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Emily Hanlon’s Ten New Year’s Resolutions for the Fiction Writer

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Emily Hanlon

Emily Hanlon posted these New Year’s resolutions for fiction writers, and she’s given me permission to reprint them here. I first encountered Emily through the International Women’s Writing Guild years ago, when they were holding their annual summer conferences at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. I gained a lot from her five-day workshop, and I’m delighted to be back in touch with her. She gives workshops both live and online as well as mentoring individual fiction writers.

Reading Emily’s bio, I just learned that like me, she’s a graduate of Barnard.

Ten New Year’s Resolutions for Fiction Writers!

Forged in Fire: Creativity and the Writer’s Journey!

  1. When I begin a new piece, I write without thinking or planning.
  2. I welcome the unexpected in my writing.
  3. My best writing comes from my heart and the fire in my belly.
  4. I become my characters, they do not become me. I go where my characters take me.
  5. I love my first draft writing for its chaos, fertility, and uncovered gems.
  6. I do not think about being published until the piece is finished.
  7. I set up a writing schedule that supports, not defeats, my writing. I will not use failure to keep to my schedule as a reason to give up.
  8. I write the story that is gestating within me—even if it scares me or makes me think I am losing my mind.
  9. Writing is a craft. Craft supports writing, it does not define it.
  10. I am a fierce warrior for my writing and creativity!

Excellent advice for all writers, fiction or nonfiction. It’s especially applicable to “pantsers,” who write by the seat of their pants without outlines or preconceived ideas. Planners who like to know where they’re going before they embark on their creative journeys may find some of the ideas intimidating, even downright scary, but you can take what you need and leave the rest.

car-night-road

Personally, I’m a pantser. My novels are character-driven, and the plots evolve chapter by chapter. I like E.L. Doctorow’s quote: “Writing is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” But I’m not gutsy enough to carry that method to the extreme. I prefer having at least a rudimentary map, though not a GPS; I don’t like taking directions from anyone else.

Of the ten resolutions above, I have the most trouble with #6: I do not think about being published until the piece is finished. For me, it’s impossible not to think about publishing; it’s the omnipresent elephant in the room. But when the writing is going well and I’m in a state of flow, I forget about publishing. It’s only in the before and after times, or when my inner critic kicks in, that publishing becomes an issue.

My favorite may be #7: I set up a writing schedule that supports, not defeats, my writing. I will not use failure to keep to my schedule as a reason to give up. Schedules are a major nemesis for me, one I’ll discuss in a future post. Even in retirement, with few fixed obligations, I have trouble maintaining a regular writing schedule, and that danged inner critic makes me miserable when I let distractions lure me away from my desk.

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Edvard Munch

Much of Emily’s coaching focuses on getting in touch with our shadow sides. Lately she’s been giving hour-long online workshops where students from throughout the country and abroad can participate free of charge. You can learn more about Emily Hanlon, her coaching and workshops, by visiting her website: www.thefictionwritersjourney.com.

What do you think of these ten resolutions? Which ones inspire you, and which ones scare you? I’d love to hear from you, so please leave comments. And subscribe to my blog by leaving your email address in the column to the right. Creatively speaking, I feel 2017 will be a great year, and I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

A new year, a new book project

At yesterday’s New Year’s service at church, we sat in a circle, passed around a talking stick, and shared our goals and resolutions for the year ahead. I announced two:

  • Work on creating a serene, organized home environment
  • Complete the presentation for my new book project on creativity, then find an agent and publisher
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Emerson Hall at FUUSA

The church in question is the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Albany, and our minister, Sam Trumbore, had chosen the topic “Begin again in love.” Usually we sit with the chairs arranged in conventional rows, and there’s less opportunity for individual participation, but this being New Year’s morning, Sam expected a smaller turnout. But there were several dozen of us, and we formed three concentric circles. As we passed the South American rain stick, many people chose not to speak, and others spoke of modest, everyday goals—spending more time with family or in nature, being more mindful of health concerns, learning more about social media or, conversely giving it up entirely.

