Shirley Jackson – Memory and Delusion

I cannot recall having read any Shirley Jackson stories (something I am resolving to rectify now) but this essay found on the New Yorker gives a glimpse into her mind in a way that makes her entirely sympathetic and relatable.

It explores how our experiences provide fuel for writing, and how memory works for writers–how it is a kind of multi-faceted resource we draw upon.

The whole thing is easily readable, and I’m struggling now to not quote it in its entirety, but here’s one part that resonates for me:

That is one half of writing, of course. The lower depths, as it were. The other half is what I might delicately call information. Henry James got the idea for The Spoils of Poynton from a single remark heard at dinner, but he also had to find out somehow what lovely possessions looked and felt and smelled like, the tapestries splendidly toned by time, the thrilling touch of the old velvet brocade.

–Shirley Jackson, “Memory and Delusion”

You can read the essay on the New Yorker website. It’s the first in a three-part series. Found via a retweet of Glen Mazarra by Livia Llewellyn


Thoughts on the 2020 Nebula Conference Online

Some time back in late February, I messaged Terra LeMay and asked “have we started talking about canceling the Nebulas yet?” I’d been watching this pandemic unfold and I could see the writing on the wall. SFWA had not yet started that conversation, but by early March, we began talking about what it would take to convert the experience of the Nebula Conference to an online one. I had an initial phone call with Colin Coyle to discuss technical feasibility and together we tentatively decided that it would be possible. We gave the word to the rest of the SFWA team and not long after that, we got started building things.

My responsibility on the project was for the attendee-facing website. I needed to build a members-only platform that would allow us to put content behind an attendee paywall, and integrate with our chosen video and chat platforms (Boxcast and Chatroll). It needed to integrate with our existing platforms as much as possible as well, and we had about two months to build it and launch, to keep the original conference schedule.

I quickly built a website on top of WordPress utilizing the Astra Pro theme, with MemberPress doing the heavy lifting of selling memberships. We integrated with our membership management tool Wild Apricot for sign ins, as well as selling memberships directly to non-members as well. I also wrote quite a bit of custom code and blocks to bring everything together cohesively. All told, it took me about 100 hours of work to bring the site elements together into a functional system and make changes on the fly during the conference itself. There were a lot of sleepless nights on a very tight timeline to get it done, and there will doubtless be many improvements to make going forward, as I expect the website will be a component of what SFWA does for the conference moving forward.

All that was accomplished under a tight timeframe and I stumbled a bit out of the gate, but we got things done in the end, thanks to the patience of Terra, Kate Baker, and especially Mary Robinette Kowal, among many others. That the site looks as good as it does is a credit to Lauren Raye Snow. She was brought on board to design the entire conference and new logos for the org. her assets and direction was used on the website as well. I’m so thankful for her involvement on this one. I’d be happy to code for her design work any time.

I’ve been involved in the Nebula Conference process a bit in the past in very limited ways, but this online shift has given me a much better perspective on what goes into the sausage making. I learned so many things about the hard work that goes into making these experiences run smoothly, but there was one big takeaway for me. What I didn’t realize was just how large the army of volunteers it takes to run a conference. If you’re considering trying to reproduce what we did on your own for another conference or convention, you will want to have a look at the credits of the Nebula Award presentation–that’s a good glimpse at the more than a hundred people it took to pull things off like the team did.

Thank you so much to all of you who helped out in tech support, moderation, and more. I didn’t interact directly with many of you, but there was no way we could have pulled this off without that army backing us up. It wouldn’t have mattered how good of a job I did building the website running under things if it hadn’t been for your efforts.

My part of the process was a small one, but I’m proud of it, and witnessing the event go off without much of a hitch was one of the more satisfying moments of my career so far.

PS: you can see the work we did here for yourself. You can buy a discounted membership and watch recordings of all the panels at what I think is a pretty great price!


