The third decade of the 21st century

As a child I found the year 2000…incredible. Yes, I drew pictures of the city of the future: the domes, the flying cars, the automated travel bed (because even then I was ill a lot)—all the usual predictions. But I didn’t really believe it, didn’t deep down viscerally feel that one day I would be forty years old. Nuh-uh. Not possible. Not credible. Yet here we are, well past it. In just two weeks we’ll be starting the third decade of the 21st century. Two weeks. 2020.

I’m starting this new decade with less optimism than I’ve had since, well, ever. For one thing, I begin the new decade as an orphan. Death never entered my thinking as a child or young adult. Sure, my grandparents died but that was sort of what grandparents did, right? Get old and die. Nothing to do with me, not connected at all. I would just get taller and more autonomous; I’d zoom around in a flying car; and I’d still have four sisters, two parents, and a host of aunts and uncles. But today I have no parents, two sisters, and a single aunt.

As a child and then adolescent I also assumed (if I thought about it at all, which I rather doubt) that democracy would be strong and I’d be living in a United Kingdom that was integrated with Europe. Wrong, in a mixed way. Of course I also thought I’d be a white-coated scientist saving the world (brraaap!) or, failing that, a world-famous singer (brraaap!), or—if things went horribly wrong—an entrepreneur (brraaap, brraaap, brraaaaaap!!). Instead, I’m a novelist. So wrong, but in a good way.

Whatever I imagined as my profession, though, I assumed I’d be supremely fit, unconscionably healthy, and wildly good-looking. Well, hey, one out of three isn’t bad…

By the late 90s my thoughts about the future were a bit more complex and rather more specific. At this point I assumed as givens the continued spread of democracy, rule of law, spread of scientific thinking, and reduction in poverty. Wrong—but, again, in a mixed way. Because contrary to what most people think, globally there are fewer violent conflicts. Fewer deaths from disease and poverty. More countries than ever before are democracies. It’s true that many are far from perfect democracies, and that many countries seem to be teetering on the verge of autocracy, but, even so, for much of the world governance is better than it was. The most remarkable change has been to poverty and food security. We have an incredible set of institutions—the World Trade Organisation, the International Court of Law, etc—that actually work, mostly. Again, not perfect, but, again, so much better than anything we had before.

Which makes what is going on now more frightening: rich countries in the best place to encourage continued or, better, accelerated change for the good—such as the UK, where I was born, and the US, where I live—are, instead, beginning to dismantle, brick-by-brick, the legal and cultural institutions that made all this century’s improvements possible: a sense of fairness, the primacy of fact-based argument, the rule of law, social democracy, and a free and fair press. Of course, what led to these institutions possible in the first place was rapacious colonialism, natural resource exploitation, and the ruthless abuse of those who are not white male nondisabled straight Christians, but I had hope that the world was moving in a direction that might enable acknowledgement of and even reparations for those horrors.

I won’t rehash here ideology wars, and the anthropocenic climate change that is exacerbating them, but say only: I was abysmally wrong. And in a very unhappy way.

Another way in which I was wrong, though, is that I thought my achievements (whatever they turned out to be) were entirely my own: done without social support, without even a college degree, and with my back against the wall of a queer-hating universe. Instead, here I am, married, a dual citizen, and with a PhD that I did just because, well, it was interesting. I am delighted to be wrong about these things.

I could go on, but the point I’m trying to get to is that predicting the future is a fool’s game. Sure, there are some things you can predict; you can look at corporate development pipelines (drugs, devices, renewables), demographics (birth and death rates), climate statistics, and federal appointments (young, right-wing, hardline judges) and come up with some notion of how the world might look in ten years. But mostly? Nope.

I’m smart. I read a lot. I think a lot. And I occasionally write science fiction in which I test drive future scenarios. But when people ask me to predict the next decade, I laugh. (On a good day I laugh; on a bad day I opine bitterly that the few who are left will be living in a paper bag under the broken overpass eating scavenged cat food.) Seriously, I am pitifully crap at predicting the future. The most seriously I’ve ever tried was when writing, in 1993 (published 1995), Slow River. Oh, I did get some things right: Bioremediation and the need for it (though today we’re doing much, much less than we could and we need it much, much more than we did). Data ransom. An increasing divide between rich and poor. Charity as fashion. Older people feeling like digital immigrants, strangers in their own culture. But I completely missed social media, the rise of online commerce, and the ubiquity of asomatic connectedness (for good and ill).

