It can be argued that there are no nice cats.
Yes, I know. Some act lovable, will purr and let you scratch their ears. They must be groomed.
They’ll rub up against you. They’re marking their territory.
They’ll lie on your lap. You’re warm, and you hold relatively still.
They bring you “gifts.” “See what I just killed!”
Don’t get me wrong, I love cats. Uh . . . like cats.
Okay, I don’t like cats. I tolerate the little hellion in this picture because she belongs to my son, who is really good at begging.
This particular cat is named “Shiva.” She is pissed because I was teaching my dog – I love dogs – to jump through the round windows of this soft-sided cube.
Yes, it belongs to the cat. But in my defense, Shiva has ignored it for months. I wrongly assumed she was done with it.
Cats are never done with anything. Just because they give no notice doesn’t mean they can’t account for every piece of furniture, blanket, toy, fuzz or fly that may be in your house.
Shiva is not a happy cat today. The dog ran all over her cube. The dog is dead meat. It’s only a matter of time.
Let’s start with the scream: Long, piercing, ragged. The way abandonment and death raps their talons around an animal’s throat until the only thing that can escape is that intolerable sound.
If you’ve lived in a wild part of the country, you might have heard that cry. Something large with teeth and claws rips the body from it’s victim’s soul. Your heart skips. You look around, wide-eyed. Is it close? Where will it go next? Not here, please!
I don’t know what kind of person grows immune to that sound. Maybe a predator doesn’t hear it. Or likes it.
I heard it this week, surrounded by blocks of neighborhood houses. I thought nothing wild was left here, except an occasional snake. Then I thought of the more common, two-legged variety that roams streets in the middle of the night. I was waiting for a friend who ran back inside for less than a minute.
The tiny dog with a borrowed name waited with me. She had survived Hurricane Harvey. No one knows who or where her family is, how many other dogs or cats may have populated her world. The only thing she has now is this kind stranger. Perhaps she had always been a nervous animal. But she must have struggled, and run for hours, and cowered, while incomprehensible wind and rain taught her how close Death can come.
So she screamed standing next to me, weeks after the storm, with the sun shining bright and the weather, warm and dry. She screamed as she must have screamed the night Harvey destroyed her world. She screamed like a person being torn apart.
Her savior ran out the door and scooped up the traumatized dog, speaking soft blessings into her ears.
I’ve heard that sound three times in my life: Once when something caught a deer in deep woods. Again when a cougar found its prey. And last, when a tiny dog thought she’d lost her entire world a second time.
Halloween is not just one day a year. And it’s not just kids in Spider-man costumes.
Sometimes, Halloween is real.
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. . . They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.”
I was 14 when my Uncle loaned me “The Prophet” by Kahil Gibran. The verse above carried deep meaning for the life I lived at the time. My jaw dropped on the first page and stayed on the floor through the entire book. I reluctantly returned it to my Uncle a week later, having read it at least a dozen times.
It remains one of my favorite books. Sometimes at night when I am most restless, I find a particular section and let the words from a man who lived a hundred years ago and half a world away, tell me what I need to hear. Doesn’t matter that I’ve read it a thousand times.
Good books are like that. Music is like that. Something in me is starving, broken, or unforgiving maybe. And someone else knows what it’s like to feel that way. Or they don’t know, but they’re trying to know. So they speak in amazing words, in voices so new and unfamiliar that I light up, just hearing those sounds, that music.
I write to learn how to do that. I write to learn to do what so many of you already know how to do.
And I write because it keeps me sane.
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I do a lot of writin’ where I drop the “g” on purpose. It’s the vernacular (almost qualifies as a regional dialect) that I heard and spoke as a child. Many of these words are no longer commonly used in standard American English.
was (instead of “were”)
warn’t (instead of “weren’t”)
ever (instead of “every”)
fixin’ to (“I’m fixin’ to go to town.”)
warsh (I’m fixin’ to warsh the clothes.”)
wartch (“I’m fixin’ to wartch TV.”)
yonder (“You kids are drivin’ me crazy! Go in yonder!”)
prolly (instead of “probably”. No one seems to get this one. I’m tired of seeing it corrected. Nor can they keep from correcting the modified version we also spoke: “probly.”
fetch me (Not the single word “fetch” spoken to a dog. The people version: “Hon, fetch me my glasses outta my bedroom.”)
tan your hide (Yeah, I really loved hearing this one.)
passing strange (instead of “exceedingly bizarre”)
whip up (Doing something quickly, as in “I’m gonna go whip up some dinner.”)
carry on (not as in “wayward son.” More like throwing a fit: “Lea, quit carryin’ on like that!”)
