Catty Birthday

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Fifteen years ago today, my sister’s cat gave birth to a litter of four kittens. I didn’t so much ask my husband as informed him that one of them would be ours.

I’m the kind of person who needs a cat in the house. I’d grown up with a succession of felines, most of them strays that one of my older brothers would bring home and present to my mother with the plea “Can we keep her?” She’d give in after extracting a promise from him that he would take care of it, but you can guess who got up in the middle of the night to let the darn thing out. Anyway, this was in the 1970’s, when bringing your pet to the vet for shots and a spay was considered ridiculously indulgent. As a result, our house never lacked for cats due to multiple litters over the years, and my poor mother would scramble around for homes for the critters. Now and then we’d keep a kitten to replace the cat that had been run over on our busy street (indoor cats were virtually unheard of then, too).  I remember finding one in the driveway, probably run over by one of our neighbors. His dust-covered eyeball had popped right out of his head.

The whole point of these pleasant memories is to celebrate the fact that our cat, Gib, has reached the unimaginable age of 15 years old. In human years, she’s what we call “older than dirt.”

She’d been the runt of the litter, a tiny little ginger thing with the distinctive bull’s-eye markings on her side. I knew she was ours the moment I laid eyes on her. We took her home at 6 weeks old, not realizing at the time that it was too early to separate her from her mother and litter mates. But my sister was understandably eager to get rid of the kittens, and I was eager to have her. I’d get her spayed, she’d be an indoor cat, she wouldn’t be like those scraggly, ratty half-feral things we had when I was a kid. She’d be a princess.

It’s my opinion that these several factors-the runt of the litter, taken away from the litter too soon, and her isolation in our seldom visited apartment-contributed to the fact that she turned into the grumpiest, nastiest cat on the face of the earth.

Nobody likes her, and with good reason. On the few occasions we’d have visitors to our apartment, she’d hiss at them and arch her back as if they were the devil himself. If anyone approached her, she’d growl and swat at them with unsheathed claws.

Boy, do people hate our cat.

Still, she was my baby and I loved her. While she tolerated my excessive fawning, it was Jay for whom she saved her adoration. I think it’s because, in the absence of her litter mates, he’d play and wrestle roughly with her, substituting his arm for a sibling. It formed a profound bond in her little kitty mind; and despite the fact that I’m the one who treated her like my baby, and I’m still the one who brings her to the vet and cleans her litter box, it’s Jay she lives for. She’s lucky he still loves her, for all those cat scratches on his arm led to lymphedema in that limb.

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Gib with her favorite person.

 

Still, she has her good qualities (really). I’ve never had any litter box problems. That’s a big deal. And when Lilly was born, I was afraid I’d have to get rid of her, fearing she wouldn’t accept the baby. Knowing her unadoptable state (who would want her?), I thought she’d end up in a kitty kiln. But I worried for nothing. She’s accepted Lilly and tolerates her, though they’re not best friends. She’s not a lap cat and has never enjoyed being picked up, so no tea parties with dressing up the cat for Lilly. But she hasn’t scratched my child’s eyes out or scarred her in any way. Lilly understands how she is, and they give each other a respectable amount of space. I think the cat was relieved when I directed my maternal instincts elsewhere.

Gib has mellowed a bit with age. She’ll still hiss at strangers if they get too close, but she more readily tolerates company. She sleeps most of the time anyway, and only pads downstairs from her interminable napping to greet Jay and demand love and attention from him. I don’t grudge her this. Every now and then, she’ll allow me to scratch her under her chin or smooch the top of her head. She’ll blink at me in that catty way that says, I know you, I trust you, I can let my guard down around you. You’re okay.

So while she’s not my baby anymore, she’s become an old friend.

Happy Birthday, you old varmint.

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Respect the Computer

When I got my first car at age 20, I didn’t know much about vehicles or how they worked. I bought the car from an older man friend, and when, six months later, the car wasn’t running well and leaked black smoke, I asked him what might be wrong.

“Well, have you changed the oil?”

“Um, oil?”

He gave me a funny look. “Yeah, you need to change the oil every three months,” he explained patiently.

“Oh.” Well, no, I hadn’t. I didn’t know, and the poor beast was running on fumes. My friend was kind enough to help me find a decent shop to bring the car to for much-needed maintenance. But ever since then, I’ve hated dealing with car maintenance. What a pain in the butt. I just want the darn thing to go.

Even now, my husband, through a tacit agreement, deals with most of the car needs. Not that he likes it, either, but like cooking, it’s become his unofficial provenance. “I’ll deal with everything else,” I promised, and for the most part, we’ve kept that agreement.

One thing he can’t help me with, however, is computer maintenance. Jay is one of those rare folk who barely knows how to turn the computer on, and he’s unapologetic about it. As a writer, I obviously need to be on the computer, sometimes more than I’d like to be. Unfortunately, I bring my lazy and irresponsible attitude toward cars to this other piece of important machinery in my life. I know very little about how it works. I don’t really care. I just want the darn thing to work.

computer virus

Over the years, I’ve been smart enough to purchase and install anti-virus software on the various computers I’ve owned, and that’s about the extent of it. Once or twice I was foolish enough to let my subscription lapse, and then complained-loudly-about problems and weird tics the computer picked up. Since I’ve started blogging, this fairly new computer I’m working on has become extremely important, and I’ve made sure the software is up to date.