So the only thing I’m reasonably sure about in terms of prognostication is that in two weeks we’ll be writing ‘2020’ on our cheques. Except, oh wait, we don’t write cheques anymore. And maybe some deadly pandemic, unexpected asteroid, or nuclear holocaust—or just someone careless tripping the national grid leading to a cascade of devastating effects—could render this notion of money, or even the people who might need it, obsolete.

So, no, I’m not going to offer any predictions for the coming decade. Instead, between now and the end of the year I might write the occasional decade-in-review blog post. Meanwhile, I will tell you that I’m not actually depressed, but I am grieving: grieving the death of people I loved, grieving the dying of social democracy, and grieving the ecosystem that once was.

Helpful people often suggest that the way through grief is acceptance. What they don’t tell you (perhaps because they don’t know) that is that acceptance is usually the result of exhaustion which leads to a fragile—and temporary—peace.  Acceptance is only the first stage of recovery. Acceptance is not the place to stop. Yes, first we have to accept what is real, and where we are—we can’t afford to tell ourselves a rosy story, to hide from what’s happening—but we don’t, we do not, have to accept the inevitability of that status quo, or soldier grimly forward without hope.

So after our acceptance that Yes, this is really happening, perhaps the way forward is to be determined to improve this reality. And a vital step in that process? Don’t shut down. Keep feeling. Because if you stop feeling you’re hiding, and if you’re hiding you’ll never change anything. Thinking can come later, and then planning. But first: feel. And in that spirit, here are two of my favourite songs (at least, favourites today): one from the middle of last century, and one from the end of this decade. Enjoy. Seriously, enjoy them.

 

Kitten Report #11: Seven months old today [photos]

Today our rescue kitties Charlie and George, only survivors of a litter of six, are exactly seven months old. We’ve had them a little over four months. Despite being obviously brothers, they are developing very differently.

George is much more shy than his brother; his build is much heftier—wider, thicker, longer, more dense—and I’d guess he’s at least 20% taller and heavier than Charlie. Charlie, though, doesn’t seem to care; I’m not sure he’s even noticed. Despite his brain injury, and subsequent near-death and some visual impairment, he’s fearless. He’s the explorer, always the first to investigate something—the fire, the pot of boiling water, the dishwasher—the first to greet strangers and plonk himself on their lap. Loud noises don’t seem to faze him. When the vacuum cleaner comes out, he’ll follow it round trying to figure out if it’s edible. (George, on the other hand, hides under the bed.) When they sleep together, it’s Charlie who assumes the protective position; it’s Charlie who makes George lie still while he cleans his ears throughly (and chews on them for good measure). He is much finer-boned than George, smaller in every dimension. I can guarantee that he will be the first to escape outside and give us a heart attack.

But, oh how they have both grown! Here is Charlie when we first got him. And Charlie about three weeks ago. That’s exactly the same kitty condo platform in both photos.

Two photos of the same tabby kitten sitting on the same piece of furniture. On the left, he is tiny and fluffy; on the right, he is big and burly.

Charlie as a kitty lordling-in-training, and as a full-fledge condo lord.

And here are Charlie and George a couple of weeks ago:

Two tabby kittens on a kitty condo. The one on the left is posing as a sort of split-level library lion

George posing as a sort of split-level library lion because he’s getting too big for a single platform

About one minute after I took this photo from my side of the breakfast table, I got Kelley to sneak around the table, make a noise, and take a picture of them head-on. You might recognise that one. You’ll see that despite the difference in size, Charlie still gets the top spot, every time. Charlie also tends to push George off whatever lap he’s enjoying.

Here’s George yesterday. As you can see, he’s getting to be a serious armful.

Tabby cat sitting on the lap of a woman wearing a pale sweater. The cat looks big.

