Breaking up, moving on

July 11, 2000

Even though I had heard about blogs for a while, the manifold impositions of work and what passes for life have kept me from actually investigating then. ‘Til now, anyway. An article on Webreview discussed them, and extolled their virtues as being the salvation of an overly commercialized Internet. (And those who know me know how easy it is to get me wound up on that particular topic. I am sure most of my friends are truly sick of hearing me say “Why, I remember when you would get flamed for even suggesting that someone be allowed to sell shit on the web!” But I digress…)

Anyway, this is a first post, part of an ongoing effort to get some more use out of this domain of mine. And maybe have some fun, too. Thanks for playing.

This will be my last post on Hidden City using Blogger.

Amphetamines For Your Website
Amphetamines For Your Website

Blogger was originally a side-project of the team at now-defunct Pyra Labs. They created it for internal use, as a way to share interesting items they found around the web with the other team members. One of them thought it could have use in the outside world, so they made it available to the rest of us while they kept working on their real products. It was rocky at times; Blogger was running on an old computer under someone’s desk, and needed periodic kicking as the user base grew. At a few points they asked the users to donate money to buy a real server. I sent them $25 and got a nice note back from Ev (Evan Williams, one of the founders of Pyra), along with a few Blogger stickers like that pictured here.

In those dim mists of time, using Blogger was a simple proposition:

  1. You logged in.
  2. You typed in the box.
  3. You clicked Publish.
  4. Your words appeared on your site.

This was pretty much miraculous: No more need to go to your home computer, manually edit your HTML to add new content, and then use another program to put the updated file on your server. Just click, type, click, done. It wasn’t the first program to offer this kind of functionality, but it was the first (as far as I know) to let you do it with your own domain. That was pretty amazing, in its day.

Of course, back then there were no permalinks. There were no comments built in. There wasn’t a BlogSpot. You couldn’t even give your posts a title! There was just this simple web application updating the HTML for you and uploading it to your site. It beat the hell out of having to do it all manually.

So for ten years I used Blogger, in spite of the derision of the web-savvy. “Blogger’s for kids,” I’ve been told. “You can’t be taken seriously on Blogger.” This is actually kind of funny, since very few people even recognize Hidden City as using Blogger, but it is an understandable mistake. Over time Blogger has become synonymous with BlogSpot, Google’s free blog hosting service. Few people seem to know there was ever any other option.

As of May 1, 2010, that original option will be gone. Few people were using the very old school technology, so Google made the perfectly reasonable decision to shut it down. We were offered support in the migration to BlogSpot or a hybrid system — I’ll spare you the technical details — but I declined. Both of the options entrusted Hidden City’s existence to the sole discretion of Google, and while I generally trust them, the site means too much to me to give up all control.

So we come to the end. We had a good run, Blogger. I learned quite a bit — both technically and politically — from watching your struggles and successes. Now, we’ve just grown apart. You’re focusing more on simplicity and people just establishing their on-line presence; I already have an established presence, and want to keep control of it. You’re a huge corporation answerable to stockholders; I’m an ordinary guy answerable to no one. You eat at the same table as the recording industry and the CIA; I eat alone at my desk. We just don’t have anything in common any longer.

I wish you the best, Blogger. Just don’t get so big you forget your roots as a side-project under someone’s desk, okay?


Post Script: I’m taking advantage of the unavoidable change of software to do a complete redesign: not a redecoration, but a major renovation. The walls are coming down, we’re adding a couple of rooms, and updating it to hold us for the foreseeable future. When we’re back you won’t even recognize the place.

To accomplish this things are going to shut down for a little while. As with any construction project there are inconveniences and problems. I’ve run into some technical hurdles with my web host that will take time to work through. Additionally there are ten years of stories to move from Blogger to WordPress, a rather daunting prospect. Most frustrating, however, is the breaking of all inbound links. Since Blogger and WordPress handle permalinks differently, there’s simply no way I have found to automatically redirect them. I’m not terribly happy about it, but it can’t be helped. Permalinks seem to be as much a lock-in as platform-specific DRM. I need time to work something out, but it will be done.

