Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Month: November 2019 Page 1 of 2

On a background photo of Black Friday shoppers, the words read, "Happy north American Heritage Day1).

Native American Heritage

Today is officially designated as Native American Heritage Day. That’s right. Out of all the days in November, which also is supposed to be Native American Heritage Month, the day they designated as THE day to honor Native American heritage was Black Friday. Sure. Nobody’s thinking about anything else today.

Shoppers compete for bargains on Black Friday (no photo credit listed).
Shoppers compete for bargains on Black Friday (no photo credit listed).

They codified this into law not once, not twice, but THREE TIMES. H.J.Res. 62 was enacted and signed into law by President George W. Bush on Oct. 8, 2008. The following year, the same sponsor (Hispanic Congressman Joe Baca, a California Democrat) reintroduced it (with adjusted wording?). H.J.Res. 40 was signed into law June 26, 2009. But it wasn’t finalized (as far as I can tell) till August 20, 2010, with yet more adjusted wording.

And they say Congress never gets anything done.

They really worked hard to get this specific day codified into law as Native American Heritage Day. But I discovered I’m not alone in thinking the day after Thanksgiving is hardly the best day to single out for this recognition.

Problems with Thanksgiving

Many Native Americans already have enough trouble with Thanksgiving itself. There’s been a movement afoot since 1970, to call it Native American Day of Mourning, or Native American Genocide Day, because in traditional US narratives “the focus is always on the Pilgrims.”

United Native American Indians of New England hold a National Day of Mourning rally. (No photographer credited).
United Native American Indians of New England hold a National Day of Mourning rally. (No photographer credited). See also the video about this demonstration.

Although many Americans really want to dispute it, the European invasion of the so-called “New World” was an unmitigated disaster for native people, and there’s no other word for it. It was a slow-rolling, widespread, persistent, and extremely effective genocide. It was no accident. Even the Holcaust Museum calls it a holocaust. It is arguably perhaps the largest and longest in recorded human history–and unfortunately human history has a lot of genocides to compare.

Despite all of this, and despite the fact that some tribal groups indeed have gone extinct, Native American (or, in Canada, First Nations) people persist. It would be comforting to say that they are, at last, safe and fully valued today, but that would also be false. In nearly every arena, Native Americans’ opportunities for wealtheducation, and optimal health care are severely crippled.

The pernicious legacy of Indian Schools

Native American cultural traditions were nearly decimated by the “Indian Schools.” These were boarding schools where authorities took people’s kidnapped childrenThe children often were abused for such misdeeds as speaking their own languages or telling traditional stories. They learned European religions and languages, made to dress like Europeans, and taught menial tasks

Two of the main buildings at the Shawnee Indian Mission Historical Site in Fairway, KS (photo by Keith Stokes)
Two of the main buildings at the Shawnee Indian Mission Historical Site in Fairway, KS (photo by Keith Stokes)

I live very close to one former such school, the Shawnee Indian Mission, which (in part) gave so many parts of the Kansas City metro area (at least on the Kansas side) their names. It inspired the name of my home church, Old Mission United Methodist Church, and it hosts an annual fall festival that draws people from all over the area. But the full, pernicious nature of the schooling that went on there still isn’t clearly understood by the surrounding community. For many of the 40+ years I’ve lived here, I didn’t fully get it either.

Oh, and lest you think that horrifying chapter ended in 1973, think again. It’s being perpetuated, whether willfully or not, in the foster care system of today.

A challenge for all Americans

Native people still live among us. They are an important part of our nation. Yet their important cultural sites, way of life, and sacred places still undergo attack. Some have assimilated, but many others still feel ostracized, marginalized, and all-too-often erased. 

But that erasure cannot–MUST NOT–stand. In a few, meaningful ways, native voices may start being heard (yes! Sharice Davids is my Congresswoman). But we need many, many more. In Congress, certainly. But also in our daily consciousness. In commerce and opportunity. In education. And in health care. It’s not just their fight. If the rest of us can ever hope to right the scales of cosmic justice, the fight for Native American heritage and equity must be our fight, too.

IMAGE CREDITS: Many thanks to Canyon News for the Black Friday photo, to United American Indians of New England for the “Day of Mourning demonstration photo,  and to my longtime friend Keith Stokes for the photo of the Shawnee Indian Mission.

Happy Thanksgiving

Blessings to count

Happy Thanksgiving!

this design says "Give Thanks."

It’s Thanksgiving in the USA this Thursday. Many nations, cultures, and religions through the ages and throughout the world have designated official days to give thanks. But seriously. No matter what day it is, there are always blessings to count.

If you don’t think that ‘s true–or at least not for youyou’re overlooking some important aspects of your life. Including that you have one

The image quote says, "Life is a series of thousands of tiny miracles. Notice them."

What blessings?

It’s a near-certainty that there are people who love you. Please note: companion animals count as “people” for the purpose of establishing this fact (it’s never wise to discount companion animals, in any case). They are among the many blessings it’s especially important to count.

But also please note that there really are people who care about your welfare . . . even if they don’t personally know you. This means that you’re actually not ideally suited to count all the people who care about you. This is because you can’t read minds, and you don’t know everyone. 

This goes double if you’re depressed. You may not believe it, but you DO have blessings to count.

The image quote says, "the things you take for granted someone else is praying for."

