Catching the Echoes – An observation About Love, Loss and Memory


I have owned Burmese cats for years, starting in 1980.  They are a lively, affectionate, intuitive and very smart breed.  Burmese originated in and around Thailand and Myanmar, and spent centuries hanging around people – generally in temples.

Merlin and Morgan
My first two Burmese cats were a pair of brothers named Merlin and Morgan. They were supposed to live to their mid-twenties. Or so I thought. I did wake up when they were fifteen and realized that they were old, but they were with me, they were fairly healthy, though the one boy’s kidneys were iffy, and we would all continue as we were, unchanging. Or so I thought.  The first one died in my arms of a heart attack on August 28, 1996.  I was stunned.  His brother died one month later to the day of kidney failure secondary to a severe hantavirus that his old body survived, but which threw him into a decline. I hadn’t wanted him to go, but I had realized that I was fighting against his best good, and I told him that I wouldn’t insist on his living and would let him go if that was what he wanted.  It was.
Merlin
There is no ‘back to the drawing board’ when love has touched you.  Whether you believe in forever or not, the very fact that your life has intersected and run together with another’s has changed you. You are not the person you were before you came to love the one who has departed. You have an altered perspective, you have a part of you that grew in response to that other one. You have a way you would respond to the other’s voice, jokes, antics, love. You can’t go back to what you were before you loved the other.
But life does go on, and grief must be dealt with and resolved in one way or another. I didn’t expect to ‘replace’ my boys, but I needed to have pets in their places, so Boomer and BJ came to me. Boomer is a Burmese. BJ’s father was a Burmese (a particularly nice one!), so though he’s a Bombay and black, he looks, through the face, like my first Burmese. That is when I encountered the echoes. 
Dad
I started catching hints, sometimes faint, sometimes very strong, of my old boys.  A way one of the kittens reacted to being stroked. A way of tilting the head.  Finding one curled up on a pillow and raising its head to blink at me in a familiar way.  The sound of a voice.  It was not as though the lost ones had come back as those two kittens, but as though, somehow, I was given back the part of me that had loved them. As though I had been given a chance to re-live their kittenhood, to revisit memories I had forgotten in the rush of the years, to have the hurts, the sad memories somehow smoothed away, and the memories of the young, strong, lively ones returned to me, fresh and clear, unspoiled.

I have experienced this with all lost loves, memories that touch my shoulder and remind me that love still exists in me.  I recently opened a book and found a folded slip of paper with a note from my father saying that he believed in me, and enclosing a check to ‘keep the wolves from the door’.  Driving through Vermont one autumn afternoon, seeing a hillside with a familiar slant behind a yellow house…  My grandparents’ old house, which they sold decades ago, now repainted.  Landmarks had changed, but I remembered.

Those memories, touching our experiences, are a part of us, a reminder.   Something to be embraced.

Celebrating the Small Things, Christmas Edition, 2015


Welcome to Celebrating the Small Things, one of the loveliest blog hops on the blogosphere anywhere, run by Lexa Cain and her two wonderful co-hosts L.G. Keltner @ Writing Off The Edge and Tonja Drecker @ Kidbits.



It is Christmas.  I am sitting in my bathrobe (shame on me!) without any slippers on.  The fireplace is cold, which is perfectly OK beause it is hovering around 61 degrees right now.

I finished designing the cover for the third book in a series of mine and am debating cleaning the house.  I  had meant to fill in holes in a nearly finished manuscript.

(Sibling is at Mom’s; other sibling and family are down in Virginia enjoying the weather.  Third sibling is stranded in upstate New York with a broken down car and a shoe-eating Lab puppy named Mack (for the truck).  He doesn’t just eat shoes, either.  

The proud owner of quite a case of puppy-wiggles, he is enthusiastic about everything but shots and baths, and hasn’t met a hotdog he did not like.

