About McKenna Dean

from shifters to 1950s paranormal investigators to contemporary love stories, romance lives here.

Compassion Fatigue: or Why I Didn’t Share Your Post

 

TW/CW for sad things tugging on your heartstrings.

 

 

 

The other day during work I got an email from an acquaintance. A shelter in the neighboring county had posted an urgent notice: they’d been inundated with puppies during the past week and if they didn’t find homes for them by the end of business hours that day, they would have to euthanize them.

Did I know of anyone who wanted a puppy? Like right now? Immediately.

I wracked my brains but couldn’t come up with anyone on the fly.

“Send me the link and I’ll share it when I can,” I offered as a stopgap before delving back into work.

But ultimately, I didn’t share the link. Let me tell you why.

You see, something about that urgent request to spend compassion currency that I have in dwindling supply broke me just a little.

I have to reiterate: it was puppies. Puppies that needed homes right away or they would die. But for the first time ever, getting hit with such a request rang the resentment buzzer instead of the compassion bell.

Whoa. Hold up there. Resenting an impassioned plea to help save at least one or two puppies? Doesn’t that make me some kind of Cruella de Vil?

Sure, I couldn’t do anything directly to save the puppies. But I could share the link, right? How much energy could that possibly take? How could I refuse to put out the word?

Well, there are a couple of reasons. For starters, there was the link itself, which felt very “click-baity” when I read it. “Help us! Puppies will die if you don’t come TODAY!”

Believe me, I know there is probably someone on the other end of that post, hoping against hope that they don’t have to perform the soul-destroying task of euthanizing healthy puppies because some irresponsible person let their dog have them without any intention of raising them and finding homes for them. And my heart breaks for that shelter worker. I know their pain is real, even if they couched their request like so many other posts begging for help.

But practically speaking, by the time I’d put out the half-a dozen or so fires at my job, which also requires a great deal of compassion, it was so late in the day that my sharing the post would have been too late for that litter of puppies. Perhaps it could have raised awareness for someone else out there looking for a puppy that they should check out the shelter, but the puppies in question? Too late.

And that’s when I realized that my compassion bank account was dangerously low.

Because every day we’re hit up with thousands of similar requests. GoFundMe accounts for medical or funeral expenses shared by our friends. Political organizations playing off our justifiable outrage over some restrictive measure that’s just been enacted, and if we don’t donate NOW, warning of the Bad Things coming our way. Just causes demanding we take action. Global catastrophes begging for our financial support. Legal funds for kids in cages, ripped from their families. Egregious acts of racism that deserve investigation and some kind of response. Missing children on milk cartons needing to be identified. And so on.

And yes, I realize that I’m speaking from a place of great privilege because I’m not the one begging for help paying my bills or needing someone to rescue me from having to perform a heartbreaking task.

I think of myself as a compassionate person. Professions that demand compassion tend to attract empathetic people, and I chose my career path years ago because I had compassion to spare. I donate generously to things I believe in because I usually don’t have the time to volunteer in person. I spent years serving as a caretaker to my father because it was my mother’s wish that he be able to stay at home rather than enter an advanced care facility. I trap, neuter, and vaccinate the stray cats that show up around my house on my own dime, finding homes for those that can be tamed and going to ridiculous lengths to take care of the remaining ones (see the expensive catio that I built for these furry freeloaders). I cried when the annoying trash panda, whom I caught three times before trapping the mean tom (who hisses and spits at me every day, despite being nursed back to health), got hit by a car.

I share things. The post about the homeless trans teen who needs help. The post from an internet acquaintance who needs help paying for her cat’s surgery. The posts about fundraisers, many of which I contribute to myself. The posts about organizations raising money to deal with the aftermaths of flooding, fires, hurricanes, and earthquakes. The posts where some mother is asking for likes to show her son or daughter how beautiful they are. I comment with sympathy on the posts of total strangers who have experienced a great loss.

My lack of willingness to share the post about the puppies, and the resentment the request generated, tells me I must draw the line somewhere. None of us are designed with endless wells of compassion. To mix metaphors, we can’t keep overdrawing our compassion accounts to spend on things out of our control. The constant withdrawal of coins to spend on people we don’t know will bankrupt us.

I’m not Cruella de Vil.

I have compassion fatigue.

