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Welcome to Books and Blogging!


CaffeineJournal was a project that started during COVID quarantine when I just couldn’t bring myself to write about travel while canceling all of my impending trips.

Obviously, I know that “niche” blogs do best — I’ve said so in my post, but I saw this as ground to dump all of my various ideas to keep my other blog on point. I fully intend to keep writing my travel blog but life has changed since COVID. I don’t plan to travel as much as I had hoped, even when travel resumes…and that’s OK. I’ve started making things, something I hadn’t done for a long time. So, a bit more of a homebody.

But, while it’s not my hope to make a ton of money blogging, I’m also finding it’s not necessarily satisfying for the author OR the readers of a blog with a bit of everything.

So I’m going to be refocusing this blog, sometime in the near-ish future.

What do I like? I love books, reading, writing, and words. I love blogging (when not having WordPress issues), and I’ve come to love making things. I also love being outside and going places, but that’s for another blog.

I’ve had a domain name called tryitspace.com which I used to use for demo websites for clients. I actually do NOT love doing web design for other people, at least not often. TryitSpace is going to be my new home for posts about things to make and the shop.

My personal posts are going to be offset elsewhere, and this site is going to become Books and Blogging. Both are subjects I feel very motivated to write about. I’ll be making a few edits now directly on this website and then will continue to gussie up the website elsewhere and finally change the domain name.

I am still accepting guest posts but only ones on the wide subject of — you guessed it — books or blogging. If you create a user account in the interim while we’re changing the website, I may need you to re-authorize it after the domain name is complete.

Thanks for your patience and understanding.


A Bright Ray of Darkness

A Bright Ray of DarknessA Bright Ray of Darkness by Ethan Hawke
Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group on 2021
Genres: Fiction, Literary
Pages: 256
Format: Hardcover
Buy on Amazon

Publisher Synopsis:

The blistering story of a young man making his Broadway debut in Henry IV just as his marriage implodes--an utterly transfixing book about art and love, fame and heartbreak from the acclaimed actor/writer/director.
Hawke's first novel in nearly twenty years is a bracing meditation on fame and celebrity, and the redemptive, healing power of art; a portrait of the ravages of disappointment and divorce; a poignant consideration of the rites of fatherhood and manhood; a novel soaked in rage and sex, longing and despair; and a passionate love letter to the world of theater. A Bright Ray of Darkness showcases Ethan Hawke's gifts as a novelist as never before.
Hawke's narrator is a young man in torment, disgusted with himself after the collapse of his marriage, still half-hoping for a reconciliation that would allow him to forgive himself and move on as he clumsily, and sometimes hilariously, tries to manage the wreckage of his personal life with whiskey and sex. What saves him is theater: in particular, the challenge of performing the role of Hotspur in a production of Henry IV under the leadership of a brilliant director, helmed by one of the most electrifying--and narcissistic--Falstaff's of all time. Searing and raw, A Bright Ray of Darkness is a novel about shame and beauty and faith, and the moral power of art.

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William Harding, the protagonist of A Bright Ray of Darkness is a thirty-something-year-old movie star returning to New York to star in a Broadway production of Henry IV — playing Hotspur. It’s a role his director explains has ruined more than one actor, but while it appears it could take our protagonist down that road, it also serves as a center of focus and solace for him while, otherwise, his life is ripping apart.

Ripping apart, at least, in the form of his marriage ending. The triggering event? His fling while away in South Africa. While he ruminates throughout the book about not wanting to be divorced, about how he loves his wife and doesn’t want his marriage to end, one suspects his it was already in a state of demise.

William’s whining, flings, whiskey binging, and his lack of attention to basic self-care at times due to self-pity make him often a less-than-sympathetic narrator. But I’m OK with that; I’m also a whining less-than sympathetic character myself sometimes. His faults (as character faults usually do) also make him a more believable character.

Part of me wanted to roll my eyes at the whingeing of another privileged white guy who seemingly has it all: talent, money, fame. But celebrity makes his problems worse — it’s difficult to forget your problems when you live under the magnifying glass of the tabloids and when even you taxi driver knows the sordid details of your life.

What’s apparent is that William does love his kids and plans to stay an active part of their lives even as his life with their rock-star mother ends. The book, to some degree, explores fatherhood — partially through William’s relationship (or lack thereof) with his father and thoughts on what it means to be a man — does a man need to “wear a mask of masculinity” that becomes his face? Or will William leave his mask to the stage and decide on a more open approach to life?

What moved me, in particular, were William’s musings on the theater and his love — maybe I wouldn’t even call it love, but something more — for the art of acting. For a while, he can completely lose himself in his character, in his role, his audience, the “watchful eyes of God.” If we are lucky in life, we find something like this: something that absorbs our attention so absolutely that we can lose the “me” for a while into a greater whole.

And I appreciated his reflection that the “watchful eyes of God” for whom he is performing is not the critic but the average person. I remember being “forced” to read Shakespeare in middle school. Then, finally, I saw a play performed and became hooked. Shakespeare’s plays, after all, were for everyone, whether noble or groundling.

The book also has its funny moments. In particular, I loved William’s dresser (I need to hang a sign, sometimes, that says “No narcissistic bitches allowed!”), his mom, and the eccentric playwright he meets at a bar.

While I gave this book four stars as it’s not one I will likely continue to think about incessantly years down the road, the book is well-written and immensely readable.

And it makes me want to go watch a production of “The Henrys.” Right now.

Did you read this book? Feel free to leave a review in the comments!

Let’s Talk About WP-Cron

WordPress’s system for running regularly scheduled jobs (via a file called wp-cron.php )is fresh on my mind right now after finding that regular WordPress tasks weren’t running. When you have WordPress cron problems, you might see a warning at the top of your admin or in WordPress Site Health that tells you a scheduled event has failed.

So, what to do about this? In my case, I already had a handle on wp-cron and had set up server-level cron jobs, so this issue sent me to Angertown.

I’ll say right away that my issue was that I had recently upgraded to PHP 8.0 after what I thought was the last hold-out plugin got updated. But then I found that on some of my sites, cron jobs weren’t happening. After checking everything I could think of, I finally asked my host and found that wp-cron generated a critical error. I did the usual task of disabling plugins but couldn’t seem to find the culprit. For now, I pulled back to PHP 7.4 — issue solved! But after a long day of headaches.

But read on for more info about wp-cron and some of the things I’ve tried.

What is wp-cron?

If you look in your WordPress install, under your public_html directory (or whichever folder you have WordPress installed), you’ll find a file called wp-cron.php. This file is responsible for running scheduled jobs set up by WordPress and by your various plugins. Essential things such as scheduled posts getting published, checking for plugin updates, doing database cleanups if you have an optimization plugin–the list goes on.

The problem is, sometimes it doesn’t work.

Why would wp-cron not work?

Low traffic – wp-cron.php not triggered

The default for WordPress is that a visit to your website triggers wp-cron.php. For low-traffic websites, this means that it sometimes doesn’t get triggered when it needs to. For instance, you’ve scheduled a post, nobody visits, and it fails to publish on time.

High traffic – wp-cron.php as a source of high CPU usage

So you have a lot of regular visitors and think you have nothing to worry about, right? WRONG!

If you have many regular hits on your website, it means that wp-cron.php is always getting triggered. This behavior can lead to other problems.

I was having mysterious high CPU problems for a while. A minor culprit in this was wp-cron.php 1.

