Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Month: November 2020

This illustration shows many diverse ages, races, and cultures.

Politics on Rana Station

In last week’s post I promised to talk about politics on Rana Station this week. As I said in that post, I built the Station’s system on ideas garnered from decades of teaching, studying history, and observing our contemporary society.

Those experiences inspired the guiding question, What kind of environment would allow ALL of my students to reach their full potential?

Three children play in an outdoors setting with found objects.
Natural spaces offer many free-play options, which are good for kids. (uncredited photo from Community Playthings)

I’ve spent most of my career teaching both urban and rural students from lower-income areas. I knew our current system definitely wasn’t cutting it.

But the more I studied, the clearer it became that the problems were bigger than schools.

Children do well where everyone around them does too

Thriving children come from thriving communities with good safety nets and essential needs provided for. Unfortunately, the United States doesn’t have such a system. The Covid-19 pandemic has made that fact plainer than ever, and it was already painfully clear to anyone paying attention.

Members of White Coats for Black Lives demonstrate at a Black Lives Matter rally in June 2020.
Members of White Coats for Black Lives demonstrate at a Black Lives Matter rally in June 2020. (Photo by Maria Khrenova/TASS/Getty, via Yes Magazine.)

When I taught in more well-off parts of Johnson County, Kansas, I saw places where many students did succeed. Those kids were never hungry. Most had excellent medical care. Their families enriched their backgrounds with travel, summer camp, outings museums, zoos, concerts, or other experiences.

Children still sometimes “fell through the cracks,” often for the same reasons inner-city or rural kids did. Only about 5.3% of Johnson Countians fall below the poverty line, but for those who do, services are sparse and mass-transit leaves much to be desired. But even kids from well-off homes could suffer from mental health issues, domestic violence, or drug habits that impacted all aspects of their lives.

How could Rana Station do better?

I didn’t build my fictitious space station to be a political manifesto. I knew from the start that I couldn’t geek out on “mastery learning,” decriminalization of addiction, restorative justice, or other pet ideas, and still write an entertaining science fiction mystery. (Instead, I opted to do that in blog posts. You’ve now been warned!)

A protester demonstrates in support of supervised injection sites in Philadelphia in December 2019.
A protester demonstrates in support of supervised injection sites in Philadelphia in December 2019. (Matt Rourke/AP, via Baltimore Sun.)

But I could write the station’s governmental system into the background of the action as a thought experiment. Insert ideas as they became appropriate. Discard things that slowed the narrative.

What’s different on Rana Station?

As I noted last week, I don’t believe in utopias. There’s no possibility of a “perfect system,” if it’s run by imperfect beings—and everyone’s an imperfect being. But we can try to do better than whatever our current system has become. That’s what I’ve tried to reflect in the politics on Rana Station.

I do believe strongly that diverse cultures foster a more resilient society, so I’ve tried to depict a variety of cultures and species in these books. There are four different kinds of sapient beings among Rana’s citizens.

Faces of different ages, races, and cultures fill this illustration by "Franzidraws."
I believe a diverse community builds in greater creativity and resilience. (Illustration by “Franzidraws.”)

Ranan law and civic culture regards all backgrounds, body-colorations, family configurations, and cultures as equally acceptable. Readers of my two currently-published books know there’s no stigma attached to homosexuality. I have plans to expand that to other gender identities as well. My research goes forward, and as I learn, I hope to find good opportunities for representation.

My love of diversity “outs” me as a dedicated multiculturalist. Just don’t expect all this diversity not to generate differences of opinion. After all, emotions and conflict are the soul of good fiction.

Other than diverse sapient species, what’s different?

Many of the human characters live in large, extended families of relatives, in-laws, and sometimes friends who’ve become “family by choice.” Their residence towers are multi-household dwellings, kind of like an apartment building, only everyone’s a relative. Space to grow food is at a premium on Rana, so they build up, not out.

How do these large, extended families keep from killing each other? In part, cultural norms have grown up to govern “best practices” in extended-family dwellings. But some people just don’t thrive in these settings. They are free to move out—or sometimes the family decides to evict them. And for disagreements or mediation, they have Listeners.

