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Home for the Holidays, Sort of (Or, Pets are Family Too)

I'm supposed to be on a plane right now. I should be somewhere over Kansas, or Nebraska, depending on the flight path. But I'm not. Instead I'm sitting at my desk, while someone waiting on stand-by to go to Las Vegas is celebrating the good fortune of getting a straight-through, non-redeye flight to Sin City. I'm happy for them. If that's their final destination, they're in for a good time. Too bad I couldn't also give them my reservation for a night at the New York New York hotel and casino, and tickets to see Zumanity. But maybe they'd prefer "O" at the Bellagio, so I guess that's just as well.
So, I'm home for the holidays this year. My home, not my parents'. This last-minute decision was one made not because I couldn't afford the trip, or because they don't want me to come. It's a family emergency. And the family member has four legs and fur.
Abby Geiger and Rascalbear cat

I'd been meaning to write an update on Rascalbear's condition, as a follow-up to this post about him, but a crazy schedule and lack of any real news prevented me from doing so. Now I have an abundance of both time and news. The time is good. The news is not. Rascalbear was diagnosed this week with cancer. "Pulmonary carcinoma with subcutaneous metastasis", to be exact. That's lung cancer that has spread to the muscle tissue of his right hind leg, where I first discovered it. A marble-sized lump, it wasn't noticeable until his renal issue caused him to lose so much weight that it could be felt. (He used to be quite the porker, as you can see.) It's good that it was discovered, but bad that it took so long, because that means the ugly disease has traveled throughout his body and could cause new tumors just about anywhere. I have visions of twisted, little, creepy black tendrils of death twining around under his skin, waiting for something new to grab onto. Ugh.

I know that elderly cats tend to die of one of either two things - renal failure or cancer - but I had only just come to terms with it eventually being renal failure, when *BAM* I find out that no, it might be a race between the two. To top it off, I find it out just three days before leaving town for a week, leaving him alone with only a friend coming by twice a day to clean his litter box, feed him and give him his meds, not including the subcutaneous fluid injection he requires every two days. That was a bit much to ask, and I figured he'd survive just fine without it. So, what to do? The vet advised low-dose chemotherapy, and advised that it begin right away. Yes, there could be side-effects. No, this isn't a cure, it's palliative. No, he won't get better, but if it works he won't get worse for a while. Could be several weeks to several months. Yes, it's expensive. No, it's not optimal to leave him alone and unmonitored for so long right after doing this. Yes, he'll probably be fine. Yes, I need an answer today. Right now.
Ok. Do it.
I spent the next two days watching as Rascalbear started losing interest in food and water and simply huddled under a blanket, apparently showing signs of the side-effects I'd been warned about, which could cascade into an aggravation of the renal slow-down. I became almost paralyzed with fear and indecision. There was no way I could just leave him here alone, hoping he'd be the trooper he's always been and pull through. But how could I choose an animal over my family? I rarely see them, the trip's been planned for weeks, all the flights and hotels and rental cars and show tickets are bought…and it's freaking Christmas for god's sake!
Enter my husband to the rescue. Although I'd been reluctant to even suggest it, because he himself has been left behind during the past three visits as it is, he volunteered to once again stay home. Rascalbear is family, and it wasn't right to leave him here alone and sick to fend for himself while we run off to have fun in the sun. Relieved but still not feeling entirely happy with the situation, I called my mom to tell her of the change of plans.
Enter Mom to the rescue. "Well, we're all sick with bad colds right now anyway, so it's not like it'd be much of a fun visit. Better you just both stay home, avoid catching it, and take care of Rascalbear. You can come out later on when you know where things stand and it'll be better for everyone". I just about fainted with relief at being given the permission to make my sick cat my priority. Yay Mom.
No, it's still not perfect. It's not like I wasn't looking forward to seeing my mom, dad, sister and niece, not to mention an aunt and uncle who are "snowbirding" there as well right now, or unwrapping presents under the tree, or hearing the Christmas music I grew up with, or helping make dinner, or staying up too late, drinking too much, and experiencing equal parts enjoyment and frustration at the usual chaos and silliness that is a typical visit to my parents' house. I was. A lot. And now I'm upset that that's not happening.