Life with The Corona Stare

I find myself entering a certain mental state more often than I would like. I’m still capable of accomplishing what needs to be done; I do my work daily and I answer my emails. My clients should experience nothing different. I’m still reactive; however, when provided with no immediate inputs, my mind just fades into the background.

Bavarians have a word for when your eyes go unfocused and you stare into the middle distance; the call it goaßgschau, or “the stare of a goat.” I haven’t spent enough time around goats to understand the relevancy, but I find myself doing this often lately. I had started to think of it not as goaßgschau but as the corona stare. The corona mind state.

All of my hobbies have faded away. Due to my extreme workload, I even put my D&D games on hiatus, as while I love the time spent playing, I couldn’t see myself having the time to actually focus on preparing materials for upcoming sessions.

When I am not working, I am mindlessly surfing the web. Watching old movies. Staring and not thinking about much of anything. Goaßgschau. Coronaschau?

I suppose on some level we’re all processing the trauma of this. There isn’t anyone in the U.S. whose life hasn’t been impacted by our efforts to control this outbreak. Our lives are completely different now, and may never go back to normal. Some theorize what we’re doing is grieving.

I’ve grieved before and I’ll grieve again, I’m sure. This feels different, however. I’m not sure that’s what I would describe it as. To me, it feels more like we’re holding our breaths. We’re conserving energy. We’re waiting. For what? The next shoe to drop? The big collapse? I keep calling this 2020: The Year That Didn’t Happen, but what if it becomes the year Everything Happened? Which would be worse?

Uncertainty. Fear. Doubt. It would be unbearable if not for the glimmers of better lives weaving through all of it. People are gardening. People are baking. People are gathering through the internet and people are listening closer to their communities. My neighborhood shares toilet paper and other resources. People, on a small scale, are kind and generous. But unfortunately, that generosity appears to not be scalable to the national level.

Maybe all the corona virus is doing is accelerating the atomization of our society that we were already going through; the era of walls, figurative and literal. Maybe it’s building walls, and maybe we’ll tear them down? Or maybe we’ll decide that we like those walls, and they’ll stay up for good.

There’s that uncertainty again. I keep expecting myself to grow more comfortable with uncertainty, but that’s the damned thing about it. It changes shape too often; it’s restless. It never settles, and you can never get used to it. That’s the whole point of uncertainty.

But in my heart, I believe nothing can last forever; not even uncertainty. This too shall pass, and one day those of us who survive will look back on this time with a mixture of regrets and guilty nostalgia.

Life with the corona stare isn’t all bad. For those that make it. For those that live to remember, anyway. All we can do now is stay distant and hope that we’re in that group, and not the other one.


Work From Home Tips From a Battle-scarred Veteran

I’ve been working from home full time for eleven years now. I’ve worked from “home” in Colorado, Kansas, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, and France. I don’t expect I’ll be traveling any time soon, but I’ve got the scars and hard lessons learned about how to work from home effectively.

Set Boundaries

If you can, establish a specific space for your work-from-home activities. If you’re a work-a-holic, a big problem can be that the boundaries between your life and your time working for The Man start to blur. What’s it hurt to check your email at 9:30 PM at night? Ask me when you start waking up at 2 AM and checking them like clockwork. It’s a slippery slope, and you need boundaries. We need rest and recovery time from being in a work mindset. Human beings need leisure as much as we need income to survive, so try not to sacrifice one for the other.

One of the most important skills you’re going to learn when you work from home is how to maintain a sense of work-life balance. Start right away. Set a space and set regular hours. Give yourself a schedule and stick to it outside of emergencies. Your sense of well-being will thank me.

Take Regular Breaks

The Pomodoro technique is the death of flow for me, but I try to remember that I regularly need to get off my butt and move around. Stretch, pace, and at least twice a day, I take a 20 minute walk around the neighborhood. It’s very easy, when working at a computer, to let your entire body atrophy. Remind yourself with regular timers to move. You don’t want to have joint problems or RSI or any of that. You’ll have more energy.