Some ways to solve wp-cron issues

Disable cron jobs from “spawning” and set up a server-level cron

Yep, cron jobs “spawn.” But you can stop this behavior by adding the following to your wp-config.php file 2:

define('DISABLE_WP_CRON', true);

You add this just above the line that says /* That’s all, stop editing! Happy blogging. */. You’ll probably see a bunch of similar things that also start with define.

Doing so will stop those cron jobs from spawning. Which will mean scheduled tasks WILL NOT run. So we need to do something to make sure that they do run, but that wp-cron.php can’t just spawn wildly on your website!

To do that, you’ll need to go into your hosting account. In cPanel 3 and other platforms I’ve encountered, you will find a setting having to do with cron. Ask your hosting provider if you cannot find it.

Most hosts I’ve encountered have a setup where you can choose the interval and the file you wish to trigger (which will be wp-cron.php).

In my hosting panel at Cloudlways, there’s also an “advanced” area for setting up a manual cron job.

Setting up a manual cron job looks something like this:

*/5**** wget -q -O /dev/null "http://example.com/wp-cron.php" > /dev/null 2>&1

But I can’t find where to set up a manual cron job for my server!

If you cannot find where to easily set up a cron job, no prob!

EasyCron has a free cron service, and it’s straightforward to use.. You just create an account, set up timing for your cron job, and set the URL as https://www.myurl.com/wp-cron.php 4.

I’ll note that none of these methods worked in my case as triggering wp-cron.php itself resulted in an error.

How often should I set up cron jobs?

My website has not suffered from having a hit to wp-cron.php every 5 minutes, even though some tasks have an “every minute” schedule. Some even suggest every 15 or 30 is OK.

Some shared hosting providers may have restrictions, as well.

I am still having WordPress cron problems !

Isn’t it frustrating?

A few plugins might (or might not) help you weed out what’s causing your issue. 5

Plugins to Help Diagnose WordPress Cron Problems

I’ve tried a few of the cron plugins available in the WordPress plugin repository.

WP Crontrol

WP Crontrol is the most popular of these plugins. Set it up, and you can view a list of all of the scheduled tasks set up to run on your WordPress website. You can then run each one immediately, edit their schedule (but only do so with great caution). I even found and deleted a few tasks left over by uninstalled plugins. It’s a good way to find out which jobs are getting missed.

Advanced Cron Manager

Advanced Cron Manager is very similar, from what I’ve experienced, to WP Crontrol. In trying to diagnose my issue, I even tried their Pro version because it would log errors. I ended up asking for a refund, however. The plugin is excellent, but it didn’t log the errors generated by my websites in my specific situation.

WP-Cron Status Checker

This plugin checks every 24 hours to see if wp-cron can still run and notify you if it isn’t able to. So if you’re not logging on to your website every day, this can give you some peace of mind.


Don’t you hate it when you contact support, and they say that? It’s my version of, “you’ll shoot your eye out, kid!”

When they say this, I usually have done this and done this several times.

But they say it for a reason. Sometimes a rogue plugin or a conflict between plugins is the cause of problems with wp-cron. A plugin was the issue in my case, as when I disabled ALL plugins, wp-cron started to operate normally again. However, I could not tease out which plugin was the cause, even after looking at error logs.

As I said, there was some incompatibility with PHP 8.0 and an unidentified plugin. So I’m waiting a while.

Should you use alternate cron to solve WordPress cron problems ?

Something described in this post by Jeff Starr was successful in getting cron jobs to run on my website without reverting my PHP version or disabling any plugins 6:

He advises to just put this in wp-config.php:

define('ALTERNATE_WP_CRON', true);

Using alternate cron worked beautifully, except for one thing that he warns about: that sometimes your URLs end up with a long string at the end like this: ?doing_wp_cron=26492012-329-012.23743840839483092834.

This sometimes was every time on my website, and these long URLs were a deal-breaker for me.

Now, after pulling back my PHP version, cron jobs are running fine, I’ve resumed my server-level cron job, and all is good. Until the next problem arises. Such is often life with WordPress. But I still love it.

That’s it, my diatribe on wp-cron.php. Please post a comment if you know of something else I haven’t mentioned here.

Fortunately, my WordPress cron problems are solved for now. Hopefully, they won’t recur when I finally move back to PHP 8.0.

References and Footnotes
  1. The major culprit, I found was that I had backup plugins that were doing their thing all around the same time — changing the timing AND changing the way I did wp-cron solved the issue.[]
  2. Your wp-config.php file is located at the root of your website — whatever folder you have WordPress in. Usually, this is public_html.[]
  3. Which I don’t have right now so I cannot take a screenshot.[]
  4. Where myurl.com is your domain, of course![]
  5. Don’t know how to install a plugin? You probably do if you’re having WordPress cron problems. But if not, you can read this post.[]
  6. However, I would still have wanted to tease out where the errors were occurring.[]

How to Type Commonly Used Accents on Windows 10 International Keyboard


French is a lovely language, but oh, those accents! As a French learner, I frequently found myself forgetting accents or putting accent aigu where accent grave should be. Much of this was simply the mistake of a new learner, but it’s time for true confessions: sometimes, it was sheer laziness, especially when it came to typing in French.

While I’m not an extremely fast typist in English, typing in French felt très lentement (very slow.) If I were using an online learning program and found that the system would disregard my lack of accents, I’d just skip them, though I knew that ultimately I was doing it a disservice.

This blatant ignoring of accents is pure laziness as typing French characters on a keyboard is not difficult! When I had an iPad, it was very easy: press and hold for a pop-up menu of accents. However, I’m a PC user and, while I have a Bluetooth keyboard with a numeric keypad, my laptop does not have one. And using ALT and having to memorize a numeric code for special characters or, worse yet, using the character map to find individual letters with accents was headache-inducing.

The easiest way I’ve found to type characters not found on my US keyboard is to use the United States International Keyboard.

Adding the United States International Keyboard on Windows 10

Time needed: 5 minutes.

Here’s how to add the International Keyboard in Windows 10:

  1. Go to Settings

    Either click the windows icon on your taskbar (if your taskbar is at the bottom, it’s on the left) and then click the gear icon OR type Settings in the search box on your taskbar and then click on “Settings.” Either of these things will bring up the Settings menu.

  2. Click on Time and Language

    When you are in the settings menu, click on “Time and Language.”Time and Language Settings

  3. Click on Language

    As of the time I’m writing this, this should be on the left side of the menu.Windows 10 Language Settings

  4. Click your language under “Preferred Languages.”

    To add a keyboard, click on a language. The United States International Keyboard is available from both English (United States) and English (United Kingdom). I have NOT checked other English options.

    Preferred languages settings windows 10

  5. Click “Options”

    English Options Windows 10

  6. Click “Add a Keyboard”

    Then click on “Add a Keyboard.” Doing so will open up a long list of keyboards for you to browse. Oh, la, la…look at all of them! You can add the French keyboard if you want, but for me, it was easier to stick with the familiar QWERTY and use the United States -International Keyboard. In the photo, you’ll see I already have it installed here.

    In the Preferred Languages area, you can also add other languages. Here’s a neat trick: if you do that, and then go to Spelling, Typing and Keyboard settings from the language menu (it’s on the right there), you can toggle a switch. Toggling this switch will make predictive language or autocorrect suggestions based on the other languages that you’ve specified. Most of the time, I prefer that to be off, though, but it can come in handy — and be a cheat — when you’re typing in your language of study.How to add the United States International Keyboard in Windows 10

  7. Accessing the International Keyboard.

    Now that you have the keyboard installed, to switch to it, look at your taskbar. Find where it denoted your keyboard. Mine says ENG US.

    Click on that and it will open up all of the keyboards you have installed.

