Network Effect

“Now we’re here, ready for the next major disaster. (Spoiler warning.)” – Murderbot, page 37, Network Effect

Murderbot is back!  If you are not familiar with Murderbot and the four previous books that comprise the Murderbot Diaries, you can become acquainted with these delightful books clicking on the following links and checking out my reviews :  All Systems RedArtificial ConditionRogue Protocol; and Exit Strategy.

The Murderbot Diaries were created by author Martha Wells.  Martha is an excellent writer.  I have enjoyed her creative writing skills in developing characters and the plot.  I also enjoy Martha’s descriptions of the places and people that Murderbot interacts with.  In some cases her descriptions are so well done, I feel like I could sketch the person or draw a diagram or schematic of the place.

The overarching theme of these novels, to me, is what really makes us human.  This theme doesn’t just pertain to Murderbot and other AI that it meets but to the people as well.

I enjoy how all of these books tie in together but can also be read on their own.  I am not the only human who enjoys these books immensely.  Titles in the Murderbot Diaries series have won the Hugo, Nebula, Locus and Alex Awards.

Murderbot is paranoid, anxious, doesn’t like to be touched and enjoys the human media program “Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon.” He has moments were he has feelings.  What Murderbot calls having an emotion.  He cares very much for the clients who have become his friends and recognizes why he considers them friends.

“Thiago had said he felt like he should apologize and talk to me more about it.  Ratthi had said, ‘I think you should let it go for a while, at least until we get ourselves out of this situation.  SecUnit is a very private person, it doesn’t like to discuss its feelings.’ This is why Ratthi is my friend.” -page 230-231, Network Effect

Things have a way of going sideways very quickly on strange planets and that’s why the humans need protection.  Providing security for humans is a monumental task.  Murderbot is quick to point the irony of its job with its quick wit and hint of sarcasm.

“I’ve had clients who thought they needed an absurd level of security.  (And I’m talking absurd by my standards, and my code was developed by a bond company known for intense xenophobic paranoia, tempered only by desperate greed.)  I’ve also had clients who thought they didn’t need any security at all, right up until something ate them.  (That’s mostly a metaphor.  My uneaten client stat is high.)”         Murderbot – page 9, Network Effect

Network Effect will keep you guessing until the very end.  And for those who have read the previous four novels, an old friend returns and desperately needs Murderbots help.  The description on the book cover reads as follows:

“I’m usually alone in my head, and that’s where 90-plus percent of my problems are.

The bestselling Murderbot series exploded onto the scene with ‘one of the most humane portraits of a non-human I’ve ever read’ (Annalee Newitz).  Now one of the most relatable AIs in science fiction returns in its first stand alone novel.

It calls itself Murderbot, but only when no one can hear.

It worries about the fragile human crew who’ve grown to trust it, but only where no one can see.

It tells itself that they’re only a professional obligation, but when they’re captured and an old friend from the past requires urgent assistance, Murderbot must choose between inertia and drastic action.

Drastic Action it is, then.”  – Book cover, Network Effect

Network Effect by Martha Wells is a stellar read.  But don’t take my word for it, go find a copy of your own to read.

Fifth Anniversary of Cats Out of the Box

It is hard to believe that five years ago today, I wrote and shared my first blog post.  I would have quit long ago if it hadn’t been for the following people.  A special thank you goes out to……

  • As my friends and family know, I ponder things.  I had been pondering writing a blog for years.  My friend Joe said just write a blog already.  Stop thinking and start doing.  And I did.  Thank you, Joe.
  •  My friend, Eric Hanson, is an amazing poet and I have used his poems in my blogs off and on over the years.  Thank you for letting me share your beautiful creative work with others.  Eric has also let me bounce ideas for blog posts off of him.  Some are definitely a lot better than others.  Thank you for listening, making suggestions and not letting me embarrass myself in the written word.
  • To my family there are not enough words to express my gratitude for your assistance, patience, feedback and support.  I know that having me in your lives can be a challenge.  You help me to be the best artist and creative person I can be.  I am truly grateful for you.
  • To my friends, so often the conversations we have are the creative sparks for a blog post.  You go hiking with me in all kinds of weather.  Thank you for your emotional and creative support.  You help me be a better writer, artist, creativity coach and teacher.  I am grateful for all of you.
  • This year I started teaching art classes at Flathead Valley Community College for the Continuing Education Program.  I would like to thank Debbie and all of the helpful staff who work in that program.  I couldn’t do it without all of you.  Your support and assistance makes me look good!
  • I would also like to send a special thank you to the students who participated in the Art Sampler, Beginning Acrylic Painting, Fine Art of Book Making and Mixed Media Collage Classes.  You have inspired me with your stories, questions, and amazing creative work.  You are all amazing creative people and I am excited to see where your creativity will take you.
  • To my readers and blog friends who follow my blog as part of the WordPress community, I am grateful for your support.  I am continually inspired by all of you and the creative work that you are doing.  No matter where you are located on this planet or what your blog is about….. your creativity, bravery in sharing feelings and ideas, and support make me proud to be a part of the WordPress blogging community.
  • Thank you to those that like my posts.  I appreciate you taking the time to support my creative work.  You motivate me to keep writing.
  • Thank you to those that post comments and provide feedback.  I enjoy hearing your thoughts about my work.  I am so proud when something I have written inspires others.  Your words mean the world to me.
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Angus, the original Cat Out of the Box

