Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Month: April 2020

This Muhammad Ali quote says, "Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth."

What are our priorities?

I think we all understand that life will change after the pandemic, but what are our priorities? What guiding principles will light our way and inform those changes? In the face of glaring inequities revealed by the crisis, I worry about this.

Perhaps I should explain where I stand. I believe that the proper role of government is to defend and work for its citizensAll of them, not just the rich and powerful. This idealistic view parallels passages in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, or, at least it does the way I was taught to read them.

Unfortunately, what we see unfolding in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic all too often reflects different priorities.

Priorities revealed

It’s a truism that we don’t really know what we’re made of till we’re tested. 

This quote from Warren W. Wiersbe reads, "After all, a crisis doesn't make a person; it reveals what a person is made of."
Many thanks to QuoteFancy, for this quote from Warren W. Wiersbe.

For every prediction that smart investors should migrate to renewable energy, there also seems to be a view to the contrary that “We can no longer indulge the impulses of “environmental” activists. Sanitary plastic grocery bags are safer than reusables. Mass transit and densely-packed cities spread infections. Automobiles and suburban/rural living are healthier,” as Jerry Shenk put it recently.

Other decision-making whipsaws reflect just as little consensus. Whose priorities should we value? Whose should we reject as unworthy? 

Varied views of future outcomes

I’ve read interesting stories about wildlife venturing into areas where traffic has dropped off. Others about historically clean air in places where traffic has dropped off. And one about ways to make cities more walking friendly and keep car traffic at lower levels after the pandemic (see a trend, there?).

I’ve seen several articles about ordinary people’s decimated savings. Others explore the disastrous effect of recent public policies. And a flood of new ways for creative people to grow their businesses continues as people discover new and old techniques. 

Not only that, but there are predictions about ways our minds will change about things such as social distancingwork from homechild care, and universal health care. I’ve also read more cynical predictions about how some will spin retrospectives to skew perceptions if possible.

This quote from James Baldwin says, "Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced."
Many thanks to Goalcast, for this quote from James Baldwin.

Our decisions reveal our priorities

Most of my fellow countrymen/women are pretty decent folks, as individuals. We’ve seen gallant examples of selflessnessself-sacrifice, and public spirit as this pandemic rolls out. These warm my heart and give me hope.

Some of my most-accessed blog posts in recent weeks have been those about ways to thank first responders, and how to understand and respond to their stress.

Many Americans–many people all over the world–understand the deep things. The value of honest work, the worth of a thank-you, the joy of praising admirable deeds.

This Muhammad Ali quote says, "Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth."
Many thanks to Discover Corps for this quote from Muhammad Ali.

But we’ve also seen a different spirit. 

It reveals itself in the unseemly scramble of large, publicly-traded companies grabbing up vast sums of money meant to go to small businesses struggling to stay afloat. The rules allowed it, so they grabbed. Some of them gave it back once they were caught. 

We’ve also seen banks garnish stimulus money from overdrawn customers, pre-empting what was meant to be grocery and rent money from ever reaching the desperate would-be recipients.

And we’ve seen crowds of closely-packed protestors, mostly white folk with guns, demanding that the lockdowns be ended immediately so they can get haircuts, among other things. They claim a constitutional right to liberty, plus economic insecurity, drives them. Although other motives have been noted.

What are our priorities? 

Now is the moment for us to decide. Are things more important than people?

Is our convenience more important than other people’s lives? Do we even have the right to make the decision that it is?

Who gets to decide how many deaths are “acceptable losses”–and, acceptable to exactly whom?

Do we live in a country that is of, by, and most especially for the people? All of the people? And, for this question’s purposes, corporations are not people, my friend. 

This quote from Mahatma Gandhi says, "The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members."

I very much worry how history will evaluate our true measure, based on how we order our priorities today.

How do you think we should form–and inform–the priorities that will guide us into the future? What are you doing to join that conversation?


Many thanks to QuoteFancy, for the Warren W. Wiersbe quote; to GoalCast, for the quote from James Baldwin; to DiscoverCorps, for the quote from Muhammad Ali; and to AZ Quotes, for the Mahatma Gandhi quote. I appreciate you all!

The illustrated title says "Happy Earth Day Celebrating 50 Years."

Earth Day, fifty years on

Earth Day, fifty years on, looks a lot different from the early Earth Days I remember. 

Followers of this blog may recall my claim to be “older than dirt” (as a gardener who composts, I can confidently make that claim). I also am older than Earth Day.

