Tag Archives: Thoughts

What IS this thing?

When I’m working with other people’s writing I run into some of the weirdest formatting you’ve ever seen. Everyone has their own way of doing things and sometimes, even though a dozen stories may look the same on the page as you’re reading them, as soon as it’s time to start formatting and I click the little ‘Show/Hide Paragraph Marks and other Hidden Formatting Symbols’ button (which looks like this for those of you who’ve never heard of it – ShowThingys) things get crazy.

I’ve seen a lot of weird things. A lot of stories which look elegantly formatted, until you look under the hood by pressing that ‘Show/Hide’ button and find just a mess of weird mark-up.

But whatever, it’s all stuff that I can work with or around, this isn’t meant to be a rant. I have an honest to goodness question for those of you who also do this sort of thing. What do the little circles in between words stand for? Where do they come from? How are they different from spaces?

Here is an example I created by changing the text in a submission I received without changing the formatting:


What’s with the circles? Anyone know? LOL

ETA: I’ve been told (on Facebook, LJ and my blog) “A degree symbol ° represents a non-breaking space (Ctrl+Shift+Spacebar), which you can use to prevent words from being separated at the end of a line.” (I’m quoting Steven S. from my Facebook there). Thanks guys!


Sickness and Empathy

Like most everyone I know, I spent a good part of yesterday watching the news, crying and feeling useless. The massacre at Sandy Hook is crushing. It, and the reactions to it that I saw on my social media feeds is what has inspired me to write this blog, but I’m not going to talk about it specifically. I want to speak in generalities because the topic I’m going to address is not specific to Sandy Hook and I don’t want to make it about that one specific incident.

“She’s so sick! I hope she burns in hell!”

“What kind of sick bastard could do that? Death is too good for him!”

These are some of the reactions I notice from people each time something tragic happens that can be blamed on a person. Those events always involve hurting other people often in large numbers or in especially brutal ways. I get it. When someone does something horrible, especially something that hurts other people, we hurt for the victims. It angers us and we want to vent that anger. What’s more we don’t understand it and that scares us. Or, it does me anyway. But here’s the thing… if someone is sick, can they truly be blamed for the results of that sickness?

If you believe in evil and you can dismiss a person and thus their actions as being evil, that is one thing, you might very well want them to burn in hell or think death is too easy a fate for them. However, if you believe someone is sick then how fair is it to blame them for things their illness causes them to do? No really, this is not a rhetorical question, I really want to know what you think because I’m still struggling with the answer myself.

No one would blame a person with a physical ailment for things that ailment causes, so how different should it be for people with mental diseases? People don’t chose to be sick. The same way no one chooses to become diabetic  no one wakes up one morning and goes “You know what I’d like? I think I’d really like to suffer from paranoid delusions.”

To be fair, multiple sclerosis (just picking a random physical ailment here) has never, as far as I know, caused anyone to shoot another person. Or stab them. Or kidnap them. Or rape them. Hurting other people seems to mostly belong to the domain of mental illness, but still, if we are willing to accept that mental illness is an illness don’t we then have to accept that ill people can’t be held to the same standard as well people? Shouldn’t that increase our empathy for them, not decrease it?

It’s freaking tough though because who wants to feel empathy for someone who has done horrible things, whether or not we believe they are fully responsible for their actions? Um, not me. But, when I think about it for long enough, part of me does.

Part of me, a big part, is still filled with anger, confusion, fear and hate, but part of me, a small part, really does feel bad for the perpetrator of these sorts of things. What we see is the explosion that happens once a long fuse has burned down, we don’t usually see the struggling, the pain and the unhappiness the perpetrators have dealt with because of their illness often for years and years.

I was hoping that in writing this blog I would come to some clearer answers about how I feel about these questions about empathy, culpability, responsibility and tragedy, but I haven’t. I’m hitting ‘Post’ on it even more conflicted than I was when I started. I do know one thing though, the world has more than enough anger and hatred in it, so in the future, when horrible things like what occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary school happen again I am going to try to respond, not negatively toward the perpetrator, but positively toward the victims. How about you?

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”

~ Fred Rogers


Don’t Piss On Someone’s Art

See this little guy? It might be difficult to tell because of all the snow, but this is a statue of a beaver. He’s sitting on a bench and holding a hockey stick (he used to have a mug in his other hand but it vanished about a year ago). This little dude lives just down the street from me and I have very warm feelings toward him. I pat him on the nose every time I walk by and I smile at the sound that resonates through his hollow body.

What you can’t see in this image is that people have obviously been letting their dogs pee on his bench. The snow beside him is yellow and gross and makes me sad.

Don’t pee on other people’s art.

You shouldn’t do it, you shouldn’t let your dog do it.

I mean that literally as well as figuratively.

Even if it’s something you don’t personally feel connected to, something that doesn’t move you at all, you still shouldn’t piss on it. Someone put thought, energy and emotion into it. It may not matter to you, but it matters to them.