I have been asked recently by a friend and previous student, what advice did I have for someone who wants to start writing a blog.  I came up with the following five tips:

  1. Have an idea of what you would like your blog to be about.  Mine is about creative living.  But there are blogs about all kinds of things.  There are blogs that focus on photography, poetry, movie reviews, travel, cooking tips and recipes.  The sky is truly the limit.
  2. Give yourself goals.  I try to write two Haiku poems a week and two or three other posts each month.  I don’t always succeed at getting as much written as I would like, but the goals help me to keep focused.
  3. Don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t reach your goal or can’t write for awhile.  Hey, life happens.  In April, after my Grams (Grandmother) died, I could’t write for the rest of that month.  It is okay to take a break from your blog if you need to.
  4. Follow other peoples blogs.  Make comments (but do not be a troll).  Like posts that you enjoy.  The support and friendship you will build within the blogging community will surprise, delight and inspire you.
  5. The most important thing….. have fun!

Thank you so much for another amazing year of blogging!  I am so happy to share this journey of creativity and exploration with you!

Vicariously – Poetry Challenge

April is National Poetry Month in the United States.  In past years, to celebrate Poetry Month, I have shared poems and links to other poet’s sites.  This year I wanted to do something different.

I follow several blogs by poets.  I was inspired to do this poetry challenge after reading the following haiku poem written by Ben Dwyer.

Once I was alive

Now we live in photographs

Vicariously

-Ben Dwyer, posted January 27, 2020

I didn’t realize that the word vicariously was exactly five syllables, perfect for a haiku poem.  You can check out Ben’s WordPress site by clicking on the following link: Ben Dwyer Haiku a Day Blog

Why the word “vicariously?”  The definition of the word from Miriam Websters Online Dictionary states that it is “experienced or realized through imaginative or sympathetic participation in the experience of another.”  At a time in history where so many people are having to work from home, practice social distancing and participate in shelter in place, it felt appropriate that the subject of a poetry challenge be experiencing and realizing life through another person, a memory, a fictional place, dream, etc.

This got me thinking about what my friends might be able to do with the word and theme of vicariously.  I contacted Ben and told him of my idea, inspired by his poem and asked if I could use his poem in my blog.  After receiving his permission, I began to contact friends who write poetry and see if they would be interested in the “Vicariously Poetry Challenge.”  I also opened up the challenge to those who read my blog.  The results are the following poems in alphabetical order based on the poet’s name.

* * * * * * * * *

It was like two souls colliding

An impact that would be felt in every corner of my being,

Changing my very foundation

Leaving me breathless from the blow.

A breath escaped so beautiful.

So pure, unadulterated, honest.

Such a collision so powerful, so genuine,

The charge of sparking energy without equal, without rival.

Beauty and truth in its most perfect state.

As I sleep

The taste of you

On my tongue, lingers the feel of your name across my lips

Savored dreaming so clearly of moving,

Entangled breathing and crashing spirits, colliding

The feel of you beguiling

In the light I feel the charge of your skin, beneath my grip

Taut and pulling

Your flesh aching to be drawn in

To be invited to power over your senses

The will of the intertwined to connect

The rush of blood

Reeling

Feeling

To know the sensation of connectedness

The shock and bliss

So soothing, so infinitely grounding

To bathe in the flashes of the morning dews upon the grass

The piercing of the pair that creates one

The breadth of the grasping for the real, anxiously surrendered at the moment

That which ceases time

And remains until chosen to be reignited

Even if only vicariously

Even if only vicariously

-Canidae & Sif

* * * * * * * * * *

Heirloom Pearls by Samantha Houston

In a chain long and unending

Reaching far past what my eyes can see

Pain and cruelty

Insecurity and competition

A scarcity of the care which should be abundant in all things

Has been handed downward from mother to daughter

Like a strand of heirloom pearls

Choking one generation to the next.