Having come late to the service, as is unfortunately all too typical, I was the last in the row of the outermost circle, and impatiently awaited my turn to speak. When I did, I failed to mention the state of disarray my house is actually in, but I was more specific about my book project, announcing my working title and the fact that I’ve already registered it as a domain name. (I’ve blogged about the project before, but I’m still not ready to go officially public with the title, because I don’t want anyone stealing it. I figure the FUUSAns won’t remember.)

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John William Waterhouse

At 75, I sometimes wonder whether it’s overly ambitious to take on a major project like the book I have in mind. Granted, the goal I set is daunting, and realistically, I don’t know if I’ll manage to land a good agent and publisher within the next twelve months. But completing a nonfiction book proposal is well within my capabilities—I’ve done it three times before, although I abandoned all three projects before seriously seeking publication.

The first was a book based on my daughter’s first year of life. I’d done a project illustrating the minutiae of my daily life with her, I showed it in a SoHo gallery, and it was featured in New York magazine. An editor at a major publishing house saw the show, called me up, and I paid her a visit in her spectacular office high in a skyscraper with panoramic views of Manhattan. I’d brought my daughter along, and she peed on the editor’s couch. That wasn’t the reason I gave up on the project, but I’ll leave that story for another time, along with the reasons I abandoned my books on art therapy and gardening.

For now, let’s just say I’m confident in my ability to put together a book proposal. It draws right-brain-left-brainon the logical, left-brain side of my intellect, the side that won me my Phi Beta Kappa key at Barnard.* And as for being too old to take on a new project, I’m convinced I’m as sharp as I ever was. I could drop dead any day—far too many of my contemporaries are taking that trip—but in general, my health is disgustingly good. The only activity I’ve given up because of age is downhill skiing, and that’s primarily because I haven’t been working out regularly enough to maintain the strength in my legs, not to mention that snow conditions in the Northeast have been abominable for the past couple of years.**

But my major reason for embarking on an all-consuming project is that for my sanity’s sake, I know I have to. From past experience, I know that abandoning my dreams of creative achievement is likely to plunge me into a major depression, and that’s worth avoiding at all costs. When I hear my contemporaries rhapsodizing about their travels, their grandkids and their cats, I know those everyday pleasures and satisfactions, wonderful as they may be, will never be enough for me.

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What about you? Do you have any major new goals or resolutions for the New Year? I’d love to hear from you.

*My classmates at Barnard included Martha Stewart, Erika Jong and Twyla Tharp, but that’s another story too.

**In the back of my mind, there lurks the possibility that I may yet ski again. Many people ski into their 80’s and 90’s. Unfortunately, my old ski pants are a size or two too small, but when I told my husband I might buy a new pair, since they’re handy for snow shoveling, dog walking, and maybe a little cross-country skiing, he tried to dissuade me. Maybe I should try flannel-lined jeans, he said, or rain or wind pants. When I asked why not ski pants, he confessed that he was worried I might take to the slopes again. Hey, never say never.

Trashing the old year, welcoming the new

christmas_tree_chipping_ukTonight is New Year’s Eve, and I’ve barely finished trimming my Christmas tree. Don’t tell me, I know—other folks are already taking theirs down, and a couple of days ago, I spied one of our town’s yellow highway department trucks cruising the neighborhood with one of those giant vacuum and chipper combinations, the kind they use to suck up autumn leaves and pulverize stray branches that diligent homeowners drag out to the roadside in the fall. The sight of the truck reminded me of one of this year’s more grizzly local news stories: his first day on the job with a tree trimming service, a young man was pulled arm-first into the chipper, thereby meeting an instantaneous and gruesome end.

The newspaper and the TV crews refrained from describing the grisly details; they simply interviewed some of his coworkers, who said the accident was the worst thing they’d ever seen. I wondered what kind of on-the-job training and orientation he’d received, if any, and whether the company got sued, but legal issues aside, it was a tragedy that conjured up images I’d rather not contemplate. That’s why I tend to avoid horror movies and chain saws. Even so, I’m flashing back to an otherwise forgettable film that featured bloody red slush spewing from a snow blower.

trump-swearing-in-by-chan-lowLooking back on what in many ways was an abominable year, I can think of a certain individual I’d love to see to see fed through a wood chipper. Or perhaps that would be too speedy, too kind a fate. Enduring the final terrifying days and hours of a doomed steer headed for market might be more appropriate—the death train, the feedlot, the slaughter house. . .