  8. Use the United States International Keyboard for Windows 10

    Now that you have the international keyboard, you’ll choose characters that do not naturally live in the wild on your physical keyboard generally by pressing a puncutation mark and the key of the letter that you want to accent. So if you want a cedilla, you press the ‘ and then the c to get ç.

    The caveat for this, of course, is that if I then want to actually type an apostrophe, I need to tell the keyboard that. So to get an apostrophe, I’ll type ‘ and then the space bar.

How to Type Accents on Windows 10 United States International Keyboard

Knowing that I only needed to memorize several keys to type accents on the International Keyboard made using it much less intimidating. If I can remember five simple quotation marks, you definitely can!

Here’s what you need to know to type those special characters:

‘ (Apostrophe, located right below the quote!)c,y,a,e,i,o,uç,ý,á,é,í,ó,úAcute Accent (Aigu)
” (Quotation Mark)y,a,e,i,o,uÿ,ä,ë,ï,ö,üUmlaut or tréma
`(Accent grave – upper left of keyboard)a,e,i,o,uà,è,ì,ò,ùAccent Grave
~ (Tilde – upper left of keyboard)o,n,aõ,ñ,ãñ – eñe in Spanish
^ (Caret — found on the #6 key)a,e,i,o,uâ,ê,î,ô,ûcircumflex

Let’s Talk About Those French Accents Now…

French has five accents. As I included a cheat sheet about typing French accents on the keyboard and sometimes forget to use them correctly myself, let’s review them. It will be a useful review for me, too!

Where they make a difference in sound, I’ve been able to use that to remind myself. In cases where they don’t make a difference in the sound…well, I’ll consider that a good memory exercise.

Accent (Example)What it’s CalledWhat it does
éAccent AiguThis differentiates the vowel sound from either the unaccented vowel or the vowel associated with the accent grave.

I like to think of the word le café (and the actual drink, as well.) It’s a word that you likely know how to pronounce correctly. But what would happen if it didn’t have the accent? Normalament the final vowel is dropped in French. The acute accent here is telling you to pronounce that final e and how.

You might note that I only put E in this example. For other vowels, the sound is the same, but it differentiates words which would otherwise have the same spelling. The word ou (or) and où (or) comes to mind.
èAccent GraveI like to think of the sound in the name Michèlè here. The è sound, to my American ears, is only slightly different than é, but still, I can hear it.
çLa CedilleI like the cedilla for some reason. And it’s easy to remember what it does. Think of the word garçon. That little tail gives the word it’s soft c. Without it, the c would have a hard sound. I think your French waiter would be even less pleased to be called a “garkon” than a “garçon.”
This changes the sound of a, e, and o, but also appears on i and u. It often appears on letters that used to be followed by an s in days gone by. So now you go to a hôpital and hike in the fôret.
ël’accent trémaI haven’t needed to use this as much in French, but I have an easy way to remember how this works. I have a daughter named Zoe, who insisted that I “spelled her name wrong on the birth certificate,” and likes to spell her name Zoë. And she very well could be right! The function here is that the tréma tells you to pronounce the vowels separately — like “Zo-ey” rather than “ZO.”

Hopefully, this was helpful. It was a good review for me, anyway! Writing things out is a great mnemonic tool.

French Characters on Windows 10 Keyboard

Harold and Maude at 50: I, Too, Should Like to Change Into a Sunflower Most of All.

Harold and Maude Quote I would like to change into a sunflower most of all from the Harold and Maude Flower Scene

On December 20, Hal Ashby’s now cult-classic, Harold and Maude, will turn 50.

Ruth Gordon, such a wonderful actress in so many roles, is remembered by most people either as Maude or for her turn in Rosemary’s Baby1. Bud Cort likely had difficulty disassociating himself with his turn as death-obsessed rich kid Harold. I recall seeing him here and there in later roles and thinking, “Hey, it’s Harold!”

My introduction to Harold and Maude was back (and I’m dating myself here) in the days when it was a rare and precious event to find it was on the TV schedule. These were also the days when “recommendations” were not given via Netflix but by the two guys who owned the neighborhood video store. With an air of extreme sadness, they told teenage me that it wasn’t available on video. Then, fortunately, recommended The Producers. Fast-forward to its 50th anniversary, and you can stream Harold and Maude on Amazon Prime any time you want. Something’s been lost, but something’s gained!

Harold and Maude isn’t everyone’s cup of oat straw tea. I’ve met those who don’t appreciate the film’s morbid humor and Harold’s (faux?) suicides. But amid all that dark humor is much light. It’s been atop my list of favorite films since I first heard Maude’s whisper of “Psst. Want some licorice?” during a funeral.

But, back to quotes.

Harold and Maude has quite a few quotable moments. And many of them occur in one particular segment of the film.

The microcosm of the “flower scene” condenses the macrocosm of the entire film into two minutes. Harold’s disjointed preoccupation with only the death and destruction part of the big picture, and Maude’s pointing him toward the creation side of things.

Maude points out her pleasure in watching things grow at the same time that she acknowledges the necessity of destruction. After all, it’s what makes change possible. We need both the nursery and the wrecking ball.

Things changing into other things: the nature of the universe. She, Maude points out, would like to change into a sunflower.

They grow and bloom and fade and die and change into something else! Ah…life! I should like to be a sunflower most of all. They’re so tall and simple.

Maude, Harold and Maude

I think, perhaps, that Maude was my first Zen teacher. She seems to have a grasp on the Buddhist concept of emptiness; the constant, fluid nature of what our mind makes into static “things.”2

I feel reasonably confident that, someday, I will be a sunflower. At least a small part of one. Finally! An achievable goal!

Harold’s conjecture that he would like to be one of “these” (daisies) “because they’re all alike” leads to another teachable moment.

“Oh, but they’re not!” Maude observes. “Look! See, some are smaller, some are fatter, some grow to the left, some to the right, some even have lost some petals. All kinds of observable differences. You see, Harold, I feel that much of the world’s sorrow comes from people who are this yet allow themselves to be treated as that.”

Harold and Maude Quote I feel that much of the worlds sorrow comes from people who are this yet allow themselves to be treated as that from the harold and maude flower scene

Who hasn’t felt, at some point, that they were being treated as that when they’re actually this? Perhaps the reason this scene seems to have struck a nerve with so many people?

A Zen teacher/psychologist3 I know commented that we tend to like people whose ideas and treatment of us accord with our own self-image. But when they don’t–as sometimes happens for whatever reason–what do we do with that? Do we counter that by being the person we know ourselves to be, or do we decide that their external view is probably the right one? It’s like knowing you’re a tiger, but everyone sees you as a kitten, so you learn to meow. Until one day, maybe, you unexpectedly let out a roar. And, even though nobody around you likes it (What’s wrong with you? We always appreciated the friendly way you purred!), it feels good!

But that was a diversion. Rawr!

Again, Maude is pointing out two sides of a whole, and both are true. We are that, and we are, particularly, this. You ARE special and unique…just like everybody else. And I don’t say that to be cynical. We can cherish both our individuality, peculiarities, and eccentricities. At the same time, we can celebrate our unique talents (and unique neuroses) and affirm the common ground of being human that connects us all.

This is a “quotes” post, but not a movie review. However, I’d give Harold and Maude five stars if I were reviewing the film as it’s one of the few I’ve watched again and again.