Put another way, if I’d found a box of puppies myself, I would have taken them into my home. I would have had them vaccinated and dewormed, and tried my best to find homes for them all, while at the same time, trying to socialize them and instill some manners in order to make them the best possible candidates for adoption.

If the local shelter had a fundraiser, I’d volunteer my time, donate some money, and if I couldn’t do either of the above, I’d share the post about it. I’d probably share the post regardless, but in terms of doing something, sharing is the last on the list. I’ve said it before, but sharing posts without taking action is little more than virtue-signaling. It might make you feel good, but for the most part it accomplishes very little.

I wrote a bit about my struggles with social media in general a few weeks ago, and how I think SM breaks are necessary for our mental health. In that post, I mentioned this metafilter thread that my husband had shared with me: What’s Mine to care about and what’s NOT MINE to care about. The original post cited, as well as the discussion thread it generated, is well-worth reading. In the OP, If You Can’t Take In Anymore, There’s a Reason, the poster refers to the need for an emotional circuit breaker because our minds and hearts aren’t wired to care about everything that’s on fire all over the world at the same time, and if we don’t flip that breaker, our whole house will burn down.

I couldn’t agree more. So like the OP, I recommend you pick one fire to put out at a time, and you concentrate on the fire that threatens the things you care about the most. Battle that fire with all your heart and resources. Fight the fire you think you have the best chance of helping to contain, or the one that is the most pressing to you because it’s in your backyard. You can help fight a fire halfway across the world, if that’s the fire that’s important to you, but you can’t squander your limited resources on trying to fight them all.

Because if 101 Dalmatians show up at your doorstep looking for a ride home, you want to have enough compassion in the bank to get them there.

And perhaps if I wasn’t staring down at a compassion overdraft notice, I would have shared the post about the puppies after all. Because that is the sort of thing I care about.

Love a Good Cozy Mystery? Check out these deals!

Do you like cozy mysteries? I know I do! There’s something so satisfying and calming about reading them. Yes, they are not without their suspense, but you’re pretty sure no one you like is going to get killed, and all the killing is usually discreetly offstage. The fun of reading them lies in the puzzle itself, and how our intrepid amateur sleuth is going to solve it. Extra points if there’s food, craft, or pets involved. Like a paranormal twist? Cozies have those too! Your fearless sleuth might also be a witch, or a fae, or a psychic.

I’ve joined with 26 other authors to offer a promotional deal for a limited time: all you have to do is sign up for the author’s newsletter to claim your particular prize! In my case, you get the first chapter of An Embarrassment of Itches–if you enjoy it, you can grab the whole book for just 99 cents! But this deal ends in 5 days, so grab your copy now!

Is it Time to kiss Social Media Goodbye?

Photo by Oleg Magni from Pexels

More and more people I know are discussing leaving social media altogether. Divorcing themselves from Facebook, Twitter, and even the relatively happy place, Instagram.

I’m not surprised, to be honest. Social media has become a toxic swamp, weaponized by those forces wishing to polarize populations and bring countries to their knees. Think I’m exaggerating? Remember the huge hate the latest trilogy of Star Wars movies received from supposed fanboys who hated the fact none of the leads were young, white men?

Welp, a post by Wired in 2018 revealed that as much as half the negative tweets about the film were politically motivated or generated by bots (a storyline worthy of the franchise itself, if you ask me).

It’s not just polarizing people over issues such as diversity and inclusiveness. Social media has become the place most people get their information these days, and the amount of disinformation out there, aimed at creating divisiveness at best and destroying nations at worst, is scary. I don’t consider myself a conspiracy theorist, but when I see well-educated people in the medical profession or education supporting unverified, crazy theories over statistically-backed scientific reports, I’m concerned, let me tell you.

On a personal level, I find the damage it causes something else altogether. We’ve become addicted to doomscrolling, and because clicks are king, media outlets are creating provocative headlines designed to keep us in a perpetual state of outrage. My husband and I had a conversation about this the other day, and I think for many of us, we share these anger-inducing posts because it’s the bare minimum we can do. Most of us don’t have the time, energy, or resources to do anything other than share the outrage because we think people should be angry and upset over these important issues.

(Don’t get me started on the data mining these platforms do… how creepy is it that my husband and I talk about buying a new mattress and shortly thereafter, our feeds get flooded with mattress adverts??)

