve built not quite calibrated well enough.

  7. Let’s leave aside for a moment the fact that I think overpopulation is lies, damn lies and statistics and that in fact the current worldwide crisis is caused by population ALREADY falling.

    Under population is seriously effecting such divergent places as Japan and Uganda. Japan because of a low reproduction rate. Uganda due to the ravages of AIDs. One has a disproportionate number of elderly, the other has a lack of adults. Neither works very well.

  8. I had the world’s sickliest childhood.

    I promise not to try to compare it with Momma’s, who I had heretofore believed had the sickliest childhood ever. Although it this does lead one to realize just how resilient a body can be, particularly with a bit of help from modern medicine.

  9. Well said. I really like this post. One of my closest friends was an “accident” whose parents had no desire for more kids. But I am positive that neither of her parents regret a day of her life.

    Sometimes I regret the fact that I got my dog from a shelter, where spaying was not optional. She is the best dog I’ve ever owned and I wouldn’t mind having several more of her. (And yes, I realize her puppies would not be the same, but they would be the closest I could get without cloning). She is a mutt and thus an impossible do-over. I am still hopeful that when the time comes I will find another wonderful dog to replace her.

    Now that I think about it, we did breed another sweet dog of mine and her puppies were not even half as wonderful. Oh well, that was still worth it too.

    Unplanned accidents are worth it. Ideals are exciting, but they can be dangerous if forced to reality. Nothing ever turns out exactly as pictured (and when it comes very close, you still end up dissatisfied somehow).

    1. Nothing ever turns out exactly as pictured (and when it comes very close, you still end up dissatisfied somehow).

      Almost Perfect

      By Shel Silverstein

      “Almost perfect…but not quite”
      Those were the words of Mary Hume
      At her seventh birthday party,
      Looking ‘round the ribboned room.
      “This tablecloth is pink and white-
      Almost perfect…but not quite”

      “Almost perfect…but not quite.”
      Those were the words of grown-up Mary
      Talking about her handsome beau,
      The one she wasn’t gonna marry.
      “Squeezes me a bit too tight-
      Almost perfect…but not quite.”

      “Almost perfect…but not quite.”
      Those were the words of ol’ Miss Hume
      Teaching in the seventh grade,
      Grading papers in the gloom
      Late at night up in her room.
      “They never cross their t’s just right-
      Almost perfect…but not quite.”

      Ninety-eight the day she died
      Complainin’ ‘bout the spotless floor.
      People shook their heads and sighed,
      “Guess that she’ll like heaven more.”
      Up went her soul on feathered wings,
      Out the door, up out of sight.
      Another voice from heaven came-
      “Almost perfect…but not quite.”

      1. Exactly. Thanks for the poem. It is a good example of what I meant. Shel is so great.

  10. I once heard a girl use the term “God envy.” This talk about planned and wanted children/pets is a manifestation of that. People tend to arrogate divine attributes to themselves. Omniscience in the case of planners; Omnipotence in the case of control freaks. This leaves both in deep water like King Canute at high tide.

    But a writer is the god of his novel, right?

    This post should come up the next time a pantser and an outliner get in an argument . Any plan does not survive contact with reality. The outline is a plan. The unfinished work is the reality. We need to think at a high level about our writing projects. Outline are a way to make us think. Writing imposes perturbations that obviates/invalidates the outline and that’s OK. When stuck, the outline reminds us of our planning. Redoing the outline in light of what’s written serves to get me unstuck.

        1. I do a weaving pattern – which character have I not heard from for a chapter or two and wind them in… the story seems to come out just fine. I do remember the plot points at certain percentage of the word count. Sometimes I have to go back and read from the beginning to see if I haven’t gotten off track, but it seems to work best this way for me.

          Then I write a certain word amount every day (haven’t for a few weeks cause of my teeth)… doing better. I need to start again. So far I have written four novels and have two on the burner.

    1. I find with fiction that I am a carefully prepared impromptu pantser. In that I have to dig, write out names and markings (especially markings!), and list locations. Then I take the scenes that I’ve been collecting in my scrap file and ATTACK!! And somehow a story appears. Nonfiction has to be outlined, in part because of needing to establish a footnote framework.

      1. Ok… I have to admit that I take a lot of time when I pick character names. Locations – ??? so far I like to write about the desert.

        1. well, when you’re using historical locations — say Paris in the time of the musketeers (G) — careful advance research is in order.

          Weirdly, except for minor characters, I get names for free.

          1. I’ve got an old telephone book, and a large hat-pin. I open the telephone book randomly, push the pin into the telephone book as far as I can, and then flip five pages. I take the last name with a pinhole from the left-hand side, and a first name from the right-hand page where the pin penetrated. I have to discard some of what I get – just TOO impractical.

              1. Once, part of my job, was compiling foreign patent filings in certain fields. I saved those pages for years (might still be in boxes in the attic somewhere) to take names from.

                  1. In the current MS, I’m only using first names and calling everyone Lord Fred or Master Bill, but I don’t think I’m going to get away with it.

                    1. Somehow, I don’t think you are either. My husband has the gift for truly amazing nicknames, like Jimmy Teeth or Ten Speed and the characters actually live with those names. Me? If I try I get things like Gutsy Gus. They sound like they should be in Doctor Seuss.

                    2. Well, it’s not quite that bad. The commoners actually have last names, but the ones the MC meets are all his family, so it’s Uncle This or Cousin That. The nobility are all Title-FirstName (and no, it’s not really using Fred or Bill :-)), and I’m struggling not to give estate or family names to them because it’s WORK, dammit. And I’m not sure anyone cares other than for window dressing.