When it’s complete I’ll do my best to make certain everyone who is interested knows. If you’re a fan of Hidden City on Facebook you’ll be notified there; the same is true of the Twitter followers. If that social media crap leaves you cold, though, drop me a line via Hidden.City at Gmail and I’ll make sure you know.

Thanks for your continued support through the years.

Miracles

Imagine that one day, while walking aimlessly through grassy fields and green forests, you come across a peaceful glade. The sunlight filters through the high limbs; a cold mountain stream splashes across smooth gray stones; brambles are heavily laden with blackberries. You pick some berries, drink some water, and rest for a while against a tree.

Your nap is interrupted by the arrival of another traveler, then yet another. They, too, are taken with the beauty of the place, and join you. Conversations grow, friendships form, and when it comes time to leave you all know you’ll soon return again.

On your second visit you find a few people have arrived before you. Some are your friends, and others are new to the glade. Still, the camaraderie is good, the discussions lively, and while leaving you are already anticipating your next visit.

After several visits it starts to become crowded. The serenity of the trees is disrupted by arguments — no mere passionate debate, but insensate shouting. Others complain that they don’t like blackberries, and leave the ground strewn with fast food wrappers. The broad-trunked tree at which you first took your rest is now surrounded by barbed wire; a smug young man informs you that for a small fee he will allow you to lean against the ancient bark again.

Fences are raised; the stream is dammed; plastic trees are assembled. Yet even when every trace of the original glade has been destroyed more and more people cram into the space. You know your original friends are still here, but you cannot find them.

You will leave, you decide. You will wander until you find another hill, another stream, another glade, and start again. You turn your back on the trash and noise and confusion and banality and walk away.

But the grassy fields and green forests have become concrete and billboards. Nothing living remains; you’ve nowhere to to go.


If we are lucky — and if we live long enough — we see miracles in our lives. Sometimes, though, we also live long enough to see the miracle become common, and then corrupt. Maybe I’ll live long enough to see the cycle turn again for the promise of the information age.

Faith 2: Paradise

Plantation, Florida, 1975

The first time I can remember being inside a church I was paid to attend. A high school classmate’s Baptist church wanted a brass quartet to perform an Easter service, and I was asked to play trombone. It was fun, if a little weird. We were positioned in the upper choir loft at the back of the church, so we weren’t visible to the congregation. It was an ideal perspective for witnessing some strange and new customs.

When the performance was over I wanted to get my $40, thank Carol for getting me the gig, and leave. Unfortunately, her parents wanted to meet her classmates, so I was pulled from the quiet safety of the choir loft into a maelstrom of questions I couldn’t answer. “So what church do you attend” “I don’t go.” “No church? You’re not a Jew, are you?” “No, but I’ve been to bar mitzvahs.” “Well, we’ll see you next Sunday, then, right, Carol? You’ll bring him along, won’t you? It sounds like your friend here needs to be saved!”

For the rest of my high school years I received monthly invitations to attend services there. I never did go back.

But ah, Carol. I had an enormous crush on her. She had cascades of unruly blonde curls around her adorable round face, a heartbreaker’s smile, and curves that were very probably illegal in 1975. The main reason for my crush, though, was far more primal: she would talk to me and treat me like a human being.

A couple of times a week I’d ride my bike to her house after school and we’d sit around and talk and listen to records. Well, mainly I would listen and she would talk, but I cant recall much of anything said. I was content just to sit on the floor in her pink and yellow bedroom and watch her as she regaled me with the latest gossip from her friends.

One afternoon we lost track of the time in our chatting until a phone call reminded Carol that a friend would be over in just a few minutes to pick her up and take her to a party. Suddenly leaping into action, and without a hint of warning, she reached down, grabbed the bottom of her t-shirt, and in a fluid motion, pulled it right over her head.

