It’s been a few years, and there’s a chill in the air. When the time comes and my current books are launched, they may have to include a new paragraph on the copyright page. To whit:

Dear Reader:

This whole work is about me — my story about as much of the world as I’ve experienced. The world is vast. Imagining, let alone claiming, that I’m trying to speak for or in the voice of you or your family or your kinfolk, tribe, culture, religion, conspiracy theory or whatever you identify with or as — well, that’s about you and the alchemy of storytelling. If you find yourself in this work and dislike what you find, don’t make it about me. Write your own story. That’s where you’ll find what you’re looking for.

— the Author

A Message for You

One’s commitment to a series (books, shows) and other repeated experiences rests on two things, surprise and satisfaction. Either one or the other, depending; when it comes to book and TV series, I prefer surprise. When the thing offers no more surprises, no twists that I didn’t predict, then I’m out. Others look for satisfaction: “Package delivered, just as expected.” These two aren’t warring; they’re equal companions, in different measures, in all persons. One holds you up and one carries you forward.

Sometimes life feels like a bad series. Nothing satisfies, and the only surprises are blows. Your little ship is cracked and breaking and your sails are torn. In this state, your limited energy is spent on just not sinking, never mind catching wind, and getting out of the doldrums seems impossible. But you’re a ship and meant for going places. You have to fix your sail. How?

Ask for help. Pray for a windfall, to God or the universe — just enough blessing to make the extra effort worthwhile. Then, cast a line into your future — some interest that a slightly-stronger you might pursue. Let that pull you forward while you fix all the holes. And then, one day, your sail will lift, then swell. And you’ll be ready to put your hand to the tiller and your eyes on the horizon and go.


The Seven Stages of Woman

Jacques’ speech in As You Like It by Wm Shakespeare (Act II, Scene vii) reinterpreted

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one woman in her time plays many parts,
Her acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Then the crosspatch helper, with her ideas
And tightly braided hair, pulled from her play and set
Unwillingly to work. And then the lovesick,
Sighing like a furnace, fizzy with delight
When her eye’s fancy returns a look. Then a Mother,
Full of strange life and bellied like the moon,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Claiming the better method
Even in the night’s wee hours. And then the Karen,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and hair of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so she plays her part. The sixth age shifts
Into the spare and careful yogini,
With spectacles on head and purse on back;
Her youthful size, resumed, covered in skin
Too dry and loose, and her woman’s voice
Turning again toward childish uselessness,
A melancholy sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.


For the past five-and-a-half months I’ve been living in a dream world of my own making. I miss it.

When I was a child, I read to escape. Escape from boredom: our TV was a tiny black-and-white with no cable, I didn’t like sports and my school friends lived scattered and far away. Escape from company: I like quiet but I was in the middle of six kids and my parents liked to entertain, so I would retreat with a book to my bedroom or, if that wasn’t safe enough (I shared rooms with an older or younger sibling until I was 15), to the assured solitude of under-the-guest-room-bed. Escape from pain: in the worst year of my childhood, I read hundreds of folk- and fairy-tales, craving the triumph of the youngest over the oldest, the poor over the rich, the dreamer over the doer, the weak over the strong, whether through magic or the hero(ine)’s own, surprisingly sufficient nature.

One of my favourite writers, Diana Wynne Jones (may she rest in delight), said somewhere that she started writing for escape, too; that she and her sisters were insufficiently supplied with books to read and so she had to write to relieve the privations of not-so-benign neglect. I didn’t envy her lack but I did wonder what it would be like to be that motivated. I wanted to write so badly but couldn’t seem to stick to it. My notebooks were full of sparky ideas, beginnings and endings; I constantly described things in my head, in beautiful sentences that went nowhere; I wore myself out trying to figure people out and cast them as main characters in their own stories. I wrote good letters, all this time, and I helped many, many writers of stories see their way through sticky bits to the best story they could create, as an editor of children’s and YA fiction. I learned so much.