But never fear, dear reader, I won’t take you there. True, I kill people off in my suspense novels, but even my murderers treat their victims with relative compassion—there’s no outright sadism or torture. And I wouldn’t wish such a ghastly end on any of my friends or acquaintances, not even on the few people I genuinely detest.

Over the past year, and especially since the election, it’s been all too easy to get swallowed up and sucked down into a cesspool of negativity. I’m far from blameless in this respect, as you can see by perusing the paragraphs above. By and large I try to focus on the positive, but lately that’s been hard to do without adopting the mentality of an ostrich and burying my head in the sand. I limit my daily ration of news, but my Facebook feed is full of dire predictions of impending doom and urgent pleas to support worthy causes. Move On, Planned Parenthood, the Sierra Club—those and so many other worthwhile organizations are in dire need of my financial support, but as a senior on a fixed income, I can’t afford to shell out the cash.

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American Museum of Natural History 2014

So add guilt to the witch’s brew of toxic emotions—anger, fear, frustration, despair over the fate of this country we’re bequeathing to our children and grandchildren. Mix with a generous helping of salty grey road sludge from the wimpy storm system that failed to deliver a satisfying blanket of the white stuff. Factor in the meagre hours of cloudy daylight, the frigid winds, the pressure of last-minute shopping and spending, and you have the perfect recipe for sickness—sickness of the mind, body and soul.

And that brings me back full-circle to the day before Christmas, and the reason the tree didn’t get trimmed in time. Obligations and priorities—some self-imposed, others imposed by others—conspired to keep me away from trimming the beautiful Frasier fir that had been sitting forlornly in the driveway for a week. All afternoon, I felt my tension and anger building, my blood pressure rocketing skyward, and lo and behold, by the time I’d finished singing in the choir for the Christmas Eve service, I’d pulled in a full-blown cold, maybe even flu. Once home, I festooned the tree with a couple of strings of lights, then fell into bed and let an enormous glass of eggnog with lots of brandy lull me to sleep.

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Albert Joseph Moore 1884

In the end, everything turned out fine. Christmas in Woodstock with my family was wonderful, and a couple of lazy days in bed have set me on the road to recovery. But the mind-body connection definitely laid me low. I’m a firm believer in the powerful impact negative emotions and over-the-top stress can have on the body. Research shows that heart attacks are more frequent on Monday mornings than any other time of the week, and the holidays show a spike in cardiac events as well.

So for the New Year, I resolve not to let negativity take control and jerk me around. I vow to keep those trusty old rules in mind:

1. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

2. It’s all small stuff.

I’ve been wondering whether to publish this post because of all the negativity, but what the hell, here goes. If nothing else, it’s a good example of the unfettered creative process—segueing from an untrimmed Christmas tree to a town truck trolling the neighborhood with a wood chipping machine to a gruesome local wood chipper fatality to the pleasure I’d take in pulverizing Donald Trump. If you’ve hung in there with me this far, dear reader, I congratulate you.

Believe it or not, I’m actually feeling happy and optimistic, and I hope you are too. Any resolutions or random thoughts you’d care to share? I’d love to hear them. Here’s wishing everyone the happiest of New Years. Let’s keep in touch!

new-years-eve-mirror-balls

Creativity book title a dynamite secret for now

Lunesta computer April 2014

My beloved Lunesta helps me write

I’m psyched about my new book project, an exploration of creativity, the roadblocks we set up to prevent ourselves from reaching our fullest potential a authors, and the ways we can smash through those barriers. Since I blogged about this project two weeks ago, I’ve made gratifying progress. The book’s structure is coming together in my head, although it’s far from fully realized on paper. But I’m feeling more confident and optimistic about my writing than I have in ages.