          2. The wannabe sneers at you with the expression of someone with a dirty diaper being held under his nose, the turns and stalks off, muttering in a mocking tone, “Gets her names for free, she says. If *I* used the names *I* can ‘get for free’ in trying to write a story, all the male characters would be named ‘Bill’, or ‘David’, or ‘Jeff’, and all the females would be named ‘Elizabeth’, or ‘Darlene’, or ‘Virginia’, or maybe a few others, equally inane.” :-p

            1. Egad – I hadn’t seen the similarity between my screen name and “wannabe” until just now. I may have to either fill in my whole last name or else change it to an alias.

              Blech, Ptooie!

                1. Have at it. I am a suave, debonaire man of middle age, just over 6 feet tall, with a face like George Clooney and muscles like…

                  AGH! Cramp! My fingers won’t let me finish lying like that! Ok, ok, I’m a middle-aged balding fat guy, but you can describe me any way you want.

    2. But a writer is the god of his novel, right?

      I guess I should stop laughing now – it’s beginning to hurt!

      You’re right, of course,
      … until the characters take over, and start writing the novel for you.
      … until you’re eight or nine chapters into things, and suddenly discover that what you absolutely must have your character do is physically impossible, even in HIS setting.
      … until you’re complacently typing away, and suddenly realize you’ve added a completely new plot twist, without warning and without back-up characters, and you need to go back five chapters to straighten out the mess.

      Yeah, I guess a writer is the god of his novel, except when he isn’t!

      1. Also, unless your character refuses to come to life without the RIGHT name. Or unless the novel stops dead and you realize it’s much shorter than planned — even though you have about half the outline to go. Or vice versa. Or unless the novel dictates itself completely into your head, while your minding your own business.

        I’d think we were more hard-to-tune receptors than gods. But hey, what do I know.

        (Line at the dinner table “Are you honestly telling me?” from my husband. “You can’t do that because your characters will be mad at you?” Me: “Yes.” Older son: “Sounds totally reasonable to me. You know how annoying they can get if you p*ss them off.”)

        1. I have some old zines put together by some fan comic artists where they sicced their characters on eachother, with themselves as the commanders. It ended (of course) with the characters turning on the authors – You did all that to me? Get Her!

        2. I have encountered stories where I get the feeling that the author made characters do things against their will for the sake of his story. At least that is the best way to explain the feeling of hollowness or off-taste I get. If an authors work gives me that unsettled feeling too often I stop consuming their work. If the author is ham-handed in the manipulation — I guess the phrase in this place is: the book flies against the wall.

          (shudder — for some reason I cannot manhandle books, it is against everything I was trained to do. That is, except for one book …)

      2. Naw, the writer is more like the poor overworked guardian angel. Working overtime, running this way and that way, constantly trying to protect his novel from the myriad of twists and pitfalls it insists on attempting to walk into.

      3. . . . or when a minor character in a filler story looks up with a gleam in his eye and says, “Really? You think I’m going to stay here?” And proceeds to romance the MC into the oddest marriage since the fall of the Hapsburg Empire. Which then requires, oh, four solo back stories, and an entire new plot line. I think he’s still laughing at me.

        1. I’ve got a minor character who refuses to become a viewpoint character unless I can write him in a Noir style. …he’s winning. *sigh*

  11. Sarah – this post sparked a gotcha moment. Before I became really really ill, I was starting my first book (now Conjure Man) and I was praying at the same time to become a best-selling novelist. It was a classic be careful what you pray for – because a few months later I was in the hospital with the beginning of my disease. I was also being told that I wasn’t going to survive. The next two years was plain survival mode.

    What being broke has done for me is remind me that we are mortals and don’t have as much time as we think we have. I have had many things happen to me through my life that have made me the person I am today. Much of it has been awful. What has kept me partially sane is the husband who has been at my side for 19 years.

    I had two step-daughters, two grandchildren, and I am so proud of them.

    I think that if life doesn’t bite us on the ass once in awhile, then we don’t really live (or become adrenaline junkies or even dumbasses).

  12. Jean and I wanted a dozen kids. We had one of our own. We’ve since adopted two, and are raising a third that we have permanent custody of. Not easy with both of us over 65 and disabled, but we’ll manage. We’ve also had the opportunity from time to time to help others out along the way.

    My Air Force career certainly didn’t go the way I’d planned. I washed out of the Academy halfway through my freshman year with massive headaches caused by a boxing accident.

    I’ve yet to complete my college degree, even with over 200 semester-hours of credit.

    My health, which was more or less excellent up until 25 years ago, has certainly gone downhill since.

    Some things HAVE gone well, even if not the way I’ve expected.

    I AM still married to the woman I started with 46 years ago, as much to her perseverance as to mine.

    My Great-grandson will be born in early August.

    I’ve written all or part of a dozen novels since 2000, and seven of them are out there to torture people.

    Von Clausewitz said “No plan survives contact with the enemy”. With people, that enemy is time.

  13. I heard years ago that abused children are MORE likely to have their parents’ names, suggesting that being “planned” or “wanted” before conception is no guarantee of a happy childhood (because what the parents “want” isn’t what they actually get).