Don’t Take Accidental Naps

It’s okay and even encouraged to nap, but you can lose a huge chunk of your day to an accidental nap. If you sit down on your couch for just a moment, that can easily turn into two hours. Don’t kid yourself; plan your naps if you want them. Try not to let them go on too long, or the guilty feeling will override any positive benefits you get from them.

Desk Snacking

With the pantry only maybe a dozen feet away from your workstation, the temptation to snack will be there. If you can’t avoid snacking while your work, don’t be like me; don’t take the entire bag to your desk; fill a bowl. Chances are, you won’t taste anything you eat, and you’ll definitely not be feeling good if you finish off an entire box of Girl Scout cookies at your desk. Don’t ask me how I know this.

Get Dressed, Maybe

This one will be controversial. One of the great things about working from home, assuming you don’t have a video conference meeting, is that you can dress as comfortably as you want. You can work in your pajamas, or in the nude (I recommend against snacking in the nude, though. Crotch-crumbs are no fun). However, I find it’s helpful to building a work mindset to put on something resembling a work outfit. I do not work in my pajamas because I just don’t find myself concentrating very well, because I’ve missed a habit. Habits have a way of nagging us if we don’t carry them on.

A lot of what you’re going to be doing in the early days is building good habits to keep yourself productive.

Don’t be a Slave to Productivity

One thing that was hard for me to realize was, I couldn’t actually work and bill for an eight hour day. The truth is, nobody in an office does eight hours of work a day under perfect circumstances, and you’re sure as hell not going to at home either. Realize that there are human constraints on your productivity. You can trade health for productivity (both mental and physical), but that’s a bad bargain, my friends. You will always end up regretting it.

Don’t be afraid to take breaks to chat with people. Make a social media post. Read a news article. Don’t let your entire day become that, again, we’re talking about building balance here.

Be Patient

You will find a natural rhythm over time, but you’re going to have to be patient, and you’re going to make mistakes, no matter how many articles like this one you read. That’s okay. You’re only human, and each day is a new chance to get better at it. Have some fun with it.



Conversations with the Dead

Sometimes I see people who look like my father did, before he got sick. In the early days, it would make me cry and overwhelm me, to the point where I usually had to get away from the person. Certain relatives who bore a passing resemblance to him were impossible for me to carry on a conversation with because the pain of his passing was still too fresh.

My father has been dead now about fifteen years. Hard to believe that I’m nearly the age he was when he died. I don’t think of my dad every single day anymore, but I think about my Dad a lot more than I did six years ago. As a father, I find myself constantly comparing myself to the father figures I’ve had in my life. I’m lucky enough to have more than one dad in my life, but the others, I can still talk to and ask for advice (something for which I am very grateful). My biological dad is gone. There are a lot of questions I wish I could have asked him. A twenty seven year old has no idea what’s in front of him and what kind of advice he’s going to need, so I don’t really hold it against my dad or myself for not asking them when I had the chance.

Now days, when I see someone who looks like my father, I don’t get sad, but I do find myself daydreaming a bit. I find myself imagining: what if it was all just a big mistake, the cancer, all that? What if he recovered, but I didn’t know? I imagine us bumping into each other at the coffee shop, laughing and talking. In the few years before he died, we fought a lot about stupid stuff, and I think now I understand why. I like to think if we were to meet again, we could get along better.

But most of all, I want to tell him about the joy I get from being a Dad myself, about how many things he gave me that I in turn get to pass on to my kid. I want to tell him that I get him now in a way I never did before. I think he would have appreciated being understood better.

The funny thing is, while we don’t get to actually speak with the dead, if we knew them really well, we do get to speak with the version of them we carry around in our head. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve had to realize that not everything that happens to us has to be literal and real. Sometimes the imagined things are just as important, and just as meaningful. You’d think a guy who spends so much time playing imagination with his friends would intuitively grasp that, but I’ll take the reminders when I can get it.