There are politicians who will brag that the economy is booming, and that’s true for a lot of people (particularly those in whose favor the system is biased). If you’re not one of those people, however, that doesn’t mean your life is all blight, unless you refuse to see it any other way. Even the least advantaged among us has blessings to count.

Beyond being blessed

The quote from Camille Pissarro says, "Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where other people see nothing."

The best way to count one’s blessings, in my experience, is to pass blessings on to others. Best of all is to do it with all the generosity we can manage. If you have blessings to count (and I believe all of us do), then you have the means to not only enjoy blessings, but to be one to others.

Believe it or not, the act of giving–of being a blessing–multiplies our own feelings of joy and well-being. We humans are social creatures by nature. We are innately programmed to connect with others. Thus, it stands to reason that we feel most fulfilled, most right with the world, when we can do good things for others

Evolution has dictated that people need to work together, especially in the face of challenges. It’s the most effective survival tool we have. The “loneliness epidemic” of today is a direct result of people losing their connections to others, and thus their sense of purpose, their sense of worth. 

Reaching out to others with a helping hand or even simply an encouraging word is essential to rebuilding a sense of connection. In general, the more connections you make the more blessings you’ll be able to count.

This image quote says, "Don't just count your blessings. Be the blessing other people count on."

The blessing of “thank you”

Never underestimate the power of an encouraging word. It’s the most under-used and extraordinary gift you can give, sometimes. It costs no money at all, “only” a moment of thought and noticing

Over the years, I’ve written several posts about saying “thank you.” One of my very most popular posts is the one on ways to thank first responders. I recently reiterated thoughts on gratitude to veterans, and another one of my all-time most popular posts is the one on ways to thank veterans.

Honoring those who give of themselves to serve our community is always appropriate. But sometimes I like to challenge myself to find others who deserve thanks and rarely get it. If you’re traveling this holiday, you’ll have lots of opportunities. Consider a thank-you or a kind word to an airline or highway employee who’s trying to make things work, in a challenging situation

The image quote from Henry Ward Beecher says, "The unthankful heart discovers no mercies; but the thankful heart will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings."

Do you thank wait staffhotel employees, or sales clerks who smooth the way for you? Do you appreciate those skill or knowledge helps you? You might rationalize that they’re only doing their job, but if you use that as an excuse to treat them like machines or tools, take warning: you’re developing a crabbed and callous soul, and it sucks to be you.

Connect with people. Sow peace, not division. Be a blessing to others, and it’s well-nigh guaranteed you’ll have a generous bounty of your own blessings to count.

IMAGE CREDITS: Many thanks to Vikayatskina via 123RF, for the “Give Thanks!” wreath design. I’m also grateful to Fight for Life via Mimipopa, for the “thousands of tiny miracles” quote, to Picture Quotes for the “take for granted” quote-image and  the “be the blessing other people count on” quote-image, and to Everyday Power, for the quotes from Camille Pissarro and Henry Ward Beecher. Finally, many thanks to Residential Home Solutions (via Hallmark?) for the header image. I appreciate all of you!

A book can seem all-consuming in the homestretch for NaNoWriMo.

Into the homestretch for NaNoWriMo

The Artdog Quote(s) of the Week

We’re closing in on the end of November, and also the end of NaNoWriMo (National Novel-Writing Month)All month I’ve posted things to encourage writers, whether or not they’re specifically participating. But for all who are participating, this week you go into the homestretch

The toll that project fatigue exacts

Against a background photo of steep mountains, this Dale Carnegie quote says, "Our fatigue is often caused not by work, but by worry, frustration, and resentment."

You’re so close! But sometimes, as we near the end of a long project, exhaustion sets in. Especially if you’ve been extending yourself to make your goals, you may be short of sleep or creaky from bending over your keyboard too long (Take time to stretch!).

Remember, the most important thing you’ll get out of NaNoWriMo or any sustained effort is not necessarily the draft you write (although acclaimed published works have originated from NaNoWriMo first-drafts). 

The most important thing

This quote from Octavia Butler reads, "First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you're inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won't. Habit is persistence in practice."

No, the most important thing is developing the habit of persistence. And here in the homestretch is where it comes most fully into play.

More important than talent. More essential than a genius idea. More crucial than the classiest styleThe secret to writing success is persistence. Keep trying. You’ve come into the homestretch for NaNoWriMo. Last-minute brain glitch, and can’t think what to write? Write anyway.

This Philip Pullman quote says, "If you can't think what to write, tough luck; write anyway."

Formula for success

Create the habits that put your butt in the chair (or wherever you write) and your hands on the keyboard (or however you interface with your word processor) and the words being written.

Create and sustain those habits. Eventually, you’ll succeed. Going into the homestretch and beyond, you’ll have developed the most essential requirement for any successful writer. Simply don’t let anything stop you.

This quote from Timothy Zahn reads, "A lot of brilliant writing minds out there will never be heard from because they quit. Persistence is a major part of all of this."

IMAGE CREDITS: Many thanks to BrainyQuotes, for the illustrated Dale Carnegie quote on fatigue. And my deepest gratitude to Early Bird Books and their feature “15 Inspiring Writing Quotes for NaNoWriMo.” Their article is my source for the quotes by Octavia Butler, Philip Pullman, and Timothy Zahn. Finally, many thanks to 123RF and “Bowie 15 for the featured image.

An illustration for an article on repetitive stress injury gave the letters "RSI" heads and red "pain spots" like you see in many diagrams.

Take time to stretch!