    1. Too many people have children to make THEM happy. That doesn’t usually work. If you’re unhappy and having problems, adding a new, very DEMANDING, uncontrollable problem that’s going to take a huge amount of time and energy into the mix usually doesn’t help. “I want someone who will love me” doesn’t always mean that person who wants to be loved is going to be able to provide what the CHILD needs in order for that love to build. Jean and I have worked a lot with unattached children, and the problems begin with the mother’s unfulfilled, and often impossible, expectations.

      1. I want someone who will love me (emphasis added).

        They keep using that word. I do not think it means what they think it means.

        1. so true RES – and something I heard a lot in my childhood “if you loved me, you would…” and then appropriate action like clean the house or something else. What’s love got to do with it.

          1. if you loved me, you would…

            And, if you loved me, then you would not resort to such emotionally manipulative tactics to get what you wanted from me.

        2. People who keep saying that somehow I don’t think are seeing the vision of their child screaming, “I HATE YOU!” and slamming their bedroom door.

  14. I do wish there were kid classes, though. Things like, “Here’s how to diaper a baby. Here’s baby first aid. Here’s how to wash a baby. Here’s why shaking a baby is actually worse for them than you might think. Here’s a test so that you can have a better chance of remembering baby first aid when your baby’s lips are turning blue and your mind is going blank.”

    It really weirded me out that we had to have two references to adopt cats, but the only test we got to get the kid out of the hospital was whether she could breathe in her car-seat. (Premature, no throat-fat, the usual.) Though I suppose in part, the weirdness was also that there was no ceremony. A test is a form of ceremony.

    I think there’s a tension between Ideals and Reality, and… I think it’s important, too. Without the Ideals to counterbalance Despair and Entropy, Reality could be a lot worse. (Overbalancing on Ideals doesn’t work, of course, but in a way, that, too, is reality.)

    1. Beth in post modern world (before industrialization) the training came from the grandmothers. I still see it sometimes in churches where the grandmothers show the new mothers how to hold the new baby.

        1. and we ain’t got no culture — seriously actually a great part of this is that we’re severed from our own culture’s past partly by some odd post WWII myths, mostly because families just don’t raise their kids, institutions do (yes, there’s exceptions, but you know what I mean) and those don’t transmit the touch-feel of culture, only the theory. And theory can be manipulated.

          1. hear! hear! WWII really broke up a lot of families… and a lot of information that is consider old wives tales have been lost.

          2. Not only that, but some groups are adamantly against the traditions which go along with culture, so they tear down the passing on of culture altogether.

            1. Yeah, I heard someone point out (perhaps here) that the last 50 years of American culture have been devoted to saying everything about our grandparents and earlier was evil, stupid and a lie.

              1. American? Try Western. And I’m sick and tired of it. (Sorry, I HAVE to quote Cosby here. “She takes the broom. She wields it like a Samurai warrior. She announces the beatings will now begin.” 😛

                1. I love Cosby, 🙂

                  I guess it’s the West’s less violent version of the Cultural Revolution. (I had dinner with an elderly, veddy proper British lady once. She talked about how she didn’t like the Germans – she’d spent WWII hiding in the Underground, so no surprise there. She didn’t like the Indians, at least not en masse. Didn’t like the Japanese. She was too polite to say how she felt about Americans, but I’m sure she didn’t care for them, either. “And as for the French,” she said, in her very proper elegant British voice, “they cut off all their best heads in the Revolution.” I started laughing because I realized she was right. France never did recover from that, did they, and what a loss to the world.

                  1. they killed the smart people in the revolution, and the brave ones in WWI. No, I’m not saying it was completely destroyed, but it destroyed civic life in the country.
                    Btw, I told the exact same thing to Jerry Pournelle once. He was amused.

                    1. Yes, there was a time when the French were mentioned people didn’t immediately picture a limp-wristed coward in an impeccable suit, spouting idiocy.

                      I realize that is an unfair stereotype, but it is a stereotype, because there is enough frenchmen that fit that profile to give the impression that that is what the French are.

    2. Beloved Spouse spent 10+ years assisting in the Church’s baby room. The “classes” are there for those interested. I suspect most neighborhoods have at least some parents who would welcome a (free) mother’s helper a few hours a week. As we’ve previously discussed in other regards, learning is there if you really want …

      You can get it if you really want
      You can get it if you really want
      You can get it if you really want
      But you must try, try and try
      Try and try, you’ll succeed at last

      – Jimmy Cliff
      [ ]

    3. I had the kid class – taught by my mother, when she had the great good fortune to give birth to my youngest brother at the beginning of summer vacation the year that I was twelve years old. Diapering, feeding, amusing … everything. It fell to me, and to my next-youngest brother – two years younger than me, and to my six-year old sister. I don’t think Mom lifted a hand to our little brother for three months.For us, it was great – he was like a brand-new, adorable pet, and he was all ours!
      I have read now and again, that because families are much, much smaller, since about the first third of the 20th century, this is why A) child-raising advice books are so popular and B) parents are often so desperately uncertain/unskilled. Before a certain point in time, one learned about how to take care of babies and small children by taking care of younger sibs or cousins, or by babysitting.
      By the time I came around to having my own child – there was no learning curve involved – I had already helped to raise one sib,and taken care of others as a sitter. No problem.

      1. One of my parents is a pediatrician and that’s what they say. New moms need grandmothers. In fact, one of my great-grandmothers worked as a professional grandmother for 30 years. She’d go spend the first six weeks or so with a new mother, giving the mom a rest and also teaching her about basic care-and-feeding, swaddling, colic cures, and other such matters.

      2. I had a somewhat similar experience growing up. For most of my childhood, I was the oldest of my generation. I also had two uncles, three cousins, and a dozen neighbors who acted like part of the family within a quarter-mile of where I lived. I think I diapered my first baby when I was around nine or ten.