From You

Unflinchingly

To Me.

On the day I was born

Full of potential

Believing nothing

Knowing nothing

You gave me breath.

And like an evil fairy come late to the party,

You gave me this-

A strand of heirloom pearls wrapped tight around my neck.

As tightly, I imagine

As they once fit you.

Did you know what a choking hazard they were when you placed them there?

Or did you believe that it was natural

Because they had once been given to you?

You treated this generational pain

The pain your mother gave to you

And her mother gave to her

As some sort of genetic burden.

A congenital parasite…

Without questioning its attachment.

Without questioning its worth.

You clung so tightly to this parasitic way of life

You lost perspective on where it ended and you began.

You clung as if you couldn’t live without it

And you made your illusions true.

As you watched your life waste away

As you ceded ever more control

As your parasite devoured everything around you

You made me responsible for its care.

For easing your burden.

You made me responsible for feeling your pain

So that for a moment

You didn’t have to.

Do you expect me to wear my pearls with pride

The way that you do?

To burden my girls with this generational curse you’ve nurtured so well?

Yes.

Because that would validate the way you have lived your entire life.

No, I will use the strand you have given me

To draw a line in the sand.

Your pain and insecurities

Will not live vicariously through me.

They will not have breath through me.

And they will not pass onward through me.

A thousand and one gemstones may cross my neck

Until I find the one that fits

The one that covers and heals the marks left behind by your pearls.

So that one day

When my daughters are grown

They will never have to wear necklaces at all.

And your pearls will have been left in the sand

Given back to the oysters from whence they came.

* * * * * * * * *

Vicariously,

Live through you, but lose myself.

Annihilation.

-Jill M.L. Kanewischer, February 17, 2020

* * * * * * * * *

I hope that you have enjoyed the poems written by friends and fellow bloggers.  I also hope that you take the time to check out other poets and blogs about poetry this month.

Happy Poetry Month!

Poetry Challenge

April is National Poetry Month in the United States.  If you are a regular follower of my blog, you are aware that I write haiku poetry.  I also highlight poet’s and poetry in a special blog post each April.  This year, I wanted to do things a little differently.  I am inviting my readers to participate in a poetry challenge.

HERE ARE THE RULES:

  1. The poem must be an original creation of the person submitting it.
  2. The poem must use the word “Vicariously” as either the title or as part of the poem.
  3. The poem cannot be longer than 500 words.
  4. The poem must be sent to me via my contact page or by my personal email address, before April 1st.
  5. Please list your name or how you would like to be recognized and the name of your blog, if you have one.  I will try to add a link to all WordPress blogs for other authors on this site.
  6. Poems received will be posted on my blog in a special post celebrating poetry month.  I am anticipating publishing this blog post on April 2, 2020.

I am purposefully not giving very much time to write a poem.  To often, creatively, when we see something like this if we say to ourselves, “oh that’s cool, I’ll do it later.”  We think too long or we forget and we miss the opportunity.  But if you want to write a poem, quick write it, submit it to me via my contact page or email and it is done.  You have shared your creativity.

Disclaimer.  As author of the blog “Cats Out of the Box,” I have the right to determine if a poem is ineligible to be posted on my blog.  If that happens, I will contact the author directly.

Last and probably the most important question… why the word “vicariously?”  The definition of the word from Miriam Websters Dictionary online states that it is the “experienced or realized through imaginative or sympathetic participation in the experience of another.”  At a time in history where so many people are having to work from home, practice social distancing and participate in shelter in place, it felt appropriate that the subject of a poetry challenge be experiencing and realizing life through another person, a memory, a fictional place, dream, etc.

I am excited to see what other poets and creatives come up with!  I am looking forward to hearing from you.

Good Luck!

 

At the Mountains of Madness

I finished the novel At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft a little over a week ago.  I would love to discuss this book.  No one that I know has read it.  I’ve asked friends, students in my art classes, and family members.  Because I can find no one to talk to about it, I feel compelled to write a post about it hoping that someone will comment or contact me and want to talk about At the Mountains of Madness.

I did not have much to go on when I ordered this book.  I think there was a sentence or two about explorers on the continent of Antarctica unearth an unspeakable evil.  That could mean anything in the horror, science fiction genre.