The Artdog Image of Interest

Here’s a shout-out to all the diligent folks who are homing in on the end of NaNoWriMo, National Novel-Writing Month. If you’re a serious participant, you’ve been putting in some long hours at the keyboard. But that means you also are courting repetitive stress injuries, if you aren’t careful. Please take time to stretch! 

Stretch your hands

My son Tyrell Gephardt sent this graphic to me several months ago. I parked it on my desktop as a reminder. It helps me think of it, and also makes a handy cheat-sheet if I forget one. I try to stretch regularly. Why don’t you try these stretches right now?

The illustration "Make time to stretch!" shows seven ways to stretch one's hands to avoid repetitive stress injuries: wrist extension in two directions, Wrist flexion with an open hand and with a fist, stretches with your hand flat against a wall, palms-together then lowering one's hands, and a "shake it out" motion. Take time to stretch!

Didn’t that feel good? Each time I do these I think, “I’ve got to remember these more often!” Then I get busy and don’t think about it till I glance down at my desktop and spot this graphic again.

Stretch your lower back

To be ergonomically sound, there are other stretches you also may want to try. Here’s a post that offers 12 stretches to ease or prevent lower back stress. The illustrations are clear, and the stretches are simple but effective. You can do them in your office, although be advised: some involve getting on the floor. 

Lower back pain is common and widespread. The World Health Organization estimates 60-70% of adults in industrialized countries will experience lower back pain. Why not learn how to minimize that risk?

Stretch you shoulders and neck

Computer work, especially for prolonged periods, causes all kinds of issues, including shoulder stiffness and pain. Here’s a link to an article that offers four simple shoulder stretches you can do at your desk.

Long hours of computer work can also be a literal pain in the neck. The Mayo Clinic has posted an article about neck pain. They included a video to show several stretches that can help you avoid or ease neck pain.

An ergonomic office

On this same theme, I posted an Image of Interest in 2018 that bears repeating. You might want to see my post about what makes a good ergonomic office design. Here are more tips, from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

Now that you’re all stretched out and limbered up, it’s time to get back to work! Best of luck to all who take the NaNoWriMo challenge! And for anyone who spends time at a desk, I hope that you, too, will take time to stretch!

IMAGE CREDITS: Many thanks to my son Tyrell Gephardt for sending me the “Make time to Stretch!” graphic. I did a reverse-image search via TinEye, and traced it back to Between the Pixels on Twitter. There’s a nice large image available there. The Featured Image is an illustration for an article on Repetitive Stress Injury, or RSI (illustrator not credited).

Three dogs hug their humans.

Could it be love?

Does your dog love you? Or are you just projecting? Scientists try very hard to avoid anthropomorphizing their animal study subjects. Emotions are difficult to measure. But now we’re finally getting closer to answering the question, “could it be love?”

This is the third and final (for now) post in a series about dog cognition. In case you missed them, click: “Dogs: verbal virtuosos?” and “How much does your dog understand?” I’ve also previously written about working dogs on this blog–a post that touched on dog cognition, but didn’t go into as much depth.

This series started when I wrote a guest post on dog cognition for Booker T’s Farm,  a blog devoted to books and dogs (a great combo!) Their format, however, didn’t include the hyperlinks to sources that I’d suggested. (Note: Booker T’s Farm also later posted a very nice review of What’s Bred in the Bone).

Because science doesn’t stand still, there’s also some updated information to add. That (and the chance to share links to sources) is why I decided to expand on my August post with this series.


Three anthropomorphic cartoon dogs: Huckleberry Hound, Snoopy, and Scooby-Doo.
Huckleberry HoundSnoopy, and Scooby-Doo each created a humorous satire on certain human characteristics, but anthropomorphism gets in the way of scientists studying real dogs. (Images via Wikipedia)

When humans attribute human characteristics or emotions to non-human entities (weather conditions, animals, plants, gods or other things), they are anthropomorphizing. It’s an impulse as old as human “behavioral modernity.” In fact, one of our oldest artworks is anthropomorphic.

The so-called “Lion-Man of the Hohlenstein-Stadel,” also called Löwenmensch figurine, is an ivory sculpture about a foot tall, that was found in Hohlenstein-Stadel cave in Germany. It’s the oldest example of what everyone agrees is figurative art,  carbon-dated between 40,000 and 35,000 years old. You might recall dogs have probably been hanging out with humans somewhere in the neighborhood of 32,000 years.

So, yeah. We have an apparently-innate tendency to anthopomorphize all kinds of things (just for fun, run an image search with the keywords “faces on inanimate objects”). And while Huckleberry HoundSnoopyScooby-Doo, and dozens of other anthropomorphic dogs might be fun ways to poke humor at certain types of human characteristics, but they do nothing to help scientists understand real dogs.

The right chemistry

Three dogs give their humans some very convincing hugs.
A Golden Retriever who passes out hugs in New York City, a demonstrative rescued pit bull, and a Bernese Mountain Dog puppy who leans on his human and pulls him closer (Photos: varied sources/First for Women).

The human tendency to anthropomorphize may be hard to control for, but blood chemistry is entirely another matter, when we ask, “could it be love?”

Several studies have shown that oxytocin levels (the so-called “love hormone”) rise in both dogs and humans during interactions. When the human smiles, they look at each other, and when they snuggle, or when dogs are caressed, both release more oxytocin. Some researchers believe this mutual reaction is key to dog domestication.