A child psychologist and a young girl talk.
Listeners on Rana Station are trained mental health specialists. Here, a more Earthbound child psychologist and a young girl talk.(Photo by Valerii Honcharuk.)

Listeners are trained psychologists and social workers. Like physicians and other physical-health-care professionals, They make up part of the health care infrastructure. Unlike in our contemporary USA, mental and physical health care is viewed as a universal right. So are access to food, education, and shelter.

What kind of system do the politics on Rana Station reflect?

Rana’s list of basic rights might seem to peg me as a socialist for some, although that would technically be incorrect. In my opinion, these are basic infrastructure elements that any reasonable government should provide.

A system that doesn’t supply essential benefits to the people who support it with their votes and taxes is pretty darn corrupt, in my opinion. Why have it, if it doesn’t benefit all of its citizens, including those experiencing hard times?

People gather around a raised bed at a community garden in Oakland, CA.
Unlike in the United States, food insecurity is virtually unknown on Rana Station. Here, a group gathers at the Acta no Verba Garden in Oakland, CA. (photo by Leonor Hurtado).

My sympathy for restorative justice and Summerhill-type “free schooling” might make some think I’m an anarchist at heart, but that’s not my philosophical home. Observant folk might also notice I didn’t “abolish” the Orangeboro Police Department, among other things.

The presence of a vigorous business community and varied personal-income levels on Rana Station might argue that I’m a capitalist. That’s probably accurate, although I regard capitalism in much the same way I do fire: uncontrolled, it can consume and destroy everything. Appropriately regulated, it can power widespread benefits.

Politics on Rana Station, and unintended consequences

If Rana sounds like a nice place to live, it might suit you in the way its founders (both fictional and me) hoped. But that warning about utopias holds, here.

The system has its weak links, failures, and faults. The Orangeboro cops and their counterparts on other parts of the Station find plenty of work to do. “Enemies, both foreign and domestic,” keep Rana’s leaders busy, as well.

And they open up lots of opportunities for stories I hope you and I can both enjoy.


Many thanks to Community Playthings, for the uncredited photo of the children at play. I’m grateful to Yes Magazine and photographer Maria Khrenova of TASS/Getty Images for the photo of White Coats for Black Lives demonstrators in New York last summer (June 2020). I appreciate the Baltimore Sun and photographer Matt Rourke/AP for the photo of the demonstrator who called for safe drug-use sites in Philadelphia last December (2019).

Thanks very much to 123RF for the “diverse community” illustration by Franzidraws, and for the photo of the psychologist working with the young girl, taken by Valerii Honcharuk. I also appreciate Food First and photographer Leonor Hurtado, for the photo of the community garden group from Oakland, CA.

Recent political-comment books

Politics in Science Fiction

Do you read science fiction as an escape? If you hoped the politics would die down after the election, and now you just want to get away from it all in a sci-fi world, I’ll try to break this gently. Politics in science fiction is pretty much baked-in.

No romance, no adventure story, no mystery, and no historical drama can completely evade society or politics, even when it’s not the focus. But most of these are based on actual events or places. If your romance is set in Tuscany, or if your historical novel takes place in Kublai Khan’s court, certain rules are already set.

But sf was kinda built for political or social comment. Science fiction can range from a simple town hall to a matrilineal nest-colony. But every sf story resides in a world that the author chose to create that way. For a reason.

Sometimes it’s just the wallpaper

Covers for Murderbot stories: “All Systems Red,” “Artificial Condition,” “Rogue Protocol,” “Exit Strategy,” “Network Effect,” and “Fugitive Telemetry.”
Jaime Jones illustrates the “Murderbot Stories” of Martha Wells, from Publishing. Cover images courtesy of Martha Wells.

Would-be escapists take heart! Politics in science fiction novels isn’t always center-stage. Some sf authors choose the “background political system” more for plot-utility.

Martha Wells’ “Murderbot” stories take place in a system quite different from our own. What kind of place would allow such a cyborg to be made and exploited? We can believe this world would. It’s not obviously presented as a dystopia, but a writer with a different story purpose could actively portray it as one.