An armful of lapcat

Apparently, domestic short-hairs don’t even begin to approach their full size til they’re 9-12 months old, and then they grow slightly for the next six months, reaching their full growth at 18 months. So George, at exactly 7 months, is going to be big. Despite that, he’s still pushed around by Charlie but seems to take the domineering phlegmatically. He’s developing a certain savoir-faire, becoming a cat-about town:

tabby kitten in careless, lounging pose

Imagine top hat, silk scarf, and monocle

Charlie also likes playing library lion, though he prefers the leather sofa, particularly when I’ve just got up and he gets the claim the warm spot on the old, soft leather:

Tabby kitty on brown leather sofa, facing right in library lion pose

Leather library lion

Sadly, he also likes ripping up that leather:

Brown leather with a furrowed ridge clawed across it

Charlie wuz here

As well as his cat-about-town persona, George is embracing his pink and frilly side. He loves this cat bed that Kelley’s mum’s female cat, Joey, rejected:

Burly butch tabby sprawling on pink frilly cat bed

George embraces his pink and frilly side

Charlie still prefers my wheelchair as a bed, but, even better, likes to be right there, in my face, making a point—with eyes, ears, and whiskers—that I need to stop whatever I’m doing, RIGHT NOW, and make a lap:

Young tabby cat with very tall pointy ears

These ears were built for pointing, and that’s just what they’ll do…

He’s also beginning to develop a dangerous fondness for the laundry basket, particularly when it’s full of clean and just-folded clothes.

They are still developing skills. For the first time I saw George do the full and focused cat-scratch thing, and now both cats are getting agile enough that they can hang upside down from the sofa arm held only by their claws hooked into the fabric (sigh) and still leap convulsively to catch the soaring Feather in the mouth and drag it to earth. George now chitters reliably at the sight of birds; Charlie still can’t chitter, but makes a wheezing sort of churr. George is figuring out how to meow, but it’s a bizarrely high and tiny meow for such a big burly beastie. Charlie can manage a sort of bubbly meow with a deeper pitch. He has also deduced that rubbing my face, shoulders and arms madly with his cheek produces food.

They eat high-calorie, grain-free kitten food. And zero dry food (a terrible thing to feed to cats, in my opinion). My guess is they’re consuming 800 – 850 calories a day between them; surprisingly, Charlie eats as much as George. Soon I want to start introducing raw food into their diet. George won’t have a problem with that, but Charlie might: he still doesn’t seem to recognise human food. George will turn cartwheels for a tasty snippet of cooked cod or chicken or ground beef, but Charlie ignores all human food except…kale. Which he adores—as we discovered when he dragged a bunch off the counter and chewed it to bits.

Yes, they’re still chewing but much less—though we did have one scary incident last week when Charlie offered to chew my water glass. Fortunately, he hasn’t tried a repeat performance. I think their incisors, canines, and premolars are in now. I’m guessing the four molars will take a while. No doubt we’ll discover they’re erupting when they start trying to eat my phone again. Just FYI, kitty teeth are tougher than gorilla glass.

An iPhone with a tooth-mark in the corner of the screen

Kitty tooth vs gorilla glass

What comes next? Well, kitties vs. the Christmas tree. Fun ahead…

30 years in the US

Today is the 30th anniversary of me moving to this country to live with Kelley. (As opposed to the 30th anniversary of meeting and falling in love with her a year and a half earlier. And the 6th and 26th anniversaries of us getting married. Which we also celebrate. Carpe party!)

Here’s a photo of me, taken in Kelley’s tiny apartment in Duluth, Georgia, on her 29th birthday. It was the second to last night of a 6-week visit for us to decide if what we had was real, and, more to the point, strong enough to get us through all the hardships ahead.

short-haired smiling woman in summer clothes holding glass of champagne and smiling

Taken in Duluth, Georgia, before flying back to the UK to pack my stuff and (ten weeks later) leave forever

That day thirty years ago was hard. I left my family and friends, my partner of ten years, the culture I knew and belonged to, and came–on a tourist visa, good only for six months–to a country where I had no job, no health benefits, and no welcome (it was illegal to even enter the country as a lesbian). I had no money. I was also ill, with what was eventually diagnosed as MS, and broke. Saying the move was stressful is an understatement.

But, hey, it turned out pretty well. We’re married. We share a life built on shared work and love. And I’m now a dual citizen. Life is good.

The problem with Ruined Earth Novels

In this weekend’s special holiday issue of the New York Times Book Review, I review Robert Harris’s The Second Sleep.

As a novelist, Robert Harris has the gift of immersing readers in an unfamiliar milieu, and thrilling them with the subsequent emotional, physical and ethical challenges faced by the protagonist as he (and it is always he) navigates mounting obstacles to a supposedly routine task — and, in the process, unearths unexpected truths.