Puppies are always smile-makers unless it is the middle of the night, you have been wrestling with the ‘joys’ of housebreaking, and you have just started to take that long, slow fall into dreamland in the middle of your warm, desperately desired bed, when you hear the prefatory yips that you just know, with a sinking feeling in your stomach, means that you will shortly be pulling on what passes for a bathrobe (I know someone who uses a quilt) and stumbling to the door to stand there while said puppy decides whether it really wants to squat to (name the function) outside, or maybe should go back to the nice, safe papers.


That, however, is not my situation.  My grand old dog, Jesse James (aptly named as far as his attitude toward food goes) has been housebroken for…let me see…fourteen years.  Labs age gracefully, but he spends a lot of time snoring.  I may rent him out to people whose significant others are traveling and are feeling lonely at night.  Some people have actually said that the sound of snoring is very soothing, and it helps them to sleep.  I can loan out Jess (his nickname) and do a good deed.  He no longer bellows in your ear when he wants to be let out, but he still stares when you are eating, and he does a wonderful job mimicking a starving puppy.

But I digress.

Today I am celebrating those book covers.  Someday I’ll bore everyone by posting them, which means that I will be smitten with an urge to change them forthwith.  I am celebrating the fact that while my family is far-flung this Christmas, there are no feuds, arguments, simmering bad feelings.  We all get along, we all watch each others’ welfare and we actually love each other.  Truly a cause to celebrate.

I am celebrating last night’s Christmas Eve service.  Since I was holding down the fort at this end of the country, I went alone. It was a wonderful service, everyone was welcoming, the music was lovely, and my thoughts were happy ones.

Tomorrow I drive to my Uncle’s house a few hours away.  He turns 90 tomorrow, and I MUST be there.  Where have the years gone?  He’s a little deaf now, but still the sharp, wonderful uncle I always called my bess frend (I was very little).

Right now I am going to get up and pop a chicken in the oven.  I like to make roast chicken, and a side of rice, cranberry sauce (with candied ginger, pineapple bits and mandarin oranges) will be good.  Not sure about dessert.  Perhaps the orange-tinged fudge (homemade).  Pity I don’t feel like drinking a bottle of Champagne by myself.  It’ll have to be a nip of Drambuie.  I think I can take it.  

It’s been a lovely couple days.  I hope it’s been the same for you.

And now, just for pretty, a picture a friend sent me.  Nearly as good as being there, she said:


All the best to all – and may 2016 be a wonderful year for you!



Celebrations, July 31, 2015



Today’s post is part of Lexa Cain‘s blog hop celebrating the small things.  Visit our fearless leader and her two wonderful co-hosts L.G. Keltner @ Writing Off The Edge and Katie @ TheCyborgMom.


Today I am celebrating nothing in particular (the best kind of celebration) that ended up as an exercise in creativity (the best kind of exercise, since you aren’t likely to fall and break an ankle as you are if you are doing strenuous physical exercise).


I am doing a beta-read for a friend from a writing board.  She has a collection of short stories with a Sci-Fi bent that will be coming out in the next few months.  I’ll ask her if I can feature it here.  I haven’t done more than skim, since I just got it yesterday, but one of the stories, featuring a cat, got me thinking about designs, cats, night, the stars, and the moon.

I started thinking how I might express a ‘Night Cat’ (not her term), and spent a happy hour or two doing it.

First you need a cat.  There’s this beautiful photo that I’ve loved for a long time:


This is a Maine Coon cat, arguably America’s original longhair.  DNA tends to show that they came over with the Vikings.  They are formidable mousers, very laid back, smart and almost dog-like.  Mine, now dead at a grand age and sorely missed, certainly loved the dog, but tended to thwack him with a paw.
I needed a night sky, which was a fairly easy assignment.  There are plenty of images available.  In my case, I wanted darkness and stars as a nice background.  I went to an old favorite:

I generally like a sky with a very dark blue tint, but in this case, I thought, black would be fine.  So I used it.