But maybe you’d rather take out your political frustrations in another way.


Maybe you’d like to see characters triumph over their politically- or socially-caused adversity. In that case, the politics in science fiction of certain kinds may be right up your alley. Perhaps counter-intuitively, some of the most inspirational science fiction unfolds in a dystopian world.

Writers use dystopian novels to critique some aspect of their current world. Suzanne Collins drew inspiration from both classical and contemporary sources for her “Hunger Games” books. Her critique focuses on social and economic inequalities, extreme versions of contemporary trends.

Margaret Atwood’s dystopian The Handmaid’s Tale also makes an extremely relevant point about patriarchy taken to extremes. Women still struggle for the right to control their own bodies. Handmaid remains as relevant now as when it was published in 1985. Buzzfeed offers a list of 24 excellent dystopian novels you’d like to explore this subgenre.

Covers for “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Ecotopia,” and “Brave New World,” as well as a boxed set of the Suzanne Collins “Hunger Games Trilogy” and the flag design for Star Trek’s United Federation of Planets.
Atwood book cover courtesy of Thriftbooks. Hunger Games boxed set photo courtesy of Goodreads. Ecotopia and Brave New World book covers courtesy of Bookshop. Star Trek United Federation of Planets flag by Shisma-Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0.


Ernest Callenbach’s novel Ecotopia gets pointed to a lot, as an example of a utopian novel—one set in a supposedly “perfect” society. Published in 1975, it influenced the dawn of the Green movement (so did fact-based books such as Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, published in 1962). See my 2016 post “How Science Fiction Impacts Environmental Awareness.”

Utopias are harder to find in fiction—especially influential utopias. How do you present an interesting story set in a perfect world? Conflict and problems are the soul of plot. This may be the primary reason the Solarpunk movement has been able to produce inspiring and beautiful visual art, but no “breakout” novel to date.

The background society of the Federation in the Star Trek universe has a utopian nature. But few stories in the franchise take place there. Most are set in a less-utopian corner of the Final Frontier.

When one person’s utopia becomes another’s dystopia in some way, we tend to find more stories. Aldous Huxley took that approach in Brave New World (that society’sinhabitants believed it to be a utopia).

Political and social commentary

Politics in science fiction and speculative fiction is alive and well. And has been, all the way back to the genre’s roots.

Many people consider Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus (1818) to be the “first science fiction novel.” It’s a cautionary tale against technological hubris ( see Victor Frankenstein’s dying admonition to “avoid ambition”).

H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine commented on his contemporary social class system. He employed Darwinian concepts to speculate in an oh, so Victorian way that the upper and lower classes would evolve separately over the millennia into separate sub-species of humans.

Covers for historic books “Frankenstein” and “The Time Machine,” contemporary novels “Ancillary Justice” and “A Memory Called Empire,” and XK9 books “The Other Side of Fear” and “What’s Bred in the Bone.”
Book covers for Frankenstein, The Time Machine, Ancillary Justice, and A Memory Called Empire are courtesy of Bookshop. Covers for the “XK9” novels courtesy of Weird Sisters Publishing LLC. XK9 cover art is © 2020 by Lucy A. Synk and © 2019 by Jody A. Lee.

More recent examples

But the sf writers of the past have nothing on today’s works. Nnedi Okorafor, for one example, frequently tackles such topics as racial and gender inequality, environmental destruction, corruption, and genocide through the lens of her fantasy and science fiction.

Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice takes a unique approach to gender (for one thing, the “default pronoun” is she, which leads us interesting places). Her long, hard look at what Genevieve Valentine calls “the disconnects of culture” opens more parallels to consider.

Arkady Martine‘s acclaimed debut novel A Memory Called Empire tackles political intrigue (she’s a Byzantine Empire historian), and the multiple facets of colonialism.

Politics in the world of the XK9s

My own science fiction isn’t overtly political. My focus in the XK9 books is trying to tell a good story. But I built Rana Station, the environment where most of the action takes place, on ideas garnered from decades of teaching, studying history, and observing our contemporary society.