Cruel, Misbegotten February

I don’t naturally spend any time thinking about favorites and least favorite things. Sometimes an idle thought will stick, however, and recently I realized that February is my absolute least favorite month of the year. Now that I know this, I can probably takes steps to mitigate the problems I have with February, but first I need to understand better why I don’t enjoy it.

February is the point at which winter begins to outstay its welcome. Where I live, it truly begins to get cold at the end of January and tends to stay deeply, bitterly cold through all of February. It tends to be overcast for days on end start in the same time. I should dislike January as well, I suppose, but February bears the brunt of my displeasure because it is in February that I begin to be dragged down by the low-hanging clouds and lack of sun.

In previous years, I’ve found myself depressed in February. I’ve done stupid things in February, like break off friendships and isolate myself more deeply. February is the month where I often find myself not thinking as clearly as I would like. Luckily, my new pal Prozac has been doing a good job keeping me functional.

As a freelancer, February is a nebulous time. It’s a time when you have money in your accounts, but you’re uncertain how much of it belongs to your government. I may be well off, or I may be broke, and the only way I will know is to pay a highly qualified tax professional to sort through my income and expenses and make a pronouncement. Most years, we end up owing some, even with Trump’s wrong-headed tax law changes that we benefit from due to a passing similarity as a tax entity to a mega-corporation.

There are good things about February too, of course. Black History month continues to bring me things I never knew about my fellow citizens of color, because I am a dreadfully lazy ally and was poorly informed about black history month by my Kansas-based education. And many of my client service plans renew in February, meaning from a business standpoint, it feels like renewal and spring.

But I think what bothers me most is that most everything is dormant in February. Sports dominate the world, the grass is brown, the wind bitterly cold, and in general, it feels like mostly the world is on hold. February feels like a holding zone in which we must reside before things begin to happen again, and I’ve never been big on patience. Its biggest saving grace is that it is usually short. Don’t get me started about the unbearableness of leap years.

Anyway — here’s to February passing quickly and without notice. May we move on to the showers and new blossoms of March.



Tips on Running a Murder Mystery RPG Session

I recently ran a session with a murder mystery plot and I found it incredibly difficult to put together compared to one of my more standard style D&D adventures. I read up on the subject some, worked out my plotline, and ran the session all in one day. It was pretty successful, according to my players, so I thought I’d share some tips I have if you want to do something similar in the future.

The best thing to do is start with “who done it” before anything else. Figure out the legitimate facts and the “answer” and work your way backwards. Along the way, develop your cast of characters who are red herrings or other potential suspects. One downside of working this way is that you may discover a character who is a more likely candidate as murderer, but if so, just tweak them in and make adjustments. But starting with the killer means you know your end point, your goal for the players to reach.

For structure, look at existing procedurals for guidance. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel here. The great thing about being a game master over being a fiction writer is, nobody has any expectations of originality in a game. In fiction, you have to get past the gatekeepers to sell anything and reach the audience, and they want to see things done differently than the way they have before, but if anything, players don’t often want to see things totally new- they want the familiar and fun. For the structure of my dwarven mining family and the murdered patriarch, I borrowed liberally from Knives Out.

Establish a “real” timeline with the facts, then build individual suspect timelines so you can answer the questions the PCs will ask in character. Gaps or conflicts in timelines can be an important clue to discerning players. Really flesh out your supporting cast. Give everyone a beef with the victim so there’s a plausible reason to suspect them all. Your players are going to interrogate them, so you really want to get inside their heads. Try to make them distinct, but again, don’t be afraid to lean into tropes and stereotypes. I have maybe 4 distinct character voices I can do, but you can give them verbal tics or personalities to make them stand out as distinct.

