The Distraction Game: Watching a Betta Fish

This is Konoshi. She is a betta fish. She lives in a planted tank that I set up based on Diana Walstad’s book, The Ecology of the Planted Aquarium.

So far I’ve kept Konoshi alive for almost two months.

I got her as a fry, probably about 6 to 8 weeks old. Petco sells betta fry as “baby bettas,” although they really shouldn’t. According to all the information I’ve looked at, betta fry are delicate and need special care. I’ve been lucky. Konoshi seems unusually hearty.

Konoshi came in a little tub labeled “Baby Boy Betta.” That was not the first surprise I encountered in dealing with my planted tank.

Originally this was the plan for my bedside tank:


I’ve loved snails ever since I read Elisabeth Tova Bailey’s The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating. In the book, Bailey tells the story of how she became bedridden with a terrible illness and filled her days watching and listening to a land snail she had in a terrarium nearby. I fell in love with the idea of having a snail near my own bed that I could watch on the days when lupus kept me horizontal.

But pet stores don’t carry land snails. In the U.S., land snails are considered pests & can’t be transported across state lines. So I researched aquatic snails. I settled on nerites, a kind of African snail that doesn’t breed in freshwater. I started my tank. I waited, and when I couldn’t stand the waiting anymore, I got two nerite snails and named them Ms. Frizzle and Arnold.


But soon I discovered that I’d screwed up in a big way with the snails. First, I didn’t study my Walstad well enough to learn that you can’t put plants in gravel and expect them to absorb all the poop & detritus that snails and plants generate. The plants don’t root well enough in the gravel, and gravel doesn’t provide an effective enough substrate to produce microbes and other poop-eating organisms. And nerites poop a lot. As soon as I put them in the tank, garlands of feces started pouring from the snails’ bodies, possibly from a place near their necks. If they have necks.

Second, and perhaps most disastrously, I panicked about the fact that my tank seemed to have no algae, which is pretty much all nerites eat. I’d bought some algae wafers and stuck three of them in with the snails. They ate a minuscule portion of the wafers and proceeded to suck on the sides of the tank. 

Then I didn’t fish out the wafers once the snails started ignoring them. What could happen? I thought. It’s just algae.

Turns out algae wafers are not exclusively made of algae. I discovered this after about two days, when the wafers started decomposing and putting out an odor that smelled like death. No, there’s krill meal and fish meal mixed in with algae wafers. And when you don’t clean them up afterward they waft unholy clouds of stink like you’ve never experienced. Even the snails couldn’t take it. They parked themselves above the water line and wouldn’t go back in.

Luckily, there’s a giant conventional tank in my son’s room that had plenty of algae. We moved Ms. Frizzle and Arnold into the big tank, and now they are happily installed in nerite paradise.


After I mucked out the tank of death with my bare hands, I decided to try again. I went out and bought sand and a bunch of extra plants to start the process of establishing a happy tank for living things to grow in. Turns out I have no concept of how many plants fit in how many square inches of space. I started a micro tank in a mason jar, and still there were plants that didn’t fit. I started an even bigger tank, which I figured I might house a betta someday. Finally, after even more complications with little crustaceans is never heard of, Cyclopses and little worms and probably other little greeblies, too, I wound up with Konoshi, my baby boy betta who wasn’t a boy at all.

She started out in the small tank and is now in the bigger one. Here are baby pictures of her:


Although you can’t really tell in the pictures, she is a gorgeous shade of deep blue. Indeed, her name in Japanese means “deep blue star.” (At least that’s the meaning I aimed for when I came up with the word. I’m learning Japanese. More on that another time.)

Konoshi moves a little like a cat. She like sniffing out food and then pouncing . Often, she’ll eat food off my finger, although I suspect what she really wants is to take my whole finger off. Today, as I was adjusting one of my plants, she nipped at my arm. Bettas are extremely aggressive and territorial, which is why they mostly have to live by themselves.

I don’t mind the nipping. It means she’s laid claim to the tank I put together for her, and that makes me happy. At night, I watch her slip through her jungle of anacharis and Amazon sword, hide behind her big flat river rock, and swim through the little structure I bought that my son calls the Stone Lighthouse. The Stone Lighthouse has an opening on the top and bottom and is hollow inside, so Konoshi can disappear through one door and reappear at another.  It’s sort of like a magic trick.

In the weeks since the Trump (brrk) presidency began and we’ve seen things go from bad to worse to quasi-catastrophic, I have to admit that having a betta tank next to my bed has been relaxing, even restorative. Every night, I find myself watch that green space & trying to find Konoshi. Sometimes I look so closely I can see the outlines of each scale in her flank, each slat in her tail. It is breathtaking. E. O. Wilson has written about biophilia–the intrinsic human love of other forms of life–and all I can say is, in a time when the love of money and power seems to drive everything, adding a little biophilia in your life feels like an act of defiance.