What kind of environment would enable all of my students to reach their full potential? If a political and social structure made that its guiding question, how would the resulting society look?

I built the world of Rana Station on ideas I started gathering during my coursework. But I don’t believe in “perfect” worlds. In my next post I’ll go into more depth on how and why I created the system where my fictional characters live.


Many thanks to all of the following: Jaime Jones, who illustrates the “Murderbot Stories” of Martha Wells, from Publishing. Cover images courtesy of Martha Wells. Atwood book cover courtesy of Thriftbooks. Hunger Games boxed set photo courtesy of Goodreads. Ecotopia and Brave New World book covers courtesy of Bookshop. Star Trek United Federation of Planets flag by Shisma-Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0. Book covers for Frankenstein, The Time Machine, Ancillary Justice, and A Memory Called Empire came from Bookshop. Covers for the “XK9” novels courtesy of Weird Sisters Publishing LLC. XK9 cover art is © 2020 by Lucy A. Synk and © 2019 by Jody A. Lee.

The front of the Kansas City VA Medical Center, in Kansas City, MO.

Our veterans haven’t failed us. But have we failed them?

Every Veterans Day, as a nation we’re supposed to pause. We’re supposed remember the many ways that veterans have never failed to serve our nation, when we called on them. But, especially on this Veterans Day, I worry: have we failed them?

Personal connections

I’ve never served in the armed forces, but service members and veterans have had a place in my heart for a long time. My father is a World War II Navy vet. He was one of the last men off of the USS St. Lo aircraft carrier, after a kamikaze sank it during the Battle of Leyte Gulf in 1944.

A kamikaze suicide pilot hits the USS St. Lo on Oct. 25, 1944. Gi’s and my father was one of the last men off the ship. Many thanks to Col. Tannenbusch and You Tube for this video.

My first beat as a student journalist was the Veterans Club at my alma mater, the university now known as Missouri State University. That was during the Vietnam War, so veterans weren’t excessively popular at the time, but I tried to represent them fairly. They eventually voted me the Vets Club Sweetheart (how’s that for unbiased journalistic rigor?).

The men of my generation

My brother-in-law Warren C. Norwood, our “Honorary third Weird Sister” of Weird Sisters Publishing, served in Vietnam. It changed his life. As my sister G. S. Norwood puts it, “Warren was proud of his service but didn’t recommend it to others. He went in as a born again Baptist, went through an atheist period before becoming a Buddhist by the time he came home from Nam.”

My Beloved is a longtime employee of the Kansas City VA Medical Center. My immediate family’s livelihood, for more than four decades, has depended on service to veterans.

Blogging through the Veterans Days

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."
We remember. But have we failed them? Image courtesy of the City of Coronado, CA.

So, let the record show that I care about veterans. But as a country, have we failed them? Some of those worries came up in earlier posts.

Last year on Veterans Day, I blogged about the price of veterans’ service. In 2018, the centennial of the Armistice was a can’t-miss opportunity to look back. But the year before that I again echoed worries about the respect that we pay. Is it enough? Or have we failed them?

My 2016 Veterans Day post is one of my most popular by far. It tried to answer the question of “how can we thank them?” with three suggestions. But the acts of individuals—although they can be powerful—ultimately are not enough.

As my sister G. put it, “we owe our soldiers more than just thanks for their service. If we ask people to volunteer to serve their country we need to make sure it’s a worthy cause and we need to take care of them when they come home. They are not disposable.”

Have we failed them?

Before anyone ends up a veteran, they have to serve active duty. And active duty is fraught with needless difficulty—in addition to all the hostile action one may see. Recent uses (or threatened uses) of the military by President Trump have placed our armed services in a bad position.

Although Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milly accompanied Trump to his infamous photo op at St. John’s Episcopal Church in June, the general later apologized. “I should not have been there,” he said. “My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.”

