This face is staring at me right now from in front of my computer.  I think Basement Cat may be overreacting, but possibly Sabra has contracted with someone working on My Brilliant Idea to keep me from getting anything done.  She is certainly quite willing to show off the extra weapons.  Is that the confidence of a trained assassin, or the innocence of an ingenue?

Sabra 2015


Basement Cat reminds me that we have no idea where Sabra came from or what her story is.  She just showed up and said this was her house now, and we let her get away with that.  Would we do that with a hooman?  Basement Cat despairs of us.


Basement Cat worries about a hostile takeover

I meant to do that.  It was totally deliberate.  It was a strategic retreat!  You notice that I chased her out of My Bedroom?  It was only after she unfairly circled round under the coffee table that I allowed her to chase me into His study.  Notice how sorry He felt for me, while She yelled at That Cat.  I most certainly did not run like a frightened kitten: kittens are never frightened of anything, the little idiots.  Remember what I was like?

Anyway, That Cat is a different level of menace than we have seen before.  She wears desert camouflage and has extra weapons on all four feet.  I am sure she is Mossad, probably Kidon, and there are limits to what even I am willing to take on.  My team and I (Reina and Glendower, or Faux-Glendower, I am still not quite sure about him, especially after another vet visit: the vet is probably cover for special-forces instruction), are all ninjas in elegant black.  No one sees us coming after dark, and we have special skills.  And yet I have to admit that in our closed society, the violence has become increasingly ritualistic and formalized.  We are pitiless when it comes to kibble and catnip, but we rarely inflict actual harm on one another.  We are unaccustomed to dealing with hardcore desert warriors.

Possibly Glendower is learning some of That Cat’s secrets, as they spend a good deal of time together.  That is, I am hoping he’s a double agent, really on the Ninja team.  I don’t like to think that that Sabra has recruited him into the Organization.  He certainly hasn’t acquired the desert camo uniform.  But I need to think about the situation.  This is going to require a lot of paw-washing and meditation while sharing His chair.  The People are regrettably unaware of the lurking dangers, and I am going to have to protect them as best I can.  At least Reina is properly vigilant.  Her feral background serves her well.

I may need to cede certain areas of the house to That Cat’s control.  But My Bedroom is going to stay Mine.  Ninja space!  Proper attire!  No grunt uniforms.  Black cats only.  That’s my line in the sand.

As it were.

Prime Numbers

At last.  Finally I can get down to writing a post after a hard morning arsing around and baking a vegan pumpkin pie.  I have not made a vegan pumpkin pie before.  It involves tofu, of course, and I didn’t measure the spices, just threw them in till the mixture tasted right and looked (as I seem to recall the normal sort does) like baby poo.  Cue rude remarks from my brothers and father . . . oh wait, they’re not here!  Another thing to be thankful for.  It never occurs to Sir John to make rude remarks about my cooking, and even more marvelous, this is because of his own innate maturity and good manners, not because I have ever had to tell him to eat it or else wear it whilst taking me out to eat.  Not that that ever had any effect on my brothers.  One of them is the cook in his house.  The other is on his third marriage.  Coincidence?  You decide.

Anyway!  I like prime numbers.  They are interesting.  They are definite.  You can say “oh, ten or twelve” and mean “I don’t know, nine? Thirteen?  In all the excitement I kind of lost track.”  But if you say “eleven,” then you mean eleven.

Today is a prime number of years since I met Sir John, for which meeting I am indescribably grateful.  The people who introduced us thought we were a perfect match because we both had cats.  I rather thought there needed to be more in common than that.  Fortunately, there was, and is, and yet the devotion to feline overlords does appear to be a very significant shared interest.  Coming soon: another post by Basement Cat, to illustrate this point.


Although I’m not in the TLQ group, I often follow along because it can be motivating to see other people’s efforts to get to the truly important stuff, and comforting to see how/when/why they have trouble getting to it (since I also often get distracted by the Urgent rather than focusing on the Important).  This week’s topic made me want to write about something I started doing last week (that is, before this topic posted).

I don’t do well with external rewards, no matter what they are.  Either I want the thing now, rather than later; or I’m going to do it later whether or not I am done with the tasks; or I find that I don’t really want the thing after all, in which case it’s a lousy motivator.  And yet just having the satisfaction of having completed a task does not necessarily motivate me, either.  It may feel like way too small a portion of the whole thing: I wrote a paragraph of my book, big whoop; how many hundreds of paragraphs to go?  Or it may be something that provokes disproportional anxiety (hello, phone calls), so that the delight of having it over with is dwarfed by the agony of doing it combined with the feeling that I am doing-it-wrong because I can’t manage to think of this as the simple task it is for other people.

Okay, so having already admitted that I’m both perverse and pathetic, I will now tell you how easily I am motivated by a kindergarten technique: colored stars.  On difficult days, I keep a list not of things to do but of things I have done, and I assign myself points for them and draw colored stars or flowers to celebrate having done them.  I choose points depending on how hard it feels to do things.  The easy routine things like administering cat meds are one point; writing 400-500 words is five points; calling the insurance company is at least 10 points.  I don’t do anything with the points, like adding them up to win prizes of some kind.  It’s just a way of acknowledging to myself that that task took some energy and so I should get some recognition for it.  Drawing a star or flower or doodle takes very little time, a few seconds for a one-pointer, maybe a minute for something fancy to celebrate a ten-point task, but it’s a creative break from doing harder things.  And getting a page full of colored doodles for things I have done is surprisingly motivational.  I think drawing them myself is important.  Stickers don’t have the same effect unless they’re part of a design I have made.