In humans and other animals oxytocin is “correlated with the preferences of individuals to associate with members of their own group.” Thus, it’s not surprising that it’s been found to be important in bonding between mates and mothers and their infants, as well as humans and companion animals.

Could it be love? Check the MRIs

Dogs trained to hold still for an MRI are showing us more and more about how many similarities there are between their brains and ours.
At left, parallel brain structures in human and dog brains activated in response to stimuli (in this case words, but in other studies it’s been smells) at Hungary’s Eötvös Loránd University. (image: Andics et al./Current Biology) Center: Border Collies and Golden Retrievers pose with the MRI in the Hungarian lab. (Photo: Borbala Ferenczy) At right, fMRI scans from Emory University show brain activity associated with decision-making. Similar studies using fMRI have demonstrated emotional reactions that parallel those of humans. (Photo: Berns et al./SSRN).

Oxytocin isn’t the only scientific proof that it could, indeed, be loveStudies of dogs in MRI scanners show the brain structure (caudate nucleus) associated with anticipation and positive feelings lights up in dogs when they smell the odor of a familiar person.

Other MRI-scan brain studies reconfirm the dogs’ verbal recognition skills, and offer the beginnings of understanding how dogs make decisions.

Other indications

And then there’s body language. How can you mistake the message of the facial expressions,  the wriggling body, the wagging tail? How can you mistake the hugs? 

Could it be love? Watch this compilation of dogs greeting their returning soldiers home from deployment, then decide. What do you think?

Dog owners know: dogs “get” us, in a way few other animals do. After 32,000 years, even the scientists are beginning to agree.

IMAGE CREDITS: The cover art for What’s Bred in the Bone is © 2019 by Jody A. Lee. Many thanks to Wikipedia for this images of Huckleberry HoundSnoopyand Scooby-Doo. Thanks and hugs to First For Women and their adorable photo feature, “12 Adorable Pics of Dogs Hugging their Humans for Valentine’s Day,” the source of the “Dog Hugs” composite. For the “Dog Brain Scans” composite, I wish to thank Wired MagazineAttila Andics and Current Biology, photographer Borbala Ferenczy, and to Wired MagazineGregory Berns, and SSRN. Finally, many thanks to YouTube and FunnyPlox, for the video of dogs greeting their homecoming soldiers.

A jogger forms a backdrop for Jim Rohn's words: "How long should you try? Until."

Playing a long game

This post is for everyone who hasn’t yet dropped out of NaNoWriMo. And really for everyone who’s pursuing a long, hard effort they believe in. Whatever your struggle, you’re playing a long game. Persistence is the key.

Vince Lombardi's words, "Winners never quit, and quitters never win," accompany a photo of ducklings struggling to climb a steep curb.

If you’re still hanging in there for NaNoWriMo, you’re entering Week Three, today. By now you’re probably tired. You may have missed a few days, or fallen short of a few benchmarks you’d set for yourself. 

You may have begun to wonder if this is really worth it. Take heart. It is. In any long game, persistence is the key.

This quote comes from Napoleon Hill: "Patience, persistence and perspiration make an unbeatable combination for success." The background photo is a rocky seashore.

Doubts are natural. But doubt is poison.

All writers have doubts. And if you’re trying to pile up thousands and thousands of words in a very short period of time time, you’re probably having double and triple doubts. 

You know what you’re writing isn’t polished. Hope what you’re writing is good. Fear what you’re writing is garbage.

It doesn’t matter. Not at this point. You’re playing a long game, so the key thing you need is persistence.

A quote attributed to Thomas Foxwell Burton says, "with ordinary talent and extraordinary perseverance, all things are attainable."

The road to quality starts here.

Save the heartburn over polish for rewrites. What you’re doing right now is simply getting it down in an editable format. It’s the essential first step to a finished draft you can be proud of

Even if much of what you write this month has to be trashed or overhauled, it’s a start. It’s more than you had written before. It’s always easier to rewrite than to write it the first time through.

You’re doing hard work, essential work. And you’re honoring the long game, where persistence is key. So hang in there.

Against a colorful background, this quote from poet Avijeet Das says, "Struggle for your art. Die for your art. But you can never give up on your art!"

The long game

If NaNoWriMo is like story structure, then you’re entering the crucial third quarter. The second half of Act Two, if that’s how you prefer to think of it. You’re closing in on the rising action–which means you might be facing a Dark Night of the Soul.

Keep writing, anyway. At the chosen time each day, park yourself in the chair at your desk, in the coffehouse booth, poised over your pad, or wherever you write. Make words happen. Keep writing.

You’re playing a long game. Persistence is the key.

A jogger in action forms the backdrop for this quote by Jim Rohn: "How long should you try? Until."

NOTE: This post is one of several I’ve published during this month and last, in honor of National Novel-Writing Month (NaNoWriMo, for short). Others in this series so far include “It’s getting on toward time. Are you ready?” “Will you or won’t you Na-No-Wri-Mo?” and “An ideal writing space.” Stay tuned for more!

IMAGE CREDITS: Many thanks to The Diary Store, for the Vince Lombardi quote; to good ol’ BrainyQuote, for the Napoleon Hill graphic; to Life11-Scribble and Scrawl’s “10 Quotes on Nurturing Talent,” for the quote from the rather elusive Thomas Foxwell Burton (It’s possible the name is actually Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton. He was a British Baronet and an abolitionist active in the 18th century); and to Everyday Power, for the illustrated quotes from Avijeet Das and Jim Rohn. I am deeply grateful to all!