President Trump walks to St. John’s Episcopal Church on June 1 with Atty. Gen. William Barr, Defense Secretary John Esper and Gen. Mark Milley.
President Trump walks to St. John’s Episcopal Church on June 1 with Atty. Gen. William Barr, Defense Secretary John Esper and Gen. Mark Milley. Image courtesy of Associated Press / Patrick Semansky, via the LA Times.

2020 protests

Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) said this summer, of Trump’s plan to call out National Guardsmen to counter demonstrations: “The American military should not be the president’s tool . . . to suppress Americans’ First Amendment rights.”

I blogged earlier this year about frightening actions by unmarked, apparently-Federal agents in Portland. These turned out to be from Customs and Border Protection, not the National Guard.

A Russian bounty?

For most of the summer we worried about intelligence reports that the Russians had offered the Taliban a bounty for American and UK soldiers killed in Afghanistan.

The President claimed no knowledge of it, although it was widely reported. Later he called it a “made up Fake News Media Hoax started to slander me & the Republican Party.” (unfortunately, given the President’s demonstrated trustworthiness when using such language, that convinced me it was probably true).

After a Pentagon probe, officials released a statement that they had “not been able to corroborate the existence of such a program.” While not a clear “no, that didn’t happen,” this did cast more credible doubt on the story.

Meanwhile, though, what must the troops in Afghanistan have been thinking?

In this 2018 photo, US soldiers walk past a building in Logar Province, Afghanistan.
US soldiers in Afghanistan’s Logar Provice, in 2018. Photo courtesy of Reuters/VOA.

Military pay and other issues

Active-duty service members’ problems didn’t just start recently, however.

According to “The Military Wallet,” in recent years the pay for active duty military members has increased enough that those in the lower ranks no longer have to rely so much on food stamps or other assistance programs.

But in July 2019 NBC News found that making ends meet was still a widespread problem for military families. And that was before the Covid-19 pandemic sparked a recession reckoned to be the “worst since World War II.”

More hazards for military families

Low pay brings with it the plague of payday lenders, a predatory industry which somehow is still legal. In 2015, a brief furor erupted over the news that payday lenders often located their stores near military bases, and targeted military service members and their families at twice the rate of civilians.

The Military Lending Act (MLA) pushed back. Passed and signed during the Obama Administration, it provided short-lived protections. By 2017 the Trump Administration eased regulations on payday lenders targeting military family members, to circumvent the MLA. And in 2018 the Administration had so weakened the CFPB (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which had oversight responsibility) that the bureau’s leader, Richard Cordray, resigned with a fiery letter of protest.

A business offering short-term loans near Fort Bliss in El Paso, TX.
Blatant targeting near Fort Bliss in El Paso, TX. Have we failed them? Interest rates on short term loans can reach as much as 80 percent. Photo by Ivan Pierre Aguirre/The New York Times.

In 2011, I blogged about reports of substandard school buildings on military bases, and wondered how sincere all the then-in-vogue flag-waving truly was. Unfortunately, all too little has changed, from the look of things.

But once they leave active duty are they okay?

Let’s be clear. Many veterans thrive after their military service. Many use skills they developed in the service to find jobs in the private sector. Military service has enhanced the résumés of many illustrious business, professional, and political leaders.

My husband’s career is testament to the VA’s health care mission (although that hasn’t always been carried out well). Many veterans, such as my father, can comfortably rely on the lifelong health care that veterans (especially Purple Heart veterans like Dad) are entitled to receive.

My father has been supplied with glasses and hearing aids, prescription medicines, a wheelchair, and care by a home health aide from the VA. His medical care has been excellent, and he’s always greeted respectfully. I wish all veterans could have the same kind of experience at VA facilities.

The front of the Kansas City VA Medical Center, in Kansas City, MO.
The Kansas City VA Medical Center has always treated my family well. Photo courtesy Kansas City VA Medical Center, via KSHB 41 Action News.


I can’t close with my father’s positive experience. You probably figured a “however” was coming. Unfortunately, there are several “howevers,” and they leave the question of “Have we failed them?” very much still in play.