When reading a review about the movie “Color Out of Space” based on another work by H.P. Lovecraft, the author of the review had stated that the director Guillermo del Toro loves the book At the Mountains of Madness so much that he wants to make it into a movie.  I do not have such strong feelings about the book.  In fact, there are a couple of things that really bother me.

Some of my less than enthusiastic response may have to do with this being my first introduction to the writing of H.P. Lovecraft.  On occasion I found his writing to be archaic, even for the period of time he was writing in.  There were allusions to other books Lovecraft had written.  I think that if I had read the book about the Cthulhu or the Necronomicon, I may have had better appreciation for the horrors that the protagonist experienced.

At the time this novel was published, 1936, we did not have as accurate maps of large parts of the planet.  Antarctica was one of these areas of the world.  So the expedition to explore and track the geology and geography of Antarctica would be a very real expedition for that time.  However, knowing what is known of the geography of the continent today, I was simply unable to suspend my system of disbelief and accept the authors premise of a mountain range higher than the Himalayas on the continent of Antarctica.  This is a small thing but it bothered me.

I have never been a fan of technique of telling a story from the point of view that the protagonist has already survived and is now recounting what he experienced.  To me it is much scarier, if as the reader, I am participating in events as they are happening to the protagonist.  Not as an after the fact recounting.  It takes the edge off knowing that the individual survived.  The horror doesn’t get him because he is telling the story in past tense.

I acknowledge that there is a lot of mystery surrounding the continent of Antarctica.  There is so much about that place of ice and cold that we do not know.  There are theories about tunnels and pockets of life that were trapped and developed independently under the ice.  Scientists are learning new things about our planet all the time, why should the continent of Antarctica be any different.

Although I did not find At the Mountains of Madness to be scary, it was dense with dread.  I imagine a movie version of the book could be very intense and scary.  I would be very excited to see a film version of At the Mountains of Madness directed by Guillermo del Toro.

Tools for Boosting Creativity

Part of my goals or resolutions for the new year included adding a once a month post about creativity tips, tools and techniques.  I felt the need to write this kind of post after reading an article in the magazine “Artful Blogger.”

The author of one particular article was talking about managing creativity.  At first, I thought the idea of managing creativity to be odd.  But upon reading the entire article, I understood where she was coming from.  Her point was that part of the reason that people feel like they cannot or are not creative is because they have unrealistic expectations of what creativity is and the skills necessary to be creative.  For example, the first time you pick up a paint brush you are not going to paint a million dollar masterpiece.  One has to learn how to use the brushes and the paint.  The article pointed out that managing creativity is really more about managing expectations.  For that first canvas, if you don’t expect a masterpiece but want to have fun, you are more likely to meet that expectation.

This got me thinking about what made teaching creativity classes and one on one creativity coaching sessions successful.  What lessons, tools, and techniques do I use with my students to help them become more creative in their lives?  How can I break down complex lessons in a way that will make sense and be helpful?  I reviewed class notes and requests for specific lessons from students.  I looked at my extensive library of books focusing on creativity.  I reviewed favorite blogs that I follow on WordPress.  I decided to take parts of larger lessons and break them down.  Each month I will try to focus on specific tools, tips, techniques and the ideas surrounding creativity.  Please do not hesitate to comment or contact me on my Contact page if there are specific questions that you have or areas that you would like me to address.

This is the first post of my new creativity series and it focuses on three tools.  What does a creative tool do? Creative tools help bring out your creativity and prepare you to do your particular creative work.  These particular tools are meant to help with our creative subconscious.

Morning Pages 

Anyone who has read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron is familiar with her creative tool, MORNING PAGES.  I can hear groans from some of my creativity class students.  I started writing morning pages when I took the Artist’s Way class in 2005.  You are correct in your analysis of the last statement that I still write morning pages.  Like Julia Cameron, I believe they are a very important tool for a successful creative life.  The following is a description from Julia Cameron of what morning pages are and why they work.

“Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, morning writing about anything and everything.  You may complain, whine, grumble, grieve.  You may hope, celebrate, plan, plot.  Nothing is too small or too large to be included.  Everything is grist for the creative mill.  Why should we do Morning Pages?  Morning Pages prioritize our day.  They render us present to the moment.  They introduce us to an unsuspected inner strength and agility.  They draw to our attention those areas of our life that need our focus.  Both or weaknesses and our strengths will be gently revealed.  Problems will be exposed, and solutions suggested.”   – Julia Cameron, Page 2, The Sound of Paper.