Structure the nature of the relationships such that you can encourage the players to question them in an order that fits your narrative. Giving the right information at the wrong time can completely undermine your structure in a murder mystery. In fiction, the characters figure out the solution at the right time and place for the narrative structure, but you have to work a lot harder when the characters are controlled by real people trying to actually solve the mystery. The only solution I found to this problem is to provide compelling information about everybody and only give clues to eliminate suspects late in the game so that they can begin to narrow things down only after a good build up.

For my mystery, I had four siblings that all stood to gain from their father’s death, and the players naturally took the hint of the birth order to question them, which meant that the actual murderer, the secret fiancee of the youngest son, really only came into the picture late enough that it felt like they were really doing the work to uncover the secrets.

Don’t be afraid for the players to get things wrong. Getting it wrong could end up being just as interesting as getting it right. Getting it wrong could make them new allies or enemies for life. Let the players think they figure it out right if they went entirely off base. Even consider changing your solution to make them feel successful if that matters to you more.

It’s not important here that you tell a good murder mystery on paper. It’s important that you lead an entertaining experience of figuring out a mystery. Let the players enjoy the paranoia of suspecting your entire supporting cast. Have fun listening to them discuss theories and analyze things. That’s where the real fun is, for me — listening to them debate and struggle and theorize. If you can do that, even if the landing isn’t perfect, players will still look back on the session fondly.

For instance, I don’t think that I did the best job of revealing the murderer. Ultimately, I did a good job with the cast and setting up clues, but the murderer was introduced too late and perhaps too obviously. Some lucky insight roles really saw through her – but keeping her introduction until relatively late, and not making her a prime suspect meant that the mystery unfolded at the pace I wanted, just at a minor cost of a little bit of narrative satisfaction that bothered me more than it bothered the players.

Really landing that “surprise” moment of who did it with smart, engaged players is nigh-on impossible, I think, but maybe it can be done. If you have any tips on how to manage that part, I’d love to hear them!


The Narcissist, God, and Me

I am not a believer. If you’ve come here to read an uplifting story about belief, this isn’t the story. This is the story of how my unbelief became concrete for me.

I don’t know exactly how old I was when I began questioning the existence of God. I grew up surrounded by those that believed, and I think there was an assumption at first that anything they told me to be true, was true.

I know that when my mom first told me the story of Jesus’s resurrection, I was disturbed. Even at the age of 4 or 5, I knew that people couldn’t come back from the dead. Still, nearly everyone in my life believed in the Christian God, and while I felt uncertain and agnostic, I didn’t want to believe that the adults in my life believed something untrue.

The church I grew up around was a Pentecostal one, southern Baptist maybe? People spoke in tongues and talked regularly about God intervening in their lives. Church made me uncomfortable, but the music was great. All around me were adults having a concrete, real relationship with this omnipotent being. Their lives were full of miracles.

I challenged God to prove His existence. I silently prayed constantly, claiming “if x happens, then I will believe.” I have a vivid memory of sitting in a bathtub, praying to God to cause the floating bubbles to drift to the left instead of the right. I wanted to believe, but I lacked proof.

I searched for real physical, tangible evidence everywhere. I obsessed over the Shroud of Turin because it felt like something concrete that my budding scientific mind could wield against doubt. I had a framed holographic picture of the face on the shroud. I took it to Show and Tell.

My interest in the paranormal was an offshoot of this quest. I sought evidence of the existence of the supernatural and thus, evidence for the existence of God, even if I didn’t know it then. It wasn’t so much that I personally felt like I needed God, not at first. I wanted it to be true for the sake of my family, for them. Because I didn’t like what it said about them, or myself, to question like this.

My parents divorced when I was in the first grade, and soon after, my mother met and married her second husband, a man I will only refer here to as B. This man was good at first. He knew about rocks and fossils and had gone to college, unlike most adults I knew. He seemed to have a bit of a temper, but I wasn’t worried, not yet.