        Jean went the “older sister” route, plus did a lot of babysitting as a teenager.

        1. well. I had technically 2, really three nephews (my older cousin was raised with us as a sister, and she had her son when I was 14.) So… I changed them. Then I had two sons. FIRST time my friend left her baby girl in my care for a weekend, I took of her diaper and FREAKED. First thought was “OMG, Becky will kill me for breaking her daughter.” Then the word “Daughter” penetrated and I went “Oh, yeah, right. Okay. Not supposed to have penis. It didn’t fall off or anything.”

          1. Being the oldest of nine children I changed more diapers than I care to remember of both male and female. I do remember that I would have to be quick or the little boys would squirt… it was always a double-change for them. 😉

          2. Ok, glad I wasn’t drinking anything when I read that. Oh, my. My wife thought I was going into convulsions.

          3. ROTFLOL! One of my mother’s family became really, REALLY, ill when I was about ten or eleven. We took care of her three youngest girls for almost two years. The twins were only five months old when they came, and Penny, the older sister, was about 18 months. She was at least potty-trained. Keeping the other two in clean diapers was a chore! Between that, several girl cousins that lived very close by, and raising farm animals (including breeding and bottle-feeding a few of them), I knew about the birds and the bees at a very young age. I guess that was why I was more interested in a more intellectual relationship with women than a sexual one, and why I grabbed the one that provided that (and the sex) as fast as I could (met Nov 30, 1965, proposed Jan 1, 1966, married Feb 19, 1966). It’s still working.

    4. Believe it or not, some parts of that training you talk about were included in the Lamaze class we went to for our first child.

      1. I suppose some of the childbirth classes we were taking might’ve gotten to that part. Considering the kid was 2 months early, we kinda missed a few classes… (The rest of the class, once we got back to the local hospital, got to file by the window and admire the tiny, tiny kid and ask if it was scary.)

        I did get some instruction from the nurses, at least. Still, there was no ceremony, and if I hadn’t been hanging out in the room with the isolette all the time, how would I have known?

        1. I had to learn a lot of stuff, you know, like… how to use disposable weird diapers — did you know American cloth diapers are completely strange compared to what I grew up with? Portuguese diapers more closely resemble spit-cloths, and there’s way of folding them for boys or girls. I also learned that American plastic covers for diapers are half a century or more behind the rest of the world, and those mothers leak. However most of it is self explanatory and even while suffering severe post-partum depression I figured it out. (And the best covers were French and sent to me by my childhood best friend who married a Frenchman. They tie and look flimsy but are absolutely leak proof. we ended up cutting extras from light vinyl. (Yes, they’re a vinyl shape, that’s it, but they worked wonderful.)
          Did we make mistakes? Oh, sure. I think every parent does. And I don’t think parenting is “instinctive” but for a lot of it what you have to do dictates what you do.

          1. I was sure that there had to be a better answer than the diaper covers available. 😉

        2. Beth, you have my sympathy and understanding. The first child I ever diapered was The Daughter. A very kind nurse helped me once she realized that I meant it when I said I didn’t know how. I am the only surviving child of two only surviving children, the next youngest in the family was my Momma. I never had a natural opportunity to learn anything about infant care.

  15. The spay and nueter people really drive me nuts. I raise dogs,and since I prefer females, any male I keep is because I plan to breed to it someday. If I have to have a male cut (usually either mean, or to horny to have around females) I will sell it, regardless of how good a dog it is. I understand why others have dogs spayed or nuetered, and for many it is the right decision. But for myself, I am constantly trying to improve my strain of dogs, and the best way for me to do that is to have raised more generations than show on a pedigree. The more I know about the ancestory of a dog, and how the pups out of its ancestors came out, the better chance I have of getting what I want. If I have to go out of state to get a puppy, my chances go way down of it having all the traits I’m looking for (of course it might have a trait I didn’t realize I should be looking for, but that isn’t the way to bet).

    1. Sidenote: I think the people that have their dog nuetered, and then have false testicles surgically implaced; are insane. I think it should be legal, but just because something is legal doesn’t make it sane.

        1. Just in case your interested I googled a site of FAQs about nueticles for dogs for you, and they are supposed to be coming out for cats and horses soon 🙂

          And for those of you that learn visually, here is a youtube video of the procedure (actually this is a dog with one testicle that they are not removing, but are adding another so that it will look ‘normal’ and not feel ‘inferior’ [no I’m not joking])

  16. Bad things happening can sometimes be very good.

    Two of the best things that ever happened to me

    In Jr High being booted out of the advanced math class

    Loosing my job when I was the 3rd best employee out of about 50 in the district.

    In the first case, I was slacking off, not failing (and definantly learning the material), but not doing what the teacher wanted. They booted me out of the advanced math class, but told me that if I did well enough for the next quarter they would let me back in. I proceeded to get 98% in the regular math class to get back in and learned to watch for where restrictions were not flexible and do what was requried, not matter how little I believe that it makes sense.

    When I lost my job, they went from 6 locations in the district to 1, they rated all employees by how productive they were (this was a chain of PC repair shops), and I was rated as the 3rd most productive tech in the district. That ended up not being good enough to keep my job because they gave the managers the option of downgrding to tech ahead of the techs.

    a month later I got a new job, making 2x what I was making before, with a 30 mile daily commute instead of a 140 mile daily commute, four months later I got a 30% raise on top of that and (15 years later) am now making a salary that is 8x what I was making as a tech. This is in a different field, one that I enjoy far more.