As with many things in the 1970s, however, I came to Earth Day a bit late. Many schools in the US let out classes or didn’t count absences, if students left campus to participate in peaceful demonstrations or “teach-ins” on April 22, 1970 (Seriously! What an awesome civics lesson!). But not my high school in conservative southwest Missouri! 

(Video courtesy of YouTube)

No, we may have glimpsed a story about it on the news. And it may have begun in a bipartisan spirit of cooperation. But it would take a few more years, and my evolution into a “somewhat-hippie” college art major, before I actively participated in any observances of Earth Day.

An expanding movement

The first Earth Day was a mixed success, but the movement persisted, because the problems didn’t go away. Decades of laissez-faire non-regulation of toxins in the environment had turned most of the “developed” world into a toxic mess

I cringe when I hear about recent changes that make the Environmental Protection Agency less able to hold polluters accountable, or when supposedly-reasonable political leaders discount climate change.

In this 1952 black-and-white photo, a tugboat squirts water on a fire that is burning atop the extremely polluted Cuyahoga River near Cleveland, OH.
The Cuyahoga River caught fire several times near Cleveland, OH, during the mid-20th Century. It got to be kind of a routine event. This is a photo from June 25, 1952, when it still seemed kind of novel. (historic photo courtesy of Wired)

That’s because I remember when the Cuyahoga River could be set on fire by sparks from a passing train. And I remember rarely being able to see the mountains from Denver (while the view of Denver from the mountains was a reddish-looking haze of pollution). I also remember being in Kansas City for only a day, before I could wipe a layer of grime off my car from particulates in the air.

In this 1980s-era photo, the Denver skyline and the Rockies beyond it are only dimly visible through the reddish-brown haze of pollution that routinely hung over the city.
Denver smog alert, 1980s-era (photo courtesy of the EPA).

But the USA wasn’t alone. Irresponsible governments and companies were freely destroying the whole world. So by the 1990s, Earth Day had grown into a global event. We all have a stake in our planet’s health!

Fifty years on, “Earth Day is widely recognized as the largest secular observance in the world.”

But 50 years on, there’s still a lot to do

Global climate change is still accelerating. Too many powerful people don’t want to change, don’t want to risk having to pay for cleanups, and don’t seem to think they’ll suffer too many consequences if they drag their feet.

On this blog, I’ve sounded the alarm about deforestationhabitat lossextreme weather, and other aspects of climate change that affect us now–today.

And there’s plenty we can do. Let’s choose greater energy efficiency in our own lifestyles, advocate for climate-wise policies in our local, state, and national government, and stay aware and informed. 

Volunteer opportunities abound. So do donation opportunities. If we have more time than money, it’s pretty easy to find and get involved in local clean-ups, community gardening efforts, educational work, or any of the many other initiatives.

There are as many different paths to a better future as there are people–but time is running out. Fifty years on, Earth Day reminds us that the cost of ignoring the problem is too ghastly to accept.

The image reads, "Happy Earth Day."
(Image courtesy of Earth911)


Many thanks to for the “Happy Earth Day 50 Years” featured image, and to YouTube for the 1970-vintage video from CBS. I’m grateful to Wired, for the historic photo of the Cuyahoga River on fire in 1952, and to the EPA for the photo of 1980s-era Denver. And finally, many thanks to Earth911, for the “Happy Earth Day” greeting image.

This quote from Henry Ward Beecher reads, "A library is not a luxury but one of the necessities of life."

In celebration of Library Week

It’s once again time to do something in celebration of Library Week! Last year on Artdog AdventuresI posted a different library-related quote each day. The brilliant Simini Blocker illustrated all of them. Of course, The Weird Blog didn’t exist yet, this time last year.

This year, I’m no less grateful and delighted that we have libraries in our lives. I have a lot less time for blogging. But I owe it to libraries and their impact on my life to do something in celebration of Library Week!

This quote-image from Mari Barnes says, "Libraries are sacred time machines where knowledge flows and magic is eternal."
Many thanks to Shellie’s Quote Emporium on tumblr, for this quote from Mari Barnes.

Libraries are centers of knowledge

Of course, for any book lover, libraries are life and breath. They also have been a feature of civilization for about as long as civilizations have existed. You might consider libraries as one of  the characteristics that marks a given cultural flowering as a “civilization.” Unfortunately, in most civilizations, libraries weren’t open to the general public

Granted, the general public couldn’t read for most of human history. Also, the concept of a public library hadn’t occurred to anyone. One thing we citizens of the USA can be proud of is that free public libraries appear to be an American invention.