Ann Friedman's office is an example of several things that make it an ideal writing space.

An ideal writing space

The Artdog Image(s) of Interest

In this month of NaNoWriMo, a lot of writers will be parking themselves in chairs, curling up in nooks, stretching out on carpets, or clearing off their desks to participate. We know that some writers can write anywhere, but others are a lot more particular about their surroundings. Is there really such a thing as an ideal writing place?

It isn’t hard to find ideas online. Do you prefer a rustic look? Chrome and glass? Are you a minimalist? A connoisseur of clutter? Do you like wooden seating? Upholstered padding? Chintz? Leather? Plaid? Several other bloggers have addressed this topic. Here’s a sampler from their ideas.

Two windows for light and a lot of books and binders make this bedroom-turned de facto office a less-than-ideal writing space.
The Artdog’s less-than-ideal writing space is currently (mostly) on her bed. Thank goodness, that’s temporary.


The blogger for “Papersmashed” lamented in a 2015 post that her only real writing space was on her bed. Oh, my, can I relate to that! I, too, do most of my writing currently while sitting on my bed with my back supported by a pile of pillows against my headboard. 

It’s far from an ideal writing space, for many reasons (just ask my creaky bones). Thank goodness, in my case it’s temporary. But the changes I’m planning for our home’s library require thought. What’s the best way to carve out space to write, run a small press, and also make art–while still maintaining the library’s original function?

In her 2015 post, “Papersmashed” explains that there is a desk in her room, but “it’s just not that inspiring. I am surrounded with blank walls.” So she resorts to her bed, as the lesser of evils. But she’d recently encountered the concept of the “She-Shed,” and posted some wishful images.

"Papersmashed" blogged about these photos. There's a "she-shed" idea on each end, with a rustic interior writing space at center. See Image Credits below for sources and more information.
Papersmashed” blogged about these photos. There’s a “she-shed” idea on each end, with a rustic interior writing space at center. See Image Credits below for sources and more information.

Yelena Casale

Urban fantasy and romance writer Yelena Casale blogged about the question of what makes an ideal writing space, too. In her 2011 post, she wrote, “Having an appropriate and cozy work space is important to about anyone. However, nobody needs it more than someone who creates.”

For Yelena it seemed to be all about the view: forested mountains, ocean-views, even a panoramic city-scape, though that wouldn’t be her first choice. The room itself could be small, she said. “Small spaces can be open and light. It’s all about the design and the feel.”

Here are three of the images Yelena chose, to accompany her post. Each definitely has its own “feel.”

The image at left may be Yelena's own photo. Center: Kevin Crossley-Holland's writing office. Right: the minimalist urban vibe of "Rephlektiv's" writing office. See Image Credits below for sources and more information.
The image at left may be Yelena’s own photo. Center: Kevin Crossley-Holland’s writing office. Right: the minimalist urban vibe of “Rephlektiv’s” writing office. See Image Credits below for sources and more information.

Ploughshares at Emerson College, and The Freelancer

In an undated guest post for Ploughshares, poet-teacher Aimee Nezhukumatathil describes her own writing space “I have an office at home painted my favorite shade of robin’s-egg blue with red accents,” and adds, “My favorite space to write has a glass-topped table with my Grandfather’s old typewriter that still works.” In the guest-post she also shares thoughts on writing spaces from several writer friends. She does not, however, identify whose office is shown in the photo she shared (NOTE: It belongs to the photographer Vadim Scherbakov).

The Freelancer’s Connor Relyea interviewed five top freelance writers, for his 2015 post “What Would Your Ideal Writing Studio Look Like?” The answers to each of his questions are varied and interesting. They definitely qualify as food for thought, for anyone interested in designing or adjusting their own office.

Relyea illustrated his interviewees’ comments with two photos that provide a study in contrasts. One is a nicely designed, rather conventional setup that looks comfortable and functional, while the other reminds me of a monk’s cell (or perhaps a dungeon?). Turns out (although there’s no caption to tell you), they are the offices of two of his interviewees, those of Ann Friedman and Noah Davis. Read their interviews, and see if you can guess which office belongs to which.

At left is the office of Ann Friedman, who's one of Connor Relyea's interviewees. The center office is also from that article. It belongs to Noah Davis. The third office belongs to photographer Vadim Scherbakov. See Image Credits below for sources and more information.
At left is the office of Ann Friedman, who’s one of Connor Relyea’s interviewees. The center office is also from that article. It belongs to Noah Davis. The third office belongs to photographer Vadim Scherbakov. See Image Credits below for sources and more information.

So, then, what makes an ideal writing space?

There are some interesting ideas in those interviews and photos. But the most striking thing to me is the way basic ideas can be made to seem quite different. When we come right down to it, the primary and most salient thing about any “ideal writing space” is how it makes you feel.

This quote from Nicole Appleton is presented as a sort of poster. It says, "Any room where you feel a good vibe is a good place to write."

What’s your idea of an ideal writing space? Do you already work in one, do you dream of having it someday, or is it a whimsical fantasy that actually couldn’t exist in the mundane world where we live? Please share thoughts, ideas, photos, or critiques in the comments section below.


The photo of the Artdog’s current writing place (her less-than-ideal bedroom) is by Jan S. Gephardt, all rights reserved. 