    1. Awesome. You’ve made me think of a friend of mine who lost her job exactly a year ago. And I was actually happy about it. Yes, I was scared for her in this economy, but she’d been working at that awful place for five years for extremely low pay and no benefits, and she was completely depressed and demoralized to look for another one. If they hadn’t laid her off, she’d still be there. Yes, it took her a few months to find a new job, and she was scared to death in the meantime, but she did get one – nice place, nice job, much better pay (people told her she’d been way underpaid based on what she did) and she’s appreciated.

      It’s amazing how we can get so ensnared in bad situations because the idea of leaving is far more frightening, no matter how bad it is.

  17. Yup, life is what happens when you’re making other plans and there ain’t no perfect life. To be fair, I think those planning messages are meant for the grasshopper people who live their lives with little to no responsibility and expect others to clean up after their constant messes, and gawd knows I’ve known more than my share of them. No, you can’t know or plan for the twists and turns your life will take, but you can plan for some reasonable risks you might encounter and develop some skills or take out some kind of insurance (and not just the monetary kind). I’m definitely a pessimistic optimist – plan for the worst, so if it happens, I’m prepared, and if it doesn’t, I get a nice surprise. I find I get lots of nice surprises while optimists are constantly being disappointed.

    And yes, mutts and other rescue animals make the best pets. I have to agree with you about the downside of people not breeding their good-natured pets, and instead getting inbred breed dogs with a ton of health problems. I have too many birds, and all but one are second-hand or rescues, and they are so grateful and so appreciative. And birds are the worst of all for breeding the wrong ones – they’re more likely to breed the ones that can’t be socialized.

    But, as a Texan, I know that we’re killing those wonderful mutt dogs and cats by the pound down here, because we have too many people who keep breeding. Animal Cops made me very proud of our SPCA here in Houston, and 99% of abuse is neglect, not deliberate cruelty, often committed by people who immigrated from countries where the people don’t get enough food, much less their animals, but it’s made me think twice at how accurate I want my period-ish fantasy to be – do I really want to show how animals were treated then? (Answer, no, I don’t, so I’ll stick to YA, which gives me a bit of leeway on not being quite so true to life.)

    1. The problem here is that our humane society is euthanizing most pets because “to make sure they go to a good home” they charge $350 for any reasonably healthy/young mutt. So you can get a 3 year old dog of unknown temperament and who knows what bad habits… or a brand new puppy of known breed for about that. It’s SLATED to euthanize the pets, sorry. And $350 doesn’t “guarantee” they get a wonderful home. I’ve known dogs people pay a bunch for and then ignore, and people who can barely afford pets and go without so they can get their animals shots. The price is unrealistic do-goodism that actually HURTS animals. It’s not excessive breeding, it’s a society that’s supposed to place the pet putting barriers to the pet finding a permanent home. It’s insane.

      1. No, it is people running the societies that don’t believe people have the ‘right’ to own animals.

        Which of course makes your last statement true. It’s insane.

      2. $350 to adopt?! That IS insane! Ours doesn’t charge anything like that. Heck, I got a parakeet and a cockatiel for $25 together from the SPCA, and the I think the dogs and cats are comparable, and I think the pound is even cheaper (I did have to fill out a form listing the kind of home I had for them and name my vet).

        1. Yeah. We’ve sort of kind of been in the market for a dog. Not really seriously, until I figure out my health and whether we will end up having to take other dogs in. BUT I had this dream where I opened a door and a puppy ran to greet me, so I sort of check to see if that puppy is for adoption. (Okay, I know, nuts.) He looked, you see, like my dad’s dog who was “my” dog until he died when I was three. Lately I find myself missing him, so… Anyway, those fees shocked me. Cats are, I think, much cheaper, around $60 or so, or at least that’s what we paid when we saved Euclid from death row. Maybe he was discounted because ill? Anyway, yeah, we had to submit affidavits from our vet and all. (Our vet loves us. I think Pixie’s last three years are the reason the man drives a porshe.)

          1. When Momma was in High School her dentist actually told her that her mouth had financed his son’s sport’s car. (Far too many high fevers in her childhood had resulted in horrible teeth.) 🙂

            1. I had the exact same issue. My 20-21 my spare time was spent at the dentist. I was convinced by now I’d have dentures. I’m very lucky to still have most of my teeth (sort of like the ax of the king of dwarves. The MATERIAL might not be the same I started with, but the shape is still sort of the same, just very patched). (Yay, dentistry) And now I get fewer cavities. 90% of my teeth are composite and that doesn’t rot. 😉

    2. I find myself very much of two minds about Animal Cruelty laws. I am very much against animal cruelty, but also tend to be against Animal Cruelty laws for two reasons a)animals are property, if the government can tell me what to do with my dog/cat/horse/turtle that opens the door to them being able to tell me what I can do with any other property I own. b)if animals are not property, then they are defined as ‘people’ or ‘companion animals’ with their own rights, which opens up a whole can of worms. Under b) you get rulings like you can’t sell an animal because you don’t have the ‘right’ to own it, “because owning an animal is slavery.” Or you get laws like the one certian counties in California passed, that it is illegal to chain your dog outside, this in counties that have a leash law, so your dog either has to be inside, or on a leash at all times. (Really, you want to talk about animal cruelty?) These type of people are the same type who believe that riding a horse is cruelty to the horse (personally as a person who hasn’t been on a horse in 10 years, I would be more inclined to consider it cruelty BY the horse)

      What it boils down to is that you can never successfully regulate common sense. Because those who have it don’t see it as something that needs regulated, so those doing the regulating perforce lack it.