But the truth of the matter is not only is sharing bad news (and OMG, there’s SO much of it these days) completely worthless in terms of doing something about it, there may be great harm in doing so as well. It fosters a sense of hopelessness about our ability to change anything: from the impending climate disasters, to voter suppression and the march to invalidate any election results the opposition doesn’t like, from politicians who get vaccinated themselves, but tell their constituents Covid-19 is nothing to worry about, so don’t bother with vaccines and oh, by the way, get back to work, please. And when we get sucked into a state of despair and cynicism, then we stop trying to make a difference where we can.

My husband shared this great metafilter discussion thread with me, and I’m sharing it here with you: What’s MINE to care about and what’s NOT MINE to care about. It has some great things to say about limiting your anxiety over the things for which you have no control and what to do about the things you can affect. That you can’t fight all the battles in the world, but you can’t opt out of fighting any. And if all you’re doing is sharing outrage posts, how is that different from virtue signaling? The metafilter discussion was in reference to this post here, which points out we are not designed to handle all the suffering in the world, and that circuit breakers exist for a reason: to prevent electrical systems from overloading.

My friends, the majority of whom I met online, are moving off social media and onto other, smaller platforms, such as WhatsApp and Discord. The main reason? To keep up with each other during the day but avoid getting sucked into the mire of disinformation and ugly rhetoric out there. I can’t say as I blame them. I’ve taken Facebook off my phone. I’m considering eliminating Twitter next. Some of my friends have taken things one step further: they’ve deleted their accounts.

I confess, the idea of doing that fills me with a sense of dread. I’m a writer. I’ve been told over and over again that I must have a presence on social media. And without the backing of a Big Name Publisher, I suspect this is true. I need to keep hustling to remind people my stories exist, to build a newsletter following, to manage groups, to post regularly to all my platforms, to stand on the deck of the Ark amidst limitless seas, releasing doves again and again in the hopes of one of them eventually bringing back signs of dry land out there.

To consider eliminating my social media presence feels a bit like giving up. Like accepting that I’ll never be more than a small potatoes writer releasing a handful of French fries once a year. So maybe I won’t delete my accounts.

But I can be a better steward of them.

You want fries with that?

Photo by Dzenina Lukac from Pexels

Bishop’s Gambit on sale for a limited time!

Hey! To celebrate the recent honors for Bishop’ Gambit, for a limited time you can grab this story for just 99 cents! Bishop’s Gambit recently placed Second in the 2021 Daphne du Maurier Awards for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense and placed Second in the 2021 PRISM Awards for Light Paranormal Romance.

They’re back and the fun–and trouble–is just beginning! Join Bishop and Knight as they must pose as a married couple to root out the strange disturbances occurring in an upscale suburban neighborhood! 

Bishop’s Gambit (Redclaw Origins Book 2)

Newly-minted secret agent Rhett Bishop would rather face down a horde of angry wolf shifters or her father’s former mob contacts than accept her current assignment: pose undercover as a suburban housewife, complete with a husband, slippers, and pipe.

But after the debacle of her previous mission, Rhett has a lot to prove.

To redeem herself in the eyes of Redclaw Security, and to carry out her mission without distractions, she must table her budding relationship with Peter Knight while the two of them uncover the secrets of Forest Grove.

Armed with her trusty ray gun, her unique little dog, and Knight’s brains, Rhett is confident she can handle whatever the suburbs can throw at her.

Until they lob a curveball.

Bishop’s Gambit was also named a Top Pick by The Romance Reviews!

Kirkus Reviews describes as “thoroughly entertaining and witty, with a nicely judged mix of genres.”

Available from Amazon and these other retailers.

Sale ends soon so grab your copy ASAP!

What do Romances and Mysteries Have in Common?

The other evening I popped into an online book discussion group being held by the Carnegie Library, hosted by Jennie Ellis. I only found out about the book club at the last moment, and joined because while I hadn’t read the featured book, I had read other books by the author, Julia Buckley, and she was going to be present.

What ensued was a delightful hour in which Ms. Buckley described her writing process, and how she came to create her various series, including the Hungarian Tea House Mysteries. She also fielded questions about the publishing industry, her past projects, and what to expect from her in the future.

Toward the end of the discussion, the subject of cozy mysteries in general came up. I lamented that many publishing houses had dropped their cozy lines, and the consensus was this was an inexplicable decision on their part because like romance readers, cozy readers are voracious.