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The Distraction Game: What I’m Doing to Disengage from the Trump Presidency

Hey, Fickle Readers! This is my first official, written post for 2017, and I’ve been avoiding it for weeks now. In fact, I’ve been avoiding writing anything at all here because of the election. Like many, I was not pleased with the outcome of said election. I would say, in retrospect, I tried very hard not to be devastated, because I’ve lived through devastating elections in recent memory and I know I’m not strong enough to let yet another get to me the way those other disappointments did.

What I wish I could do is vow to stay away from news of the Trump <hurk> presidency for the next four years. I wish I could do this for a number of reasons. First, picturing and/or thinking about Trump in the White House makes me viciously, brutally, destructively angry. Just reading the news (let alone seeing his bloated chipmunk face and pompous, puny-fisted hand gestures) threatens to send me into a She-Hulk-like rage, where I tear at my clothes and go out and find something to smash.

Artist's rendition of one possible scenario.

Artist’s rendition of one possible scenario.

There’s also the fact that I don’t want my wrath against the government to rule my life the way it kinda did during the <urk> Bush/Cheney administration. Back then, I homed in on every lie, every idiocy, every legistlative abomination, and held it in my mind as I waited for the day when someone would finally notice and make the whole thing stop. Needless to say, for eight whole years, my mental perseverance did nothing. I don’t want to start fixating on Trump the same way (and I know myself–I will fixate) and have him destroy my peace of mind for years on end.

And yet, and yet. My Twitter feed is full of outrage and snark over the narcissistic craptocracy of Trump and his cronies, and I’ve found I can’t avoid peeking, reading, retweeting, and happily getting sucked in. Inaugural crowd size! Women’s March! Imaginary immigrant voter fraud! Mistreating Melania! Punching Nazis!!! How can an anti-Trumper like me not get into the spirit when it seems as though Trump has already pissed off huge swaths of the high-end snark-crafters who patrol the Internet?

Furthermore, ignoring the <hrp!> Trump presidency could have serious consequences for the country. I strongly believe that. If everyone who’s disgusted by Trump averts her eyes and goes off the grid, nothing about his wholesale destruction of the government will change. I don’t want to look back and remember how I sat on my ass and played video games while the U.S. collapsed. Not when a few mechanisms in our rusting democratic process still function and can still be operated by citizens to effect change.

So my overall strategy for dealing with the indefinite future is to find ways not to think of the future–or the present–all the time. I’m trying to cultivate new interests, new obsessions, and let them take me as far away as I need to go to prevent myself either from chewing off a limb or leveling some Republican lobbyist’s shi-shi Capitol Hill brownstone. (And I have been to Capitol Hill, and the brownstones there are beyond shi-shi.) Hopefully, I’ll be able to overcome my usual inertia and write about some of the new shiny objects now taking up my brain. Otherwise, I’ll continue my usual pattern of remembering I haven’t posted anything to my blog in forever and quickly digging up a halfway interesting iPhone photo. Y’all like chickens, right?

Happy 2017, everyone! Stay safe, and try to stay sane.

So I Did That: The Women Who Submit Submission Blitz

Just wrapped up my own brief run in the Women Who Submit submission blitz. The idea is to get up your courage and submit to high-quality journals, which not nearly enough women get published in or even try to get published in. I only managed 7 before I wore out. Add in the one from last night I sent after midnight and before I even remembered this was happening, and I’ve contributed a grand total of 8 submissions to the overall pile. Not quite as good as I used to do, but all I really have time for now.

Mind you, when I was doing this 20 years ago via snail mail, I had all kinds of submission strategies: which journals got the first batch, which had sent personal notes, which I sent to as a hail-Mary pass just on the off-off-off-off-chance they’d be interested, etc. it was also a more labor-intensive endeavor, what with trips to Staples for photocopies, piles of copies that needed to be paper clipped, label printing, making SASEs, filling out 9 x 12 envelopes, dividing everything up in piles to be collated, and hauling it all to the post office to mail. For you young’uns who never had the pleasure of participating in this dance, consider yourselves lucky, because the whole process was a serious pain in the ass.

Then again, there are procedures nowadays that make e-submitting its own kind of hell. Formats! Individual submission managers! And fees, fees, fees! It’s true that these fees are often nominal (and that’s what journals like to call them–“nominal”). It’s also true that you’d pay at least as much, if not more, if you mailed in your work, once you added up the postage, office supplies, and copying/printing costs. Still, those $2 and $3 and $4 charges add up, and the people who get shafted by them most are the marginalized writers who can’t afford to spend $30 every other week to get their work out there. It’s quite a sucky system, and I don’t know what to do about it. Not sure that I even realized how sucky it was until I was asked to pony up my credit card over and over again this afternoon.