Next year I’ll see if this works for grading.

Slowing down time

Usually I feel like I have way too many things to do, and days go by way too fast.  I am shocked by how little I get done, and I don’t know where the time went, and I start the next day feeling behind.  I expect you know what I mean.  This sense of being harried is why we’ve had writing groups and the Top Left Quadrant group, after all.

However, I have recently discovered the secret to slowing down time, and for what it’s worth, I’ll share it.

Don’t do anything.

Since the beginning of November, I’ve been sick with some sort of respiratory crud.  Recovery is steady but very slow.  For the first week, I didn’t even try to do anything.  If I wasn’t in bed, I was on the couch (or on one warm day, on the front porch).  I did a little bit of scholarly reading in a book that is sufficiently off my usual path that, although it is surprisingly useful, I would not have checked it out if I were not on leave.  Mostly I napped or stared out the window or read fun books, since I’m not a big fan of TV, and anyway the TV is in Sir John’s lair because he likes to have it on when he works at home.  So I could read a few pages, and look out the window, and read a few pages, and zone out for awhile, and then find that maybe 30 minutes had passed.  I did not cook, I did not do any housework, I most certainly did not go to the gym.

Now I’m back to doing some work, and some cooking, but I’m still taking it easy and the days still seem long.  I’m sure the sense of pressure will return as my health improves and I get more worried about Doing All The Things.  That is, I would love to believe that this experience has somehow permanently changed me so that I can maintain this zen-like calm for the rest of my life, but I doubt it.  It is definitely an interesting shift in perspective, though, and while I’d rather not have got sick, I’m enjoying the sense that the main thing I need to do is rest and recover, and any other little things I get done are gravy.

So I guess this is why people try things like the “Three Things” approach to to-do lists (no more than 3 things per day) and why you get advice about going out and staring at the sky for 10 minutes when you feel stressed.  Looking at nature is a way of slowing down time and getting away from the harried feeling.

If I were teaching, I’d be very worried about missing classes, and would be pushing myself to get to school or keep up with students via online assignments, and it would all feel awful.  And then I might be like my colleague who had this or a similar illness and for whom it advanced to bronchitis so that she has been sick even longer than I have.  I wonder whether next year, if I get sick, I’ll be more willing to stay home and get over it rather than toughing it out.  The thing is, I usually wonder if I’m malingering, if I just don’t want to go to school and deal with people.  This year, I’m quite sure that that is not the problem!  The problem is that I’ve had a nasty virus.  And since I’m sure of what the problem is, the usual nagging voices (you should go to school, you’re such a slacker, you’re not that sick) have shut up and are leaving me alone.  I don’t feel guilty about staring out the windows, or watching the cats, and when I get back to work it’s because I really feel like doing a bit.  If I can retain even a little bit of this calm after I’m fully recovered, I’ll be grateful for this illness.

Days in lives: writers, editors

Writers on how they spend their days: A few commenters add their own routines (one invites his friend Neurotic Anxiety for overnights).

Follow-up post, editors on how they spend their days:

These are writers and editors of fiction, not academic writers, but some have day jobs or mention getting writing done before teaching starts. Besides, I like to think that what I write is creative, though in a different way from fiction, and ultimately writing is writing, IMO.  I notice that the editors seem to have even more meetings than Sir John does.

This morning I got to correct some proofs.  I love correcting proofs because it is a task that will stay done, unlike writing where you have to keep coming back to it every day to add some more, or revisiting a piece that is supposed to be finished because someone kindly mentioned that it would be better if you added this and this, reorganized that, and cut the other thing.  Improving a piece is good.  But being DONE for good and all is great.

Totally. Awesome. Fantasy.

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality

Highly recommended. And I read all the way to the end, this time, not like when I was excited about The Magicians and then was disappointed with the last third of it.

It’s long. It’s involved. It took me three days to read, or maybe it was four; I’ve been sick all week and have kind of lost track of days. This kept me very happily immobilized in between coughing fits and hot-drink-brewing, but if you have actual real work to do and are the kind of Literature Addict who has to read it all, then you might want to put this off till vacation, or flu, or something.

It’s also very funny. Sir John has started it, and we’ve been reading bits aloud to each other and snickering.

If you liked HP, but found it a little too illogical, if you had trouble with willful suspension of disbelief during it, if The Magicians was a little too dark (and Quentin too much of a wanker), if you are interested in what happens when the scientific method collides with magical training, then I predict that you will love this book. I’m pretty sure Nicole and Maggie will get a bang out of it. This version of Harry bears a certain resemblance to Miles Vorkosigan (and I say that like it’s a good thing . . . ).

And if you lose several days to a reading binge, don’t say I didn’t warn you.