What do you think? References and Footnotes
  1. I’ve read that she was even considered for the lead in the film version of Cabaret over Joel Grey. I think Ruth Gordon was a great actress, but I’m glad that one didn’t happen[]
  2. Though I can’t agree with what Maude does at the end of the film.[]
  3. There seem to be a lot of those.[]

Fantasy Novels with Older Female Adventurers


I revised and reposted this from my other blog because it fits better here, where I write more about books. Last Summer, I hit a big birthday milestone — which I celebrated by hitting the road and traveling and camping solo down the coast. The trip gave me plenty of quality reading time in the hammock. I wanted to indulge in some fantasy books; perhaps ones that had solo female protagonists. But how many did I find? Zero, really.

Last Summer (and I’m glad I went then before COVID hit), I spent a few weeks, mostly traveling alone and camping down the coast to celebrate a significant birthday milestone. This trip was escapist, as many vacations are; it was a chance to get away, challenge myself, be able to do things spontaneously — have an adventure.

Adventure. Maybe not a big one, just a little one, but that’s enough. I’ll read just about anything but love to indulge in a good fantasy novel or series. This time, I felt inspired to find some books with older female characters, maybe to motivate myself to continue seeking new adventures into my later years. I had put the very beginnings on a non-fantasy story I called, tentatively, “Millie Goes Mobile,” about a widow hitting the road in a VW minibus in the 1970s, somewhat inspired by a friend of the family who traveled around in one well into her eighties. But then I realized that at least the premise sounded slightly like “About Schmidt.”1

But, apparently, old ladies just don’t take fantasy adventures. When I started to think about older female protagonists in fantasy or sci-fi novels, my mind drew a blank. My husband is an avid reader, and he couldn’t think of any suggestions.

In fantasy, older women tend to be side characters: mothers, merchants, shopkeepers. Or they might be a strong family matriarch like Lady Olenna Tyrell from Game of Thrones. She’s fierce, but not exactly out on the road adventuring herself.

Since that trip, I’ve finally started making my way through the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. The Aes Sedai are very old, though don’t appear so, and are very powerful and adventurous, but still don’t fit the bill for the main protagonist of a story. 2

I think one reason for the shortage of older female characters as protagonists is reader interest. It’s a general rule-of-thumb in writing, possibly particularly in the fantasy genre, that you’re writing characters just a bit older than your target audience. This, of course, is a rule that is made to be broken — look at all of the Harry-Potter-loving adults — but, generally, a young readership is going to be more interested in reading about young protagonists.

Another possibility is that many fantasy novels have a medieval-era setting. Perhaps the characters just don’t live that long. In such a world, 40 might be ancient.

And, maybe there’s just some truth here. As I age, while my mind tells me not to slow down, my body is reminding me that I would have no chance of keeping up if I could challenge my former self of just six years ago to a race. Still, it might be satisfying to see the protagonist of a novel deal with hip pain at the same time she’s dealing with villains. Maybe it’s time for me to stop blogging and pick up the pen.

Patrick Rothfuss, the author of the must-read Kingkiller Chronicles, is one writer who is penning a notable exception to this lack of older female characters in fantasy with his Tale of Laniel Young-Again. Laniel is an older woman who sets off on an epic-fantasy adventure after her husband is gone, and her children are grown (see him read from it below). Precisely the type of story I wanted! Only problem? It’s not yet published.

My adventure last Summer was much less epic than Laniel’s. Nobody will write tales of my exploits, which involved bravely checking into B&Bs on a couple of nights instead of braving the scary campground. Nor would I want those tales told; they would be not only dull but embarrassing. However, I almost gave in to the temptation to purchase a ukulele at one point and write some of my own. The people of the campgrounds narrowly averted terrible fate.

But getting out, getting on the road, can make you feel young again. And, faced with not being able to get out, it might be nice to be able to adventure along with a fantasy character with which you can relate.

Did I find any fantasy novels with older female protagonists?

What novels, fantasy or otherwise, are available that feature older female protagonists? I considered Howl’s Moving Castle but rejected that one as the protagonist only appears old. She hasn’t had the changes incurred by a lifetime of experience.

The later books in the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon may have been a contender. Claire is older there, and continually has adventures, though they fall more into the area of time travel, romance, and historical fiction than epic fantasy.

What were the books suggested by Twitter book bloggers? As I mentioned, they suggested some excellent books (and I’ve read some since then), but none were the types of fantasy I wanted.

Here are their recommendations:

The Mrs. Pollifax Series by Dorothy Gilman

Thanks to Ellie the Bookwerm for suggesting this.

Mrs. Pollifax is a New Jersey grandmother who, tired of the same routine and the garden club meetings (I’m with her!), decides to become what, once upon a time, she might have been — a CIA spy. The books are short and light reading but are extremely fun. The books were written in the 1960s and 70s, and Mrs. Pollifax reflects that era. Most grandmothers I know now don’t wear crazy flowered hats, but Mrs. Pollifax misplacing hers while she engages in espionage is a recurrent theme here. Fantasy, no. Fun, yes.

Now is the Time to Open Your Heart by Alice Walker

Thanks to Our Traveling Zoo for recommending this one.

The protagonist of Now is the Time to Open Your Heart is 57, and so fits right into the demographic group that I want. She leaves her lover and sets out on her own and encounters (according to the summary from the inside flap:  “celibates and lovers, shamans and snakes, memories of family disaster and marital discord, and emerges at a place where nothing remains but love.”). I have yet to read this one, but it may be next up on my reading list.


Thank you to the Uncorked Librarian for suggesting Indelible by Adelia Saunders. I’ve been on a trend, it seems, of reading novels set in France in WWII, so this one fits right in. Its premise of a woman being able to see the lives of people written on their skin is fascinating. I’m probably reading this one on my trip, but the protagonist has two small children, so she doesn’t fit into the “older woman” demographic.

Bring Me Your Tales

Have you read any good books featuring an older female protagonist setting out on an adventure? Let me know in the comments! If you can find a fantasy novel featuring a female protagonist over 50 setting out on an adventure, you are honored above all others!

References and Footnotes
  1. As an aside, for a little while, I was also playing an MMO and made my character buck the norm by being a tiny person with a grey bun and glasses. She was notoriously bad at healing but made excellent cookies.[]
  2. I’ve started to be annoyed by the characters in that series constantly ruminating on not understanding women.[]

Sloth installs a cookie bar

In the last few posts, Zip installed Google Analytics and Search Console and then played around with using Google Site Kit. Now that he has something on his website that’s tracking visitors, though, should he be letting them know that and, perhaps, giving them the option of opting out? Let’s look at some of the GDPR WordPress plugins available that he might use on his website.

If you’re the impatient type and want to know my recommendation up front: my current favorite GDPR WordPress Plugin is Complianz. It seems to offer the best mix of features, even in its free version, and has caused me the fewest issues.

This post is a bit long (and I tend to minimize.) If you want to skip ahead, we’ll be going over what I look for in a GDPR WordPress plugin and looking at some of the most popular GDPR plugins.

I had been planning on doing a separate review of each particular plugin as I did with Smart Cookie Kit, but Zip’s anxious (as anxious as a sloth can be) to get on with Slothverse.com, so, perhaps, I’ll get back to the individual reviews later.

Do I Need a GDPR WordPress Plugin?

Zip lives in the United States, in a state that’s NOT California (with its CCPA law). And his site is small with low traffic (hmmm, maybe he should stop being slothful and add some content.) Does he even need to use one of the GDPR WordPress plugins?

I’ve wrestled with this issue on my websites1. The conclusion I came to was that, as I live near California and know that some of my visitors, even on my mostly local website, are from California, I should make an effort to be CCPA compliant. On this website, I’m aware that not all of my traffic is in the US — and I should make an effort to comply with the GDPR.