Over time, B. was abusive to both my mother and us kids. He would scream and shout and call us kids names, and he hit my mom. Sometimes he would shake us or spank us. I don’t remember being hit “inappropriately” like my mother, but I don’t remember B.’s time very clearly. I’ve buried some memories over the years, but there’s one memory of him that stands out as an important moment in my life and my relationship to religion. I have been thinking about it since becoming a father.

B. came home from work and he was angry. Raging angry, shouting angry. I don’t remember what about, only that I ran to my room and hid in my closet. In there, I prayed to a God I didn’t believe in. Protect me, keep him away. I’ll believe in you if you do.

He found me easily. It wasn’t a large apartment. He drug me out, pinned me against the wall, and shouted in my face. I don’t remember the words, but I do remember the spittle against my face. I don’t remember if he hit me. I don’t think he did.

The next thing I remember is that I’m laying on my bed, face down, sobbing into my pillow. I’m. So. Angry. Not at myself. Not at B. I’m angry at the God I don’t believe in. I find myself saying it then, outloud, into my pillow, between sobs: ‘You’re not real, God. You’re not real. I don’t believe in you.”

I wasn’t alone. B. was standing outside, listening, only he didn’t hear me clearly. He somehow thought in that narcissistic, rage-filled brain of his that I was declaring that I thought B. was God, and that I no longer believed in him. He stormed in again, forced me up, and shouted again, this time to the effect that he wasn’t God, that was a terrible thing to suggest, etc.

I was baffled at the time. Why would he think that I thought of him as anything but the Devil Incarnate? I knew I couldn’t tell him the truth. I said nothing and eventually he left. I let him go on believing that somehow I thought he was God, instead of the truth, which was that I had begged his God–the one he believed in–to protect me from him, and nothing had happened. No miracles for little Jeremy Tolbert.

I don’t know if that was truly the moment that I became a non-believer, but it was one of the last times I ever asked God for anything with any seriousness. It was probably years before I was willing to admit it.

My life wasn’t all that bad, in retrospect. I couldn’t put it into words then like I can now, but my opinion on gods is simple, and yes, informed by those days.

No god that lets children suffer is worth a single iota of belief or worship.


Recent Interesting Reads

Happy Monday, dear readers. I’ve got a lot of topics I’m contemplating for upcoming posts, but I’m thinking that Mondays might start easy with an accumulation of links that I have from the previous week – things that caught my attention or interest, and might be of interest to you too. So here we go:

How To Make Mtn Dew Cheesecake (YouTube)

The reactions from most people I know this was universal dismay. I may have referred to it as tasting like “giving up on life.” In reality, this, like most garbage food, intrigues me and I would try it at least once.

Bells ring out Bowie’s ‘Life on Mars’ at 17th-century Amsterdam church

My favorite Bowie song sounds strangely sad and beautiful when played on church bells.

Billie Jean But Every Instrument Is A Spring Door Stopper (YouTube)

People are so inventive and creative!

“Shit-Life Syndrome,” Trump Voters, and Clueless Dems

“So in 2020, this leaves realistic Dems with one strategy. While the Dems cannot provide a candidate who can viscerally connect with shit-life syndrome sufferers, the Dems can show these victims that they have been used and betrayed by Trump.”

Not sure if I agree with the conclusion above, but I agree with the cluelessness of my own political side in recognizing the problems facing these people. It’s an interesting read, worth thinking about.

That Uplifting Tweet You Just Shared? A Russian Troll Sent It

The IRA generated more social media content in the year following the 2016 election than the year before it. They also moved their office into a bigger building with room to expand. Their work was never just about elections. Rather, the IRA encourages us to vilify our neighbor and amplify our differences because, if we grow incapable of compromising, there can be no meaningful democracy. Russia has dug in for a long campaign. So far, we’re helping them win.

Frightening stuff to consider.