The cat would be a shadow against the sky, invisible unless you knew where to look, the embodiment of midnight (very amusing, if you happen to be acquainted with Maine Coons, but still…

I fiddled with things, adjusted shadows and highlights, frowned, tweaked, and came up with an image that isn’t a bad first effort.  I’ll fiddle more later:

I’m off to visit family this weekend.  One of them has learned that she will need a hip replacement operation.  This is not a bad development: the rest of the family has known it for a long time.  Now I must get her to understand that it will ultimately help her.  The fact that she is in my life (she’s my mother) is a very good reason to celebrate.

What are you celebrating?  

Insecure Writers Support Group October 2, 2013 edition


Today is the first Wednesday of the month, which means it is IWSG day.  The once-a-month blog hop started by Alec Cavanaugh (who has a new release, by the way! – find it here on Amazon) 

IWSG =
Insecure Writers’ Support Group
(Link is below:  blogger is not allowing me to embed a link)

http://www.alexjcavanaugh.blogspot.com/p/the-insecure-writers-support-group.html

We share our insecurities and support each other with empathy, sympathy or practical suggestions.

Well, my insecurity this time has to do with appearance.

  

No, I am not talking about font or book layout or capitalizing.  It has to do with the way this author looks.  I don’t mean I think I’m ugly.  Or, perhaps, I don’t think I’m ugly after I’ve had a cup of coffee and have run a comb through my hair.  I’ll never forget the time someone came into my dorm room unexpectedly while I had blue cream on my face.  She screamed, rather like the fellow in The Telltale Heart when the light strikes the murder victim’s ugly eye. 
 
Sometimes I am able to pass through crowds without making people drop things or scream.  I have never given a little kid a nightmare.  That I know of.   When I am not wearing blue face cream.

What I am talking about is the ‘Author’s Photo’ that is, apparently, de rigeur if you wish to be taken seriously.  
 

I haven’t had one taken yet.  There are so many permutations, historically, and I don’t know which I should go for.

 

The authors with their hands in front of their faces (usually resting their chins on their curved fingers). 
 
This crowd of people, one of whom I really admire, would have been described by the narrator of the play, Peter Pan  as ‘A more villainous-looking brotherhood never hung on any gallows…’

 
Then we have the obligatory Authors With Cats:

Authors with various types of tobacco¸ authors with weird face fungus (starting with Dickens and going through Bernard Cornwell – who treated Londoners a few years back to a just-before-midnight reading of his sex scenes and George R R Martin).  Authors frowning as they ponder life, authors looking challengingly at the camera. 

Lately we have had some new permutations.  Troll through Facebook and see what you see.  One fellow proudly posted his new author’s photo – looking challengingly at the camera from under his brows with an undeniable smirk while wearing an impossibly heavy (English?) tweed jacket.
 
Another person…  well, let me be honest, there are two or three of them that I see, all of whom write erotica…  are so enamored of their faces that while they change their profile photos regularly to show their faces, the photos are so similar as to be nearly indistinguishable from each other.  Generally it’s a close-up face shot, head slightly tilted, lips parted to show the glimmer of teeth.  I haven’t noticed any spinach on the teeth yet.  They must have been looking soulfully into their own eyes while using their cell phones (I speak as one with some knowledge of photography.) 

Since these are living authors, I’m not going to post their photos.  Besides, they’re nice folk. 

So…  My insecurity.  I need an author’s photo (as it happens, I do have one with my cat, The Late, Great Boomer, but that is, perhaps, a little too-too?)  Besides, I can’t hope to beat the truly great Raymond Chandler with his black Persian.
I don’t feel like going for a formal sitting.  I had enough of that in school.  Or at parties, when you show up looking (you fondly think) fabulous, and the next day you see the raddled old wastrel that you truly are.  No, I’m not going that way.  
There’s a rugged one of me that works very nicely except, as a friend complained, “You know, Diana, you’re SUPPOSED to see the person’s face!”  I don’t know…  I like it. 


Nah, come to think of it, I’ll just do the Author-With-Hands-Visible-Holding-A-Cat.
 