      1. It’s a hard thing to legislate, and yes, if you get government involved, it’s always a mess, and the extremists tend to get control. I don’t like thinking of animals as property (mine certainly don’t think of themselves as such); I think they occupy a median ground somewhere between property and humans (and, AFAIC, much closer to humans).

        As for chaining dogs up in the yard – unfortunately, around here, we’ve got people who think of dogs as cheap burglar alarms. You get poor creatures who’ve spent their lives chained up, no shelter, with some food thrown at them, but otherwise completely ignored, no companionship, of course no vet visits or anything like that, just treated as living machines. That’s where you get embedded collars, because no one ever interacts enough with them to see. As things stand now, you can’t do anything against this unless the dog is clearly suffering – and then the owners can be prosecuted for abuse.

        But the question is, what to do? As you say, we get the extremists who think no animals should be kept even as pets or, as you say, just riding a horse as cruelty. (PETA does so much damage to the anti-cruelty to animal cause with their tactics). Or you get bizarre laws like yours – a friend’s Homeowner’s Assoc has similar rules, which means technically she can’t throw a ball to her dog on her own front yard. Which shows the problem of rules in general (and that’s a whole ‘nother topic).

      2. “Animal cruelty” was less prevalent when we were an agrarian society, before the invention of even the railroads. People were dependent upon their animals as much as the animals were dependent upon people. You don’t misuse or abuse something you’re going to need to plow your fields, harvest your crops, or even to get to town or church. Even today, people who depend upon animals rarely abuse them. It’s mainly the people that get a pet to “keep up with the Joneses”, or hoping the animal will fill a void in their lives and are disappointed that abuse them. Those people, and the ones that own animals as a status symbol. That’s an argument that I just can’t get my head around, but I’ve certainly met enough of them. How does owning a horse increase your worth to society? Especially when you do so little to take care of it.

        1. Mike, I have to disagree. Throughout most of history AND in my childhood (except my grandmother and dad and a few other animal lovers) people treated animals as THINGS. What Laurie (?) described tying a dog outside and not petting him or even hitting him to “keep him mean” was standard operating procedure for farmers in my area. Heck, Mike, when 60% of your kids were bound to die before adulthood, you just didn’t lavish much love on THEM much less on the animals. Drowning kittens was how the boys in the village made a few pennies. Amusing yourself torturing a defenseless animal wasn’t even considered delinquency when I was small — it was a bad idea in the village because if my dad found out, an no matter what the animal was, he’d descend like the wrath of G-d. BUT my family was ODD that way. The culture is changing in the OTHER direction. The further we are from animals as “utilitarian things” the more we humanize them. Also, of course, we know more about their sentience — at least those of us who read scientific articles. And it’s easier, because we don’t live as close to the bone.

          1. I just lost ANOTHER post to my stupid browser. I’m getting tired of this!

            Maybe, Sarah, but maybe I was just raised differently. My family (my extended family, including my grandfather on the left, a cousin on the right, an uncle behind our house and another one in front), always had animals. I’ve never known any of my extended family to be cruel to animals. We had cows, pigs, goats, chickens, rabbits, turkeys, horses, mules, and many others, but no one ever treated them any way but kindly. Perhaps that’s a southern thing, or a family thing, but I’d never experienced animal cruelty until I joined the Air Force.

            In some of the places I’ve been stationed, animals lived with their owners in the same house, and were treated VERY well. I once bought a piglet in a local market for less than $2 US and gave it to a family that had helped me out. You would have thought I’d given them the British crown jewels.

            I think animal cruelty is situational. Where animals are a necessity to life, they’re treated with respect. Where they’re not, or where certain animals aren’t, they can be abused.

          2. “The further we are from animals as “utilitarian things” the more we humanize them.” I completely agree with this.

            I have never experienced animal cruelty directly (beyond the occasional isolated stupid neighborhood boy), so I know where Mike is coming from. But I read the news and I follow the SPCA stuff. It’s the animals that produce commodities, or poverty, or culture that causes most of it, from what I can see. Factory farms or people who came from cultures where no one got enough to eat, or people who need to beef up their inferior egos by using animals to fight. (Within a year of Animal Cops being on the air, dog fighting was banned in Texas. I don’t think anyone outside of it was aware of what a problem it was. I certainly wasn’t. I think cock-fighting is gone, too, finally.)

            1. **** Nobal Savages Alert ****

              just because people in the past depended more on their animals doesn’t mean they all cared for the animals.

              Just like many people today who heavily depend on their vehicals don’t always care for the vehicals

              Just like many people today who depend on their employeed don’t always care and value them

              it has always been (and will probably always be) the case that there are some people who care for things they need and some who just use them and look to replace them when they break, be those things animals, equipment, or people.

              We may be able to eliminate abuse of animals sometime after we eliminate the abuse of people. The silly thing is that so manhy groups get so upset over ‘abuse’ of animals that it seems like they need to be treated better than people

              1. I admit, I do get more worked up about abuses of animals and children (who are the same thing, in many ways ;-)) because they can’t defend themselves. Adult humans can, and I expect them to take care of themselves (in most cases). To expect less is to put them at the level of children, which I find reprehensible.

                1. I agree with your ethical feelings. It’s not LOGICAL but it hits me the same way. “Animals and children can’t DESERVE this.” Adult humans might.