Libraries function as repositories of information, accumulated wisdom and insight. Sometimes poppycock mixes in there, too. But that’s often hard to discern till much later. In every age, they’re centers of knowledge. And you know what they say about knowledge.

This quote from an episode of the TV Show "Dr. Who" says, "You want weapons? We are in a Library! the best weapons in the world!"
Many thanks to ebook friendly for this Dr. Who quote.

Years ago, a wise person told me that reading material in the home often tells us who’ll be a greater success. A good-sized collection of books (in their field or more general) signals a more agile mind.

More than books alone

From the very beginning, libraries have always been more than just collections of books. Books are useless unless someone reads, thinks about and discusses them. For this reason, the ancient Library of Pergamum had four rooms: three for storing books (scrolls at that time), and one for meetings, conferences, and banquets.

In Colonial North America, Benjamin Franklin and a community of friends created the first “social library.” They each chipped in 40 shillings to buy a collection of books that all could use. Groups of scholars or a church might share other libraries of the time. 

Three different sites claim bragging rights as the “first” public library. But whichever was first, what we’d recognize as proto-modern, free public libraries arose in the early 1840s, in the eastern United States, in tandem with public schools. Both schools and libraries support the idea that only an educated citizenry can govern a democracy well. 

This quote-image from Henry Ward Beecher reads, "A library is not a luxury but one of the necessities of life."
Many thanks to MEME for the Henry Ward Beecher quote.

In Celebration of Library Week

There’s so much to love about libraries! They actually may make us better people

A 2014 Pew Research poll discovered that 2/3 of Americans say they have “high or medium engagement” with their local public libraries. Better still, library patrons are more involved in their communities. They’re also more likely to be engaged with friends and neighbors, and generally be more capable tech users.

Contemporary libraries provide a resource center for all kinds of information, materials, and computer/Internet access. They offer a haven of resources for lower-income information-seekers and those in need of services only available online. And they often serve as a port in the storm for some of our our homeless population.

In celebration of Library Week, I could have gone in many directions with this blog post. But I hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse of public library history. What would we do without our libraries? If you’re so inclined, please share your favorite aspects or experiences with libraries in the comments below.

This illustrated quote from author J. K. Rowling says, "When in doubt go to the library."
Many thanks to ebook friendly for this quote from J. K. Rowling.


Many thanks to Shellie’s Quote Emporium on tumblr, for the quote from Mari Barnes; to  ebook friendly for the Dr. Who quote.  Many thanks to MEME for the Henry Ward Beecher quote, and again to ebook friendly for this quote from J. K. Rowling.

A magical moment for a LEGO wedding

Creative amusements

Will you invent creative amusements, or run screaming berserk? I’m sure that’s a real question for many people confined to quarters until further notice. Pandemic lockdown is a challenge, no matter who you are.

Families confined together get into each others’ space and onto each others’ nerves. Telecommuters struggle to balance work and family–or work and utter solitude.

Essential workers don their masks each day like armor, then venture into a dangerous landscape where one thoughtless cough, like a ticking time bomb, could kill them this or next week.

Desperate times, they say, call for desperate measures. Or, sometimes, for creative amusements.

Two views of the same Brooklyn scene: congested traffic is normal (top), but streets are empty during the lockdown.
Above: Brooklyn’s 7 Train and traffic below in pre-pandemic times. (uncredited photo from Medium). Below: Almost the same scene, but with empty streets during the lockdown (Juan Arredondo for the New York Times).

A recipe for . . . ?

Creativity happens when divergent thinking runs up against a problem to solve. And oh my, do problems ever abound right now. I’m blessed to be one of the back-bench folks on this lockdown. I cheer from the cheap seats, but stay well out of the way while the real heroes do epic battle on the front lines. 

And I have plenty of creative work to do–I’m deep in final revisions on A Bone to Pick, the second book in the XK9 “Bones” Trilogy. And when I want to take a break there’s always paper sculpture. But what about people confined to their homes or apartments, whose creative work is based somewhere else?

Weird Sisters Publishing has 3 titles as of March 2020.
Our first three books are just the beginning. I’m working on A Bone to Pick now. (Weird Sisters Publishing)

I recently discovered two examples of just such people, and two very creative amusements. In each case they “made lemonade” from their less-than-ideal situations. I thought you might enjoy what they came up with.

A wedding photographer with no weddings to shoot

Chris Wallace of Carpe Diem Photography needed a wedding to photograph, but he had none. So he made up his own. Out of LEGOs. 