 


Yeah, that’s the ticket.  (And it won’t bother me when people laugh at me and don’t take me too seriously…)

But note: while I enjoyed writing this and laughing, the fact is that people do want to ‘see’ who we are.  Putting the best foot forward is (for me) a challenge…

  

 





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Of Mice and (Wo)Men


A Sugar Ant

I came home from a long weekend away to find my cats waiting for me and looking hungry.  It doesn’t matter what arrangements you have made to feed them, a cat or cats will always stand before you, swaying with weakness, uttering faint cries of distress (as their distended bellies, caused by overly solicitous cat-sitters, sway gently from side to side, rather like those of sugar ants).

At any rate, I returned, counted noses, said hello, made certain they had food put out for them, and did a circuit of the house, checking to see that all was well.  Aside from the cries of the starving hordes, all was well. 

I thought. 

Dead Mouse.  RIP.  Caption by Frida


Then I found this:

Now, I don’t think animals are stupid, though I suspect the brain power of a lobster isn’t terribly high.  But you might think that a species that is always getting nailed by hawks, owls, weasels and cats might have some way of communicating the notion that a certain place is not necessarily the best one to slip inside and take a snooze.

Hoboes had a sign that indicated that a generous woman lived in a house:

“Kind Lady”






“Stay away from THIS place!!”




You would think that mice or voles or other such would have a similar sign that warns travelers off:




I’m not sure who left the love token, whether Frida (getting old at 9),

Frida, age 9

















Orlando (in the Special forces but a bit of a doofus, 




or Casey (the Maine Coon, a breed famous for producing mousers).
My money is on Casey.  I think Frida wrote the sign, however…








 Myself, I was busy doing battle with some poison ivy that strayed into my yard.  Wonder Woman (yours truly) is fine. 

Celebrations for March 8 – Small Pleasures


 

(folks, I don’t know why the date says March 7.  I posted this at 12:10am eastern US time on March 8…)

Years ago, when I was in college, my friends and I had one of those ‘what would you do if…’ discussions.  You know the sort of thing:

 

What would you do if you knew you were going to die tomorrow?

(I always wanted more information: how am I going to die? Am I supposed to know in ADVANCE?  So, the question is What would I do if I knew I were going to die tomorrow – apart from having a full systems blow of a freak-out episode?) 


Why don’t men dress like this any more?

If you could only go on one date this year, where would you go, and with whom?

(You mean no other date for the rest of the year?  So this would be my dream date?  Does sitting at home and eating rum raisin ice cream while playing footsie with Keanu Reeves – love the eyes – count?  No?  Whyever not?)

 

Quick! What did you eat for supper last night?
Fugu Sashini

(I hate that question!  I could have cooked a cordon bleu feast for friends using truffles, vintage Dom Perignon and fugu sashimi and I won’t remember after being put on the spot like that.) 

There is one question of those, however, that I always enjoy answering.  This is because, for me, it expresses the things I find perfectly luscious and celebration-worthy:
 

 – What would you buy if money was absolutely no object at all?

Can you smell the lavender?
You mean if I could afford ANYTHING?

– Yes.

Oh…  Oh, my.  Let’s see… 

1.  Every evening, when I got into bed, it would be to clean cotton sheets – and not too high a thread count – crisp is the word – that were freshly washed and hung out to dry in the sun – then ironed.  Yes, and three pillows on the bed.  AND a down comforter, crisp and white.
 
It’s the sun that gives the lovely scent…

2.  Clean, brand new clothes every day.  This would be excepting my jeans, which would be nicely broken in and spotlessly clean.
 

3.  Flowers in every room.  Fragrant ones.  Freesia, lavender, sweet old-fashioned roses. (and visit this blog, which provided this lovely bouquet: http://jeanniesgarden.blogspot.com/2010/10/october-bouquet.html) 
Ahhhhhh……

4.  A view of either mountains or ocean from every window.  Ideally, it would involve both.  I am not sure where that would be, but nevertheless – if I looked out the window it would be to see something splendid.  (I lived in a place, once, where every window opened to a view of a wall.  it was terrible.)