For years there’s been a steady churn of reports of sexual assault and harassment in our armed forces. It’s risen from murmurs to a roar in the wake of the #MeToo Movement, but as recently as August many observers agreed the system is still badly broken.

“These cases are not handled properly and the follow-up care for the victim is not right,” says Kayla Kight, who was sexually assaulted while serving as an Army nurse. A victim who served in the Navy, Sasha Georgiades, says, “It’s a problem that’s deep in the culture of the military.” Women are targeted at a much higher rate, but men by the thousands suffer, too.

Homeless and/or suicidal

While the numbers of homeless veterans has been decreasing in recent years, at last count approximately “40,000 veterans are without shelter in the US on any given night,” according to a September 2020 report from Policy Advice. Many fear the Covid-19 pandemic and the recession it caused could create another upsurge in homelessness among veterans.

And so far nothing has stemmed the horrific number of suicides among veterans. In March the head of the nonpartisan advocacy group American Veterans called the mental health system “horribly broken.” Now that suicides are rising in the general public, presumably as a response to the pandemic, the picture for suicidal vets could be even worse.

It’s a hard problem to solve, even without the pandemic. During hearings then, Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN), who is both a veteran and a physician, pointed out that 70% of veterans who commit suicide never sought help from the VA. “How do you identify those veterans who never show up?” he asked. Good question.

Unfortunately, it’s not as hard to find them after it’s too late.

So, um . . . happy Veterans Day?

By all means, please celebrate Veterans Day. Display your flag. Thank a veteran (or give them a hug, if you know them that well). We owe them our respect for their service. We owe them our honor for the (sometimes many) prices they paid and may still be paying. And we certainly owe them far better treatment than they all too often receive.

Have we failed them? I fear the overall answer is yes. So once we’ve folded up the flag and spoken our respect, we need to get to work.

  1. Call or write our representatives.
  2. Advocate for better treatment, both of active-duty service members, and of veterans.
  3. Donate to reputable veterans’ charitable organizations, as we can.

When we fail veterans, we dishonor ourselves and our country.


Many thanks to Col. Tannenbusch via You Tube, who posted the video “Kamikaze versus USS St. Lo” for us to see. I also am grateful to the city of Coronado, CA, for the Veterans Day graphic. I appreciate the AP, photographer Patrick Semansky, and the LA Times, for the photo of Mr. Trump’s Lafayette Square promenade, and Reuters and VOA, for the photo of the US soldiers in Afghanistan in 2018. Thanks very much to photographer Ivan Pierre Aguirre and The New York Times for the photo of the “Military Lending” store near El Paso, TX, and the Kansas City VA Medical Center, via KSHB 41 Action News, for the photo of the VA Hospital in Kansas City, MO.

A montage image: scrawny young Gift at the shelter, compared to comfortable adult Gift in G’s lap today.

The Universe Gives me a Cat

Deepest thanks to G. S. Norwood and The Weird Blog for allowing me to simul-blog “The Universe Gives Me a Cat.” I promise I’ll be back soon with my own material. – Jan

By G. S. Norwood

Sometimes the Universe gives me a cat.

I write urban fantasy, so I’m fairly open to the idea of magical energies at play in our mundane world. Still, I had no intention of adopting a cat in October of 2019. When my oldest cat, Scrap, died that July, I was comfortable with the idea of being reduced to a two-cat household. “If the Universe gives me a cat, I’ll have another cat. But I’m not going to go out looking,” I told myself. It became my mantra.

G’s black cat Scrap sits on a windowsill in a 2007 photo. Next to it is Chaz Kemp’s artwork of the cat Tidbit, from “Deep Ellum Pawn.”
My senior cat Scrap, who died in July 2019, provided the inspiration for Ms. Eddy’s cat Tidbit, created for Deep Ellum Pawn. Photo of Scrap from G. S. Norwood’s private collection. Illustration of Tidbit © 2019 by Chaz Kemp.

And then, one Saturday toward the end of October, I went out for a routine errand run. I needed dog food, and furnace filters, and I wanted to make a fuel stop before my car hit empty. I’d meant to leave around ten but, somehow, I didn’t get out of the house before 1 pm.