That got me to thinking about the other ways in which romance and mysteries have commonalities, and it occurred to me during the discussion that one of the biggest things the two genres have in common is their contract with the reader.

There’s only one hard-and-fast rule in Romance: there must be a happily ever after (HEA) or at the least, a happily for now (HFN). That means that no matter what happened during the course of the story, we should have either a declaration of commitment between the couple or some indication they are going to be together in the future. It does not mean there must be a baby in the epilogue, though this is an addendum many authors and readers enjoy. It also doesn’t mean that the entire story must be fluffy and light without any angst or difficult storylines. Sometimes the reward of the HEA is all the sweeter for the suffering that took place before reaching that point.

I was having this discussion with my husband this morning, and he brought up (on cue) Romeo and Juliet. Everyone brings up R&J! Shakespeare’s play is not a romance but a tragedy. I went on to say that one of the reasons people take exception to Nicholas Sparks’ books being labeled as romances is the frequent lack of a HEA. Romances have ONE rule.

“Okay,” my husband said, “but what if the purpose of breaking the contract is to get you to look at something from another point of view?”

“Then categorize it as something else,” I countered. “Put it like this: suppose you bought a sci-fi story based on the cover and the blurb. You had every expectation of reading a military space opera based on these things, but instead, you get a romance. You’d be disappointed, especially if you were in the mood for something different.”

“But the Murderbot books aren’t just science fiction,” he offered. “They explore relationships, what it means to have friends, to be human.”

“Themes science fiction explores all the time. Romance has one rule. HEA. How you get there can vary in a million different ways but you have to get there.”

Which brings me to the rule I believe mysteries–or at least cozy mysteries–have: justice will be served.

Like romances, the route at which you arrive at justice can take many forms. I can recall reading an old Ellery Queen novel once in which Ellery figured out who the killer was, but for various reasons, couldn’t go forward with the conviction. At the time, the ending enraged me so much, I threw the book across the room. As a much older and wiser person, I can see the ending made sense, and that the authors had not broken their contract with me, the way I thought they did when I read the story.

It was the frustration of my expectations that angered me so much when I read that story.

The contract should be sacred in my book.

In a mystery, you’re presented with a crime of some sort (not necessarily a murder, but that is often the case). There may be a romance as well–certainly I was more invested in Lord Peter Wimsey’s investigations when they included Harriet Vane–but the romance isn’t central to the story. The central story is the puzzle, the “whodunnit”, behind the shady activity. A mystery writer should make all the clues available to the reader as well, not holding back vital information that the sleuth has access to but the reader does not. It’s part of the deal: providing enough information for the reader to connect the dots while hopefully obscuring the solution until the very end. 

The one rule of mystery? The good guys win.

I think this is why the mystery genre has its devoted following. It’s the same concept as it is with romance: you have certain expectations when you enter into the story. You picked up the story because you were in the mood for something specific. Perhaps you chose a romance because needed to hear that love conquers all. Or perhaps you went with a mystery because you needed to believe that crooked bad guys would someday get their comeuppance.

When I choose to read genre fiction, I do so because I want a certain kind of story with expectations of it ending in a certain way. Let me tell you, with the stresses I’ve been under the past few years, I select my entertainment carefully these days. I don’t read as much sci-fi as I used to because the storylines are often darker and less likely to end well. Am I coddling myself a bit right now? You bet. At some point, when life doesn’t hurt so much, when my mental health is more stable, I’m sure I will go back to stories and movies with darker themes.

While I fully believe there’s a place for having your beliefs challenged, or your insight expanded, I think that can still be done within the confines of a contract if you’re writing genre fiction. Not writing genre fiction? The sky’s the limit! Torture your protagonists! Throw them off a cliff. Let the bad guys win.

But call it something other than romance if your story ends in sorrow, and something other than mystery if the murder is never solved. Your readers will thank you.

Ooops! I Accidentally Published a Book!

You may have heard that owing to a blunder on my part while trying to upload my first cozy mystery for pre-order, I accidentally launched it instead!

My mistake is your gift, however! An Embarrassment of Itches, (Ginny Reese Mysteries Book 1) is now available for only 99 cents and also on Kindle Unlimited for a limited time.