 
This is Barbados.  I’ll take Kauai.

5.  I would own a desk like that owned by Beauty in Robin McKinley’s book Beauty – the first iteration – when she first comes to The Beast’s castle.  Stocked with all sorts of paper and pens.
 

Who needs sugar with these?
6.  And, whatever the season, fresh, ripe raspberries whenever I wanted them.  Or fresh, wild strawberries, so small and sweet that sugar is not only unnecessary but laughable.

 

I’ll never be that wealthy, mind, but if you think it through, that list represents many of the things I find worth celebrating.  The crisp feel and smell of good paper, smooth, clean sheets, berries like the ones I picked at my uncle’s farm a lifetime ago.  The sweet, almost honey-like smell of my cat’s fur.

 

She does have sweet-smelling fur…

They are all worth celebrating.

 

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Celebrating Small Things


I’m celebrating the small things – the little victories, the moments that make you catch your breath, smile and move on. I remember an advertisement for something – I forget what it was (canned beans? frankfurters? does it matter?) that included a song that went:
 
Simple pleasures are the best –
All the little things that make you smile and crow!
All the things you know…
Life’s simple pleasures are the best…
Are the best in all the world.
Simple pleasures are the best.

This is a blog hop – weekly for now – suggested by VikLit (you’ll like her blog!) as a way to commemorate our little victories week to week.

This week I’m celebrating finally getting on a schedule of regularly scooping my cats’ litterboxes. 

(Please accept my apologies for making you spit coffee over your screens.  I assure you it was not intentional.)   But you see, scooping cat litter is my idea of the sort of thing you are forced to do in the Gulag.   I always feel like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, weeping copious tears into his beard – I don’t have one, so must make do with my bathrobe – as he maneuvers the slotted scoop under the clumps, grimacing at the smell and wailing in dismay as his hand shakes and he drops a load of damp crumblies all over his bare toes.  Why his toes are bare at the Gulag is beyond me, but mine are bare when I scoop litter, so I will extend the comparison.

But this week – finally – I said ‘If it’s worth doing it’s worth doing well!’, rolled up my sleeves, assembled a large plastic bucket, lined it with trash bags and started scooping.  I’m not sure my cats believe I’m really doing it on a regular basis.  One – the big, old fellow, black with white whiskers – went tearing out of the room, bug-eyed.

THAT is my small thing to celebrate.  Where’s the caviar?  (Did they offer that in the Gulag?  No – probably vodka and pickles.  Nasty ones.)

As I said, this is a blog hop – go visit these other fun blogs – and it might be safe to sip your coffee now…http://www.linkytools.com/basic_linky_include.aspx?id=179014

The hazard or, if you prefer, the muse of writing –


The name of the Muse of Writing, according to the ancient Greeks, was Calliope.  Actually, she was the muse of heroic and epic poetry.  Since I write historical fiction, I think that’s about as close as I come.

I’ve been going hammer and tongs at a new project, and she has been with me every step of the way.  …or do I mean that she has obstructed me?  Hm.  Perhaps that is a better choice of words…

The hard thing is that if you do write, you have to have a muse. 

…but do I have to have one that sits on my keyboard? 

Now all I need is Terpsichore (muse of dance) to tap-dance on my keyboard.  I suspect it’s only a matter of time.

Hurry up!


Ever had a itch between your shoulder-blades? The sort that is driving you nearly mad, but which you know can’t be scratched because the act of scratching will only make matters worse and you will end up itching for the rest of your life?
 
Or, perhaps, wanted to treat yourself to some forbidden dainty – and known – just knownthat you won’t be able to stop eating?
 
That’s a little like my current position with Mourningtide.  The story is nearly finished, it’s almost ready to go – but it just is not quite ready.  There are things to do, things that mustbe done if I don’t want to release a book that is not my best effort.
 
Well, as with any itch, if you ignore it, it will go away.  The story will be finished, people will like it, I’ll like putting it out to be read, the cover will look good and I’ll smile.  It’s happened before, but I’m one of those people who likes to show folks their gifts before the proper date. 