True, as a small blogger, I’m unlikely to run into legal issues right now. However, I do run Google Adsense ads, and they require that you either allow them to limit personalized ads via geolocation or have a way to enable consent based on the users’ local laws.

What Should I Look for in a GDPR WordPress Plugin?

As I both browsed websites as an end-user and created them — for both a few clients and for myself — I started thinking about these cookie bars I kept seeing. Most offered a simple warning that thar be cookies on this site. If you continued to browse, you, de facto, accepted these mystery cookies!

The website loaded scripts for ads and analytics immediately and didn’t give the user the option (unless they blocked analytics and ads from their browser) of opting out before consent. Informative, but NOT GDPR-compliant2.

However, when I decided to add a cookie bar that I considered meaningful, I found that it was screwing up my analytics. Of course, you’ll probably tell me, if you allow users to opt-out, it IS going to screw up your analytics, sillyhead!

Of course, if Zip allows his website visitors to opt-out, analytics will not capture those visits.

However, for some of the GDPR plugins we tried, the analytics script didn’t get loaded, even for contenting visitors, without a page refresh. That meant that his referral source would be off.

For instance, suppose a visitor comes from Google and lands on Zip’s page about “20 Sloth Home Decor items You Simply Must Have Right Now.” This visitor to the Slothverse then accepts the cookies. However, analytics is not loaded. The visit doesn’t get tracked until one of two things happens: the visitor navigates to another page, or the page automatically refreshes on accept. In either case, analytics would show this visit as being “direct.” Zip would lose the real referral source: organic search.

If you’re running analytics, you probably don’t want all of your organic (search engine) visits to show as “direct.” For this reason, it became essential to me to find a plugin that would block scripts like analytics and ads and then allow them without a page reload. Not to mention that constant page reloading can be hard on your server!

Here’s my list of what I look for in an ideal GDPR WordPress Plugin:

Here’s what I was looking for in a “good” GDPR WordPress plugin. I’ll acknowledge that if I had to review GDPR plugins on a percentage point scale for each of the criteria that I mention here, I’d not give ANY 100%! That doesn’t mean they’re not excellent plugins. It’s just that I had at least one issue with every one of them, my favorite included. One blocked too much, another not enough, etc.

So, here’s my list of demands:

1. It blocks scripts in advance and then allows them on acceptance.

As I mentioned previously, if a visitor allows analytics, I want to capture that first-page visit. I want to know from whence they came.

No, I don’t mean that I want to know if you came from Santa Claus, IN or Boring, OR–though I might if I’m interested in my visitors’ physical locations. But I definitely want to know if they came from organic search and, more specifically, from Google or Bing. I want to know if they got there via social media (though Zip doesn’t have any yet). Do I get no traffic from Twitter, but a lot from Pinterest?

That’s a good thing to know. If I hate Twitter and love Pinterest, maybe I can focus more of my effort there and quit tweeting away. Or, if I consider Twitter an essential part of whatever promotion I’m trying to do but nobody’s clicking, perhaps I can revisit my strategy.

2. It doesn’t require a page reload after acceptance.

OK, this is pretty much the same as #1 but, apparently, I think it bears emphasizing yet again. One popular GDPR plugin, I found, required that you enter header or body codes within the plugin. Then, when the visitor accepted, you would either need to allow a page reload or would have to wait until the visitor went to another page to track anything or show any ads.

Besides the fact that this throws off your tracking, I found that page reloads 1) made a significant impact on server resources 2) were likely frustrating for visitors.

3. It doesn’t block things it’s not supposed to block.

I’ve had an issue with all other GDPR WordPress plugins that were more than a mere warning. Either they didn’t block something I wanted them to block or — more often — they blocked something too well. Usually when this happened it was an issue with blocking either maps, videos, or reCaptcha v3.

In some cases, this has to do with configuring your caching plugin. However, there are a couple of instances where I’ve just had to disable part of the advance blocking. One of my websites is map-heavy, and I found that one of the plugins blocked maps even after acceptance.

Another one interfered with videos.

The good news is that most of the plugins have excellent customer support — at least for their premium versions. The bad news is that my patience wears thin with constant problem-solving. That’s been my prime reason for plugin-abandonment.

Most of the GDPR plugins I’ve tried have some capacity for configuring the appearance of your notification. Of course, you can always change the appearance via CSS. Still, it’s a nice feature to have right inside the plugin. Both Complianz and WebToffee are my favorites in this respect.

5. It scans for cookies.

It’s nice if your GDPR plugin will scan for cookies — both block them until acceptance and compile a list to disclose to interested visitors.

Of the plugins I’ve tried, Complianz does an excellent job of this. CookieYes! also does this well. However, on one of my websites with many pages, the CookieYes scan took such a long time that it made me very afraid to run future scans. A scan via Complianz on the same site took perhaps a minute or two. Cookiebot is another plugin that scans for cookies. However, I never actually used it because I found it would be expensive for my website with tons of pages.

6. It allows for geo-location.

For many of the GDPR plugins, this is a premium feature. The CookieNotice by Hu-manity plugin can be configured per country if you add another plugin, but if you use the free version of Complianz, you need to choose one region.

7. It does not slow your website significantly.

I came to believe that some GDPR plugins affected website speed. However, for a few of those, I’ve proven to myself that they don’t make a dramatic difference. But for ones that require you to install a third-party script, it’s might possible that some latency might be a side-effect.

Let’s Look at Some GDPR WordPress Plugins

The WordPress plugin repository has plenty of GDPR WordPress plugins. Zip decides to give a few the good ol’ college try.

Cookie Notice by Hu-manity

Cookie Notice GDPR Plugin GDPR WordPress Plugins

This Cookie Notice plugin is the one formerly by dFactors. Hu-manity has since acquired them, so Zip decided to revisit this plugin and see if it had any updates during the last year.

What he finds is a new screen to setup GDPR/CCPA compliance and customize the colors. But the “Compliance Live Demo” won’t load. He finds that using the plugin’s new features (GDPR vs. CCPA, cookie scanning, prior blocking, etc.) will cost $14.95/month. As he’s a sloth of very little cash, he doesn’t sign up — so I haven’t had the chance to try this.

Cookie Notice Demo on Slothverse
Having some difficulty loading the “Compliance Live Demo” in the Hu-manity GDPR plugin

The old dFactors plugin didn’t include autoblocking or GDPR/CCPA-specific features. You could set up whether to show the plugin to certain countries if you used the Category Country Aware plugin, but that required some additional setup.

The free version of the plugin, it appears, offers the same features as the old one. You can enter scripts directly into the plugin and then allow the page to reload — not something I like to do, for reasons I mentioned previously.

But, if you look on the WordPress plugin repository, you’ll note that the plugin has a five-star rating. It’s been a long-time favorite cookie notice plugin for many users as it’s straightforward to set up and use.

  • Easy to set up.
  • Little impact on site speed.
  • The free version doesn’t have a cookie scanner.
  • It has limited appearance configuration options in its free version.
  • The free version does not include advance blocking. You can choose to have it be a simple disclosure of cookies, or you can enter scripts directly in the plugin, and it will load them after acceptance. After acceptance AND after reloading the page!
  • Currently, the plugin doesn’t appear to include an AMP-consent component. Note that this isn’t an issue if you’re using the AMP for WP Plugin, as it has a cookie bar included. However, as I’m writing this, you won’t have a cookie bar on AMP if you’re using the official AMP plugin.

I cannot comment on the premium version here or plugin support as I haven’t tried it.