The resulting photo shoot not only gave a grown man an excellent excuse to play with plastic bricks and miniature figures, but when he posted the photos on his website he garnered memorable media and social media attention.

From his account of Florence and Fred’s “magical day,” and the assortment of wedding guests (who include, among many other notables, Chewbacca and Eleanor Twitty, the Library Ghost from Ghostbusters), it’s clear Wallace had as much fun creating the event as we have viewing his photos.

See all these LEGO Wedding photos and many more by Chris Wallace, from My Modern Met and Carpe Diem Photography.

An artist, a museum curator, and two very cosmopolitan gerbils

It started as a Sunday project to mark a London-based couple’s 14th day of quarantine. Before they were finished, artist Marianna Benetti and independent curator Filippo Lorenzin had turned it into an elaborate little gerbil-sized museum gallery.

They even created gerbil-centric masterpieces for the display (Oddly reminiscent of Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl EarringMunch’s The Scream, Klimt’s The Kiss, and Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa), and posted a highly futile “Please Don’t Chew” sign.

Their two gerbils, Pandoro and Tiramisù, found plenty of interesting things to inspect, as documented in both still photography and a cute short video.

Rude gallery patrons that they were, however, they not only chewed up a chair, but briefly gnawed on the “Don’t Chew” sign itself. After all, gerbils just gotta chew.

Here's the gerbil-size art gallery before the gerbils arrive, with a good view of all four "masterpieces."
One gerbil seems more art-conscious. She gets up close with the "Gerbil Scream" painting.
The more "art conscious" gerbil examines the "Gerbil Mona Lisa" image.
The gerbils have now destroyed the miniature chair, and appear ready for other adventures.
These four “gerbils in the gallery” photos are from Marianna Benetti and Filippo Lorenzin, featuring their gerbils Pandoro and Tiramisù, via My Modern Met.

What creative amusements have you invented?

Here in Kansas City, we just got the word that we’re probably going to continue on lockdown another three weeks beyond its original end-date. Schools are closed on both sides of the state linethrough the end of this school year.

We should have lots more time to get cabin fever, go stir crazy . . . and maybe think up some creative amusements, too. How about you?


Many thanks to Medium for the view of Brooklyn’s 7 Train and traffic below, pre-pandemic; almost the same scene after the lockdown photo is from the New York Times/Juan Arredondo.

The three Weird Sisters Publishing book covers (with artist credits) are from Weird Sisters Publishing’s Our Books page.

The four photos of “Florence and Fred’s” LEGO wedding are by Chris Wallace of Carpe Diem Photography, via My Modern Met. Many thanks!

The four “gerbils in the gallery” photos are from Marianna Benetti and Filippo Lorenzin, featuring their gerbils Pandoro and Tiramisù, via My Modern Met. Deepest gratitude!

Loaded camel kneels. "Time to re-pack the load" floats over the photo.

Time to re-pack the load

Sometimes the pack-saddle shifts, the camel stumbles, and it’s time to re-pack the load. In my case it was myself as a metaphorical camel (no animals harmed. No crazy ladies, either). But the load was increasingly real.

A loaded camel lies down in a desert setting with it knees curled under it and a serene look on its face.
Not overloaded, we hope–just resting. This camel photo is courtesy of ABC News (no photographer credited).

Confident predictions doomed

This week on The Weird Blog I was supposed to tell you about the availability of Deep Ellum Pawn in print. Sadly, I can’t. Because it isn’t (yet). I can still promise that it will be, but I’ve endured enough technical glitches in the past week to restrain any confident predictions of exactly when.

This week on my Artdog Adventures blogI was planning to plunge into the world of video production. Not unlike my friend Lynette Burrows (scroll down on her post), that didn’t exactly go as planned, either. It probably still will happen, but I’ve also endured enough technical glitches in this realm to back cautiously away from smiling assertions.

I’ve encountered a lot of detours this week.

This quote from Mary Kay Ash reads, "For every failure, there's an alternative course of action. You just have to find it. When you come to a roadblock, take a detour."
Many thanks to Wise Famous Quotes for this gem from Mary Kay Ash.

An accumulation of odd jobs

Have you ever been on a hike with a child (or a crazy lady who should know better), who’s a packrat at heart? Walk along the trail, and periodically she’ll find a pretty leaf or an interesting rock or some other little bit of spontaneous wonderfulness that she just has to bring home.