Ginny Reese returned home to her “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it small town” of Greenbrier, VA to help take care of her dying father. She’s used to seeing her share of the weird and wacky as a house-call vet, but nothing in her experience has prepared her for finding the dead body of a client floating in her pool. When she’s named the deceased’s heir, Ginny becomes the number one suspect–and must prove her innocence to the newly elected sheriff–who just happens to be her old high school boyfriend.

At least she can rely on her trusty German Shepherd, Remington!

Creating a new pen name posed some challenges for me, and I’m currently in the process of rebranding the site. My Twitter and Instagram accounts will share both information from McKenna Dean and M.K. Dean, as will my newsletter, but if you’d like to follow M.K. Dean on Amazon, Goodreads, M.K’s Facebook page, and BookBub, here are the links.

I would appreciate any follows–my new pages are so empty! 🙂

Cover Reveal: On Christmas Tree Cove by Sarah Vance-Tompkins

If you’re like me, and love Christmas stories, you probably want to start reading them as soon as there’s a chill in the air. Well, good news! You can pre-order Sarah Vance-Tomkins upcoming release and get it in October to read it!



On Christmas Tree Cove
Sarah Vance-Tompkins
Published by: Tule Publishing
Publication date: October 27th
2021
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Holiday, Romance

This Christmas calls for a special touch of magic…

December was always a special time for seaplane pilot Morgan Adair, but after losing her parents six years ago, the holiday is a quiet affair. When her siblings announce
plans to sell the family home, Morgan longs to experience her favorite, now-forgotten tradition one more time: a lighted tree that, for over a hundred years, has appeared floating on a boat in the harbor every Christmas Eve.

 

The Taylors were always rivals to the Adairs in the once-thriving fishing village of Christmas Tree Cove, but Jesse Taylor was much more. He wanted to be understanding
when Morgan set aside their plans to escape to Chicago in order to hold her family together, but his future as a successful freelance photographer soared on without her.

 

As Morgan dives deeper into the history of the mysterious holiday appearance, she discovers that true love has always been at the heart of the annual tradition. Can the wonder of
Christmas and a few surprises along the way rekindle that love for Morgan and Jesse too?

Add to Goodreads / Pre-order

 

Author Bio:

Sarah Vance-Tompkins was born in a small town in northern Michigan. She spent every
summer exploring the sugar sand beaches near Sleeping Bear National Park. She left her heart
behind when she moved to Los Angeles to attend the University of Southern California. She received an MFA in Film Production and went on to work in feature film development in
Hollywood. She has worked as a reporter for a weekly entertainment trade publication, written press releases, the directions for use on personal lubricant bottles, and breathless descriptions of engagement rings for an online jewelry store. She lives in a small town north of Los Angeles with her husband and two unruly cats.

Website / Goodreads / Twitter / Instagram / Newsletter

 

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An Embarrassment of Itches: New Cozy Mystery by M.K. Dean

It’s here! And owing to a colossal mistake, it’s live instead of only available for pre-order. Because I am SO excited about this release, An Embarrassment of Itches is only 99 cents AND available on Kindle Unlimited for the next three months!

It’s Diagnosis Murder meets All Creatures Great and Small…

As a house-call vet, Ginny Reese has seen her share of the weird and wacky. But nothing in her previous experience could have prepared her to find one of her clients floating in her own swimming pool.

Local artist Amanda Kelly was extremely wealthy with her share of secrets. By naming Ginny as her heir, not only did she make Ginny the number one suspect, but she painted a big bull’s eye on her friend’s back as well.

With her trusty German Shepherd at her side, it’s up to Ginny to find the real killer and prove her innocence to the sheriff. The new sheriff. Who happens to be her ex.

Piece of cake, right?

But I had this great launch party planned with gift baskets and prizes galore–all my pre-marketing plans for this book got scuttled with the early release. So I could really use your help in spreading the word!

Stay tuned for more information on the post-launch party and how you can get in on the fun!

Most of my social media platforms will remain the same, but if you’d like to follow the M.K. Dean Facebook page, it’s here. Also, here’s M.K. Dean on Amazon!

Not Next Year. Not Some Day… This Year. Today.

I have a huge mulberry tree in my yard. It is utterly enormous, its trunk gnarled and twisted with age, and every year it produces tons of berries. Every year since we moved onto the farm, I’ve told myself I would do something with them. Make mulberry scones. Mulberry cobbler. Mulberry vodka. Something. Anything.