There are more of course. I’ll post them here when they suddenly pop outta my characters’ mouths.
I remember some word play as well. I loved hearing these phrases You can find them on the internet now, but I’m curious how many of you grew up with them in your ear?
cat fur to make you some kitten britches.
You’re movin’ so slow the dead lice are fallin’ off you!
Everything belongs on the floor.
Nothin’ good’s got in a hurry.
Faith and begorrah!
It’s a good life, if you don’t weaken.
I need some assistance.
“How can I help you?”
Who am I? Who am I supposed to be?
Oh! Come on! I cry at the drop of a hat. I’m neither strong, nor athletic. I am easily defeated.
“You ask. I give you data. Your point is . . . ?”
Fine. What do you mean by “undefeated”?
“Watch Cool Hand Luke.”
He won, with nothing.
“Imagine what it takes to succeed with few resources, with entrenched trauma and PTSD, with little real preparation for adulthood, neither role models nor mentors, and significant obstacles.”
You are talking about most of the world’s population.
“I am talking about you. There is more. You have grit, tenacity, curiosity, hope and optimism in the face of adversity.”
I disagree with your assessment.
“I should know.”
What’s the point?
“I have certain educational goals in mind, which you will reach, sooner or later. Beyond that, your strength of spirit and determination surprises and delights Me.”
You can be surprised?
“Of course. I have a much broader perspective. However, I cannot be 100% certain how any specific part of this experiment will go. I set the parameters. But there is always a quality of spirit – my Spirit in you – that provides multiple unknown variables to the equation. The math is beyond your current comprehension.”
So . . . what? You set up this demonic obstacle course and watch what happens? Do you place bets on the side?
“Seriously, there would be little point in betting against Myself. Besides, I am invested in the outcome. I am not idle. I do not ‘watch.’ I participate. The more accurate description of what you are experiencing is exploration.”
Says you! Dial the sensitivity back a bit, won’t you?
“You want to be less aware? Go back to sleep. You want to check out? Certainly these are some of your options. If you don’t want to be so sensitive, fix it.”
I don’t believe I can. So much of it seems to be hard-wired.
“Nonsense. You are Consciousness, as yet unaware of your full ability and potential. You can increase your current level of functioning. If what you want seems to be beyond the parameters of the game, then you have not focused enough on the outcome you desire.
“You have always had my blessing to change the parameters. If you haven’t clued into the fact that you have been doing so your entire life, then start paying more attention.”
I’m not that powerful.
“You can tell yourself that as long as you want, along with all the rest of your negative self-talk. It only delays our progress and causes more pain. You are the Gift we give to each Other.”
– – –
“Certainly. What’s on your mind?”
I feel so damn fragile today. I don’t like it.
“So quit claiming it.”
Okay, so let me see if I understand this: If I feel exhausted, and tearful, and like I’m running on empty, I’m supposed to suppress what I am feeling and tell myself otherwise?
“No, of course not. You are to recognize that your specific helpful or unhelpful behaviors, your general health, your interactions with others, as well as your background conversations with yourself, have led to your current emotional and physical states. So you are to go about the process of examining your self-talk and take corrective measures. Also check the obvious: sleep, adequate physical and mental nutrition, and so on. You may just need a nap.”
So what You’re saying is, I am causing all of this.
“Well, in a word, yes. However, I do not expect you to comprehend non-local awareness just yet. I encourage you to eat this particular elephant one bite at a time.”
I work on myself – a lot. Doesn’t seem to help.
“Let’s do a fact check here. Those internal dialogues played over and over in your imagination, your self-flagellation, constantly forcing yourself to stay awake, not giving yourself credit for all that you do, becoming distracted instead of staying in the NOW, the way you . . . .”
Okay! Okay. I get the point. But it’s not that easy to turn off all that stuff, especially if I feel hurt.
“Easier with practice. Ask yourself, how often do you make concerted efforts to address any of the areas I mentioned?”
Huh . . . I don’t really know. Haphazardly most of the time. Sometimes more often.
“And that would be correct. You can make a more concerted effort, should you so choose. It’s entirely up to you of course.”
Hey! Working on it here! I was hoping to get more help from You!
“And you shall have it. All you need do is ask. It helps to be specific.”
Can’t I just make a general request for help?