In the mean time, I can laugh at myself, plug in my laptop, fire up Scrivener (did I mention that I love it?), and make corrections, and add scenes that occur to me.

And I can commune with my editor.
 
Have I mentioned my editor?  Everyone needs one, especially one like her.  Even if she is a pain in the neck, she’s about as charming as they come.  …and here she is!
 
I call her my ‘attractive nuisance’.  (Interesting legal concept: something that can cause a lot of annoyance, rage, damage, you name it, while being simply irresistible.)  Notice the position of her posterior?  Yes, on the pile of manuscript.  That is her clever way of keeping me from hurrying too much.

Polishing a Draft


So, you have finished your story.  It is complete.  The tale has been told and was done rather well, if you say so yourself.  You ‘compile’ the manuscript (for, after all, you are using Scrivener) and you then print the thing.  The result is a two-inch thick pile of bright white paper with printing on it.  The manuscript.  Finished!  Hurrah!



Wordsmithing as I do it.  The logic is hidden by the lack of prettiness…
The delight lasts only as long as it takes you to flip to a random page, and read…
“Did I say that?  What a passive construction!  What was I thinking?
You seize a pencil/pen/whatever, circle the offending phrase, write in what you should have written if you had not been under-caffeinated, and then sit back, scowling, and look at the rest of the manuscript.
…And now you are in ‘polish’ mode.
It’s been a while since I did this, and I had forgotten how enjoyable it is.   Wordsmithing, pure and simple, is a pleasure in itself.  It is, however, annoying when you have been envisioning a finished manuscript and, looking down at it, pen in hand, realized that the thing is anything but.
So you sigh, assemble the things you will need, and go to it.
What do you need?

Just the basics, ma’am, but in all available colors…
Pens.  Lots of them.  They tend to grow legs and walk.  I have one that was made by an artisan using chestnut wood salvaged from an colonial-era house on the seacoast.  Chestnut isn’t seen any more since the blight destroyed most of the chestnut trees.  That’s a pity because the wood is very rot-resistant and has a wonderful color.  Then there are the gel pens that are a delight to write with and have thick, visible ink.  The problem is that the ink tends to sink into paper and go through the other side.  Not pretty. 

Authentic Marvin
the Martian Pen

I also have a special Marvin the Martian pen I bought years ago at a Warner Brothers store and carried to various meetings over the years.
You need highlighters in various colors.  Why?  Well, what if you highlight something in pink and then think of something else that needs to be done with the highlighted passage, but is different?  Pink won’t work, it’ll be confusing.  Besides, hot pink is something of which I can only stand so much.  Purple, I think.  Or maybe blue…
Post-it notes, or reasonable facsimiles thereof, are very useful for marking places (‘Oh – that’s right!  I edited to here!’), marking thoughts (make sure you don’t get cheap imitations because they’ll fall off, and you will face your greatest fear: that your inspired edit will be lost forever and your powerful intellect, having decayed rather badly, will not be able to retrieve the perfect word in the perfect location.)
But you go cooking along, making corrections – until it suddenly occurs to you that the reason that the beginning of the novel seems to plod just a wee bit, with lots of information being made available rather quickly is that you have been going about it the wrong way, and it would work out better if you start in with the third chapter, scrap the first and second chapters, and then adjust as necessary.  You greet this revelation with a cry torn from your very entrails as you realize that the entire beginning of the @#$%! story has to be reworked.

Is it a disaster if it makes the whole story better but drives the writer mad?
You brew another cup of tea (did you read my post about tea?), get out the materials, and go to work, muttering under your breath even as you see that it truly will do better.  You bid farewell to the end of year release, the editor’s feedback, the new story that has been nudging at your elbow and presenting lusciously tempting scenes…  You buckle down –

Will pester for catnip…
And pray that your work is not interrupted by the dreaded ‘attractive nuisance’ that likes to grab your hand as you mouse…