Rascalbear smug

But it would've been tainted with the constant fear that another member of the family could be whisked off to the doctor for a medical emergency at any moment, and I wouldn't be there to tell him "It's ok, Bayber…you wanna come sit with Mama?" the whole way there and back, or let him hide his little face in the crook of my arm while sitting on that cold, metal counter, waiting for the doctor to come in as big dogs bark from somewhere nearby that's too close for comfort. No. I'm the Mama. That's my responsibility.
Now, I have it. There will be no stress, no fear of dehydration, and no separation anxiety (mine or his) complicating matters. And there will be no guilt. Rascalbear may be "just" a cat. But he's my cat, who comes when he's called, talks when I whistle, plays games he's invented, and kicks me out of bed when he's ready to have it to himself. He's family and he should be treated that way.
He has no idea how good he has it.
Then again…maybe he does.

Short Snippet, Sunday: No Spectators, Please

I keep meaning to post a blog about why I haven't had time to post a blog, but right now I don't have the time. Fortunately, this hasn't kept me from forging ahead on Fate's Apology and completing part one of the story. So while I keep my promise to myself to use the extra hour I get this weekend to begin part two, here's a snippet from the next-to-last scene in part one.


            Jaiynder pulled Torek's gray, bloody hand out of his pocket. Straightening the stiffened fingers, he pressed its palm against the biosec pad and opened the door to the cargo area.
            "Wouldn't a key be less cumbersome?" Vaim asked, raising an eyebrow.
            "Yeah, but not as nifty a conversation-starter." He pocketed the body part and entered the hold. "Careful, not all the red stuff in here is Rey's." He opened the cage on the right and pointed. "You'll be wanting that blood puddle."
            Vaim felt the dark smears on the metal shelf, then touched her fingers to her tongue. "Useable. Barely." She turned to him. "Okay, time to give a lady her privacy."


Short Snippet Saturday: Callos In the House, Yo

While I didn't fill Fate's Apology with a plethora of strange, Mos Eisley Cantina-style aliens, I did create one species to stand out against the humans and near-humans that populate the Korl Sector. Meet Callos Polir, a Po Krota with an obesity issue and a heart made of thorns.



            "Welcome, Marquem Vexu," a deep voice said from the shadows. "It is an honor to finally meet a most mysterious source of income."
            The sound of a heavy rolling object was followed by the appearance of a grotesque creature seated upon a massive cathedra. A single black obsidiate ball formed the base of the ornate wheeled throne, upon which a bloated, birch-skinned Po Krotan sat. His wide mouth in the lower half of a pear-shaped head was twisted into a grin, and his small, translucent eyes crinkled with pleasure. In the manner of tradition for his species, only his own yellow-gray hair patches served to conceal certain parts of his body. Long growths of it sprouted from head, chest, arms and torso, and were arranged in chaotic patterns that were held in place by metal loops embedded in his flaky, foul-smelling flesh. His bulbous legs long-since useful for carrying his obese body, he was permanently ensconced upon the Sphereniture, a vehicle designed by himself for transporting his bulk around his palace.
            A slight twitch of the nose was Vexu's only response to the repulsive site. "The honor is mine, Callos. But I would be even more honored to be shown to the jinari chamber, so that I may see that is has been built to my specifications."