On the plus side, I also noticed myself wishing I could get all this submission bullshit over with and get back to writing. That, I feel, is a sign of maturity, at least in me. Twenty years ago, I used to read my Writers’ Market like a kid bingeing on sugar. Markets! Journals! Fame and literary greatness! Oh yeah!!!!!!! Suffice it to say, I didn’t approach this blitz in quite the same way. If past experience is any indication, it’ll be a miracle if I get one poem in one publication this time around. I’d be surprised if I got even one rejection with love (that’s a response from a human being on a rejection slip) from this batch of journals. But whatever. You do what you can do, and there are more venues out there now than there ever were pre-Internet. I’d rather have my work published where I’m welcome than try to crash the gates of the elite lit-mag  institutions. Gate crashing is good to try every once in a while, but in my mind the real game of submissions is about finding your readers. 

Wherein Miss Fickle’s Domain Gets Even More Backwater


Hey there, Fickle Readers! We’ve been having an especially exciting time here at the Fickle-Spacetime household. As you can see, our kitchen has decided to take itself apart. It’s needed an upgrade since we moved in 15 years ago, but the fact that it’s baring all of its brokenness at once has been dramatic to say the least. Also, the upstairs toilet tank started leaking (an unrelated problem, thankfully) and my computer broke.

The good news is: I discovered I can write posts from my phone! This is a great development, as my current phone is new & spiffy & is already connected to a camera. So I can post a pic from our trip to Puerto Rico like this:

So here’s to renewals, even if they’re painful while you’re going through them. Here’s to discovering new resources you didn’t know you had. And here’s to half a kitchen, because at least one half works.

Tales from the Writing Life: The Poetry Cleanse

Hey there, Fickle Readers! I just spent a week writing a poem a night in an exercise called the Poetry Cleanse, and boy do I feel energized! That’s saying something big for me, seeing as how I’m usually lying around exhausted from everyday activities like taking showers, driving cars, picking up stuff from the drug store, etc. Now I know that–hey!–giving yourself the opportunity to write among friends, even if what you’re writing is pretty much crap, actually makes you feel better! Who’d a thunk it?

Here’s how it works:

  1. Get a bunch of poet friends together and exchange email addresses.
  2. Compile said addresses into a giant list, then
  3. Write a poem a day to be sent to the group by a certain time each day. (In our case, midnight.)
  4. The poets in your group read but are under no obligation to respond. This is an exercise that calls for absorption, not workshopping or feedback. You can choose to respond if you like, but you also don’t want to get into a cycle of implying that one piece is better or worse than another. These drafts are all part of one writer’s larger vision. You’re simply called upon to be a reader.
  5. Write and read and give encouragement and support to fellow poets for a week.

And that’s the whole activity. I should say that this was not my idea but instead was suggested by someone else who put the group together. I just wanted to pass this along to all you Fickle Readers Who Are Also Poets out there, because I think it’s a brilliant concept. I, personally, have been experiencing workshop burnout in recent years. I took my first workshop class when I was a senior in high school, and I’ve been grinding away in the workshop setting off and on for about 25 years. Workshops are wonderful places to hone your craft, but I’ve also discovered that at a certain point you have to cut the umbilical cord and strike out on your own. And yet striking out on your own can be isolating, so the Poetry Cleanse concept is a nice best-of-both-worlds scenario. All you have to focus on is getting your work done and looking at what other people are doing.

The sitting your butt down and writing aspect can be hard, but being a silent audience to someone else’s creative process is wonderful.

Writing-wise, what was most helpful for me was catching ideas as they came and putting them into poems as soon as they appeared. So much of poetry is about small moments, small observations, small things, and yet the small is what’s most fleeting in our daily grind. I was especially grateful to be able to snag images that I never in a million years thought I’d be writing about, because in a normal day I never would have stopped to write anything down.

Thanks to my fellow poets in the Cleanse. Looking forward to digging more poetry out of my brain soon!

Yet Another Post on Gun Violence

Today was another day when I woke up to discover Americans had been shot.

Yet another day when police SWAT teams in army regalia were swarming American streets.

Yet another day when news outlets posted videos and pictures from witnesses, words from good Samaritans giving first aid and comfort to the wounded as they bled.

And so, as always, we’ll wait for the response.

And as always, we’ll be told by lawmakers that all Americans have the right to own guns, even suspected terrorists of any color. Even those who have expressed a desire to kill. They all have a right to carry a loaded weapon virtually anywhere.

Because at some point in the past, that became the American way.

I really, really want someone to re-evaluate what the American way is. Somehow, I don’t think this was the idea when those vaunted Founding Fathers carved out our democracy.

Somehow I don’t think they thought, we really ought to make sure everyone in the country has an insanely powerful gun, even if they have a grudge against our government, even if they have a history of violent behavior. Because that’s only fair.

Dear infinite, unknowable God, please please please do something. It’s apparent that no one on Earth has the power to stand up and do the right thing.