I am not the archetypal author: Why “in character” has no meaning

I realized that, if I had written about this experience and included it as a scene in one of my works of fiction, many readers would accuse me of “inconsistency” and “not staying in character.”

As a real, non-fictional person, of course, I don’t have the concept of “in character.” I’m not any of the fictional archetypes– not even the more complex archetypes, since none of them are as complex as a human being. Whatever rules I come up with to describe my behavior, there are always exceptions, and even I can’t always define where and what those exceptions are going to be.

The rest of this essay has been taken down for inclusion in my next memoir. Stay tuned for updates.


Sometimes I wonder why plain wire coat hangers are so hard to find in retail stores like Target or Wal-Mart. You can find the plastic hangers and the wood hangers, and sometimes really thick metal hangers, but not the simple hangers that are made out of a plain old 16-or-so-gauge wire bent into a hanger shape.

You know, the kind that’s cheap, and doesn’t take up much space, and is tougher than plastic hangers and doesn’t break after you’ve hung a coat on it for six months.

Maybe someone at the top of the corporate world decided that selling wire hangers was too dangerous, because women would just use them for abortions?

One time I was looking for hangers in a store, and my brain thought up this elaborate corporate conspiracy, complete with pervasive surveillance and abortion-police keeping files on people:

“Warning, warning. Hanger alert. A woman in aisle P17 has asked an employee where the plain wire hangers are.”

“Commence surveillance on subject. Bring up her internet history, make note of any abortion-related searches.”

“Alert! Subject’s pharmacy records show she takes birth control pills. If she’s pregnant she would undoubtedly be seeking an abortion. Must bar her from all access to hangers. Intercept if she approaches a dry cleaning service.”

“Danger! Danger! She is buying 16-gauge wire from a hardware store!”

“Roger that. On my way, following her home.”

“Do you have a visual on the inside of her home? Repeat, do you have a visual?”

“Roger that. I have her on screen.”

“What is she doing with the wire?”

“She’s… making hangers out of it.”

“…Hmm. This is a devious one. We’ll need to keep extra close tabs on her.”

Seriously, though– plain wire hangers are great. Not only are they the most durable hangers you can get for the money, but they can be used for all sorts of clever household solutions– including this thing I came up with today, when I needed another over-the-door hanging hook and didn’t have time to go buy one:

(I agree they’re probably terrible for abortions, though.)

Sirius and his name

I wanted to name my pet starling after a star, and I picked Sirius, but after living with him a while– and watching some Farscape– maybe I should have picked Rigel.

He’s a greedy little sucker who spends most of his day eating and excreting, and yet somehow manages to be adorable. He’s got much more in common with Rygel XVI from Farscape than, say, Sirius Black from Harry Potter.

(Also got a few Ferengi traits, mainly wanting his food pre-chewed for him. He’s got no interest in my sandwich until I take a bite, then he’s poking his beak in trying to pry my mouth open…)

Save the bees, and a human family too: A good, cheap last-minute gift for people who have everything

Maybe you have some friends or relatives who don’t want any physical gifts, because they know they have enough stuff already. And maybe they’re more concerned about people who don’t have enough.

But maybe you still want to give those friends something, to let them know you appreciate what kind and considerate people they are.

And maybe you only have a couple days left to get them a present, and you only have $30 to spend.

The Heifer Project has been around a long time, giving animals to poor families to help them survive on milk, eggs, and so on. But most of their gifts are outside my price range.

However, I recently found out that they offer the gift of a beehive, for $30. It’s not very easy to find on their website, which is why I felt the need to post about it. But it helps a family pollinate crops and sell honey, and it also promotes the spread of honeybees, which has got to be good for the environment.

Beehive from Heifer International

You can buy it on their website in a few minutes, and print an “honor card” from your printer afterwards, to give to the person you’re buying the gift in honor of. They sell stuffed animals to give with your honor card, but I prefer the idea of giving the card with a jar of honey.

If you only have $20, and want to help a family raise birds for eggs, there are also these options:




Another Christmas tradition

It started when I began to notice that every time I gave my mother-in-law a gift, she neatly folded the wrapping paper and gave it back to me “to use again some other time.”