Books I Miss

I woke up this morning missing books. No, they didn't disappear from my house. I was remembering books I once read that I can no longer find. Some because I gave them away, and others because they were library books I didn't own. I've Googled them all trying to locate copies, but alas I either don't have enough info, or they no longer exist except perhaps in some dusty box of a used books store in a remote town in the middle of nowhere. Here are three books I wish I had so I could read them again. Well, the descriptions of them, anyway.
The first was a library book I checked out of the Litchfield Elementary School library more than once during my three and a half years there. It was large - probably printer-paper dimensions and a half-inch thick - and was the story of a boy named Hans, whose dream was to ride the Royal Lipizzaner Stallions. He got a job in the stables as a groom and developed a relationship with one of the horses. I believe it was a mare and I think in the end, through some fluke or accident, he got to ride her in a show. One of the main things I liked was the artwork. There were several beautiful full-page paintings and, on the text pages, soft pencil drawings that filled the margins. One in particular was an illustration of a dream Hans had of the horse, in which her front hooves had turned into hands, and she was angrily pointing at her left 'hand', the whole thing being a play on his name. It was a very freaky scene and has stuck with me all this time. Because of this book I always wanted to see the Lipizzaner Stallions. That wish was granted as a birthday gift from my husband a few years ago. Front row seats. What a guy!
The second was library book I repeatedly checked out of the Sayre High School library when I was in seventh and eighth grades. It was another story involving a horse, this time a filly that somehow made it into the Kentucky Derby and won against all odds. I think she went on to the Triple Crown, and in the last race injured one of her legs right out of the gate and barely won. Again, I cannot remember the name of the book, the author, nor even the name of the horse or the young man who owned her. What I do know is that the story was told in first person from the horse's point of view, à la "Black Beauty", and in one scene, she sums up her virtues and short-comings. This is where I learned what the word 'virtue' meant.
The third book was one I swiped from a box of reading material the nurses' lounge in the ICU of North Penn Hospital, now known as Abington Health Lansdale Hospital, when I was working there as a housekeeper in the late 80s. I would read it on my breaks and discovered I liked it so much that I took it home with me. I don't know the name of the author, but I'm pretty sure it was a woman, and I'm also pretty sure the title of the book was "Swords and Sails" (the reverse of Arthur Strawn's 1928 "Sails and Swords"). It was the fictional story of "beautiful buccaneers", with a protagonist named Garnet, a young woman who entangled herself with pirates and ended up being first mate to female Captain - a statuesque redhead whose name I think begins with an "s" - on their own pirate ship, plundering the seas whilst running from pasts and perils. It was a meandering, coming-of-age tale that I thoroughly enjoyed. So much so that I read the book at least three times. Then, believing I'd enjoyed it as much as possible and would not miss it, I got rid of it during a move in the 90s. Of the three, I would really, really like to find a copy of this book again.
The loss of that last book taught me a belated lesson. Namely, if you have to make room or lighten the load, give away books you've only read once. There's a reason you've read certain books repeatedly, and it's not just because you don't have anything better to do or somethine else to read. Put them away, let some time pass, read them again and enjoy. And never, ever put them in a give-away box.

Seven Things on a Sunday

A few weeks ago one of my favorite Twitter peeps, Sarah L. Fox, posted a blog listing seven random things about herself. I thought it was interesting and looked like fun, so I decided to give it a go. Here's my list, in sort-of no particular order.
1. I was almost named Gretchen.
2. My first love was a redhead. Richard Limon, in Mrs. Sutter's third-grade class at Litchfield Elementary. With longish copper hair, freckles, and big gray eyes, he was just the cutest thing I had ever seen. He was also the fastest runner in the class, and I nicknamed him Grasshopper because he was so hard to catch. We'd spend every recess running races and generally chasing each other around the playground. He moved away the following year, and I learned for the first time was a little broken heart feels like.
3. My current love is also a redhead. Norman Mirotchnick. I met him on a Star Wars bulletin board, using a computer I had just purchased from my ex-husband. The Phantom Menace had just been released, and it was one of the first things I looked up when I went online. How's that for fate?
4. I once held a job where the dress code was thong bikinis and high heels.
5. I can tie the fingers of my left hand into knots. It was a nervous habit that started when I was a kid, along with hair and clothes twisting. I don't do the hair thing anymore, and the clothes thing only tends to appear when I'm yakking on the phone. But the finger knots have always been my own personal little parlor trick. I even gave them names: The Bowtie, The Stairs, Basket-Weave, The Square, etc. Great pub entertainment!
6. My one weird food habit is putting mayo on just about everything. Except breakfast food. Now that would be icky.
7. The only bone I ever broke was my tailbone when I was ten, when the chain on the porch swing hanging in the giant oak at my uncle's house gave way. It was all hilariously funny, until I tried to stand up and couldn't. I also badly hyper-extended the fingers of my right hand a couple years later. By accidentally sitting on them.
That's it! Now you know me just a little bit better. Feel free to post your own list, here or somewhere else. Either way, I'd love to see it!

Arts, Charts, and Blueberry Tarts II

You'd think for all that I fight with it and harp about it, I'd have written a novel that was about time. But I didn't. I didn't want to spend the fourth dimension of my existence writing about something I struggle against the majority of my days. I kept a log one week just to see where those all-important minutes go during the day, and discovered that I'm neither lazy nor insane - it really is gobbled up by stuff I'd rather not be doing. Like sleep. Can we just get over that already? Sheesh. However, I was actually amazed that with what little of it is left, I'm able to accomplish what I do. At least there was a pleasant "attaboy" surprise at the end of the exercise!