I’ve come up with a dynamite title I like so much that I registered it with GoDaddy as a domain name, but I’m not ready to share it with the world—not until I come up with a complete proposal and start querying agents early in 2017. I’m aiming for March, and this time around, I plan to seek a traditional publisher, because I believe this can be the break-out book I’ve been dreaming of. Today I designed a cover, with the title and subtitle at the top, then this photo my husband took of me at the Writers Police Academy last summer.

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Centered beneath the photo is

Julie Lomoe

Author of Eldercide, Hope Dawns Eternal, and Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders

I printed copies on luxurious certificate paper with a swirly lavender border, and I’ve got one pinned over my desk as a good luck talisman. No doubt the final cover will be far different, but I like the kick-ass image of me posed against the S.W.A.T. truck of the Green Bay Police Department.

Through blogging over the past several years, I feel I’ve developed an authentic voice I’m comfortable with. There’s no need to slip into an alternative reality or immerse myself in a fictional character, so I have a hunch my creative juices will flow a lot more easily than in my mystery writing. And I’ll probably include excerpts from my blog, poetry and novels to illustrate my points. I’ll also include research into the psychology of creativity, the latest findings on the workings of the mind, and other topics that will enable me to plumb the more academic, structured side of my brain, the side that won me my Phi Beta Kappa key at Barnard.

I may also include contributions from other writers. In the near future, I’ll develop some guidelines for authors who might like to be included, but at minimum, there will be two criteria: You must be a published writer (either traditional or self-published is fine) and you must buy at least one of my novels and review it on Amazon and maybe other sites. Yes, it’s pay to play, but those are the rules, folks.

Oh, and I gave up on my NaNoWriMo goal of writing 50,000 words in November, but I Imagination Rain.epsmade it to 18,000 words, and I feel good about my progress. Turning out 1,667 words a day just isn’t feasible for me. It results in shoddy first drafts that need extensive editing, and I’d rather edit as I go along and wind up with something I feel good about. For me, between 600 and a thousand words feels about right, and that’s what I’ll be aiming for from here on out.

I’m excited to embark on what feels like a brand-new chapter in my life. I hope you’ll join me in this journey of exploration. Subscribe to this site by entering your email in the column to the right, leave comments, and if you’d like to contact me privately, email me at julielomoe@gmail.com.

Lunesta on printer 7-27-14

Onward and Upward with NaNoWriMo

Imagination Rain.epsIt’s Tuesday, November 15, 2016. November is half over, and so is NaNoWriMo. Once again it’s National Novel Writing Month, and I’ve vowed to write 50,000 words by November 30. So far, I’ve written just over 10,000, and the jazzy graph of my statistics on the NaNo website predicts that at the rate I’m going, I’ll finish on January 11, 2017. So should I give up? No way—there’s still time to salvage what’s left of this ghastly month.

“The time for hesitation’s through, no time to wallow in the mire.” So sang Jim Morrison, and though his “Light My Fire” lyrics were about lust, they apply equally well to creativity. And why not? Like the late lamented Leonard Cohen, the Lizard King was a poet before he morphed into a pop star.

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Jim Morrison

Like practically everyone I know, online and off, I’ve been wallowing in the mire of depression ever since last week’s election, and tiptoeing around the dismal swamp that our government and political system have become for months before that. I’ve frittered away countless hours online, tracking the latest polls, reading the left-leaning articles and opinion pieces in the Huffington Post, clicking the links that lead to still more articles that clutter up my brain with gloom and doom scenarios.

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Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson

This morning, amidst all the horrifying stories about Trump’s transition and the scary people he’s recruiting to ruin our country as we know it, I came upon some breaking news that’s actually cheerful: People magazine has named “Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as its Sexiest Man Alive. I’ve always liked “The Rock,” though huge muscle-bound men have never been my type. But probably the People editors thought we could use a little levity in these dark days, and despite his huge hulkiness, The Rock is reportedly a nice guy who doesn’t take himself too seriously, unlike certain politicians I could name. (FYI, my favorite Sexiest Man choice in recent years has been Mathew McConnaghey. I even referenced his looks in describing one of the characters in my novel Eldercide.