In an act of infinite mercy, Time itself slowed for me. Enraptured, I studied the motion of her hair as she shook it free of the shirt’s confinement, each strand of spun gold moving in a perfect wave. I drank in her pale, freckled face as she smiled, eyes closed, and tossed aside the t-shirt. My gaze moved down, then, and I saw for the first time in my adolescent life that legendary miracle of lace and elastic and structural engineering, the final roadsign before entering the Promised Land of female nudity, her bra. I barely had time to take in this heavenly vista when her arms began to curl strangely, she was bending them up behind her back for some reason, she was oh my God oh my God she’s reaching up to take off her bra she’s…

“Carol? D-do you think you should really be getting undressed right now, with me in the room? Sh-should I leave?”

Trance broken, her eyes popped open as I spun to look behind me. Who had said that? Who else was here? Wait, no, that wasn’t — Did I really say that?

“Oh, I’m sorry!” She stopped her unhooking and shrugged. “You’re so sweet that sometimes I forget you’re a guy.” Ow.

“I am, Carol, trust me. Want me to prove it?” But she never heard me. By then she’d stepped into her closet to finish changing, blocking any further glimpses of Paradise.

She emerged a moment later in a tight pink top. “That was so nice of you to warn me like that. Most guys would have just gotten a free show and told all their friends. But you’re different from them. You’re not an ordinary boy. That’s why I like you.”

A horn honked in her driveway. I walked out with her and waved goodbye as I got on my bike. Pedaling home was rather awkward, and I cursed the universe all the way. Being nice, it seemed, could send you to Hell as surely as stealing a Danish.

Faith 1: Punishment

Southern Illinois, 1965

I stole a Danish off the breakfast table. I didn’t want the whole thing; I just wanted the jelly in the middle. I took it when my mother wasn’t looking and then snuck into the family room to eat it. I carefully tore it in half and ate the dollop of cherry, then stuffed the doughy parts under the sofa.

In the afternoon my mother opened the sliding glass door to the patio and yelled for me to come inside at once. I didn’t even remember the pastry until I saw her standing in the middle of the room waving it at me. “I didn’t tell you you could have this. Why did you take it? And why did you try to hide it?”

“I didn’t do it, Scott did.” My little brother was perhaps two years old to my five.

“You know darn well your brother didn’t do it. Don’t you lie to me, mister. Do you know what happens to little boys who lie? Do you?” The incriminating dough wagged at me as she raised her voice.

I shook my head.

“They go to hell, that’s what.”

I didn’t have any idea what she was talking about. “What’s hell, mama?”

“That’s where you are on fire and you burn all the time and you are hurting really bad but no one will help you and it goes on forever.” Her voice started to get a real edge to it. “Is that what you want? Do you want to go to hell?”

“No, mama.â”

“Then stop lying! You took this, didn’t you? Admit it!”

I still wasn’t sure what hell was but I knew it was bad. I also knew that if hell was a place she could put me then I wasn’t going to admit anything. What if there was someplace worse for little boys who stole? Stealing had to worse than lying, because lying was just words.

“No, it was Scott.”

“Go! To! Your! Room!”

I sat on the bed and hugged my stuffed beagle, Doggie, and thought about fire and hell and death until I fell asleep.


That Danish was my introduction to religion.

 

As the years passed I came to call my family’s religion the American Consumerist Christian faith. Easter is a rabbit that brings candy and wants you to dye eggs. Christmas is a guy in a red suit who brings presents. Somewhere in with them is a guy in a loincloth who was killed thousands of years ago, but we didn’t talk about that part. It made my mother uncomfortable.

But when the subject of religion did come up, my mother was always quite clear. If we wanted to go to church we could, but there was no way she would ever set foot in one again. Preachers were all liars and cheats, talking you into giving them your money so they could go spend it on booze and sneak out of town in the middle of the night, like her childhood pastor.

My father just kept his mouth shut, as he usually did when my mother would start to go off on one of her topics. My brother and I, we just let it go, too. Frankly, most of our friends envied us our Sunday morning freedom.

But while I was reading the funnies and having another bowl of cereal, I would sometimes wonder what I was missing.