                1. And how D’Artagnan treats the yellow horse his father loved so much and wanted to have a good old age.

                2. Sarah, it’s been a while since I read Dumas but I suspect they “override the horses” only when it was a “live or death matter”. IE it wasn’t something they did every long trip they took by horse. Even if they thought of horses as “things”, horses (especially ones they could use in fighting situations) were costly “things” that would be hard to replace.

                    1. I think to a pre-mech culture, animals such as horses, oxen and mules were something about two-thirds between being a neccessary tool and often a valuable one, and one-third a pet the way we commonly think of them today. I am pretty sure that farmers were unsentimental about the animals they raised; my own grandmother was raised on a farm, and to her, cats were a neccessary part of the work-force (vermin-killing division). She said once that she and sibs deliberatly stopped going down to the pig-pen in late summer. The pigs were friendly and clever … but they were to be slaughtered in fall. I noticed the same thing when I lived in Greece – dogs and cats were there to serve a purpose, and most Greeks were quite unsentimental about them. A shepherd would be quite fond of his sheep-herding dog, because that dog was neccessary to the upkeep and protection of his flock of sheep. A horse was a means of transport – and of course, a good and well-trained one would be treasured because of that utility. But in the main – they were neccessary tools.
                      In my first book – about the pioneers on the California trail – I took a bit from the historian George Stewart, about the oxen who drew the wagons; about how few of them actually lived to grow fat and old on the grass in California. But the pioneers gave their oxen names, and were quite fond of them – and very likely didn’t feel very chipper when they had to kill them for food, or when they died of drinking alkali water, or broke down from overwork, slogging through the desert. I had a scene, where a woman stood up to seeing her prized milk cow killed, as no longer being fit enough to be hitched to a wagon. (They are nearly out of food and time, and the least-fit of the team animals have to be despatched, including the milk-cow, which had been put into harness as a draft ox.) She broke down later, and in private – since she had raised the milk cow from a calf, and valued it very much.
                      During the ordeal of the Donner-Reed Party, the Reed family killed and ate their pet dog – very likely there was nothing more to feed the dog, and Margaret Reed was alone and responsible for her children. Think of it – kill the pet to feed your children.

                    2. Yes, I was taught to not mistreat animals growing up, but I was also raised viewing them as tools and property. I feel that your ‘normal’ person took better care of their animals when they were important tools, just like the ‘normal’ person takes care of an expensive new car.

                      I really like dogs, but I can only take care of so many, so I only keep those I consider the best and/or feel will produce the best pups. But I won’t sell one to somebody that I know will abuse it (the fact that if I was selling my truck I wouldn’t care if the buyer was going to abuse it is why I differintiate between things and property, I view animals as property but not as things).

                      Of course the fact that I have dogs here that I have turned down $10,000 for and I treat them the same as ones worth a few hundred kind of undermines my arguement 🙂

                3. I have Dumas upstairs, but haven’t read it yet. But my guess would be it was priorities, they valued the lives of the people they were riding to save more than they valued the horses. That doesn’t mean they didn’t value the horses, just that they had to prioritize.

                  1. but you just don’t get it, there is never an excuse to ‘abuse’ an animal, Saving Human lives isn’t a valid excuse

                    1. oops, the sarcasm tags didn’t show up. Please be aware that that was not my real opinion

      3. The Daughter is known to watch all sorts of true television. One program follows animal welfare officers in various parts of the country.

        Horses that have not had their hooves groomed for so long that they can no longer walk and may have permanent damage? A horse that has been tethered to the back of a car and pulled down a highway? Dogs with festering wounds that are untended kept without water or shade in the Texas summer? It all makes the rescue of a kitten thrown down a storm drain in Philadelphia a relief. I am torn between tears and the kind of anger that causes me to entertain dreams of employing Torquemadiam tortures…

        1. Yes. I DO feel that way too, but I don’t think it’s because we have “excess animals” I think it’s because some people aren’t fully human, and don’t know how to be.

        2. I really want to choke the &%^$&^%$^ out of people who deliberately mistreat animals, but I’m also equally incensed with people that just seem insensitive to the needs of their pets. That includes people who leave their pets in hot cars in the summertime, people who leave their animals out in a thunderstorm or hailstorm, and other idiotic things.

          Several people have commented about animals being considered tools. Most conscientious workmen treat their tools with a great deal of respect. The ones that don’t usually don’t have tools for very long.

          1. sometimes there are reasons. I can’t bring Greebo in no matter how much I want to. And it’s worrying me, as it goes towards winter. Of course, in the next few years we’d like to get a new place, perhaps with an office at the back of the yard, where Greebo can live in winter. Right now, we just let him into the mud room. Not ideal, as it’s not heated.

            1. Well, at least it’s out of the wind. You can build him a box with a hole small enough that he has to bunker down a little to get in, and put a blanket or straw in it (basically make a simple dog house), and he can curl up in it and his body heat will keep it warm enough unless it gets really brass monkey cold.

              1. Thanks for pointing out the size of the box. That is the single biggest thing I see people do wrong when they build a doghouse. They build it to BIG. Thinking they are doing their dog a favor by building them a spacious mansion, they are actually creating a great shivering icebox for them. Remember it is being heated by bodyheat, small and snug is good. Also, no peaked roofs, they may look nice, but remember heat rises, the house should be no taller than the animal it is housing; besides my dogs all like to lay on top of their houses on a sunny day.

                1. Yeah, I had a book, like 40 years ago, that talked about basic dog care and training, and it taught a lot for the beginner.