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Matthew McConaughey

In hopes of breaking free of the shackles of gloom and doom, I’m resolving to cut down radically on my news consumption, whether online, on TV or in good old-fashioned newspapers. I’m cutting back on Facebook too, since most of my FB friends are still preoccupied with the political scene. Instead, I’ll do my best to play ostrich for a while, focus on the people and pets I love, and zero in on my writing.

For this year’s NaNoWriMo, I won’t be working on a novel. Instead, I’m focusing on a new nonfiction project, a book on creativity and blasting through the blocks that inhibit it. In recent months, I’ve given some workshops on the topic. I’ve enjoyed them immensely, and so have the participants. It’s a lot more fun than reading passages from my novels in hopes people will buy them, and paradoxically, I’ve sold more books when I’m not overtly flogging them.

nanowrimo-camp-2015-poster-get-lost-writeBack in a former lifetime, when I was a creative arts therapist, I gave workshops on creativity, dream work and women’s issues at colleges and growth centers, but it’s a skill set I haven’t used in many years. Facilitating the creativity of others, I realized I’ve got a lot to say about it—hence the book project I’m plunging into now. It will be part memoir, part self-help, part exploration into past and present findings about how the brain works, and much more. I’ll probably include stories from other writers about their own adventures with the creative process. I’ll tell you more about it in my next post. Please subscribe so you won’t miss anything. I’ll talk with you soon!

Wanted: Guest Bloggers!

Calling all writers—how would you like to be a guest blogger on this site? And how would you like to host me on yours? Beginning Friday, April lst, I plan to start featuring fellow authors on a weekly basis.

woman writing sunny room Bonnard style

 

This spring I’ve vowed to ramp up my online presence so as to spread the word about my three published novels. When it comes to social media, I’ve been AWOL for far too long, and that has to change. Effective immediately, I’m reconnecting with the wonderful online authors’ networks I drifted away from, and I hope to discover some new ones as well.

What can you blog about? I’m especially interested in explorations of the creative process—what works for you, what doesn’t. As I wrote in my last post, I’m developing workshops on creative blocks and how to blast through them, so I welcome helpful hints and musings that focus on this area. Self-publishing and marketing are also of interest. You’ll be able to promote your own books, of course, but the emphasis will be on creativity and the ups and downs of the writing life.

brain creativity starry sky

Since I first published Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders a decade ago, there have been enormous advances in scientific research on how the brain works and how we can tap into that knowledge to enhance our own creativity and productivity. And the sophistication of online communication and networking has grown tremendously as well. I’ll delve into those topics in upcoming blogs, and I’d welcome your contributions on those subjects as well.

In my next two posts I’ll explore the role of habit in creativity, focusing on books by two authors whom I heard recently at the Writers Institute of the State University of New York at Albany: Charles Duhigg and Twyla Tharp. If you haven’t already, please subscribe to my blog by clicking on the link in the menu on the right. I plan to publish new posts at least three times a week, and I wouldn’t want you to miss anything!

Note to authors: If you’re interested in being a guest blogger, please get in touch by writing me at julielomoe@gmail.com. I’m also looking for someone creative and not too expensive to help with a new website, and I’d be grateful for any suggestions you may have. Please include a link to your own site as well as theirs so I can check them out!

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Fear and habit: my biggest writing bugaboos

Monday, March 21

Block Busting: Blasting through the Barriers to Creativity.

That’s the catchy title I came up with for a workshop I’ll be delivering at least twice in the coming months: once for the Hudson Valley Writers Guild in June, and once for the Capital Region chapter of the Romance Writers of America in November. By the time the June workshop rolls around, I hope to have figured out a bunch of ways to walk the talk, because I’ve got plenty of blocks of my own to overcome.

Crocuses Ruby Giant purple

Today feels like an auspicious day to begin: it’s the first full day of spring, and at long last Michael Easton is back on General Hospital. My crocuses are in full bloom, and bit by bit, the minutes of daylight are triumphing over those of darkness. From this day forward, I plan to track the patterns of my creativity—the actions that work and the road blocks that hold me back—and to share them with my readers. I hope you’ll share yours with me as well.