Complianz GDPR (My Top Pick)

Complianz GDPR Plugin Review Featured Image

Complianz GDPR is the plugin I’m currently using on this website in its premium version. The good news is that the premium and free versions have most of the same features. The big differences here are that in the premium version, you can do A/B testing to see which cookie notice gets the best response, and — more importantly — you can configure the opt-in by geolocation. In the free version, you need to select one opt-in for all. It will also configure your disclosure pages if you would like.

Of course, when you have a plugin auto-configure your privacy and disclosure pages, some awkwardness can ensue. I’d recommend checking and editing them individually (I still need to get around to doing more of this!)

You can even enter your Google Tag Manager code in the plugin if you want, and it will add the correct Google Tag Manager tracking script for you. However, this isn’t essential. You can still choose to install GTM some other way, and it will still block analytics before acceptance.

The Complianz plugin includes a wizard for easy setup and will scan your website for current cookies and then scan again regularly:

Complianz GDPR WordPress Plugin Wizard

The Complianz plugin includes switchable “Integrations” to toggle the blocker on or off for various services:

Integrations on Complianz WordPress GDPR Plugin

The ability to customize the look of your cookie bar in the plugin is pretty robust, as well. It offers several styles of cookie bars, the ability to customize colors, and an area to add custom CSS directly in the plugin.

Overall, this plugin has worked the best for me of any I’ve tried. And, when I’ve contacted support, they’ve been very responsive. However, I switched the automatic maps and YouTube blocker in the “integrations” area off. I found that, at least with my caching plugin enabled (in the case of YouTube videos), sometimes videos got totally blocked. I also found that trying to block Google ReCaptcha v3 resulted in my rating plugin not working, even after consent.

Pros of Complianz GDPR

  • Advance blocking of scripts and script integrations in both the premium and free versions.
  • Good support.
  • Easy to configure appearance; plenty of options.
  • It worked well with advance blocking and allowing of Google Adsense ads and analytics.
  • Overall, the pro version is affordable, especially if you have several websites.
  • It will configure privacy pages and a cookie notice page for you.
  • It has an AMP-compatible cookie bar.

Cons of Complianz GDPR

  • It blocked videos and maps a bit too well.
  • Blocking ReCaptcha conflicted with some plugins using it, even after acceptance.
  • Not really a “con,” but it only has geolocation and A/B testing in the paid version.

Zip is only installing the free version of the plugin but will likely move to the paid version eventually. After he configures the plugin, he gets a nice cookie bar like this:

Complianz GDPR WordPress Plugins cookie bar on Slothverser


CookieYes GDPR WordPresss Plugin Logo

WebToffee’s plugin has been renamed to CookieYes since I last used it on a website. I can verify that WebToffee offers excellent and responsive customer support if you have an issue. I also really liked their appearance features in the premium version. So why did I switch? I just kept having problems — or at least perceiving ones on my end that they gave their 200% to solve. My main concerns were that it wasn’t blocking Adsense ads I added via a popular ads plugin, I was concerned about how it was affecting website speed, and its cookie scan took a LONG time as I had a lot of pages on the website3

But let’s revisit this plugin on Zip’s website as it’s one of the top GDPR plugins. And it offers a lot of features, even in its free version.

Once Zip has installed the plugin, he can scan for cookies. Doing so requires that he create an account. After that, he runs a scan which finds all of the cookies on his website. Fortunately, it takes only a minute or two as Zip doesn’t have that many pages on his website, nor that many cookies. As I think I mentioned previously, this took all night to run on my website hosting an events calendar.

Once it’s complete, he gets a list of all of the cookies it found:

GDPR WordPress Plugins CookieYes Cookie Scanner

After that, he needs to import the cookies. From there, he can categorize them if he wants to allow visitors to toggle specific categories off or on (i.e., allow maps but block ads and analytics).

The ease of configuring per-category consent is one area where I felt WebToffee exceeded Complianz. I still haven’t got category-specific with the Complianz plugin. However–and perhaps it was due to caching–I had difficulty with the per-category toggles sometimes not working.

The plugin offers some customization options for color. The paid version of the plugin, however, offers an improved selection of appearance options.

For both the paid and free versions, you can choose between CCPA, GDPR, or both.

As I had mentioned, I had been concerned about site speed with the WebToffee plugin. Let’s revisit that on a website that doesn’t have a bunch of third-party scripts (other than Google Analytics):

GTMetrix test of Slothverse.com with Complianz GDPR active.
GTMetrix text of Slothverse.com with CookieYes! by WebToffee GDPR active

As you can see here, both plugins didn’t have a significant effect on speed. Additionally, one didn’t outperform the other. Ah, the good old days of seeing all green numbers on the GTMetrix test! At some point, we’ll add a bunch of scripts and see what happens to those lovely, green speed scores (evil laugh)! We’ll also take a look at how he GOT those excellent, green scores.

I’m sticking with Complianz as it’s worked well for me, but CookieYes, I think, is an excellent choice among cookie bars. And I say that as a now-veritable connoisseur of cookie bars!

Pros of CookieYes

  • Excellent customer support, at least in their premium version.
  • It has good appearance options, which are even better in their premium version.
  • Cookie scanner in both paid and free versions (but the paid version will do automatic cookie scans.)
  • Easy to configure per-category acceptance (though it can be time-consuming if you have tons of cookies).
  • Can choose between GDPR, CCPA, or both.

Cons of CookieYes

  • I had trouble with Google ads blocking at the time that I used it. Customer support worked hard, however, to fix this issue.
  • As mentioned above, if you have many cookies, it can be time-consuming to identify and categorize all the cookies for per-category acceptance.
  • The scanner can take a long time to run if you have a large website.
  • It does not appear to have an AMP cookie bar.

Smart Cookie Kit

Smart Cookie Kit GDPR WordPress Plugin logo

I wrote a Smart Cookie Kit review a while back.

Overall, I liked the plugin a great deal. It was simple to install. It effectively blocked Adsense and Analytics “out of the box” and then allowed them, on acceptance, without the visitor doing a page reload.

The appearance configuration, however, was not as intuitive as with some of the other plugins. However, if you know CSS, it wasn’t too difficult to edit the opt-in appearance. The downside was that it totally blocked my maps, and for my map-heavy website, that was a huge issue. It’s a free plugin, and for that, the support is excellent. But I never solved the maps issue and ended up switching to another plugin.

Some Other GDPR WordPress Plugins to Consider:

I’ve tried some of these. Others are ones that I know of but have not had the chance (or willingness) to try:


Ibuenda will add a cookie bar and generate a privacy policy. However, it involved adding a third-party script to my site and did seem to have some impact on speed.

The paid version will auto-generate a clear privacy policy that’s easy to auto-update. However, as I mentioned previously, adding it to your website requires another third-party script. And I started using another plugin that would help me generate a privacy policy, so I finally quit using that feature.

You can do an AMP content component with Ibuenda — they have a tutorial on their website about AMP configuration — but it may be challenging to configure for the average WordPress user.


Osano offers a cookie solution. I can’t offer much in the way of a review here as I tried it for a very brief time quite a while back. I think I stopped for the same reasons I stopped using Ibuenda — the addition of a third-party script showing up in speed tests. It also did not offer an AMP consent component.


CookieBot seems to be a popular GDPR solution that scans for cookies, does prior blocking of scripts, and will add per-category consent. However, I did not try it during my period of sampling many cookie bars. Why? I found that, though, for a small website, it would be free. However, my website had an event calendar that generated multiple pages. Using CookieBot on that website would have vastly exceeded any revenue I was earning from it at that time.

A couple of other GDPR WordPress Plugins:

I haven’t tried these, but they’re available in the WordPress Plugin repository:

We’ve taken a look at some of the most popular GDPR WordPress Plugins. Zip has tried a few and added the Complianz plugin to his website. For now, he’s using the free version and has it configured for GDPR.