This blogger posted the trio of images collected into the montage at the end of  her section.”The greenhouse” she-shed originated in 2013 on a website from York, Ontario that no longer exists. “Papersmashed” apparently found it somewhere on Heather Bullard’s website. The rustic interior writing space at the center appears to have originated on a profile of a rustic Boston-area home office featured on Houzz. The the photo of the pink-windowed garden shed was attributed to “Via Wooden House,” (guess how successfully I Googled that) but TinEye Reverse Image Search helped me track it down. It’s 2010 the creation of quilter and gardener Laurie Ceesay

Yelena Casale

Yelena Casale posted her photos without attributions. However, with some help from the indispensable  TinEye Reverse Image Search, I discovered that there doesn’t seem to be an alternative source for the photo Yelena posted of a table set up on what looks like a screened-in back porch with a garden view. It might be one she herself took. The center photo in this montage dates to 2009 or earlier. It is identified by Zoë Marriott as the office of British Writer Kevin Crossley-Holland. The sleek urban office at right originated on Lifehacker as “the Skybox,” a Featured Office. In that short piece, the owner (who calls himself “Rephlektiv.” I couldn’t for-sure identify him, to provide a link), describes his quest to pare his space down to the essentials.

Ploughshares and The Freelancer

The two photos from The Freelancer‘s post belong to interviewees Ann Friedman (at right) and Noah Davis (center). Without the invaluable  TinEye Reverse Image Search, I probably would not have found The Freelance Studio’s “24 Designers Show Off Their Actual Work Spaces Without Cleaning Them First!” That was the source for the office photo on Ploughshares. Though unidentified in Aimee Nezhukumatathil‘s undated guest post for Ploughshares, the office belongs to photographer Vadim Scherbakov.

And finally, send up a shout-out to PictureQuotes, for the nugget of Nicole Appleton’s wisdom on the illustrated quote. Many thanks to all of them, and most especially to TinEye Reverse Image Search!!

Fernie the labrador retriever and his person demonstrate he's a verbal virtuoso who can read and obey commands.

Dogs: verbal virtuosos?

Could our dogs be verbal virtuosos? Perhaps more than we may think!

This is the second post in a series about dog cognition. In case you missed the first one, click: “How much does your dog understand?” I’ve also written about working dogs on this blog. That post touched on dog cognition, but didn’t go into as much depth.

This series started when I wrote a guest post on dog cognition for Booker T’s Farm,  a blog devoted to books and dogs (a great combo!). Their format, however, didn’t include the hyperlinks to sources that I’d suggested. (Note: Booker T’s Farm also posted a very nice review of What’s Bred in the Bone).

Science doesn’t stand still, so there’s updated information to add. That (and the chance to share links to sources) is why I decided to expand on my August post with this series.

If only dogs could talk!

I am certainly not the only person who’s ever wished her dog could talk. They usually manage to express themselves clearly enough to tell us when they’re hungry or want to go out, but I sometimes would swear they’re just as frustrated as we are.

We need a for-real “Dr. Dolittle interface” of some sort! And it’s possible we may be getting closer to one, but more on that in a bit.

Dogs can’t (quite) speak our languages, but there’s growing scientific agreement that they understand what our words mean. We also now know that understanding is aided by the tone of our voice.

And it’s long been clear they can and do respond to our wishes, cued by words (sounds) we’ve taught them. (Scientists haven’t, as far as I know, done studies on “selective hearing” in dogs who choose not to respond. But perhaps that’s an indicator of intelligence, too).

All of these capabilities, plus dogs’ eagerness to interact with humans, place them on the road to becoming verbal virtuosos.

The (so far) unparalleled Chaser

Probably the most famous canine verbal virtuoso was Chaser, a border collie who belonged to a psychology professor named John Pilley.  Pilley and Chaser were able to demonstrate that she had a vocabulary of 1,022 different nouns (the names of toys), and that she could comprehend (by reacting appropriately to) sentences containing a prepositional object, a verb, and a direct object.

Pilley memorably showed her talents to the world on TV. There’s an episode of 60 Minutes in which she starred. It first aired in 2014, but it’s still available onlinePilley and Chaser also demonstrated her smarts to Neil DeGrasse Tyson on an episode of NOVA on PBS.

Yes, but could she also read?

Chaser understood more than 1,000 nouns and could correctly follow verbal commands using different verbs and objects, but I haven’t found any evidence online that she could respond to written symbols. That doesn’t mean, however that a dog can’t do that.

While it’s true that dogs can’t read the way humans can, it is possible to teach them to recognize individual written words (visual symbols) and respond to them as if they were spoken commands.

Several different dogs have been taught to do this, as an inspiration for elementary students just beginning to read. The largest “written vocabulary” I found online was four words, demonstrated by a Labrador Retriever in the UK, named Fernie.

Fernie the "reading dog" and his human a primary school headmaster named Nik Gardner, demonstrate two of the commands Fernie can read.
“Reading Dog” Fernie is a different kind of verbal virtuoso. He and his human, Winford Primary School Headmaster Nik Gardner, demonstrate two of the written commands Gardner has taught Fernie. (Photo by SWNS / David Hedges, via the Telegraph UK).

Mini-Aussie Mia and chocolate lab Fernie are both employed as inspirations for young human readers. They’re going “one better” on the many school-certified dogs around the world who help children improve their reading skills (and sometimes get helped in return).

Meet Stella, the world’s most recent dog star

Just this month, a new canine verbal virtuoso came onto my radar. Stella, a Catahoula / Blue Heeler mix, is the dog of speech pathologist Christina Hunger.