Those who are familiar with such classic Harris historical thrillers as “Imperium” will, then, settle into the opening pages of “The Second Sleep” alert for clues. April 1468: The arrogant, newly ordained Christopher Fairfax is journeying to the remote Wessex village of Addicott St. George to perform a burial service, that of the village’s priest, Father Lacy. The reader nods knowingly as the bishop of Exeter instructs Fairfax to be quick about the trip and to use utmost discretion. As the young priest and his ancient mare plod through the gray, mist-sodden landscape, his arrogance turns to uneasiness. And as clues flick past — the emerald flash of a parakeet, a church that has “stood square on this land for at least a thousand years, more likely fifteen hundred” — we begin to share that unease.

You should probably go read the rest now for the rest of this post to make sense.

I’ve enjoyed many Harris novels—I particularly admire his Cicero trilogy, starting with Imperium—but  for me The Second Sleep does not succeed. Parts of it are fine—Harris is really good at putting his characters in their landscape—but it’s all in service of a shoddy overall narrative arc. It feels like a tourist’s attempt at a Ruined Earth novel that collapses both from illogical and inconsistent world-building, and the inability to escape the event horizon of the essential ruined-earth premise.

Before we go any further, let’s have some definitions. For me (others differ slightly) a classic ruined-earth novel is science fiction set on this planet generations after a civilisation-wrecking disaster such as nuclear holocaust, technological collapse, and/or climate disaster. The apocalyptic event/s occurred so far in the narrative past that the present-day citizens are unaware of that past, or have largely forgotten how it was; often, they have mythologised that previous era, and demonised its citizens’ dependence upon or affinity for science and technology. This shunning of science and technology is enforced either explicitly by the ruling religious class, or implicitly by cultural taboo. This usually means culture has regressed to a relatively primitive agrarian society, including a return to rigid hierarchies of class, gender, race, and so on.

This definition excludes all kinds of post-apocalyptic fiction such as McCarthy’s The Road (the apocalypse is too recent; ditto Mandel’s Station Eleven), Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy (not set on this planet) and Stevenson’s Seveneves (no shunning of technology). is not a ruined-earth novel because it’s not set on this planet. Always Coming Home by Le Guin does not fit my definition because the Kesh use technology (and also because I’m not entirely sure it’s a novel, but that’s whole other conversation). Vonda McIntyre’s Dreamsnake also doesn’t fit because there’s no shunning of technology. Suzy Charnas’s Holdfast Chronicles are an interesting case but in the end I’d say they don’t quite fit the bill because there’s not much tech to shun, and no religious/cultural taboo regarding its use and/or artefacts.

In my definition, the essential premise of a classic ruined-earth novel is conflict between those who want to recover old technologies, and those who wish to suppress it for fear of it precipitating another apocaplypse. Classic examples include Leigh Brackett’s The Long Tomorrow, John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids, Walter Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz, and Russell Hoban’s Ridley Walker. They are all great books in their own way, but none entirely succeed in escaping the gravitational pull of the ruined-earth premise. To be fair, I’m not sure it’s possible to escape it, not possible to resolve the constant tension between an orderly system and its inevitable collapse into disorder. It’s like trying to banish entropy.

A good ruined-earth novel is easy to set up, and a good writer can sustain it for quite a while, harvesting all sorts of luscious fruit along the way, but eventually the author is faced with a decision: Is their character’s society going to remain disordered/ignorant (that is, is the author going to sidestep the premise), or will it begin to rise towards order again, in which case what will prevent it collapsing again as soon as enough order is achieved to enable fantastically dangerous weapons/climate change/reliance on massively complex interconnected systems? As far as I’m aware, no one has found an answer to that, especially if enough was lost in that initial catastrophe that memory of the mistakes that led to it evaporated along with the technology. Leigh Brackett’s novel is one of the best: flat-out brilliant until the last quarter where it crushes itself flat trying to squeeze through the seam between mid-century gender constraints and the second law of thermodynamics. Miller simply repeats endless cycles of growth and destruction. Hoban avoids deciding by dodging the question and walking away. And Wyndham cheats by suddenly widening the available world to include another society so far away that it may as well be another planet. All of these books, though, are worth reading.