                  Too bad more people don’t read something like it.

              2. we a have a box and this round thing we heat in the microwave that retains heat for eight hours. In really cold days we heat it three times a day.

                1. I have an electric heat pad and house built specifically for it to fit in, for puppies. I don’t know if they make them in a cat appropriate size or not, but they are a rubber/plastic like surface (waterproof, nonchewable, and have a limited amount of give so its not like laying on a board) and a chewproof cord, and reostat to adjust temp.
                  I seldom use it, I simply bring the female inside to have pups if it is cold out, and found that the heat pad while it works good in the colder outside air temps, keeps the puppies to warm inside. They are comfortable, but instead of huddling together for body heat, they tend to be sprawled all over, and if the female is not a real good momma, when she comes back in the house she won’t check and make sure where all the puppies are and end up laying on one.

                    1. I raise hounds, mainly a ‘breed’ (technically a breed because they are registered as such, but registration is open to crossbreeds) called Mathes Lion Hounds that was started by Steve Mathes. In actuality I have crossed enough other stuff in to create my own strain that I don’t consider them true Mathes dogs, even though some are still registered as such. For anyone interested they can look at pictures on my website Please not there are pictures of dead animals on this website, while none are gruesome, if such pictures bother you please don’t visit it. (there are also many more very nice pictures of live wildlife).

                      By the way when I was looking up the heated pad (I found one in about cat size here,… well at called the lectro-kennel, when I try to copy the link it wants to post about 2 pages of gibberish) I seen your microwaveable bed, I hadn’t seen one of those before, they look pretty neat.

          2. Amen.

            The Daughter reminded me today that one case of horse abuse occurred when the owner was not able to take care of their horses for a time (we believe they were out of the country) and they placed their horses at a stable and contracted for their care. The owner paid for the care of their horses. The stable, which collect fees for the care of the animals, was at best, negligent and at worst abusive of the animals.

            The Daughter and The Spouse both wondered if the owner sued the stable. I suspect that such efforts would have been futile.

            1. A friend of mine went to California to visit family over Christmas a couple years ago. He had a dog with a newborn litter of puppies. It was in a kennel attached to a shop, with the dog house inside the shop. He had a heat lamp in the dog house, and left a fresh bale of straw alongside of it. He paid a guy to take care of his dogs for the week and left specific instructions to change the bedding in the females house every day, and if anything at all was wrong to take the female and pups to the vet.
              When he got home the female was dead (suspected dehydration, because she had no water) half the pups were dead, the heat lamp was turned off, and the bedding had never been changed in the house. After all that the guy had the gall to ask my friend for a pup, knowing my friend and what he thinks of his dogs it was probably a VERY good thing the guy asked over the phone and not in person.

                1. what a terrible thing. Being over the phone wouldn’t save this guy. heck, even not being your friend, I”m dying to find this knucklehead and take a baseball bat to his kneecaps.

        3. That’s the show – Animal Cops. I had no idea of the level of animal neglect until I saw it. An embedded collar – how could anything like that ever happen? Dogfighting? Cockfighting? In this day and age? Starving horses still being ridden?

          I do understand people who get so overwhelmed by other things that they neglect their animals, because we’re often blind most to the things we see every day. And I am heartened by the SPCA people saying that, most times, all they need to do is give a wake-up call to people, or maybe a little help or education. (Same applies to children, for the same reasons.)

          1. The ones who have failed to take their animals to the vet when a change of circumstances have left them struggling to put food on the table, yeah I can understand. For the ones who do not know everything about how to take care of their pet I can have some sympathy. And the ones who have become slowly overwhelmed and just keep hoping for a better day — I hurt for them and their pets.

            Still, at some point enough is enough.

            To this day I still shudder whenever I think of the child I glimpsed swinging a cat by its tail as I drove the back route home from a neighboring town.

  18. You’re all mildly allergic to cats, yet you have several? What constitutes “mildly allergic” for you, and how do you manage the allergies?

    1. We vaccuum a lot. Just bought new vaccuum. Mild — it’s only bad during shed season. We used to give the cats a pill that makes them produce less allergen but — I know this sounds weird — I forgot it existed when we moved here. Just remembered when typing this. Will call vet on Monday.

  19. The Washington Post has an advice column which has proven interesting enough over time for Beloved Spouse & I to share it. Sunday included this anecdote from one of the readers, the relevancy of which I trust I need not :

    On wishing for a child of one gender over the other:

    When I was pregnant, I wanted a girl desperately. I had visions of baking cookies, sharing secrets about boyfriends, and doing all sorts of girly things to make up for my deficient relationship with my mother. My first was a boy. I had a C-section with general anesthesia. The nurse asked me if I wanted to see the baby. I asked her the gender and, when told it was a boy, I opted for more sleep instead.

    I love that little boy more than my own life. We baked cookies and enjoyed each other’s company doing boy things like digging for worms. My second was a boy, and I enjoyed him so much that when I was pregnant again, I was perfectly ecstatic with the idea of three boys.

    My third was a girl. She does not enjoy baking or sewing and has never been open to learning any of the girl skills I envisioned teaching. She is secretive and never confides in me about the smallest of life events. I love her dearly, but it certainly isn’t the relationship I dreamed of.

    My point is that before we have children, we picture certain relationships and ways of being a parent. Then the reality of each child, with his or her own unique personality, asserts itself. Just being open to enjoying the child you actually have, instead of the one you dreamed of, makes all the difference.
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