What is it that keeps me from writing? In two words, fear and habit. Fear that I’m not good enough, that I’ll run out of ideas, that people won’t read my work. Once I begin writing, those fears almost always dissipate, and I actually start enjoying myself, but it’s that nasty devil of procrastination that too often derails me before I begin. I’ve got lots of avoidance mechanisms, and here’s where habit comes in. Once I sit down at the computer, my first impulse is to play a game of FreeCell, and I too often succumb to temptation. Next I check my email, then go to Facebook. I catch up on my online friends and colleagues, then check a couple of news sites to see what new disasters have befallen the planet. Before I know it, I’ve frittered away a couple of hours, and lo and behold, it’s time for lunch.

Lunesta computer April 2014

That’s assuming I even get to my computer before lunch—and that’s a big if. I often watch TV and read until one or two in the morning, then sleep till nine or ten. I walk my dog Sirius; then it’s back to bed for breakfast and the morning newspaper. Then my Nia class at the Y three mornings a week, a philosophy group at church on another morning, my daily dose of General Hospital from two to three. Then it’s upstairs to my office and the computer, whereupon I engage in those dilly dallying habits I detailed above.

With luck, I may start writing at four, and all too soon it’s time for dinner, complete with a glass or two of wine. Evenings bring a variety of diversions—choir practice at FUUSA, assorted meetings and open mics, ushering at The Egg or the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. When I stay in, television usually proves my undoing. I’m partial to The Voice, among other shows, and if all else fails, there’s always Netflix.

The-Voice-Season-8 promo

If you’ve waded through the above paragraphs, I congratulate you. They’re so pedestrian, so humdrum, that I’m almost too embarrassed to post them, but if I plan to help other writers overcome their blocks, the first step is being honest about my own. In the weeks and months ahead, I’ll see if going public helps me overcome them. I’ll post a weekly progress report incorporating some of the helpful hints I come up with.

And now it’s 6:00pm, time to pour myself a glass of Pinot Grigio and slap together a speedy dinner of smoked salmon and cream cheese on gluten free bread, then catch the evening news with David Muir, who’s quite the hottie. Tonight I believe he’s hanging out with President Obama in Cuba. Then my husband and I are off to a lecture about overcoming bad habits. Catch you later . . .

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David Muir interviews Barack Obama in Cuba, March 21, 2016

March 22, 1:00pm.

Last’s night’s lecture was fascinating. Charles Duhigg, author of the best-selling The Power of Habit,has lots of thought-provoking ideas I’ll blog about soon. Back home, true to form, I indulged in most of the habits I described above, with minor variations. After staying up till almost 2:00am reading Duhigg’s book, I was too sleepy to get up in time to make it with my husband to the philosophy group. But on my walk with Sirius, I saw the swan that’s been hanging out on Snyder’s Lake, and we spied a couple of loons in the distance. Since my long-distance vision isn’t so great, that necessitated hanging out for a few minutes to watch them dive, then resurface many yards away, to make sure they really were loons and not our resident ducks.

Then it was back to bed with breakfast and the Times Union. I logged onto my computer at noon. I managed to resist FreeCell and Facebook, but I checked the news and came upon the horrific news of today’s terrorist bombings in Brussels.  I then happened upon a link to an article about David Bowie’s former mansion on Mustique, which you can now rent for a paltry $40,000 a week. At 1:00, I got back to this blog post, which I may be able to publish before General Hospital comes on at two. Word has it that Michael Easton will have more screen time today.

David Bowie Mustique retreat

David Bowie’s mansion on Mustique Island

And so it goes. I may be frittering away my life, but sitting here with the sun streaming through my office window, with my dog and cat nearby soaking up the rays, I feel inordinately happy. And is that such a bad thing? Should I be wallowing in guilt? That’s a topic for another time, but in the meantime, I’d love to hear your comments. Is sloth truly a sin?

Lunesta & Sirius office window 3-26-15

Lunesta and Sirius in late March a year ago, when there was snow on the ground!