The Second Sleep, in my opinion, is not. (And now you really should go read the review.) The more closely you look at it, the less it makes sense. How can a society build itself from nothing to 18th-century levels of technology without the natural resources that were thoroughly depleted in the run-up to the initial collapse? It can’t. Well, you might say, they could salvage all the metal lying around. Well, no, they couldn’t—entropy, remember? (This is where Hoban’s Ridley Walker fails, too.) All those metals will oxidise and corrode. The soil is degraded. The wildlife extinct. The seed crop initially available would have been reliant upon fertilisers no longer produced. Also, 18th-century technology even then was largely dependent on global trade—which no longer exists. And how come all the populations of our actual 18th-century that actually existed but (that our actual 18th-century novels ignored)—people of colour, women with minds, disabled people, queer people, people of various religions—vanish in this new society? I could go on—and I haven’t even mentioned the plot holes, or character inconsistencies.

The Second Sleep, then, is just the latest failure in a long line of failed ruined-earth genre set in the future. But how about a ruined-earth novel set in the past? It might be an interesting intellectual exercise to argue it’s been done before, a lot: all those Matter of Britain novels in which ,after the collapse of civilisation—that is, the Fall of Rome—Arthur and his Camelot are the last redoubt of civilisation and its technologies (literacy, law, stone architecture, roads, money, etc.) fighting off the encroaching barbarism of invading Anglo-Saxons. (Ignore the fact that both the Fall of Rome and Anglo-Saxon invasions are concepts rather frowned upon these days by historians.) To the degree that these novels succeed, it is because the conflict between technology and barbarism is tackled head-on in the form of clashing armies, and neither side wholly loses: the seeds of technological rebirth are sown in the decades of peace Arthur creates between invading waves, and though Britain moves forward speaking the barbaric English tongue rather than civilised Latin, we all know civilisation will flower again—as embodied in the guise of magical sword Excalibur and Arthur and his knights sleeping somewhere beneath the fair hill. Hope, in the end, is the Once and Future King. And hope is what The Second Sleep lacks.

Holiday greetings from Charlie and George

A Christmas card, in pale yellow with a dark red border. The top two-thirds is a photo of two tabby cats sitting with attentive expressions next to a miniature Christmas tree and wrapped presents. The lower portion is hand-printed text that reads, "Charlie and George listened patiently to what the mice wanted for Christmas, and then they ate them."

Image description: Front face of a Christmas card, in pale yellow with a dark red border. The top two-thirds is a photo of two tabby cats sitting with attentive expressions next to a miniature Christmas tree and wrapped presents. The lower portion is hand-printed text that reads, “Charlie and George listened patiently to what the mice wanted for Christmas, and then they ate them.”


Edited to add:

Since I posted the card on social media three hours ago I’ve had several comments/questions on both the image and the caption, so here are some answers.

Image

The image is a Photoshop composite. Judging from questions and comments I’ve had, many seem to think that the cats themselves are digitally messed with. They’re not. Here’s the original photo

Getting the picture was a mix of luck and persistence. I’ve been thinking about this card for about a month. I knew what the caption would be, but for it to work I needed them to be sitting together and facing the camera. A vaguely bored look would be a bonus. So day after day I stalked them with the camera, and finally about ten days ago, just after breakfast, they made this pose. I knew they’d move any second—much faster than I could get there, so I gave the phone to Kelley, hissed at her to Get that picture, now! And got this. I was particularly pleased with George’s pose, especially the paws.

I was going to crop it to a rectangle to take out the platform on the right, then give Charlie a little red Santa hat and George a miniature tree by his paws. But the composition felt off. So I restored the original square and started again. First I put a Christmas tree on the right hand platform. I’m not exactly a photo-manipulation expert so this took some figuring out: find the stock image, abstract the image, size it, put it in the right place, figure out how to put in shadow and make it look as though it was sinking into the carpet covering. But eventually I did figure it out. At which point I realised the colour needed balancing with something on the other side. I tried hanging a Christmas stocking from Charlie’s platform but then it looked weirdly symmetrical. In the end I decided on a couple of little presents. Again, I had to find the image, abstract, resize, place, add shadow, add sinking-into-carpet. Yep, that would work.

What followed then was endless futzing with colour balancing, adding a purple frame, changing colour of the frame to match the Christmas baubles, deciding how big a box I needed for the text, changing the colour of that box, etc.

I did all this using a variety of apps on my iPad (with Pencil) and Mac desktop: Photoshop, Photoshop Fix, and the Apple Photos app. Then I had to write the caption.