3:57am

It takes several seconds for the sound of Palo!’s “Lengua Larga” to penetrate my sleeping brain and let me know a phone call is coming in. It isn’t a number I recognize, so I fumble the phone off its charger in the dark and groggily answer.

“Hullo?”

A woman’s voice, not one I know, slight Spanish accent: “Oh God, I’m so glad you picked up! You’ve got to help me!”

I squint at the phone. The call’s coming from Perrine, south of Miami. I don’t think I know anyone who lives in Perrine, at least, not anyone who has my number.

“Um, who is this?”

“You’ve gotta help me! Jimmy’s dead!”

At that my adrenal glands go hyperactive, driving sleep from my head. Jim is my father’s name, and his siblings all call him Jimmy. Horrible scenarios are screening in my skull. “Wait, who? Who is this?”

“Please help me, I don’t know what to do. Jimmy’s dead and his wife can’t know he was here!”

Wait, I tell myself. Your dad doesn’t have a wife — your mother died years ago, and no one would refer to his girlfriend Sandy as his wife. This is patently a wrong number.

“Hey, calm down, listen to me. You must have the wrong number. I don’t know who you were trying to call, but I don’t know any Jimmy with a wife. You need to call nine-one-one and let the professionals help, okay?”

“Oh God, I don’t know who else to call. I really thought you’d help me!”

I am a few words into another plea for calm when I realize the line is dead. “Signal faded,” my phone informs me.

I sit up for half an hour waiting for her to call back, and waiting for my pulse to return to normal. She never does, and eventually I go back to sleep.

Little brother

Scott Damon Hall, perennial straight man, age 47
Scott Damon Hall, perennial straight man, age 47

My younger brother, Scott, is getting married today. Apparently his fiancée, Vikki, in an attempt to work off some sort of karmic debt, has agreed to spend the rest of her days with him, barring that “’til death do you part” clause being deliberately invoked, anyway. That isn’t much of a concern, though: she’s far too sweet for that, and Scott would manage to mess it up if he tried, so I think they’re both safe.

There are many, many stories to be told about Scott, who is a figure of nearly legendary proportions — assuming your prefer your legends to be rowdy, bawdy, and hysterically funny, that is. As a gift to the happy couple I was going to tell a couple of those tales today, but the selection proved too difficult. Which do I choose? The time I “pierced” a girl’s nose at his New Year’s Eve party and he almost fainted? Maybe the time he shattered his leg playing a friendly game of soccer after years of injury-free rugby? Maybe the unfortunate incident with the doctored jar of salsa? Or the time he… wait, I’d better check the statute of limitations first before I mention that one.

In the end I decided the only decent thing to do was to keep all the stories to myself and let him rest easy. Until the book hits the shelves, anyway.

Scott and Vikki: my love and congratulations to you both. May your life together be filled with wonderful new stories.

Good enough

On Wednesday night I was invited to participate in a panel discussion on blogging and social media for a class at the at the University of Miami School of Communications. It was a good meeting, even if a rather small group, and there was a lot of valuable discussion.

During the event I had an incidental exchange with one of the other panelists which helped crystallize a thought I’d been kicking around for a while. In reference to the concept of setting up a blog I mentioned that when making decisions you need to consider your goals and purposes, and used the example of design. If your blog is a portion of a complete web presence — usually something corporate — then its design should reflect that brand. Conversely, if all you are doing is setting up a blog for personal use, with no purpose beyond self-expression, then design is of less importance.

One of my fellow panelists, a designer herself, took umbrage at this, and became quite animated in defending the supremacy of design over all other considerations. I won’t go into the particulars of the discussion in detail out of fairness to her; frankly, I was a bit taken aback by her apparent vehemence at what seemed a self-evident point — do you really need to hire a professional designer for your kid’s Little League blog? — and given my poor memory I wouldn’t want to misrepresent her arguments. But it did start me thinking.