At first, I confess, I was annoyed. Her intentions were good, a truly laudable desire to reduce waste and promote sustainability. But I didn’t really need extra wrapping paper, and I knew it would get more worn-out and ugly with each use, and it really bugged me to re-use things that were meant to be disposable.

But then I realized– why use something disposable in the first place?

When something’s designed for re-use, I delight in re-using it. And there are lovely fabrics out there, beautiful cloth ribbon, even pretty brooches to hold the seams and decorate the package. All can be found at thrift stores for next to nothing. It was a whole world of creative wrapping-crafts, waiting to be explored!

I went to my local Savers and picked up some brocaded red and green satin napkins and tablecloths, and a grab bag of assorted fabric ribbon in a variety of colors. And the fun began.

It was easier than I’d imagined! Two napkins could combine to wrap a medium-sized gift, one napkin sufficed for the smallest, and a tablecloth (folded a few times if necessary) could handle pretty much all of the larger sizes. If a length of ribbon was too long for a particular package, I didn’t have to cut it and reduce its potential for reuse; I could just make loops of the excess and tie them together again and again, creating a handmade bow.

So if I give you a wrapped present this year, feel free to give me back the wrapping to use on future gifts. And if you don’t want to, feel free to keep it and use it on your table– or give it to your local thrift store, or pass it forward as the wrapping on the next present you give!

Blueberry massacre

Sirius Marley eats a blueberry: stab, stab, pry apart, tear into shreds, fling the shreds everywhere, hunt them down and eat them one by one.

My Christmas tradition

When I was a kid, I had a little fake tree for Christmas, and a whole box of cheap wooden earrings shaped like parrots. I’d gotten them on sale at the shop of a bird-breeder friend of the family, and I used them as ornaments.

Gradually the tree and the earrings fell apart, to the point they weren’t worth keeping anymore. But the tradition lives on.

My tree now is made of copper wire, which I twisted into branches and planted in a round ceramic pot.

Each year, I buy a pair of earrings from some independent artist on Etsy: earrings with gemstones and birds. All sorts of gemstones, all sorts of birds, many different artists, supporting a new small-time jeweler every year. Once I bought a big round ring for a tree topper.

I fill the extra space with ball ornaments, but as time goes on, I’ll need fewer of those. I bought and cut the copper wire with serious consideration for the number of end twigs it would give me, and there are hundreds. Copper lasts forever. In another eighty years, the tree may be totally covered with shiny birds.

Siri’s healthy new feathers and feet

Sirius Marley the starling is no longer bald-faced from fighting with other starlings. In the time he’s been living with me, he’s grown a face full of pretty feathers!

That picture is also the latest in a series of photos showing the improvement of Siri’s feet! When we first adopted him, he had pretty severe hyperkeratosis (overgrowth of keratin, such as leg scales, claws and beak), which can be a result of nutrient deficiency or other things that can impede a healthy molt. His leg scales in particular were huge! With good food, sunlight and an aloe gel regimen, he’s made a lot of progress:

(Update: Another picture added in December)

(Update: Another picture added in January)

Lunchbox lifehack

I’ve started using little glass canning jars as lunch containers. You can get them quite cheap in the kitchen supplies section of a big Target store. They get cleaner than plastic containers when you wash them (no food odors hanging around!) and if you take the tops off, they’re microwave safe. Freezer safe too, according to the package, and dishwasher safe. (The tops might rust after too many times in the dishwasher, but can easily be replaced with any jar lid of the same size.)

Eight of them in a little lunchbox, filled with things like squash, lentil soup, watermelon chunks, mixed nuts, crackers, cottage cheese, yogurt and applesauce, is enough to get me through a full day at work.

Also, if you can find this pumpkin-spice cider at Aldi, it’s delicious, and the bottles make great, well-sealed water containers to take to lunch.

What you’re in for, if you party with me

Dirty Halloween costumes? Nerdy Halloween costumes? I’m beyond that. I’ll fake you out with a costume that looks as if it’s going to be dirty, then hits you in the face with nerdy.

And then halfway through the party I’ll turn into a leather-clad Romulan, just because.

Also, I’ll eat ALL your caramel apples.