My Semester With the Snowflakes

After that class a couple of the students approached me and explained that their dads were cabbies when they first came to the United States, and that their fathers had told them that the things they sometimes heard from people in their cabs were amazing.

Think about that for a second. These students are first generation Americans. Their fathers immigrated to this country and started out by being taxi drivers. Now, their children are attending Yale University. I’m a patriotic man and those are the stories that help me understand how, in spite of the seemingly endless stream of negativity surrounding it, the American Dream is still alive and kicking. It makes my heart sing every time I see those kids.

I can always get behind this kind of ideological bridge-building.



An Update Regarding my War With the Squirrels

The squirrels of my little neighborhood are no joke. I hate them and I consider them my mortal enemies. In my defense, they initiated hostilities.

Shortly after moving in, a squirrel threw a walnut at me not once, but three times. Once or twice, I could forgive as an acidence. But three times? Malice. Each time they missed, because I am better than them at literally everything except climbing trees, and I always remain vigilant in my own yard.

The next summer, one climbed up directly outside my office window and sat on the porch railing. No big deal, right? Wrong. It ate a live cicada from the tail up to the head, insect screeching until the final bite, and all the while, the squirrel never broke eye contact with me. I am not exaggerating. Once it finished the cicada, it hopped down and ran away. Message received, you furry little bastards!

We try to grow fruits and veggies, but they strip our garden of anything that appears edible, especially the tomatoes and strawberries. Sometimes, they even try chewing on my 3D printed stuff that I have curing out there. In the fall, the sound of their teeth scraping against walnuts and pecans from neighboring trees is a symphony I can only escape by playing loud music at all hours. Their gnawing is a taunting that agonizes my very soul.

Recently, we put up a bird feeder to draw more songbirds to the yard. It’s one of the fancy kinds that slide shut if a squirrel climbs on it. I’m not about to feed these freeloading pests for free, or so I thought. First, they chewed a HOLE in the bottom corner and dumped it out that way. Sarah patched that, so the next thing they did was chew through the rope hanging it from a tree. They dropped it to the ground and cleaned up, literally and figuratively. They did this twice to two different ropes before we finally used a chain and thus far, they haven’t found a way to defeat that, but I won’t be surprised when I hear a squirrel sparking up a blowtorch outside my window.

They are voracious tree rats, good for nothing, barely hunted at all by local predators. It was one of the happiest days of my life when I witnessed a local hawk eating a nice fat squirrel in a neighbor’s yard. You see, squirrels are good at avoiding avian predators –it’s tough to fly and hunt between the tree branches they infest. We have a pair of owls that regularly roost in our yard, but they never seem to eat the squirrels. No matter how many times I beseech them for an alliance.

I spend a not insignificant part of my day in the summer banging on windows to scare them away from plants and vegetables. I’ve thrown my fair share of walnuts back at them, too, I must admit, never hitting once. The squirrels know to keep their distance from me. None of them had murdered anything or thrown anything at me for a year or two.

I thought we’d come to an understanding. I was wrong.

Imagine my surprise when twice in the past few days, I have stepped out in my yard to be straight up charged by squirrels. Twice, I’ve now had a squirrel dash up to me, skid to a stop about a foot away and wait a moment, staring, before finally retreating. I have been so stunned each time that I’ve been frozen, speechless.

At first I thought maybe they were expecting me to feed them, and I wondered if a neighbor has been doing that. But now, after recounting the above stories here on this blog, I’m not so sure. I am starting to wonder if they’re testing boundaries and defenses; if they’re trying to bluff me with charges, like some bull elephant did in Kenya 20 years ago. I’m going to have to start carrying a broom with me every time I go out into the yard now, just in case.

If I am found dead in my yard with no obvious wounds, do not suspect suicide. Do not accuse humans of murder. Know with certainty that the squirrels have finally become victorious. Until then, the war continues. And you can be sure, if they manage to take me out, I’m taking as many of them as I can with me.