Finally, I got a job where I could create and write short works and be paid for them immediately. I went through hard psychic times, in which I figured out a few things about myself; I was seized by a story idea that wouldn’t let me go and which I worked on for over two years while I figured out a few more things about myself, including the probability that I have ADHD (diagnosis pending). With that last discovery, I’ve been able to forgive myself for “wasted” time and really get to work, using all the skills I’d gained so far. While I was working on my YA science/speculative novel, I discovered that I could get lost in writing the way I do in reading. I can wrestle with the angel of attention and win its blessings: total absorption, suspended time, surprise and delight and, finally, a finished project — beginning, middle and end.

The title of my novel is Otherwhere. I think there is going to be a sequel.

P.S. I have been blown away by this photographer, whose Instagram posts have often captured exactly and eerily what I imagined for my invented lands.

Parents & Children

Our parents fail us, and we in turn fail our children.

Take your eyes off the road for just a second, or focus too narrowly, and you fail.

We get behind the parenting wheel with directions we have written ourselves: avoid this pothole, don’t go down this road. And then we fail our children other ways, all unaware: casually or sadly or cruelly, though rarely with malice.

What we have done to them or failed to do is irrevocable and cannot be erased. When we realize what it is that we have or have not done, we see the bloody fingerprints everywhere, upon the babes in our arms to whoever they are now. But only to a degree: there are strange lights and shadows where our children (have) travel(led) that confound our gaze — valleys where they walked amidst enemies, looking for friends.



Q If God, why so much suffering?

A Theologians, philosophers, mystics and writers have been wrestling with this question in its various forms for as long as we know. They’ve come up with some interesting answers and their work is still in print or available no further away than an internet query. So, why are you asking me?

Q Because I want to hear your answer.

A I just gave it to you.

Q I want to know what you think.

A About what?

Q About God and suffering.

A Do you, though? Do you really?

Q Yes.

A Well, you’ll have to shadow me for the rest of my life, then. Because I’m thinking all the time. Even in my sleep — that’s called dreaming.

Look, let me put it this way for you. If someone really needs an answer to that question—if their faith or their refusal of faith depends on it—then they should engage with those theologians and philosophers and mystics and writers. And not just ask any old person who believes in God. That’s like handing your nest egg to a passing acquaintance to take care of. Instead of doing some research and finding an actual money manager you can trust.

Q How so?

A Write this down: Matthew 25 verses 14 to 30. Now write this down: “Talent” doesn’t mean what you think it does.


Tears are the waters of truth. As in labour, they flow to ease delivery. 

Truth will out; to stifle it completely means a death. Arriving, it pains; abandoned, it dies. Protected, it has a chance. It will teach those who receive it what they need to know to raise it up. Truth transforms.

Truth is so strong. Even the worst parents produce miracles, while the best parents release into the world something steady and ready to repeat itself. Truth is also vulnerable, dependent as it is on cracked vessels to carry it. Despite our best efforts, it gets twisted, it frays. When the truth is that we’ve botched it, the tears are scalding, hot as fire. Bitter truths still bless our attention, though. When the blood is washed away and the broken body carefully wrapped, we will receive the same truth again, more softly, in a shower of sorrow.  

Therefore, respect tears, yours and other people’s. Respect them especially when they come in anger or relief, or inexplicably. Don’t suppress or ignore: interrogate. Pause the conversation and ask yourself — ask the weeper — calmly, curiously, without fear or haste: “Where are these tears coming from?” 

Spread your hands and prepare to catch the birth of truth.

Photo copyright LauraPeetoomWriterOnline, 2020

With thanks to Kathleen Sutcliffe, BA, MDiv, RMFT, RP, for asking the question.


Forgiveness sheds what hampers you.

Imagine being in a bouncy castle; only, it’s not for fun, you’re living there, trying to get stuff done, trying to get places, and there’s this moving, bouncing, rocking, unsteady surface beneath your feet. All the time. 

That’s your victimhood. When you forgive, you plunge a knife into the side of it and all the air comes out. It’s not gone; your pain is not gone. But you can get around much more easily, here and there and everywhere.

And you know, traffic has a way of wearing at things. By the end of your life, your pain may be worn away to scattered scraps—so easy to pick up and toss into the trash can on your way to heaven. 