But now, time is slowing down. I'm about to go on summer vacation, a whole week off to be filled by things other than work. And with that in mind, it's time to take stock at the halfway point for the year, based on my January blog Arts, Charts, and Blueberry Tarts.

First up: no, I haven't learned to cartoon yet. Precious few are my little drawings to accompany blog posts. That's not to say I haven't played around a bit, I'm just not ready to illustrate my thoughts. It ate up way too much time that could have been put to better use. I am, however, looking at purchasing a cartooning book so I can learn to sketch quicker. Gotta start somewhere, eh?

Second up: The latest example of the kind of art that I can do well is finished. That portrait of Eric Stoltz that was supposed to take a few weeks? Well, it ended up taking a little longer than that. But it's completed, and it does "look better than this" if I do say so myself. You can see it in all its enlarged and detailed glory on Eric Stoltz: A Tribute By a Fan. Ta-dah! Ta-done.

Third up: my novel, Fate's Apology. Wow. This monstrous task is finally coming into focus, and I'm happy to announce that not only did I make it through an entire outline, but am several chapters into my second-and-a-half draft, and thrilled with the results. Every few days my desk looked like this, covered in hastily scribbled notes, ideas, and scenes that came to me while on-the-job. (Don't look at me like that. My super knows I do this, and he's cool with it, m'kay?) Still, it's going to be more work than I had anticipated, as I am using precious little of the first draft other than the basic scenes and ideas. Instead, I'm reviewing them and then writing everything from scratch, and trying to severely reduce wordy-word-wordy-wordness. Is it working? Well, right now I'm up to 7,172 words. Same place in the story last draft? 18,516 words. You tell me.

Fourth up: No, I don't want or need any blueberry tarts. However, my musical tart of a band gig - playing bass guitar with Hélène Engel - has, with an incredible amount of work, come together behind the scenes of all this other stuff going on, and our first gig went very well. The story, pics, and video behind that project? That's a blog for after vacation!

So now I relax and ask: what were your goals up until now in this year of 2012? Did you meet them? Exceed them? Precede them? Concede them? Or did they do something unexpected and change? I'd love to read about your experiences whilst I bake in the Arizona sun!

Short Snippet Saturday: Enter Sandman

It's been a while since I posted a snippet. Sorry about that. Been too busy writing Fate's Apology to share it. Here's my introduction of the arch-villian, which is very different from my last draft. I like it much better, and was initially going to make it part of the proIogue, but decided against that. I think it will work better somewhere at the beginning of one of the first several chapters, after the opening action has died down.


            A lone man descended the ramp of a small, golden craft, his gleaming white cape flapping in the breeze like the wings of a giant bird. Shielding his violet-colored eyes, he gazed at the majestic vista before him. Snow reflected brilliantly in the blinding sun, and shimmering clouds of it billowed off saw-toothed mountaintops, picked up by icy, gale-force winds. On one particularly lofty pinnacle shone a mirror of glacier making its way into the jagged valley below. The man closed his eyes and breathed deeply, then spoke in a meditative tone.
            "As I have ascended to the highest peak among the crystalline clouds, so too shall Driva'Ri ascend to the Crown of the Galaxy. And I will be its brightest gem."

When Characters Surprise and Defy

I went to the Star Wars Identities exhibition yesterday, then kicked back with a beer as hubby fired up his brand new Star Wars Kinect game. Yeah, it was a Star Wars kind of day, which is to be expected around here when it's hubby's birthday. The Star Wars geekism is strong in this one. Well, it is in me too, but it wasn't my birthday to celebrate that fact so, y'know. Anyway, with both incidents, something weird happened.
Neither of our 'characters' turned out the way we either planned or expected them to be.
I would have thought when playing a game as awesome as Star Wars that you could at least choose what character will represent you in the game. After all, if you're going to be Jedi-ing around the living room, Force-throwing rocks and light-sabering enemies to bits, it would be cool to craft a representative that's, well, representative of you. Alas, that seemed not to be the case, at least not this time around. Maybe he just hadn't figured out the nuances of the interface, but Norman ended up with a Padawan whose appearance was about as opposite of him as one could get: tall, black, and female. Not that it matters in game land, but it was just weird to watch a POV character that didn't look anything like him.
The man I'll never be.A similar thing happened to me at the Star Wars Identities exhibition. Here you get a wristband that lets you interact with the show, where along the way you choose a species, skin color, name, home world, experiences, and take a ten-question personality test. In the end you get to see a visual representation of your creation, and can even have the verbal profile emailed to you. Imagine my surprise when I swiped my wristband over the sensor and waited to view my personal Star Wars character, only to be confronted by this guy. --->


