—From EF—

I have never studied coding for computers, but I have a deep respect for its complexity and power, even though it approaches hilarity in its terminology—4-bit nibble, anyone? The art of manipulating ones and zeroes is infinite and now lays the groundwork of much of what we use on a daily basis.

Our cats, however, are not binary, at least not as far as I know, although I am sure they know about the 4-bit nibble. Their fur markings are what is known as brindled, gorgeous and complex beyond my ability to grok. Tabby is another common term. They do have some stripes, but not in the either/or realm of dark here, light there: each hair changes color along its length.

How many hairs on a cat, not counting the ones they donate to your couch and clothing? Google has an answer: there are approximately 60,000 hairs per square inch on the back of a cat and about 120,000 per square inch on its underside, every hair growing from its own follicle. Imagining the coding for this is, well, daunting.

One hair will be black, another will be grey, another white, but it’s kinkier than that. As far as I can tell, the soft undercoat hairs are one color from root to tip, but the longer topcoat hairs on these cats are dark at the base, and white at the tip in the lighter stripes. Dark stripes? All one color. The backs of the ears, the bottoms of the feet, and the last four inches of tail are all solid black. That’s a helluva lot of coding.

One egg, one sperm, and all that info, same as with humans.

Science deserves our deep respect and accomplishes complex wonders. My highest reverence, however, is for the design of the cat, the myriad wave patterns of the ocean, and the artistry of the lowly earthworm. I’m not ready to say 3-D printers could compete.

—From CB

I’ve spent the week at a writers’ conference totally devoted to craft. Not to agentry, not to the market or the “writer’s life”—only to craft. I went to another one last year, and it was functional in offering validation; this one offered learning, which in art means a sharpening of acuity.

My morning workshop focused on critique of ten writers’ novels-in-progress—the first fifteen pages. In the afternoon, a variety of drop-ins—poetry, fiction, memoir, etc., then a swarm of lectures and readings and lots of happy-hour wine. Overwhelming, exhausting, electric. Surprise talk by Annie Proulx—no great messages, but lots of good laughs, which for me was message enough.

The area was rife with deer in the road, on the lawns, grazing. They would take a look at you and continue their munch—picturesque, homeless, vegetarian.

It served me on many counts, most significantly in character insights and reconfiguration of the opening chapters of our novel CHEMO, now in fourth draft stage. A bonus was discovery of an effective antidote to the marathon trudge of writing novels. When you’re overwhelmed by climbing the mountain, take a break: write short stuff. I’m taking yet another crack at poetry (by age 90 I might do one that satisfies) and flash fiction—500 to 1,000 words that reach in, plant the banderilla in the bull, and get the hell out. It’s a snack that satisfies.

So I’ve survived the meal-plan food; I’ve survived the hairpin turns from mindset to mindset of the schedule; I’ve survived the loneliness of separation from Elizabeth and the cats; and I’ve survived the walk two miles each way from and to my Airbnb each day, pondering on the folly of learning a new art form at the age of seventy-five. Now it’s a matter of surviving the next draft of CHEMO.



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