When I found out I was going to have to change the machinery that runs Hidden City I started looking for someone to help with the programming and the redesign of the site. I was a bit shocked, I confess, to get initial quotes running as high as $8,000 for something that appeared to me to be relatively simple: migrate ten years of entries on Hidden City to the new system, and modify my current design for use with it, maybe refreshing it a bit. There were also some new features I was interested in adding, but they were purely on a “cost permitting” basis.

While I was in discussions with someone who offered a more reasonable price my financial situation shifted a bit, and I had to make the decision to go it alone. While I’m not experienced in WordPress, I’ve got years of experience with other content management systems so I think I’ll be okay. To address the design issues I spent a little money and bought a professionally designed template — a blank form, if you will — for the layout of the new Hidden City. I would rather have hired a designer, but for a site which has yet to generate it’s first dollar of income it just seemed to be an inappropriate use of my dwindling funds.

Does this decision to use my educated amateur design skills instead of hiring a professional make me a hypocrite?

It bothers me — personally and professionally — to see that America has decided that semi-literacy is good enough for written content. Corporate America feels there’s no need to pay someone to craft a compelling story or write an evocative headline when someone with a vague sense of composition (if not grammar) can satisfy its customers. Given that scenario, good writers are paid a pittance simply because unskilled writers are willing to accept it. The choice is to take it or go, and the writers are generally taking it because they don’t have any other options.

Years ago I built web sites for a few clients, back when HTML skills were still hard to find, and even then there was an attitude of “Well, my nephew took a couple of classes and says he’ll build it for $50.” Would the nephew-built site be as good as I could create? No, probably not, but many clients were willing to take that chance, because $50 was all that they budgeted for it. It was — in their opinions — good enough. I know that designers still face the same issues.

It takes tremendous skill to become a top-ranked chef, and to create an elegant ambiance in a fine restaurant. When I got hungry today I wanted a steak, and thought back to a really amazing meal I had at Morton’s once. Going there was out of the question; hell, Outback is out of my budget right now. Instead, I went to the kitchen and fixed a bowl of ramen. It was— well, no, it wasn’t good enough, but I had to make do.

I would never say that professional work isn’t worth the money, or isn’t necessary. I don’t begrudge a designer or a programmer a single dime of their fee. My decision not to take advantage of a service isn’t a rejection of its value; it’s a matter of balance. Still, too many people take it personally. I’m certainly guilty of that.

As a consumer we don’t always get to vacation in Tahiti, or drive fine automobiles, or drink expensive liquors. Does this mean we should give up on life, though, since we can’t have it all? Should a business die because they can’t afford to retain the largest ad agency, hire the most experienced staff, lease the most prestigious location? The simple fact is that we compromise every day, making decisions as to where we will allocate our limited resources, and where we’ll settle for less.

I wish I had the budget for a professional designer to create a new brand for me and for Hidden City. I wish I could hire an agent and a manager to handle the business aspects of my career so I could spend more time writing. Hell, while we’re at it, I wish I had a housekeeper! (I’m sure my cats do, too.)

Still, the focus of my world is my writing, and that’s where my resources need to go. Until my success will support those services, I have to handle them myself. It won’t be perfect, or even great, but it will be good enough.

Only words

I decided to go out on the porch to write tonight, dragging a laptop with me. It’s way too hot, really, and the rain’s only made things sticky. Still, I’m going to stay out here for a while. I need a change.

The porch cat’s off exploring in the darkness, and the security light’s burned out again. This house has such lousy wiring — and this neighborhood such unstable current — that even compact fluorescents only last a few months. I’ve given up on keeping a toaster or an alarm clock alive. In this house everything burns out.

Ah, but I feel a mood taking me. Maybe it’s because I’m tired. Maybe it’s because it’s too hot. Maybe it’s because I’m bitter and a little frustrated. Nonetheless, hold on, children.

I feel a rant coming on. Let’s take a deep breath, and go.

The era of the intellectual field of honor has long gone; I miss the old Internet. People used to debate (and flame, and argue) about topics of substance. Sometimes it was hard for me to stomach the diatribes of the crypto-libertarians and anarcho-transhumanists and techno-pagans, but at least they had something to say, and they thought about it before they started typing. There was character and there were characters, and the ground was littered with the blood of ideas.