So, what’s next? Likely, Zip will look at whether he wants to enter the cesspool wonderful world of social media for his blog. Hmmm…he’s been pretty lazy lately. Maybe he should actually stop napping and add some content!

References and Footnotes
  1. Disclaimer: I’m NOT a lawyer or expert in this area![]
  2. On this site, too, that might happen depending on where you live as the plugin I’m using is configured differently for each area’s laws[]
  3. By a long time, I mean that I left it scanning overnight and it still was not done by morning.[]

If Everyone Did: a Classic Childrens’ Book That Some Adults Should Read

If Everyone Did: a Classic Childrens’ Book That Some Adults Should ReadIf Everybody Did by Jo Ann Stover
Published by BJU Press on 1989 (Original published in 1960)
Genres: Children's Books, Picture Books
Pages: 45
Format: Paperback
Buy on Amazon

Publisher Synopsis:

"Hilarious pictures portray what would happen if everyone did as he pleased."

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I can still hear my mom’s voice saying, “If everyone did it…” For years, that phrase was about all I remembered from a book she used to read to me as a child, until I looked it up and, eventually, read it to my kids.

Somehow that phrase, and its message, stuck in my young mind — even if it did not always influence my actions.

Jo Ann Stover’s book, If Everyone Did, full of humorous black and white line drawings, takes a look at one kid’s actions. Then, as the title implies, it looks at the impact of everyone doing that same thing.

Make a track into the house? Maybe OK, but if everyone did, you have a massive mess on your hands.

An illustration from If Everyone Did by Jo Ann Stover featuring a black and white drawing of footprints all over a room

The situations are presented funnily and appealingly for kids. They can, indeed, have an impact on how they look at social issues.

Some of us adults could benefit from reading this book’s simple message. That’s true at any time, but especially during this time of COVID-19. I, personally, know of people who heartily agree that social distancing and mask-wearing are things that people should do. And then act in a way that shows they think it does not apply to them.

I can see the potential illustrations for, “Have a secret-in-person-not-on-Zoom game night? This is what would happen if Everybody did.”

But I can’t judge too much. Though the book’s message has stuck with me, I do things at times that I know go against its simple philosophy. Thins that range from getting on an airplane churning out emissions to indulge my wanderlust to not returning my library books on time.

Still, it left a lasting impression on my young mind.

If you want a fun, and potentially social consciouness raising, book to read with your kids, this is a winner.

The cover of If Everyone Did by Jo Ann Stover.

Here’s someone’s read of this book that they took the time to post on YouTube:

Note that there’s another book which seems to have a simiar title and message: What if Everybody Did That by Ellen Javernick. But it’s not the same as If Everyone Did by Jo Ann Stover, which is the one I recall from childhood.


It’s Never Too Late to Be What You Might Have Been

It’s never too late to be what you might have been,” is a quote attributed to Victorian-era novelist George Eliot. These are my own meanderings on the truthfulness and helpfulness of this oft-quoted quote sometimes seen on everything from refrigerator magnets to coffee cups.

Perusing the Internet, you’re bound to come across certain things: memes, cute animal photos, clickbait, and quotes. One that came across my path the other day was, “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.”

It’s a quote commonly attributed to Victorian-era author George Eliot, though this attribution apparently has no basis in fact. It’s one of those quotes that sounds, at first glance, so inspirational. It’s never too late! You can do it!

But something troubled me about this quote. Why? Am I just a negative person? Perhaps. But there was some other reason this quote kept churning endlessly in my mind: Fundamentally, it isn’t true.

It is, absolutely, too late to be what you might have been. What you might have been is a thing that does not exist. It’s just an idea.

“What I might have been” is a story I tell myself. And “might have been” are, ultimately, regret words. Words of sadness. Of lost possibilities.

The bad news is that you’ll never be what you might have been. If there’s a dream you gave up when you were young, you’ll never be that young person fulfilling that dream.

Our body replaces its cells, or so “they” say every seven years or so. You are, physically, not the same person that you were back in those days that you think about when you think about what might have been.

And, though our personalities tend to stay frustratingly constant, what you’ve been through in your life since you were that person who might have become what you might have been has shaped you into someone different than when you were that person.

While there’s nothing wrong with pursuing old interests you shelved until later, trying too hard to grasp onto that person that you might have been, could be damaging your getting to know the person you are right now.

If you take the time to get to know that person deeply, you might be surprised. Maybe that person doesn’t want to write something “deep and profound,” but wants to write rom-com stories, blog posts, or Ivy Tran Food Court Detective like Diane Nguyen in Bojack Horseman.) Or doesn’t even want to write and wants to volunteer at her local library, or learn the ukulele. Can you let that new person be happy about that and not berate her for not being something that she might have wanted to be once?

Something is freeing in letting go of the person you might have been to be with the person you are now. And something essential and urgent about it too:

At some point it becomes truly too late to be what we might have been.

As my mother was halfway through the slow and terrible decline of ALS, she handed me the small notepad she was using for communication at the time. Her message was brief and somber: “We all have an expiration date.”

Philip Pullman, in his masterful “children’s'” book The Amber Spyglass, has a scene in which every person has “a death:” a figure which usually stays, gracefully, behind a person and out of the way.

Our expiration date isn’t something that we like to dwell on. Like the characters in the book, we don’t want to see our death or know our expiration date. But turning around, occasionally, to look at it and acknowledge it is something we should do from time to time.

It’s a good practice which, at the very least, can help remind us of the preciousness and finiteness of life.

Sometimes I find myself getting angry about the past, or inventing stories about alternate universes where there are other versions of myself living out all the different choices and possibilities that I didn’t allow in this one. Fantasies like that can be a fun exercise in fiction if you can separate it from negative emotion. But doing so can be a difficult feat of mental gymnastics. I sometimes stop to ask myself if this is how I want to spend the rest of this time here on Earth: kowtowing to the needs of a demanding imaginary nonexistent person.

If you need to become reacquainted with yourself, I think some things can help: for some of us, it’s journaling or meditation. For others, it might be talking with a trusted friend or counselor. Or prayer. Or exercise, which can allow you to run away from the world of “what-ifs” while you run (or walk or swim or…) your body into a state of better health.

Ultimately, it’s too late to be what you might have been.

But that’s OK. It’s even good. Celebrate and make friends with who you are now.

There. That’s my brief essay that wanted to be written. But while I was thinking about the topic, my mind also went to fictional characters who did recapture an old dream later in life. What I was trying to say here is not that it’s not OK to reacquaint yourself with old goals, but, instead, reflect on the harmfulness in trying to recapture a past and a self that is gone.

One older fictional character who gets the chance to (humorously) relive an old dream is Mrs. Pollifax, who, as a widow, finally gets to live out her dream of being a secret CIA agent. The stories were light and enjoyable reading during a Summer road trip.

What do you think? Is this quote true?