She wanted to teach her dog to communicate using sounds–and her professional background gave her the technology to try it. As News 18 described it, “Christina designed a Voice Output Communication Aid on cardboard. The device is normally used to help low or nonverbal people to communicate.”

Christina has documented Stella using two or more words in sequence, and notes her technique is improving all the time. In Christina’s latest post, Stella’s vocabulary had grown to 22 word-buttons, but a more recent video from Welfare of Dogs documents 29 words.

Stella and Christina’s use of adaptive technology brings other animal word-use experiments to mind. You may remember Koko the gorilla, who used American Sign Language and whose vocabulary surpassed that of the amazing Chaser.

There also was an experiment with teaching orangutans to use iPads for communicating information such as what they wanted for dinner. The program, from Orangutan Outreach, is called “Apps for Apes.” It was designed to draw attention to them, more than it was a serious effort to advance the science of communication with the animals. I reported on it in 2013 when the Kansas City Zoo adopted the program, but I haven’t been able to find information more recent than 2015.

We’re still not quite ready to swear in a K9 officer to testify . . . or are we?

The decision to give my fictional XK9s a vocalizer has its roots in both wish-fulfillment and the potential I see in contemporary adaptive and communication technology. But another inspiration was an overheard comment from a police commander that for well or ill a K9 can’t testify in court. No, we haven’t quite come that far.

Except maybe in Punta Gorda, Florida

In 2012, a defendant called a K9 as a witness for the defense. Deputy Franko, K9 Azor’s handler, had given defendant Rodney McGee a ticket. What happened next? Reporters who covered the story at the time explained.

No, K9 Azor didn’t have much to say, after all. But we can’t really know what he’d have said, if he’d been trained on a sound board like Stella’s. Imagine a K9 trained on one that said things such as “suspect,” “drugs,” or “explosives.”

Stay tuned. At the rate things are going, real-live XK9s may come sooner than we think!

IMAGE CREDITS: The cover art for What’s Bred in the Bone is © 2019 by Jody A. Lee. Many thanks to YouTube and Vines Motion for the “Funny Talking Dogs” video compilation, and to NOVA on PBS, for the video of Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Chaser. The photo montage of Fernie the “reading dog” is courtesy of SWNS / David Hedges, via the Telegraph UK.  I’m grateful to Christina Hunger’s Hungerforwords YouTube channel for the video of Stella using multiple words, and to The Leak Source on YouTube, for the report on K9 Azor’s trip to court. I appreciate you all!

On a background of the US flag are the symbols of the five branches of US military service and the words "Veterans Day: Remembering all who served."

Service comes at a price

All of our current service members have chosen to be there, standing between us and our foes. Increasing numbers of veterans volunteered for their tours of duty. They signed up to protect and defend their country and the Constitution. I believe their choices deserve our honor and deepest respect. Because their service comes at a price.

On the backdrop of a US flag, we have symbols for all five branches of the service, Marines, Army, Navy, Coast Guard, and Air Force, and the words "Veterans Day, Remembering all who served."

We still have a lot of Boomer veterans, and significant numbers who served in the Korean War, or (like my 95-year-old father) in World War II. But the USA has had an all-volunteer force since early 1973.

I remember hearing the news that the draft had been ended. I felt relieved, after years of seeing my male classmates and friends conscripted for the Vietnam War. Though early results were worrisome, most observers now agree our professional armed forces are more effective than when we relied on draftees in earlier times.

Enduring challenges of military service

Military service comes at a price. It changes a person. It usually begins when the person is coming of age. This makes it a powerful lens through which the person views the rest of his or her life

Long-term studies identify both negative and positive outcomes. There are many positive outcomes, such as higher levels of fitness, organizational skills, teamwork competence, and more.

But service in time of war is dangerous and difficultIn some cases it inflicts crippling trauma or enduring health issues. And we’ve had continual war for long enough in recent years that some serving now in Afghanistan or elsewhere weren’t even born yet on that infamous 9/11.

Among the worst outcomes are higher suicide rates among veterans than the general population and a persistent pattern of homeless veterans.

I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that “homeless” and “veteran” are two words that should never go together, and that losing 17 veterans to suicide each day while the VA underspends by millions of its budget for helping them is unconscionable.

A dark background and a black-and-white photo of a homeless veteran combine to make the point, along with an anonymous quote: "I was prepared to serve, I was prepared to be wounded, I was prepared to die. However: When I came home, I was not prepared to be forgotten."

Acknowledging that service comes at a price

By now most of us have learned that the popular phrase “Thank you for your service” can come across as hopelessly glib and thoughtless to some veterans. 

For a significant number it’s on the same order as the phrase “thoughts and prayers,” when offered as a cheap substitute for action.

How do we move beyond “thank you for your service” (however well-meant or deeply felt)? Can we express our gratitude in more practical ways? Dr. Michael B. Brennan of Psychology Today, who is himself a veteran, offers three suggestions.

Dr. Brennan’s three suggestions

First, go ahead and say “Thank you.” Many veterans still appreciate it, as does Dr. Brennan. On Veterans Day a few years ago, I posted a list similar to his, entitled “Three creative ways to thank a veteran.” I continue to stand by what I said there.

Second, get involved locally with initiatives designed to help and support veterans. Advocate. Interact with veterans at local VFW or American Legion posts. Or work with other credible local nonprofits. 