I had a rule, back when Niteblade used to do book reviews and that rule was ‘If you can’t find anything to like in a story, don’t review it’. Bad reviews are okay but tearing someone’s work to pieces just because you can is not. That’s pretty simple, pretty black and white. Sadly, there are so many different shades of grey involved as well.

For example, how many times have we all seen someone post something on social media (or elsewhere) that they think is amazing, that they have spent time and energy creating and the first comment is ‘Lawlz, you have too much time on your hands’. How dismissive. How rude. How painful.

How easy to do.

It’s ironic, perhaps, that I’d been planning to make this blog entry for a couple weeks now but hadn’t gotten around to it and then today I pissed on someone’s art.

I didn’t really mean to. It was an unthinking thing.

A friend on social media put out a call for people to ‘Like’ one of their friend’s photographs so they could win a contest of some sort. I ‘liked’ the photo and then commented on my friend’s wall about the three things I really liked about the picture and… the one I didn’t. The person in the photograph saw my comment and was hurt by it. She is not (as far as I know) a professional artist, not a pro photographer or model used to having her work critiqued. She is just a lady who modeled for a photograph (she may also have taken it, I’m not sure) and who missed the positives I said about the picture and focused on the negative.

It’s understandable. There is no reason she should have built up a thick skin to these sorts of things. She probably only expected friends and family to see the picture and find all the good in it and it was a photograph to which she had a strong emotional connection to.


I feel bad. I should know better. I really should. I considered before I made my comment whether I ought to share my opinion and decided to because I thought ‘It’s an entry in a contest in a public arena. Surely that means it’s okay for me to share my thoughts, especially since they are mostly positive’ but you know what? Not so much. I assumed a lot by deciding to post what I did, and that’s not fair. I pissed all over that lady’s art.

NAME REDACTED, if you happen to see this, I am sorry. It really is a beautiful photograph and beyond that I ought to have kept my opinion about it to myself.

It’s a tricky thing, I think, to find the balance between discussing art and pissing on it. I’m obviously still working on getting it right.

What about you? Do you have any sort of rules or tools you use to gauge when it’s better to hold your tongue?

(Photograph courtesy of  Amanda Cornell)

ETA: I took the name of the person off my blog in response to her request in my comments.


My Thoughts…

For the past couple years I have made a very concerted effort to keep my politics and personal beliefs far away from this blog. It hasn’t been easy, I’m a pretty opinionated woman and I don’t excel at biting my tongue, but I’ve done it. I think that was a mistake. I think it was a mistake because maybe it’s people keeping their opinions to themselves (or in my case, off my blog) that allow horrible laws to be passed. Laws like the one that requires women seeking an abortion to “consent” to a transvaginal ultrasound. Are you kidding me? I don’t want to simply re-iterate what wiser people than I have said about this (people like Jim C Hines and John Scalzi’s guest blogger) but I can’t say nothing at all. In my opinion (oh how it hurt me to write those three words) that is rape. Period.

I am pro-choice but I really, truly, do understand the pro-life position. I do. And I respect that people who are pro-life honestly and truly believe that abortion is murder. I can imagine how difficult it must be for them to accept that there are women out there who are chosing to have them, but abortions are legal medical procedures. It is NOT okay to penalise a woman for having one and, as far as I can tell, that is the primary purpose this required ultrasound serves. At best it’s meant as a deterrent to abortion and frankly, it’s not the government’s place to provide that.

I tend to find phrases like ‘War on Women’ to be a bit hyperbolic, but then, when I go from reading about state-sanctioned rape to reading about proposed laws that would make it legal for employers to fire women for using birth control it makes me begin to wonder.

I recently read “The Heretic’s Daughter” and I was talking to Jo about it. I thought it was a wonderful book, but made me tense while I was reading it. Just watching how people could throw logic, common sense and rational thought out the window and be caught up in the whole witch-hunting hysteria was horrifying to me. “Sadly,” Jo said, “we’re not really that far removed from that even now.” Is he right? I don’t know. I am beginning to think maybe he is.

In what reality is it actually okay for a bunch of strangers (mostly male strangers) to mandate whether or not a woman can use birth control, or force her to have something shoved into her vagina? No, really. I want to know.

Nathan Crowder wrote a blog post recently called “Faith: A User’s Guide“. I read it, nodding my head the whole way through. Everyone ought to read it, especially lawmakers. The most important point that Nathan makes is that your personal beliefs are just that, personal.

Until people really and truly get that, we’ll continue to require people like Stacey Newman to keep making the ‘stay out of my uterus’ point. Stacey proposed a new law that would make it illegal for a man to get a vasectomy unless he could prove that it would save him from serious injury or death. Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? Well, that’s because it is (which is why she proposed it in the first place). Just like these laws focused on women. The main difference is that the vasectomy law will never come into being. I wonder why?