Morning pages are hand written.  No, you may not type them on your laptop.  Three pages.  The number of pages is negotiable.  If you need to end a sentence or two early or go over a little, it is okay.  No one and I mean no one gets to read these but you.  You write them for yourself.  It is a tool for your creativity.  You are never required to share them.  Yes they need to be written every day.  I am not perfect, I do not write them every single day.  But I do write them almost every single day.

They are called morning pages for a reason.  Do them right away in the morning or generally when you wake up for the day.  If you are like me and are not quite human until that first cup of coffee, by all means, get your coffee first and write second.  The reason these are written in the morning is to get all of the clutter out of our brains and onto paper.  This way we can focus on what really interests us.  Morning pages are a way to capture anything and everything, allowing us to be focused and productive.

Confession.  I did not love the morning pages when I first started writing them.  I didn’t even like them.  I did allow myself to trust the process and started writing them every day when I first took the class.  About six weeks into the process of writing them, I had a break through.  I actually felt like the pages unlocked a creative block that had been holding me back.  From that moment on, I became a believer in the power of the morning pages.  They have helped me creatively in a multitude of ways.  I cannot recommend doing morning pages enough.

Dream Diaries

This tool is exactly what it sounds like.  It is meant to record dreams.  Messages from your subconscious.  It is recommended that one keep a notebook and writing utensil next to their bed.  Either during the night when you wake up after having the dream or first thing in the morning upon waking, you write down the dream or dreams, in as much detail as you can remember, into your Dream Diary.

You can share your dreams with whomever you choose.  You can look up meanings in dream interpretation books.  Call a friend and share the dream with them.  Maybe you know someone who is good at interpreting dreams.  Write notes about insights you have learned.  Dreams can be used for creative prompts in artwork, writing, composition of music, etc.

If you are writing or planning on writing Morning Pages, you can combine these two.  I personally use my Morning Pages as my Dream Diary.

Gratitude Journals

Unlike the previous two tools, this one you do before you go to bed at night.  I came across the Gratitude Journal in the book Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach.  Find a beautiful blank journal.  (There is something about a blank journal that speaks to ones heart and soul that adds to the effectiveness of this tool.)  Each night before going to bed write down five things that you are grateful for.

Some days will be easy to make a list.  Here a few examples of positive blessings: I saw double rainbows when walking through the park after the storm.  My herb bed has started growing on its own with volunteer plants.  A friend arrived home safely after completing a tour in Iraq.  While on a drive, I was able to stop and take photos of the fall foliage.  Today, I helped my niece make her very first snowman.  

Some days are harder to think of what we are grateful for.  On those days I write down the basics: My family.  My home.  My cat.  My health and the health of my family.  My friends.  Having food to eat.  Being safe.  Life happens.  There will be days that just living and breathing are hard, let alone being grateful.

Why is the Gratitude Journal an important part of creativity?  I think it is an important part of living.  When you become consciously aware of your blessings and give thanks for them every day (even on the rough days) you will change.  You become aware of the world around you in a new way and open yourself to the blessing of possibility.

I hope that you will experiment and try one or all of these amazing creative tools.

Exit Strategy

The fourth and final installment of the Murderbot diaries, Exit Strategy, is a wonderful conclusion to this delightful series.  Martha Wells, the author of this series, keeps the readers attention from the first sentence of the first paragraph till the final word of the last sentence.

The description of the story from the book cover is as follows:

“Murderbot wasn’t programmed to care.  So its decision to help the only human who ever showed it respect must be a system glitch, right?

Having traveled the width of the galaxy to unearth details of its own murderous transgressions, as well as those of the GrayCris Corporation, Murdbot is heading home to help Dr. Mensah – its former owner (protector? friend?) – submit evidence that could prevent GrayCris from destroying more colonists in its never-ending quest for profit.

But who’s going to believe a SecUnit gone rogue?

And what will become of it when it’s caught?”  – Bookcover of Exit Strategy

Favorite characters from the first book, All Systems Red, return in book four.  A majority of the action takes place on the space station that is home to the corporate headquarters for the GrayCris Corporation.  Unfortunately to say anything about the story of this book would give away valuable information necessary to the story.  I just hope that you will take the time to read it for yourself.

Described by science fiction writer Annalee Newitz as “One of the most humane portraits of a nonhuman I’ve ever read.”  This book is a fantastic ending to the series.  I cannot recommend this book or the entire series enough.