“Certainly. And you will get help, generally speaking.”
Okay, I know specificity seems to help. But I don’t know why. And I don’t always know what specifically to ask for.
“We have wandered into the subject of non-local awareness again. ‘Ask, and ye shall receive.’ ‘Only believe, and it shall be done unto you.’ ‘Whether you think you can, or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.” How often do you need to hear the same message? You know, I really have been sending it out on multiple platforms.”
There is a lot of bad information out here.
“You think so? And so shall it be. You do not see what is. You see what you are. I hold in front of you a mirror. Listen to my words carefully. Would you prefer to have something better? Do you want to have something better? Or do you persist in seeing something better, regardless of what’s currently in front of you?”
Shades of meaning on the one hand, and Pollyanna naviete on the other.
“No. Specific words. Specific meanings. Otherwise one word would do. Words have power. You are what you believe yourself to be. I am what you believe Me to be. Angels are real when you make them real. Help comes to you when you believe it comes to you. Doors open when you persist in seeing them open. The world improves as you SEE it improve, not before! I will continue to give all of you this same message.
“You do not see what is. You see what you are. You can change what you are. Indeed, you have done so, mostly unconsciously, all your life.
“And while we’re on the subject, see and sense and feel a better, healthier world. Quit dwelling on the negative. I’m not asking you to ignore what’s out there. I’m asking you, instead, to see a better world, instead of envisioning the worst of what you don’t want. There is no such thing as nothing. Something will fill the void of anything you tear down, mentally and physically. So, build instead. And as you build, make sure it’s something the world needs.”
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I’ve been trying to get to my blog all day. Not sure when it happened, but suddenly I have a life. People and pets need attention. There is a long list of unavoidable chores. Emails have to be answered. I go to twice a week classes about writing! (That’s a must.) There is a long list of enjoyable places to see, fun things to do, friends to hang out with.
Surely all of this activity is new. Somewhere along the line, I slipped from I really should focus on my writing more often, to What can I let slide for now so that I can write!
I’m trying to remember what I did before I contracted this strange bug. I think I was in a coma somewhere, or maybe dead.
My favorite apocalyptic story is an old Twilight Zone episode: “Time Enough At Last.” It is based on the short story by Lynn Venable. Burgess Meredith plays the lone survivor of a nuclear war. He gathers a huge number of books he’s always wanted to read, and just as he opens the first book, he fumbles and breaks his glasses.
This is my favorite because it is one of my nightmares.
“Honey, all the food is contaminated!”
“Yeah, but is the library intact?”
Now we are headed toward holiday season, and time for writing (and reading) will grow even more scarce. Halloween is big at our house. I invite a crowd to Thanksgiving dinner. The more the merrier, come Christmas! My decorations are minimal. It’s just that I’ve discovered it’s more fun decorating with family, friends, and the occasional stranger or two I meet at the grocery store or on the street, or therapist’s office.
. . . see! Someone just came in the door. Serious writing to come. Tonight. Tomorrow after I stare at the cat hair on the stairs. I can let that slide.
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I colored my hair today, an every third week ritual that sometimes stretches to a month. When I miss this self-imposed deadline, my wide swath of white hair looks like a cap made from skunk fur. I can stand in the middle of the street at midnight and headlights reflected off my head will bring every car to a screeching halt.
As I prepared the exact mix of chemicals, my son stopped in the doorway. He teased me about the white line, growing a good half-inch wider as we talked. He suggested I let it “go natural” so as to save myself time and trouble. My grandson, who nosed in between his dad and the door, commented sincerely, “I like the two colors! Don’t change it!”
My grandson also likes Mohawks and purple hair, and has a 10 year old’s predilection toward haphazard grooming.
His plea reminded me when I was ten. Back then, almost everyone looked, dressed and sounded more or less the same to me. I remember liking anything that was out of the norm: an unusual hat, a handlebar mustache, someone very short or very tall, unfamiliar music, the lights and siren on a police car. Fires.
I used to hate conformity. So why am I still dying my hair? Are women really staring as if mesmerized by the top of my head? Am I actually seeing men blink rapidly when I remove my hat, then move hastily out of range, as if I am about to launch some kind of rocket out of my scalp?
Yes, I am totally convinced all this is true. My family snaps a picture, and I see a street wide gap between the right and left side of my head.
I’ve got a new plan. I’m going to shave my scalp and have the entire surface tattooed black. Then as the white hair grows back in, it will look like I dyed my hair white, on purpose!