The way a magnifying glass — like, those solid domes of clear glass or resin you can glide over the page — makes the one bit under it large and clear while the rest of the sentence runs on indistinguishable: that’s how it is when you’re young. Every one moment so intense and important, and at the same time having no clue, no clue what it’s all about.

That’s how it is when you’re young…

I grew up believing life must have a narrative. In that narrative, the main character has drive, has purpose, has intent. In my late teens and early twenties I kept looking for a telling thread to guide me in the maze my lived life seemed to be, the one word or phrase that would give me a clue. I didn’t understand that the sentence is a run-on of literal transcription, and meaningless as such. Time and experience bring the meaning, the loupe of memory telling hindsight’s tale about itself.

But Out

I’ve done some emotional learning in my time and one of the most useful little tools I was given was to stop using the word “but”.

It’s a small word with a powerful punch that you can feel coming. The tension of its imminence raises hackles and closes ears and when it lands it negates everything that came before it. So often, it acts not like a simple conjunction but more like an injunction. Let me give you some examples.

  • This is a great piece of work! But you made some spelling errors.
  • You have some great ideas but they aren’t very practical.
  • We’re really proud of how well you’re doing in school but you could be a little more helpful around the house.

Now let’s revise, using alternatives.

  • This is a great piece of work! One final pass and it will be ready for posting.
  • You have some good ideas and I’m eager to see how you would put them into practice.
  • We’re really proud of how well you’re doing in school and would love to see that same improvement around the house.

Do you feel the difference?

It takes some practice to be able to censor yourself, pause to rethink, and then go on along the lines I’ve shown above. The first step is to simply replace the word “but” with “and”. It will feel unnatural, even silly, but and it works!

Butting Heads

Remember how I said we can feel that “but” coming? Well, people with low self-esteem or a lot of insecurity are especially sensitive to that tension and develop ways to cope with it. (This is a subject worthy of its own post, so I won’t elaborate right now.)  Whatever their strategy, it takes energy and thought and they end up missing half of what you’re saying — the complimentary half. All they hear is what comes after the “but” — the criticism, which they respond to according to their particular coping method: excuses, accusations, anger, tears, withdrawal, some act of passive aggression or active rebellion.

When the “but” doesn’t arrive, it’s disarming. The anxious listener is surprised and quickly runs through what they just heard, realizing that half of it was positive. Suddenly, where there was an enemy there is now an ally. Where there was conflict, there is cooperation.

The anxious listener is surprised… 
A great scene, with Ebenezer and Bob the day after Christmas.

The Difference One Little Word Can Make

The word “but” invalidates what comes before it: “This is true but this is more true.” The word “and” sets up a dialectic, in which two opposite truths are balanced as equals. Human beings like balance. It feels good. In balance, there is space and time for thought, choice and meaningful action.

Let’s go back to that second set of examples used earlier and unpack them a little.

  • This is a great piece of work! One final pass and it will be ready for posting.
    • The writer (for example) gets a no-strings compliment and is invited to prepare the work for publication, the implication being that there are some minor fixes to do. The writer can choose to leave the work as-is and not publish or find out what the errors are, fix them, and post the work.
  • You have some good ideas and I’m eager to see how you would put them into practice.
    • The colleague (for example) gets some clear validation and an invitation to build on their success. They can choose to continue on their own or ask for some input or guidance. They can also ask for clarification: “I understood that this was a brainstorming exercise. If we are problem-solving I can come up with more practical ideas.”
  • We’re really proud of how well you’re doing in school and would love to see that same improvement around the house.
    • The teenager (for example) gets both validation and praise and an invitation to go further. It’s not a demand which they have to respond to in the moment; they can carry the invitation until they choose a way to define it—by cleaning up their room unasked, or taking out the trash, or attending to a younger sibling. The good feeling coming from the no-strings praise will be their motivation.

I have had great success with the “but out” strategy with my kids, at work and in relationships with friends and family members. Try it yourself and, if you get a positive result, consider encouraging others by sharing your experience in the comments section.