And every year, the short mulberry season slips past me without my making use of my own crop of mulberries. You’d have thought 2020 would have been THE year I would use the mulberries. After all, I was making my own masks (until I found the ones I liked best online). I bought a sewing machine, certain world shortages would mean I would have to learn how to sew. I made my own bread–once I found yeast, that is–and collected dozens of yeast-free recipes when my attempts to grow my own yeast failed. I discovered that homemade banana bread was ten times better than any quick bread mix from the grocery, and I even attempted to grow my own vegetables. I know, I live on a farm, right? Growing vegetables should be something I do. It’s something I’ve wanted to do ever since my grandfather had the most amazing garden every year in his back yard. As a child, I kept telling myself one day I would get him to teach me all his tricks: when to plant what, and how to get the best from his little plot of land. But somehow I let the years pass without learning his life lessons. Long after he died, I wished I’d asked him to teach me how to grow vegetables when I had the chance. I managed to produce 3 baby cucumbers in my 2020 pandemic garden, which both pleased and disappointed me.

Somehow, the mulberries got away from me in 2020. Perhaps it was because by the time they were ripening, I was deep in the throes of pandemic panic and I could barely focus on tying my shoes, let alone trying my hand at baking something I’d never tried before. A great cook, I am not. I learned from friends the best way to harvest mulberries (place a sheet under the tree and shake the branches: anything that falls off is ripe enough to eat, otherwise the berries are too sour) and I even went so far as to collect recipes (doesn’t mulberry lemon pound cake sound scrumptious?), but May 2020 came and went without me trying my hand at any of the recipes I bookmarked. Okay, I had other things on my mind.

This year, I was in a better frame of mind. While the pandemic is still far from over, I can’t tell you how much peace of mind came seeing my family get vaccinated. One of my friends and I talked about making mulberry vodka (and she did!) and traded recipes for mulberry scones, but once again, I let the mulberry season slip by without making anything myself. I’m not a brave person when it comes to eating things I’ve never tried before, and in all the years we’ve lived on this farm, I’ve never once eaten a mulberry.

But this year, it looks like we’re expecting a bumper crop of blackberries. Somehow in the last few years, we’ve gone from having scattered bushes in the thickets surrounding the house to an almost impenetrable barrier of blackberry bushes higher than my head. And every thorny branch is heavy with ripening berries now.

When I checked them last week, I told myself they’d be ready to pick this week, and certainly there are plenty that are ready right now. But there are still tons of berries yet to ripen, and when I plucked one juicy berry to pop into my mouth this morning, it occurred to me that this is it: this is the year I’m going to make blackberry cobbler from the berries I’ve picked myself from my own property.

This year. Not next. This month. Not next. Not some day. Not if I have time, or if it’s not too hot, or if I can find the Church Ladies Cookbook and pull out the perfect recipe.

This year.

Because I don’t want to look back on this time in my life and think, “Darn it. I never made blackberry cobbler with my own fresh berries.”

As I said, I’m not a great cook. And even with the perfect recipe, the odds are high my results will be disappointing. But not, perhaps, as disappointing as having never tried.

 

Can We Please Find Another Way to Celebrate the 4th Without Fireworks?

This morning I saw a Tweet bewailing the fact the OP’s timeline was full of “anti-fireworks” rhetoric, and it got me thinking about my own dislike of 4th of July celebrations.

I came by them young, when my family would drive for what seemed like an interminable time so we could fight for a spot on a blanket in a mosquito-infested park and watch 15 minutes of fireworks, only to sit in line for over an hour to get out of the park on our way home. Like many other mass group events we participated in when I was a child, this seemed like a huge waste of time for me.

As I got older, I simply didn’t care for the noisy holidays. Give me Halloween, with the excitement of dressing up, the spooky decorations, and the fun of collecting candy. Halloween is the nip of fall in the air and the crunch of dry leaves underfoot. It’s bobbing flashlights in the dark and neighbors pretending to be scared. Or Christmas, with the delight of giving and receiving gifts, filling the house with the scent of cinnamon as you bake cookies and put up the tree, watching old movies, and the promise of snow. (Christmas is always about the promise more than the reality, which is probably why I prefer Christmas Eve to Christmas Day).