Caption

I’ve known for a month exactly what the caption should say because around this time every year I think of a holiday card my good friend (and ex) Carol sent me from the UK, starring a cat called Buster. All that I retain of that card is a black and white photocopy of the front with no copyright info. I don’t know who originated either photo or caption. But the basic idea stuck in my head, and every now and again I do a desultory search based on that that old image. A TinEye reverse image search returns a variety of images of the original cat, but no copyright information. And I’ve found this site, with something very like the card, but not quite. A search for the original text brings me several products for sale based on reimaginings of the original (e.g. Etsy, CafePress) but all differently copyrighted. I’m pretty sure the original photo is by Kat Caverley, but the basic sentiment of the caption seems to be some kind of meme.

And that’s as much as I knew until earlier today, when I learnt from a Facebook conversation with Eric Cline that the meme goes back at least to Mark Twain, via Weinstein and Albrecht’s Jonathan Seagull Chicken (in which a chickens’ good friend, including Mark Twain and Moses) throw him a banquet, and then eat him, for, dear readers “…isn’t that just what a chicken is for?”), and probably a zillion other repurposings. We decided that is is an example of the kind of classical SFnal reversal parodied so effectively by Douglas Adams in the Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Aaaaanyway, seeing as I wasn’t using Caverley’s photo, and the caption idea is a meme, I felt pretty secure about my card. Now I just had to figure out how to do it. I wanted the caption to look handwritten. I experimented with a few fonts but none of them looked right. In the end I just opened the photo app on my iPad and wrote the text with my Pencil, then then finalised everything in Photoshop.

So there you have it: a simple card that took about ten hours to make. If you want to use it, feel free: just click on the image for a larger version, and download. Enjoy!

 

Kitten report #10: The evolving disability consciousness of Charlie and George [photo, video]

Today is International Day of Persons With Disabilities.

The annual observance of the International Day of Disabled Persons was proclaimed in 1992 by United Nations General Assembly resolution 47/3. It aims to promote the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in all spheres of society and development, and to increase awareness of the situation of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.

It seems like a good day to discuss the evolving disability consciousness of Charlie and George. Disability consciousness, like grief, follows stages.

When they first arrived in our lives in August, their initial assumption was that, as it was inconvenient that I couldn’t run around with bits of string for them to chase, my impairments must all be in my head. Therefore they would encourage me to realise this, and so cure myself. After conferring it was decided to take away my mobility aids and so force me to walk. They tore out the brake cable from my Rollator. They were disappointed when instead of a miraculous healing they faced roars of outrage.

Being cats, they skipped the pain and guilt stage and moved into another variety of denial: there was nothing wrong with me; they just wouldn’t see my disability. When they (particularly Charlie, in the initial stages of his brain-injury blindness) kept crashing into the invisible Rollator and being nearly crushed under the wheels of my non-existent chair, they decided they’d better acknowledge my impairments after all.

At which point they declared “Mobility aids are awesome and fun! We wish we had to use them!” This translated into several weeks of leaping onto the Rollator and expecting me to cackle with glee and hurtle round the house at speed for a thrill ride.

Two tabby kittens sitting on a blue Rollator, waiting for a ride

Charlie: Drive, James!
George: And don’t spare the horses.
Charlie: Let’s just eat the horses.

That got old fast, at which point they turned bitter and resentful: “Why me? Why is my mom a crip? It’s not fair!” And they took it out on my mobility aids: they chewed on the wheelchair tires (fortunately solid rather than air-filled) and then various bits of the Rollator:

Close-up of black, hard-foam back rest pitted with tooth marks. Out of focus in the background, an innocent-looking cat is sprawled on the carpet.

George kills the Rollator then feigns innocence

The next stage was depression: hiding under the blankets.

Tabby kitten hiding under blue blanket, chin and paw resting on green blanket

I just can’t

Followed by misplaced empathy: desperately trying to console Kelley for her terrible, martyred role as Cripple’s Wife. This involved much hand-holding:

Tabby kitten asleep on a lap, little paws wrapped around a hand

Charlie tells Kelley, “It’ll be alright. I’m here.”

But now, finally, they are beginning to accept: this is just how it is. My mobility aids have become part of the furniture. Charlie in fact sleeps in my chair every day.

Tabby kitten curled up fast asleep on black wheelchair

My chair is Charlie’s bed

He doesn’t relax in it, he either passes out or sits bolt upright, ready to pounce on stray bits of ribbon and impertinent scraps of paper.