Pretty soon her pockets are bulging (or yours are), and the accumulated load begins to weigh something. The realization gradually dawns: “Oh, just one more! It won’t take much space. And isn’t that just the coolest thing?” is a trap.

It’s the same with interesting new projects, or shiny new responsibilities. “Sure, that won’t take too much extra time,” or, “I’d love to help with that,” or, “I bet I could improve on how that’s done,” can turn into excellent opportunities you’ll always be glad you accepted. They also can start to weigh you down. 

This quote from Gail Sheehy says, "Stress overload makes us stupid. Solid research proves it. When we get overstressed, it creates a nasty chemical soup in our brains that makes it hard to pull out of the anxious depressive spiral."
Many thanks to More Famous Quotes for this observation from Gail Sheehy.

Time to re-pack the load

Sooner or later, the camel stumbles. The pocket’s seam pops. Or a deadline just can’t be met. Our metaphorical camel has balked at that daunting, final straw.

Eventually, it’s time to re-pack the load

This week, that’s what happened to me. But re-packing all of exactly the same old baggage puts us right back in exactly the same old pickle we had before. Each “coolest thing” and each shiny new project carries “weight” in the form of a time commitment, as well as possible financial cost. It’s time to rethink priorities. 

Which one is the sparkliest rock? The most important job? Which will you most regret leaving behind on the trail, and which will carry you more fruitfully in the direction you really want to go? Gotta leave a few “cool things” behind, sometimes, if you’re gonna make it home with your pockets intact and a place for each thing when you get there.

This unattributed quote says, "Effort is important, but knowing where to make an effort makes all the difference!"
Many thanks to “Inspire 99” for this unattributed quote.

IMAGE CREDITS: The photo of the resting camel is from ABC news (no photographer credited). Many thanks to Wise Famous Quotes for the gem from Mary Kay Ash, to More Famous Quotes for the observation from Gail Sheehy, and to Inspire 99” for the unattributed quote about knowing where to make the effort.

Here's a detail from the cover of "The Other Side of Fear"

I’ve been published again! “The Other Side of Fear” is out!

This re-blog of a post about my book The Other Side of Fear that went live yesterday on The Weird Blog. It’s from my publisher, Weird Sisters Publishing.

We’ve teased you about The Other Side of Fear for the past couple of weeks–first with a front cover reveal, and then with a sample from Chapter One

Today Weird Sisters Publishing is proud to announce the arrival (sort of) of Jan S. Gephardt’s new book, The Other Side of Fear!  It’s now available from the Kindle Store. Other outlets may still “processing” it.

But we can give you more glimpses.

What’s it about, anyway?

Here’s the official book description for The Other Side of Fear:

Does she have what it takes?
Orangeboro police officer Pamela Gómez took her own dare. Now she’s headed planetside, to meet the challenge of her life.
XK9s are the newest, most powerful tool in law enforcement, but these super-dogs need human partners. The Orangeboro Police Department has purchased ten XK9s. Only an elite corps of officers will be chosen as their handlers.
Pam’s never had a dog, never left her home space station, and never thought of herself as an “elite” anything, but she took the courses, passed the tests, and made the cut. Now she’s an XK9 partner-candidate, bound for Planet Chayko, despite all her fears.
Does she have what it takes to handle an XK9? The answer to that will take her places she never dared to dream about.

Here’s the complete cover for The Other Side of Fear

Here are the back cover, front cover, and spine of Jan's newest release from Weird Sisters Publishing, "The Other Side of Fear."
The Other Side of Fear cover art © 2020 by Lucy A. Synk.

You already know how we worked with artist Lucy A. Synk on this cover, developing the concept and sweating the small stuff. Right down to “What does an ashasata look like?” and “Who are all the people in the background?”

It’s a book–but a book with a really tiny spine. The spine width on this wraparound cover art provided an exercise in miniaturization. The book only weighed in at 100 pages (after all, it’s a novella, not a full novel). For those who haven’t read What’s Bred in the Bone, there’s also a preview of Chapter One at the end.

But our Art Director hates to see a blank spine on a book, even if it’s a skinny one. Wait till you see her tackle Deep Ellum Pawn. That’s next up. If all goes well, Deep Ellum Pawn will be available in paperback and wide release by this time next week!

The Other Side of Fear Is now available!

The Kindle Store now has this title available. Keep checking your Barnes & Noble account, or hop onto Jan’s Amazon Author Page. You should find it there soon!

IMAGE CREDIT: Many thanks to artist Lucy A. Synk for the cover artwork, which is © 2020 by Lucy A. Synk, all rights reserved.

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