Truth is the slipperiest creature I know. I just wrote a long(ish) blog entry, complete with pictures and nostalgia, about my favourite ever Christmas present. Then I deleted it.

It’s so tricky when you write about real things, about real people. Even if you’re saying nice things about them, it’s never quite clear what you should share and what is best kept to yourself. Or at least, it’s never clear for me.

We were pretty poor when I was a kid. That’s a fact. We never went hungry, but money was tight and there are a lot of stories in there, but are they mine to tell? Is it really fair for me to talk about what it was like growing up? That doesn’t just affect me, but my whole family. Just because I feel comfortable talking about that, does it mean I can? That I should? What about my siblings? My parents? My extended family? When I tell my story I’m also touching on theirs.

In the case of the blog entry about my favourite Christmas gift, I loved the present because I could see how much love and thought had gone into buying it for me. I could see how proud the person giving it to me was because they thought they’d gotten me the thing I wanted most in the world. They were wrong, they’d misunderstood what I asked for, but it didn’t matter to me. In that case it really was the thought that counted and that ‘wrong’ present meant more to me than the ‘right’ one ever could have because I saw the love behind it. Still, I’d never told that person they’d bought me something other than what I asked for. If they read this blog and found out, would it hurt their feelings or would they be happy to know I saw their motivations, their love, on thier face and it made that gift mean the world to me? I didn’t have the answers, and I don’t want to hurt anyone, so I’m keeping that story to myself.

But then, what if I want to tell a story, a different story, about when I was a kid? What if I want to talk about elementary school, or junior high? What if our family situation touches on those things (because dude, how could it not?) how do I know what’s okay? How do I decide when it’s okay to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and when to pretty it up a bit? What if I want to talk about the less than shiny parts of our family? No one’s perfect, and certainly no family is. That’s part of my story, is it okay to share it?

I don’t know the answers, but I’m starting to ask the questions. I think, for now, I’m just going to have to keep feeling my way through, one story at a time and really take a hard look at my motivations for sharing each. I don’t want to hurt anyone, so that’s the only way I know to go. But in the end, it’s my story too, so I think I have a right to share if I want to.

Mostly I write fiction, so this doesn’t become a giant problem, but who I am, what I’ve known and expierenced, they all inform my writing, so even in fiction, it’s important, I think, that I consider these things.

Cheerful thoughts leading into Giftmas, eh?

I suspect the holidays are greatly to blame for my thoughts heading down this road, as is work on CONSEQUENCE which takes place in a small town much like the ones where I grew up in.* Sure, we didn’t have genies, but in a way, small towns are like families. They have secrets, they have truths and they have ways of functioning that are unique to them. I’m not trying to re-create anywhere I’ve lived for CONSEQUENCE (okay, that the last time I’m writing it in all caps :-P) but I’m definitely finding myself thinking about them a lot these days. The good, the bad and the ugly.

Families, small towns and truth. I could get lost thinking about them, but then I’d never get any writing done. So maybe I am, as usual, just overthinking things what I really need to do is stop the thought merry-go-round and just freaking write.


*and, it should be noted, never fit into


One of my favorite questions in the world to answer is ‘What does your husband do?’. The most accurate answer is that he teaches biochemistry at the University of Alberta, but the more fun answer is ‘He’s a scientist’.

It’s cool to be married to a biochemist for lots of different reasons, not least of all are departmental dinners at awesome restaurants. I used to feel somewhat intimidated going to them, being in a room full of scientists is not something my upbringing in rural Alberta prepared me for. I muddled my way through. It helped when one day Jo looked at me in shock and said ‘Seriously? You feel socially awkward in a room full of scientists?!’

As I’ve gotten to know some of his co-workers and become more comfortable in my own skin, these issues have disappeared, but still, as with any conversation, there are sometimes awkward moments of silence and weirdness.

Not at this last dinner we went to on Friday. When Jo told one person that I wrote he responded with “That’s so cool!” and then we got to talk about Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, geekiness and zombies. Later on when I returned to the table after a trip to the washroom Jo looked up at me from a conversation with different couple of people, with a big smile and said ‘Rhonda, where do you get your ideas from?’ which gave me an opportunity to quote Neil Gaiman and say “I make them up. Out of my head.

Seems Jo had been talking about me while I was gone — but saying nice things which made me all ooey-gooey inside.

Our end of the table was definitely pegged as the rowdy end, but it’s all good, because after all, how can you discuss zombies without getting a little animated?

It was wonderful fun and I’ve got to say, having someone (over 9) say ‘That is SO cool’ when told what I do was probably the highlight for me, and it reminded me that what I, what all writers do, really is freaking cool.

I thought I’d write this to capture that, so next time I feel like I’m beating my head against the wall and trudging through tar toward a goal that seems very far away, I can read this and remember that writing is hard work but it’s also SO cool, and totally worth the effort.