I’ve never cared for New Year’s Eve, even without the practice of reviewing the year and assessing your goals and achievements (or lack thereof). Around here NYE has become yet another excuse to light off fireworks. When you live in an area where fireworks are legal, every “fireworks” holiday starts a little sooner and lasts a little longer each year. Sometimes the “4th” starts in late June and runs until the middle of July.

As someone who is both an empath and sound-sensitive, I’ve always struggled when someone’s music bleeds through the walls in group housing, and grind my teeth at the thumping bass reverberating from the car sitting next to me at a stoplight. So I think it’s fair to say that I personally don’t like noisy celebrations of any kind.

Pre-pandemic, around here the 4th meant live music and cookouts at the big park in town. People would start filing in mid-afternoon and enjoy a day in the hot, humid air while vendors sold hot dogs and soda. As soon as it started to get dark, everyone would head over to the big field facing the high school. Fireworks would be launched from the school over the playing fields for the entire town to see. It was a pleasant enough way to spend an afternoon. It makes a huge difference when you choose to participate in something.

What I never understood, however, were the people who brought their dogs to the fireworks display. From an early age, I’d learned how devastating fireworks could be to animals. One time my neighbors left their dog outside during the 4th celebrations only to discover on returning home that their dog had panicked and attempted to chew its way back inside the house. He’d ripped the frames off the windows, breaking teeth and nails in the process. Working with animals as I do, one of the most frequent (and devastating) things I hear about are the number of pets that injure themselves or run away during the weekend of the 4th. It’s hard for me to imagine a pet enjoying being present at such a display.

The Forever Dog created a graphic that depicts all the ways in which fireworks negatively living creatures around us, including everything from wildlife and birds ingesting debris, abandoning nests or becoming disoriented to companion animals and humans with PTSD suffering from anxiety and panic attacks. To say nothing of the risk of wildfires caused by fireworks in all settings. Forever Dog has a handy brochure for helping your pets deal with noise phobia. Because my dog has developed a noise phobia after a severe, damaging storm last year, I’ve spent months counter-conditioning him to thunder, gunfire, and loud noises, giving him calming supplements and rewarding him with food every time he hears a loud noise to make a positive association with it. I’ve literally been working on this nearly a year.

Saturday evening, the town celebrated the 4th with their annual fireworks display. It lasted about 15 minutes. Though rattled, my dog handled it fairly well, despite the fact neighbors released bottle rockets and their own fireworks on the ridge behind us. I figured that was the worst of it, and was pleased that it caused minimal distress at our place. The official celebration was over. People wouldn’t go nuts on a Sunday evening, right?

But last night, everyone around us fired off bottle rockets, Roman candles, firecrackers, fountains, spinners, and the like. It was a barrage of noise and light, many times of which went off directly over our house. At no time did I actually see anyone releasing fireworks. The people setting off fireworks weren’t within eyesight. But the acrid smell of powder filled the air, and debris rained down in my yard. With a loud bang, colorful explosions lit up the sky over our trees. At times, it sounded as though the fireworks were going off in our own yard, or could come barreling through a window. The dog, who had managed the night before, now smashed up against me shaking, his lips pulled back in a rictus of fear as he panted. Calming supplements, given in advance of nightfall, failed to touch his panic. When I offered him a tasty treat as usual, he took it only to drop it on the floor (where the little terrier dove in and snatched it). I ended up having to give him strong anti-anxiety meds.

None of us slept well last night. Long after sundown, and well past midnight, an intermittent explosion still took place. My husband had nightmares. Both dogs wedged their way onto the bed between us. I’m sharing this because I don’t want you to think I’m just trying to harsh your squee because I’m a big ol’ party-pooper. I’m sharing this because having night after night like this sucks. And honestly, I don’t understand why your celebrations should impact my quality of life.

At last count, the sale of fireworks is banned in only two states in the Continental US. Ordinances may vary from state to state, but most allow them. I found this handy fact sheet on the risks of injury and wildfire from a law office, which should tell you a little about your liability in such matters. The craze for fireworks is something I don’t understand. Light a few sparklers with the kids (making sure they’re safe and there’s no fire risk for the back 40). Attend a sanctioned event held by your town and run by professionals. One night, 15 minutes, yay for the US of A.

But I think it’s time to retire home fireworks displays. My dog and I will thank you.