Twileks rule, Hutts drool.Clearly there was an issue with the kiosk where I entered my character's vital statistics, as that's definitely not what I chose. I was quite disappointed, to be honest. Fortunately, someone who's also a musician with a penchant for Lethen Twileks was there, and when her image appeared on the wall, I took a photo.
 <--- This is the woman I was expecting to see, and I consoled myself with the fact that at least she didn't remain a mystery.
Anyway, these incidents got me thinking about something that's happened during the writing of my second draft Fate's Apology. My main protagonist is turning out to be a completely different character than she was the first time around. Why has that happened? I have no idea. I only know that she refuses to stay in the box I tried to put her in, where she could have uncanny insight, special powers, and an ability to, despite her lowly station in life, be more, see more and know more than anyone else around her what is really going on in the galaxy. She is not turning out to be the character I thought I was creating.
At first, it was frustrating. If she cannot be this superior awesome creature, that means scrapping a great many scenes altogether, as well as part of the overall plot. Wringing my hands in frustration, I begged, pleaded and cajoled, but still she defied me. So I conceded and began writing her the way she wants to be. Oh, she's still an exceptional person, but now she must overcome her conflicts without any help from super-human, err, Tendaran abilities.
And I've discovered that that's okay, because you know what? She's more interesting now. And a lot more fun, because this way it's more of a challenge to have her do the things I need her to do. In the end, I think that's going to make for a much better story. So I'm letting her out of the box and dealing with both her snippy attitude and her desire not to be made a fuss of. I hope she'll repay me with an ability to engage the reader on a more personal level, and still be able to gain the upper hand on the conflicts I've laid out for her.
Have you ever had a character take a left turn and zip off into uncharted territory, leaving you wondering how you were now going to write these great scenes you had in store for them? How did you deal with it?

A Writey Ranty Pet Post.

I read somewhere once that one way to give your readers help in identifying with your characters - either protags or antags -  is to make them pet owners. *Entering writey mode* I thought about that, then realized I would be remiss in doing so. Why? Because none of them have time or wherewithall to nurture another living thing. It's part of their underlying problems that need to be worked out in the story. Well....ok, so that's not entirely true. One character does have a pet: Callos Polir. He's a Po Krotan involved in all manner of underworld activities including slave trading, weapons running and gem smuggling. Real nice guy. Well, at least he is to Dobibor, his pet dart-tailed grapple. I don't think this helps make him endearing to the reader though. And it's not supposed to.

Still, Callos is a better guardian of Dobibor than a great many Montreal inhabitants are of their critters. *Entering ranty mode* As the annual 'moving day' tradition begins anew here this July 2nd, thousands of people will abandon supposedly loved cats and dogs to their empty apartments as well as the streets, because they cannot find a new abode that allows pets. Ok, so a lot of this problem is due to overly-restrictive landlords concerned about noise and cleanliness, but the majority of the problem, as I see it, is a pathetically callous attitude toward animals. An attitude that is rampant here, combined with a disgusting throw-away lifestyle. While 40 to 50% of Montrealers have pets, the average time those pets are kept is - are you ready for this? - 19 months. That's one year and seven months of an average pets' average life span of 10 years. So the next time you see someone in Montreal with a pet that appears to be more than three years old, good grief stop and congratulate that person for being so gracious. Seriously. Maybe rewards and positive reinforcement work as well for the humans as it does for the pets.

Rascalbear in goof mode.These statistics infuriate me all the more this year because I'm currently facing the mortality of my own beloved pet, my cat Rascalbear. *Entering pet mode* He was rescued from beneath a dumpster; a feral, six-week-old kitten from who-knows-where. Unwanted, cast off, and forgotten even by his own mother and litter-mates, I have to admit even I did not want him when my then-husband called to tell me about the cute Siamese kitten he'd found at work. Well, I was being honest. We already had two cats in a small one-bedroom apartment, and a hoarder I'm not. In exasperation I said that if Q-Bert didn't eat him for lunch, he could stay.