And of course it was all done with videos. Wait, no, that’s not right. Audio? No, that’s not it either. Graphics, photos? No, something else, what’s the word— That’s it! It was all done with words.

Words, damn it, words. Remember them?

People communicated with carefully chosen (if often insulting and inflammatory) words. Storytellers wove words into honest or funny or painful tales, and published them for the sheer joy of sharing. Creeds and philosophies and manifestos were written, tried and tested in the fires of creation. Endless verbal sparring on topics as varied as you can imagine, with all the fervor you could stand, and sometimes more than anyone could stand. That’s what the Internet was about: ideas, passion, creation, debate.

Now that kind of thought, when you can find it, is a frayed thread of signal is a labyrinth of noise. There are many possible reasons for this degeneration, but the primary culprit is money. On-line commerce was once as welcome as the proverbial punchbowl turd; now it’s the web’s entire raison d’être, making the possibility for intelligent debate as likely on-line as it is on television. You mustn’t risk offense unless, of course, those you might offend are outside your target demographic. Keep calm, keep cool, and don’t rock the boat unless your marketing plan accounts for the furor.

Once the web was words. Now it’s all about sales. You’re selling ads, you’re selling product, you’re selling your staggering insight into how to get other people to buy stuff. Blog posts are engineered, not written. The content doesn’t matter as long as you’ve got the right keywords and SEO bait. Shops in Mumbai crank out 500 words on the topic of your choice for US$1.00, guaranteed to get past the plagiarism test. And you know what? Those Indian guys are still better writers than most of the people getting published today. At least they’re creative, even if only at reusing content without affecting search rankings.

Clearly I put way too much effort into Hidden City; I over-think things. I will let an essay or story sit in draft form for weeks, months, or longer, until I feel like it’s right. Sometimes — often — it loses relevancy before I publish it. Other times someone else will knock something out on the same topic, leaving me to wonder if what I have to say is still original enough to make the effort. It can be frustrating to take the time to think an idea through, cutting and polishing the words just so, only to have someone knock two hundred words out on their phone while waiting in line for their soy latte and be instantly lauded as a new media genius.

Today if you mention that you write for the web you are afforded the same respect as someone who scribbles tales of old Nantucket on men’s room stalls. They say: You’re blogging; quality doesn’t matter, just quantity. They say: Stop thinking so much and just fill the page with buzzwords. They say: You don’t need to have anything to say, you just need to keep on updating so the rubes keep coming back.

Or they say: “Oh, yeah, my six year old’s got a blog, too.”

Don’t take the spit-shouting and arm-waving too seriously, though. It probably wasn’t the best idea to take a vacation from the self-congratulatory circle-jerks of the social media scene and spend more time with bitter, cynical, misanthropic writers. In fact, this whole rant is just one rocking chair shy of chasing you damned punk kids off my lawn.

Speaking of the lawn, the cat’s ambled back through the grass and is on the porch again now, looking warily at the way I’ve been pounding this poor keyboard. It’s five o’clock in the morning and my shirt’s soaked with sweat and I’m hungry and want a drink rather badly, so it’s time to call it a night and try to sleep this off.

Words take a lot out of me.

Ring of stones

The knock on my door came early, too early to be a delivery. It was one of the college students from next door, obviously distraught, trying to talk to me and holding a phone to her head at the same time.

“I’m so sorry to bother you, I called Animal Control but they said we’re not in their jurisdiction, and Miami Shores says they can’t come until this afternoon, and I don’t want to leave him in our front yard.”

Oh no. “Him? A cat?”

“Yeah, he’d been coming around for a few days, but we hadn’t been feeding him or anything, but he was really sweet and would get up in your lap, and his leg is messed up, and he’s dead and I don’t know what to do.”

“You found him in your yard?”

“When I got up this morning. He was so young. We called him Cheerio.” She wipred her red eyes with the back of her free hand.

I told her I would be there in a minute, and got my shoes and a shovel. This is not how I wanted my day to start.