Here in Kansas City we have the nationally-recognized Veterans Community Project. But everywhere has (or should have!) something. And there’s nothing that says you really do care, better than face-to-face interaction

Because I believe in the organization, and because this video offers insights we can transfer to other contexts, here’s a little more on the Veterans Community Project:

Third, Brennan suggests that you educate yourself. Take time to develop “Cultural competence.” When you understand more about veterans’ issues, it shows when you interact with them. You’re also better able to advocate for improvements when you know more. 

That’s important. Advocacy matters! For veterans, it matters because service comes at a price. But sometimes politicians and others don’t want to remember that, or help pay for it.

What does your community do to support veterans? Are you involved in advocacy? Local volunteer action? Please share in the comments, if you’re willing.

IMAGE CREDITS: Many thanks to the City of Coronado, CA, for the Veterans Day graphic, to the HeartMath Institute (via @Sharon4Veterans on Twitter and Pinterest) for the “Not prepared to be forgotten” image, and to The Veterans Community Project and Kansas City’s Atlas Roofing, for the video describing the Veterans Community Project, who runs it, and why their tiny homes for homeless veterans are built the way they are.

this graphic shows where dogs look on dog or human faces to get clues about the other individual's emotions.

Dog cognition: how much does your dog understand?

The cover of "What's Bred in the Bone" is © 2019 by Jody A. Lee. It shows XK9 Rex, the sapient canine protagonist, front and center.
What’s Bred in the Bone: now available.

Back in August, I wrote a guest post on dog cognition for Booker T’s Farm. That blog also later posted a very nice review of What’s Bred in the Bone. Booker T’s style, however, didn’t include the hyperlinks to my sources that I’d suggested.

Because science doesn’t stand still, there’s also some updated information to add. I’ve previously written about working dogs on this blog. So I’ve decided to expand on my August post.

How much do dogs really understand?

Have you ever wondered how much your dog knows? Does she really understand your facial expressions and gestures? Is his behavior mostly instinct and the impulse of the moment, or is it rooted in more complex thought processes?

Recent studies suggest the answers to all of these questions are “more than you might think.” Just how much your dog understands is still being studied, but it’s already clear we have more in common with our canine companions than we might imagine.

The skeleton of a puppy shares a Stone Age grave with the skeletons of a man and a woman, buried like a member of the family.
This puppy, buried in a Stone Age grave along with a man and a woman in Oberkassel, Germany (today in a suburb of Bonn) shows signs that it died of distemper, and would likely have been cared for over a period of many weeks. Sick though it was, its people apparently loved it. (screen capture from a video by University of Alberta, via National Geographic).

An ancient bond

Humans have a longer history of evolving side by side with dogs than with any other domesticated animal species. Archaeologists have found dog remains with a human burial as long ago as 14,000 years ago. But geneticists have found mutations that would suggest a more domesticated diet that date back some 32,000 years.

There’s even a sandstone cliff in Saudi Arabia that offers pictorial documentation of a man hunting with dogs (on leashes?) that’s more than 8,000 years old. This video is short, but informative:

So dogs and humans have had a pretty long time to get used to each other. How much have we “rubbed off on each other”? Some researchers say quite a lot! Neither humans nor dogs would be what we are today, without each other

That’s true physically, but studies in dog cognition also tell us it’s true in terms of dogs’ brains. This first became clear when dogs showed they could easily understand gestures such as a human pointing to an object, although chimpanzees could not. They are more tuned in to what humans are doing.

Watch the eyes (and the eyebrows!)

Researchers also have shown that dogs pay attention to where we are looking , and recognize the difference between happy and angry human expressions

According to a study from the University of Helsinki, "the social gazing behavior of domestic dogs resembles that of humans: dogs view facial expressions systematically, preferring eyes. In addition, the facial expression alters their viewing behavior, especially in the face of threat."
According to a study from the University of Helsinki, “the social gazing behavior of domestic dogs resembles that of humans: dogs view facial expressions systematically, preferring eyes. In addition, the facial expression alters their viewing behavior, especially in the face of threat.” (Photo: S.Somppi Ja 123RF.DOI: 10.1371/Journal.Pone.0143047)

Moreover, recent studies have established that dogs have more facial muscles than wolves. The muscles that move their eyebrows and give them such expressive faces developed after they’d become a separate species. In other words, they have puppy-dog eyes, and they are not afraid to use them

Believe it or not, this reflects sophisticated dog cognition. Along with the “pointing tests,” it shows that that dogs have a “theory of mind. That’s the ability to intuit how others see the world and even, to some extent, know what they’re thinking,” according to studies done by Duke University researchers.

Dogs may not be as smart as humans (yet), but their cognitive capabilities run deeper than many people imagine. We’ll look at more aspects of this next week, in my mid-week post. 

Till then, I’d be fascinated to learn your thoughts on this post, and read any stories about super-smart dogs you have known, if you’d care to share them in the comments section.

IMAGE CREDITS: The cover artwork for What’s Bred in the Bone is © 2019 by Jody A. Lee. The photo of a puppy buried in a Stone Age grave is a screen capture from a video by University of Alberta, posted by National Geographic. The video about the ancient Saudi Arabian petroglyphs of hunters with dogs (on leashes?) is courtesy of YouTube and Science Magazine.  The illustration that describes where dogs typically look at faces depicting emotion is from the University of Helsinki, by S.Somppi Ja 123RF.DOI: 10.1371/Journal.Pone.0143047. Many thanks to all!

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