The Sandman Audible Version May Bring New Readers to an Old Series

This book may be unsuitable for people under 17 years of age due to its use of sexual content, drug and alcohol use, and/or violence.
The Sandman Audible Version May Bring New Readers to an Old SeriesThe Sandman (Sandman Audible Original, #1) by Dirk Maggs, Neil Gaiman, Riz Ahmed, Kat Dennings, Taron Egerton, James McAvoy, Andy Serkis, Samantha Morton, Bebe Neuwirth, Michael Sheen, Arthur Darvill
Published by Audible on July 15, 2020
Genres: Comics and Graphic Novels, Fantasy Graphic Novels, Horror Graphic Novels, Fantasy and Science Fiction, Fantasy, Dark Fantasy and Horror
Pages: 11
Format: Audible
Buy on Amazon

Publisher Synopsis:

Hailed by the Los Angeles Times Magazine as “the greatest epic in the history of comic books”, The Sandman changed the game with its dark, literary world of fantasy and horror - creating a global, cultural phenomenon in the process. At long last, Audible and DC present the first-ever audio production of the New York Times best-selling series written by acclaimed storyteller Neil Gaiman (who also serves as co-executive producer). Adapted and directed by multi-award-winner (and frequent Gaiman collaborator) Dirk Maggs, and performed by an ensemble cast with James McAvoy (It, Parts One and Two, X-Men: First Class, Split) in the title role, this first installment of a multi-part original audio series will transport you to a world that re-writes the rules of audio entertainment the way that The Sandman originally re-defined the graphic novel.
When The Sandman, also known as Lord Morpheus - the immortal king of dreams, stories and the imagination - is pulled from his realm and imprisoned on Earth by a nefarious cult, he languishes for decades before finally escaping. Once free, he must retrieve the three “tools” that will restore his power and help him to rebuild his dominion, which has deteriorated in his absence. As the multi-threaded story unspools, The Sandman descends into Hell to confront Lucifer (Michael Sheen), chases rogue nightmares who have escaped his realm, and crosses paths with an array of characters from DC comic books, ancient myths, and real-world history, including: Inmates of Gotham City's Arkham Asylum, Doctor Destiny, the muse Calliope, the three Fates, William Shakespeare (Arthur Darvill), and many more. 
A powerhouse supporting cast helps translate this masterwork into a sonic experience worthy of its legacy, including Riz Ahmed, Kat Dennings, Taron Egerton, Samantha Morton, Bebe Neuwirth, Andy Serkis, and more. Setting the stage for their performance is an unprecedented cinematic soundscape featuring an original musical score by British Academy Award winner James Hannigan. Fans will especially revel in a new twist for the audio adaptation: Neil Gaiman himself serves as the narrator. Follow him as he leads listeners along a winding path of myths, imagination and, often, terror. Even in your wildest dreams, you’ve never heard anything like this.

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Preludes and Nocturnes, the first volume of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series of graphic novels, came out in 1988. Instead of growing less popular with time, the series has grown in audience year by year. This Summer, over thirty years after DC published that first volume, Audible released a voice-acted audio adaptation of the first three volumes in the series.

Audible’s Sandman Audible Originals Volume 1 covers the stories from Preludes, going on to The Doll’s House and concluding with the Midsummer Night’s Dream story from Dream Country. Ending on a note that includes Puck’s realization about fiction: “This is magnificent. And it is true! It never happened, yet it is still true. What magic art is this?” seems, somehow, appropriate.

The audiobook presents the Sandman stories in a dramatized format featuring a variety of talented actors, among them James McAvoy as Morpheus (the Sandman of the series title,) Michael Sheen as Lucifer, and Andy Serkis as Matthew, the Raven. I also enjoyed very much hearing Bebe Newirth voice the Siamese Cat.

Neil himself provides narration, filling in with words what images conveyed in the graphic novels. Not all authors are good narrators. I once went to one of Gaiman’s lectures in Seattle and recalled him observing that if you have an English accent and live in America, people think you’re either smart or evil. Fortunately, Neil’s voice is perfect for narrating the types of stories that he writes. Am I saying that I’m an American who thinks he sounds evil? Not most of the time, but Gaiman can give the ending of a sentence a particular inflection that lends a sense of foreboding. 1 

For those note familiar with the Sandman series of graphic novels, it sits firmly in the fantasy/horror genre and bounces between the two, with a hefty helping of myth on its plate. Gaiman is a fan of mythology (as a fantasy author should be.)

The story concerns Morpheus — the king of dreams — who is one of the Endless, a pantheon that Gaiman made up for the series. The Endless are the embodiments of various forces and, apparently, all favor “D” names: Destiny, Death, Desire, Delirium, Despair, Destruction, and (Morpheus himself) Dream. However, the Sandman series pulls in myths from many sources, including the Judeo-Christian heaven and hell and Norse mythology.

Gaiman’s appreciation for northern myths shines forth in many episodes in the series. A battle of wits between Dream and a demon brings to mind both the Poetic Edda and Song of Amergin. 2

Some stories in the series are genuinely horrific; if you don’t like horror, you’ll want to avoid this series. The audiobook, like the graphic novel, is appropriate for mature audiences and contains some disturbing and explicit scenes. Other stories are a bit more lighthearted, but Gaiman has a talent for infusing just about anything with a dose of creepiness or melancholy.

My favorite stories in the first three books of Sandman — and this audiobook — fall into the non-horrific camp. “The Sound of Her Wings,” about Dream’s sibling, Death (who, it turns out, is a cute goth girl) is a favorite. It’s also poignant and poetic. Morpheus reflects on an ancient Egyptian poem,3 realizing that, though people fear Death, it’s a necessary part of life and recalling that he also has a job to which he must return.

Men of Good Fortune is another favorite. The story follows the friendship of Morpheus, and his friendship Hob Gadling — a man who he’s gifted with immortality — as they meet up in the same pub on the same day once every century.

Cat lovers — especially those of us who love a Siamese cat — will appreciate A Dream of a Thousand Cats. You might have a new perspective on what kitty dreams about while asleep.

Have you read (or listened to) Sandman? What are your favorite stories in the series?

Do you need to have read the graphic novels to appreciate the series? Not at all, though I think it likely that you’ll like one if you like the other. Listening to the narration while following along with the graphic novel is a treat. The Audible adaptation is almost spot-on faithful to the original. A couple of the stories differ from the sequence of the books; if you’re following along with the graphic novel, you’ll need to pause the narration temporarily and find your place. But you do not need to have read the book to enjoy the audio version. It’s entirely possible to lay back in your hammock, close your eyes, and follow Morpheus’ journey. Gaiman’s narration aptly fills in with words details conveyed by illustrations in the book.

As I mentioned previously, the first edition of Sandman came out in 1988. Over many years, societal attitudes shift. A later story in the Sandman series, in particular, has been criticized for its treatment of a trans character. However, it seems, to me, that Gaiman was progressive, particularly for the time. A recent review in Polygon questions whether Gaiman and Dirk Maggs should have taken the opportunity to update some elements in the series. A couple of the suggested items to change: the choice of the pronoun “it” used to describe Morpheus’ sibling Desire or the fact that the first same-sex couple in the series is physically abusive. A question worth of consideration: Do we keep stories as-is, allowing them to reflect the attitudes of their age? Or should stories be changed in small ways to make them more up-to-date and inclusive?

Will Audible be making more of these Sandman productions? The fact that the audiobook’s subtitle is “Sandman Audible Originals #1” seems promising. Netflix is also jumping on the Sandman bandwagon with an upcoming series. The platform allowed me to add it to my list, though it’s not due to be released until at least 2022. And you can preorder a huge boxed set of the entire book series, due for release in September. Does it look like Morpheus is making a big comeback? I don’t think he ever really left. After all, he’s Endless.

References and Footnotes
  1. Note that the Polygon article I referred to in this post doesn’t agree with that and notes that where “actors are crying and hissing and roaring, his storybook monotone sticks out.”[]
  2. Disclaimer: I’m passingly familiar with both but have to admit that I have read neither Snorri Sturluson nor Robert Graves through.[]
  3. The poem is “A Dispute Between a Man and His Ba from approximately 2000BCE.[]