Cheerio was a young orange and white cat, very clean, with a strong body. Between his affection toward people and his general appearance it was obvious he had been a pet. I hadn’t seen him around before, which is surprising, since most of the neighborhood strays end up on my porch eventually.

There was a bloodless gash on his leg and one foot, and his hips and back were hunched in a way the bones shouldn’t have allowed. A hit and run, I guess. We get a lot of them on my street; there’s no stop sign so people floor it for the two blocks between the four lane roads. Not everything is able to get out of the way.

“I’ll take care of Cheerio for you. Thank you for letting me know.” I picked him up and put him in a cardboard box, and then carried him into my backyard. A tree there will give him a shady place to rest, and to play with the others.

When I’d put the shovel away and washed up, I sat on the porch steps for a while. Miss Fuzzy sat a few feet away, washing herself and watching me.

“Did you know him, Fuzzy? Cheerio?”

She glanced up, then away. “Why do you give us such silly names? No, he was new.”

“I don’t think he suffered, for what little that’s worth.” I watched another car rip down the street. “I wish you didn’t have to live outside, Fuzz. I worry about you.”

“Do you think I want that? No, here I am free.”

“You are full of it, girl. You sit on my porch rail all day. You stare at the door waiting for me to bring you food—”

“I catch my own food. Have you forgotten those tree rats I brought you? And the iguana I gave the kittens?”

I shuddered. “No, I haven’t forgotten. But you still whine for food. And when I leave the front door open you come in, too, so don’t give me that ‘I have my freedom’ crap. You’d live inside if you could.”

Another car whizzed by, bass thumping.

“His family will miss him, Fuzzy. They’ll wonder why he didn’t come home, but tell themselves he’s just off playing somewhere. In a day or two they’ll start to worry more, and maybe go and look for him. But they’ll never know for sure what happened, and not knowing is the worst thing of all.”

I thought about the tree in the backyard, now ringed with stones.

“One of these days, girl, I’m going to come out here to feed you and you’ll be gone, the same way Evil Tom and Colonel Hoppy and Lady Grey just stopped coming around. I’ll never know.”

“They left when my kittens came. That is the way.”

She jumped on the rail and began grooming her tail. “We live and we die, the same as your people. Sometimes we are hungry, sometimes we are not. Sometimes there is pain, sometimes there is not. Sometimes we are alone, sometimes we are not.”

She tucked her feet under her chest and put her head down. I knew our conversation was at an end, so I stood to go back in the house.

“Feeder?” She raised her head again. “It’s good that you kept the young one’s body from the dogs.” I stopped with my hand on the door.

“And it’s good that you gave my children homes, so they will not need to rest under your tree.”

Burning the midnight oil

As previously mentioned, I will have to switch my content management system away from Blogger soon. Now there’s a specific date: May 1. That’s not much time to migrate over ten years of content. Fortunately I only have to jump through a half-dozen hoops to get the content into WordPress, the new system I’ve chosen.

So now I’m more involved than I had hoped with the minutia of redesigning and rebuilding Hidden City. Progress has been made — I’ve imported the first volume already (all 1800+ posts), the basic design is in place — but it’s come with an odd (and probably unrelated) side effect. My brain is behaving as though it’s in New Zealand.

I go to sleep at a normal time. I set my alarm to get up at a normal time. I haven’t changed my caffeine intake at all. My routine — such as it is — hasn’t changed for months. But for some reason my brain doesn’t really start to function properly until 5-6:00pm, and then it runs constantly until 5-6::00am. I’m sleeping until noon on many days, something I haven’t done since high school.

Lacking a day job it doesn’t affect me all that much, but it is still both troubling and inconvenient. By the time I’m fully functional it’s almost time for stores to close. It’s harder to make phone calls and run errands. I feel as tough I’m operating a quarter-turn to the right of reality. What has caused this change?

There’s little point in worrying about it, though. I’ll just take what steps I can to correct it, and wait for my body to sort itself out. In the interim, I have thousands more posts to import, update, and tag before I can formally launch Hidden City, Volume Four.