That was 16 years ago.

I found out last month that Rascalbear is showing early signs of chronic renal failure. This means that, while I can do some things to keep his health in good standing, he is on a downhill slope towards what will eventually mean making a decision I'm not looking forward to. I'm not surprised - he is, after all, old enough to drive - and I'm thankful that he's been around this long. It's the longest life span ever for one of my cats. But that doesn't mean I'm not sad and angry that this amazing animal, who comes when called, plays games with me, meows in concert when I whistle, and runs down the stairs to greet me like a happy little puppy when I come home, is likely to be gone in a relatively short time despite my insistence that he live forever. Because that's what pets are supposed to do, right?

But they don't. And I'm glad I'm a person for whom that truth hurts. Because apparently, not all are so lucky.

Rascalbear sitting pretty on his kitty pillow.To the people who will move in a few days and leave their animals on the street like an old stained couch or broken TV: I feel bad for you. Bad that you never had the chance to feel an emotion toward your pet that will ultimately culminate in a grief so overwhelming that you will miss a day of work and regret all the times you were too busy for that play-time, that walk, that begged-for tummy rub. People like you were never too busy for your pets, because you never really had one to begin with. You couldn't have, if you were able to leave the animal behind just because you needed new living quarters. For whatever reason you needed to move, it's not bigger or more important than the creature inhaling the exhaust fumes as you pull away from the curb. If there is a hell, I really hope there's a special place in it for you.

Myself, I'm going to go spend some time with my goofy little Rascalbear. Yes, I have my things: my writing, my guitar, my art, my piano, my husband, my family, my internet friends and social media peeps. But he only has me. And I'm going to make sure he gets as much of me as possible while he's still here. And as I continue my second-and-a-half draft, I'm not giving pets to any other characters except Callos. Like so many Montrealers, they just don't deserve them.

A Piece of the Action

I'm beginning to write the second and a half draft of "Fate's Apology", and this requires me to do a lot of something I often have trouble with: writing action scenes. The story opens with a bang, and for the most part, doesn't settle down much until after the first few chapters. There's physical struggling and there's fleeing and chasing on foot, craft and beast, as well as detailed manipulation of objects. Lots going on to hook the reader into investing some time to see how it turns out. Nothing wrong with that, eh?
Super Bwoing to the rescue!My problem is this: no matter how vividly I can see it all in my mind, once I begin to translate those visions into words the scene becomes a clunky caricature of what I experienced in my imagination. I've read all the advice on how to do this correctly, mainly to shorten everything - paragraphs, sentences, even words - in order to make things feel more energetic, exciting and immediate. But when I do that, I find that the writing comes across as juvenile. A 'see Spot run' sort of vernacular takes over, and rather than making my heart race, it makes me cringe at how silly everything sounds.
So, I try to strike a balance, with detailed, explanatory sentences woven around shorter statements. And I edit. A lot. Almost as much as love scenes (oy, there's a whole nother blog post about a very particular kind of action scene). Anyway, I think my strategy works. Here's a slice of a scene I just finished.

            They flattened themselves against either side of the alcove just as the loading door scraped open. A shadow loomed, then a curse broke the silence. The empty cages had been discovered. "Torek," Nala mouthed silently to Rey. She heard the sound of a gun being drawn, and a jolt of adrenaline coursed through her as Torek approached them, his beefy body blocking the light. She tapped her elbow against the wall and he entered, turning in her direction.
            Nala sprang at him, whipping the chain across his face. He fell back, stunned, and Rey swiftly brought the belt down around his neck. Torek reached for his throat as Nala kicked his gun-hand, sending the weapon clattering across the floor. She pounced on it and rushed to the loading door. Seeing no evidence of Jainder or Zarkis in the vicinity, she made ready to flee, then hesitated as Rey's yelp of pain rose above the noise of the scuffle.


 Of course, you're jumping into the middle of an already-in-progress scene with already-introduced characters, but does this work? Is it too wordy? Not wordy enough? How does one write intense action scenes involving multiple characters without either losing the reader or sounding like the authors of Fun with Dick and Jane? Writers, do you also struggle to find that middle ground? I'd love to know your thoughts on the matter!

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