Tabby cat sits in library lion position on black wheelchair facing camera; his eyes are round and wild

“Don’t worry about the taxes. I’ll deal with those receipts.”

Only they don’t start out as scraps. Taxes will be interesting this year because Charlie got hold of a stack of receipts and ripped them to confetti. Oh, well. Who needs deductions when you have such fine kitty companions?

George considers the Rollator his domain. Sometimes it’s a pre-lap launch platform.

Young tabby cat sitting on Rollator, head titled, waiting to jump on a lap

George is willing me to make a lap, make a lap. You’re feeling very sleepy, make a lap…

Sometimes just a damned good place to hang out and relax after a large meal. (He doesn’t care about the tax receipts: his meals aren’t deductible; also, he doesn’t pay taxes.)

Young tabby cat in library lion position on Rollator seat, leaning like the tower of Pisa

Food imparts the wisdom of the ages. I will have the solution to ableism soon…

In just a few short months, then, the evolution of these tiny bundles’ disability consciousness has progressed in leaps and bounds (often while hanging upside down from the curtains or falling in the bath). If these two beasties with brains the size of thimbles can learn, why can’t you? You won’t even have to do it while leaping twice your own height to bring down Feather, or figuring out to get out of the dishwasher.

By the time the next IDPWD rolls around, I have no doubt that our kitty Einsteins will a) have fixed the person-first language of the proclamation and b) have found a solution to the enduring mystery of ableism (hint: the two are not entirely unrelated). Your job? Try to keep up. You might find some tips in previous Kitten Reports.

Signed, personalised books for the holidays

Image description: Photo, taken on a bright spring day with an old disposable camera, of a friendly neighbourhood street: cars parked in the shade of a tree growing on the sidewalk in front of Phinney Books and its next-door neighbour, the 74th Street Alehouse.


I’m a writer. I’m a small business. The independent bookstores that sell my books are small businesses. Today is Small Business Day, and therefore a fine day to remind readers that I’m teaming up again with Phinney Books, on Greenwood Avenue, Seattle, to bring you signed, personalised books for the holidays. Why Phinney Books? Well, because it’s right next door to the pub! Which makes it massively, convivially convenient for me. Also, Phinney Books is my idea of a perfectly-sized bookshop with just the right stock. Also also, it’s level-entry with a light front door so very easy for me to get in and out of.

Here’s how it works.

  • Go to Phinney Books’ online ordering page to buy any of my books, no muss no fuss, and get them shipped to any address in US, Canada, UK, Australia, or New Zealand. Everyone else, see the next step.
  • Email info@phinneybooks.com (phone is okay: 206 297 2665) with billing info: all major credit cards accepted. They use Square, so they’ll also need the 3-digit code on the back and your billing postal code.
  • Tell them what you’d like, e.g. Hild (paperback or hardcover) or So Lucky or Ammonite or Slow River. If you order very soon, you could also  probably get With Her Body, my mini-collection of stories.* Or, hey, another book by somebody else—lots of books, any books! It’s the holidays. You (and your friends, your family, everyone you’ve ever met) deserve something nice. Splurge! Remember, too, that you can order ebooks via the store, and—woo hoo!—audio books. And I narrated So Lucky. Sadly I can’t personalise those, though.
  • Tell them whether you want the books by me personalised (to you, or to someone else; if so, who; and what short thing you’d like me to add). If you give this order by phone, please spell out even the most common names.
  • Give them your mailing address and payment info.
  • Beam, sit back and relax: you’ve done your holiday shopping!

Tom, the owner, tells me he is happy to ship multiple copies, to ship internationally, and to ship express/priority, but then there will be extra charges you will have to work out with him.

Deadlines: I haven’t checked with Tom on this but perhaps Friday 13th December is a safe deadline for books shipping domestically, but if you’re willing to pay for priority mail, we could probably push that out a bit. International, well, I suspect you’d have to be quick…

So basically you have two weeks for Domestic. Go for it! I’ll do my best to sign your books before I go to the pub, which means everything will be spelled right. Mostly…


*There are no more of the limited edition memoir boxes. And the Aud novels are no longer available. I reverted the rights two years ago and sold everything I had lying about in 2017’s promotion. But, woo-hoo!, they will be back on sale either late next year or early the year after, so next time I do this, who knows. (There’ll be an audio edition of Ammonite, then, too.) And the time after, well, get ready for Menewood.