My ‘little voice’ speaks

As I headed north to get gas, I heard a little voice in the back of my head. All the women in my family hear this voice when we need to pay special attention to something.

Go to the shelter, it said.

The animal shelter is located just one exit short of my gas station, but I didn’t want to adopt another animal.

“That’s silly,” I told myself. But I kept getting the strong message: “Go to the shelter. Go now.”

So I went. I’d been there lots of times over the years through my volunteer work with a dog rescue group. I’ve resisted lots of cute kittens. I wasn’t worried.

A montage image of G’s four Border Collie dogs.
I acquired the members of “The Texas Pack” during my work with dog rescue groups. Photos from G. S. Norwood’s private collection.

The shelter opens at noon on Saturday, and it was busy when I got there. On the weekend before Halloween, they were having a Harry Potter-themed adoption event, with all adult animals available for a fee of $9.75. I cruised along, letting the more eager adopters get a better look, scanning the cute tabbies, but not really interested in any of them.

The Kitten in the Back

Then I spotted a tiny calico, with her back to everybody. In that same instant a little girl—about three—body-slammed into the glass window yelling, “Kitty!” Her parents had brought her there to adopt her very first pet. She was so excited she was literally bouncing off the walls.

My immediate, gut reaction to this adorable child’s interest in the calico was, “Get the hell away from my cat, you little twerp!”

I realized I needed to examine that reaction. Then, as the little girl’s parents peeled her off the glass and redirected her attention to the dogs, I asked the shelter worker if I could see the cat. She showed me into a private room and went to get the calico.

As soon as she returned, she started apologizing. “This kitty is kind of slow to warm up,” she warned me. “She has a little cold from when she got her spay surgery. She has a back toe that must have gotten caught in a trap or something. It’s kind of mangled . . .”

The Universe Gives Me a Cat

I said it was fine. The shelter worker put the calico on my lap.

I looked down at a pitiful bundle of orange and black fur, and met the flat, assessing gaze of a determined soul. Understanding that this whole experience had a psychic aura, I opened myself to the kitten, so she could see what I was made of. I tried to project love and comfort.

A montage image: scrawny young Gift at the shelter, compared to comfortable adult Gift in G’s lap today.
In just one year, the scrawny, snotty-nosed little calico I found in the shelter underwent a remarkable transformation. But she still likes to cuddle. Photos from G. S. Norwood’s private collection.

We held our gaze for at least five seconds. Then it was as if she decided yes, okay, I would do. She turned around, tucked herself into the crook of my elbow, and began to knead and purr.

“Is she . . . making biscuits?” the shelter volunteer asked, clearly astonished.

“Yes. And purring. You said she was slow to warm up?”

“She’s totally snubbed two different adopters already today.”

As if to make her intentions perfectly clear, the calico climbed up my arm and scrubbed her jaw against mine, scent-marking me as hers.

I’ve been Adopted

“Well, they do say that cats choose their owners,” I told the shelter worker, “She can be an early birthday present for me.”

When I said “present,” the name Gift chimed in my heart, the way names do when you know they’re right. We all know that if you name an animal, it’s yours.

“So, you’re going to take her?”

“I have to, don’t I? It looks like I’ve been adopted.”

G. with her new kitten in October 2019.
A shelter staffer took this photo of G. and Gift, to commemorate the adoption. Photo by Marcy Weiske Jordan, from G. S. Norwood’s private collection.

After that it was just filling out paperwork. Although she was tiny, Gift was old enough to have been spayed, so she qualified as an adult. She cost $9.75 to adopt. I actually had the cash, although I rarely carry cash. All the stars aligned so I could walk out of the shelter I hadn’t intended to visit with a cat I’d had no intention of adopting when I left the house. Because, clearly, the Universe wanted to give me a cat.


Most of the photos in this post come from G. S. Norwood’s private collection. Illustration of Tidbit is © 2019 by Chaz Kemp. Photo of G. with Gift at the shelter taken by Marcy Weiske Jordan. Photo montages created by Jan S. Gephardt.

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