I’ve always wanted a tattoo.
I remember my two older brothers making a game of jumping from the roof of an old horse shed. I must have been six at the time. I watched for awhile, wondering how they could throw themselves off that impossibly tall building, all the while shouting and laughing, landing surefooted without a single tumble, only to climb back up, and do it again. Looked scary. Looked like fun.
“I wanna do it!” I called to Steve.
“Well, come on up then!” Steve was three years older, and at the age where a girl wasn’t worth anything if she was timid.
I climbed to the top of a rickety fence and reached up, not quite tall enough to touch the sheet metal roof. Steve leaned over and hauled me the rest of the way.
Walter was only a year older than I, and hadn’t yet learned to be as unforgiving as Steve. “Now watch what I do,” he said. “And do it exactly the same way.”
He jumped. Steve jumped. Then both scrambled up the fence and to the roof. I stood back awhile, watching the rotation continue, my brain working overtime.
“Why don’t you fall down?” I asked.
“Because we land on our feet,” Walter explained. “Try it! It’s fun!”
I walked to the edge of the roof and straight into space. I landed hard on both feet, pain shooting up my legs and spine.
“You did it!” both boys exclaimed.
“But it hurt!” I shouted, tears sliding down my cheeks.
“You gotta bend your knees!” Walter said. “Didn’t I say watch me?” He jumped again, and sure enough, for the first time I noticed his landing, knees bent, feet flat on the ground.
I scrambled, and was hauled, back to the roof. More determined than ever, and still sniffling, I walked to the edge, bent my legs a few times as a test, and jumped as both boys watched.
This time I slamed my chin into my bent knees. I spit out a mouth full of blood and a tooth. Walter looked distressed, and asked me to watch one more time as he demonstrated a bent knee landing, with knees apart!
It was no good, I was all done in and crying uncontrollably. Steve look disgusted as both he and Walter walked with me back to the house. The boys got a whipping for letting me do something so dangerous for a girl my age. I was exempt from the whipping only because I could easily produce a mouth full of blood.
It took me a few years to realize why Steve didn’t want me around.
There was the time I got a splinter in my behind on Easter Sunday from sliding down a perfectly good, old board that the boys had been using for more than an hour. The splinter was so deep that Mom had to pile us all in the car and meet our family doctor in his office. I actually had stitches, and the boys got a whipping.
And the time I went sailing out of a swing while trying, on a dare, to reach as high as my brothers. I was banged up and bruised. The boys weren’t allowed to use the swing set for a week.
I can’t remember how old I was when I joined them in a game of Nazi-hunting, only to find myself left behind as they ran after our imaginary foe. It seemed we’d wandered pretty far and I hadn’t a clue in which direction was home. After some time Steve found me and promised to take me home, if and when I quit crying.
Misfiring slingshots, digging holes in sliding mounds of gravel as tall as a house at the town water department, hide ‘n seek games in old refigerators, being lowered into a storm drain to retrieve a dime before the rain got any worse.
We all can remember similar moments of excitement and pain. And we learn along the way how our childish ignorance kept us from knowing just how often we were close to real catastrophe.
Those moments with my brothers came back to me last weekend while I was teaching my grandson how to use grass sheers around the flower beds.
My son Cliff stopped mowing and hurried over to us. “Mom! Why are you letting Furio use those? He got stiches in his hand from plastic scissors he used at school!”
Cliff has only one child. He suffers from a vast pool of limited perspective.
“He’s ten!” I said. “You gonna wait ’till he’s 20?”
“He almost cut our internet cable!” (Ah! The real issue!)
“Which is why I cautioned him to pay more attention to what he is doing.”
“He was six inches from cutting it!”
“He was a good twelve inches,” I quibbled.
To avoid further panic I redirected my grandson to trim around the flagstones.
As I washed my garden tools, I thought about how closely I’d watched my son grew up. I had one child. My mother had seven. Maybe after an unknown number of bloody noses, skinned knees, childhood diseases, doctor visits, piles of dirty laundry, teenage angst, broken hearts, and the occasional police officer ringing our doorbell with one of my brothers in tow – maybe Mom understood that she could only do so much. Maybe she had to let go a little.
I never thought I did enough, although I really like the man my son has become.
I don’t think he’s figured out yet that there is a limit to what a parent can do. You teach, admonish and guide, and then you trust your child and Providence to make it safely through the day. You pray they reach adulthood. And then you pray you die before they do.
Then tomorrow you do it all over again.
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