However, I got into the habit of bringing the computer with me to various coffee shops and using their free wi-fi to go online. Bad, bad, bad idea. I’m only just realizing how unsafe and unsecure these connections are. For the past few months, my computer had been giving me a frightening amount of grief: scam pop-up warnings, mostly, that wouldn’t go away unless I restarted the computer, or my screen freezing up. I knew my computer had bugs, and I knew I had to do something about it, before something really bad happened. Like a total crash. As it was, my computer was becoming virtually unusable.

I finally broke down and spent $70 for some PC repair software. I lost several hours of precious computer time installing and running this software. I also poked around in my Windows messages and installed long-overdue Window updates, which also took several hours.

The good news is, my computer is running much better now. It was abominably slow at first, but it’s sped up in the days since installing the software. So luckily, I averted disaster. The bad news is, I’m still running on Windows 7, and I know that someday I’ll have to upgrade. I hate the new Windows format, but as I’m finding in the world of technology, you must keep up or keep out.

Moral of the story: no more wi-fi in strange places; and respect your technological partner. Let’s keep it safe, people!

4b4the4th

Beautiful Detour

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Ever since Lilly was born, it’s been in the back of my mind that I’d like to get involved in advocacy for spina bifida, but felt I was too busy caring for my child, and the rest of my life, to take on anything too time consuming.

Recently, I found out about a fundraising campaign called 4b4the4th. It aims to raise funds for and awareness of spina bifida through the Spina Bifida Association, in the four months leading up to July 4. It’s fairly simple: you just register and set up a web page, and share it through social media like Facebook, Twitter, and email, where people can donate. Even I can do that!

The SBA’s goal this year is to raise $42,000. I’ve set a modest goal of $1,500. It won’t win me the grand prize of tickets and accommodations to this year’s SBA Conference in Minneapolis (I’d love to go to one someday, though), but…

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Memoir Wish List

Now that I’d like to explore personal essays and creative nonfiction more fully, it makes sense to read more in that genre. These are a few nonfiction titles that have been on my radar for awhile. Since I’ll still be reading fiction for my book club, it could take some time to actually get to these books and read them. But I’m certainly going to try.

On writing and creativity:

old friend

Old Friend From Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir, by Natalie Goldberg. I’m surprised there’s a book of Natalie Goldberg’s that I haven’t read, but this one somehow slipped by me. Can’t wait to get to it and plunge in.

big magic

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, by Elizabeth Gilbert. I loved Gilbert’s memoir Eat, Pray, Love, as well as her recent novel, The Signature of All Things. I’m eager to see what she has to say on living the creative life.

 

Essays/Memoir:

bad feminist

Bad Feminist, by Roxane Gay. I’ve always considered myself a feminist-as a woman, how could I not?-but have been more on the sidelines, a “silent feminist”, if you will. I think it’s because somewhere along the way, “feminist” became a dirty word. The issues got all muddled. I’m interested to see how Gay tries to unravel the knots in these essays.

dimestore

Dimestore: A Writer’s Life, by Lee Smith. I’ve never heard of Lee Smith (though she’s written 17 novels), but I’m always interested in how writers are formed. Lee grew up in the Appalachian South, and though she left it to go to college and get some “culture”, she never really left it behind. I think it’s the culture we grow up in that truly forms us.

walk in the woods

A Walk in the Woods, by Bill Bryson. Pre-Lilly, my husband and I would often camp and hike at Mt. Greylock in North Adams, Massachusetts. The trails there are a part of the Appalachian Trail, and we’d often talk about how great it would be to hike part or all of it. What an adventure that would be! It never happened, of course, nor will it ever, owing to Lilly’s issues and my deciding, quite a while ago, that I hate camping (though I still enjoy hiking). I’ll live vicariously through Bill Bryson’s funny recounting of his trip through the iconic trail. If I don’t get to it, there’s always the movie with Robert Redford and Nick Nolte.

wild

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed. Another hiking story, this time by a troubled woman who was reeling from a crumbling marriage and the death of her mother to cancer. Her decision to hike over 2,000 miles from Washington State to the Mojave Desert-alone, with no previous hiking experience or training-is ludicrous and incredibly brave, born more from desperation than a passion for nature. Again, if I don’t get to it, there’s always the movie with Reese Witherspoon.

I’m hoping to get to at least a few of these books this year, and you can be sure if I do, I’ll talk about them here.

What about you? Have you read and enjoyed any of these books? Let me know, and we’ll talk about it!

 

Saturday Edition – In Troubled Times, Write

This is exactly how I’ve been feeling lately, and Jamie Lee Wallace from the blog Live to Write-Write to Live has put it much more eloquently than I ever could.

Live to Write - Write to Live

On Existential Dilemmas and the Creative Act:

When things get stormy, writing shines a light in the darkness. When things get stormy, writing brings a light into the darkness.

I’ve been struggling with something lately. Though I intentionally minimize my news consumption (and try to restrict myself to the least sensationalist sources), I can’t help but notice that the world has gone a little mad. It’s scary out there. It’s as if the cruel and ridiculous worlds of satirical novelists like Kurt Vonnegut and Douglas Adams have come to life; and suddenly the jokes aren’t so funny anymore. Global warming, economic collapse, war, terrorism, political corruption, religious intolerance, discrimination of all kinds – these are the living nightmares that keep so many of us up at night. These are Big Problems – global issues that affect all of humanity and very fate of this fragile planet.

My struggle is knowing what to do in the face of all this insanity.

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On the Right Track

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When I began blogging in October of 2015, I never imagined what it might become, or how it might change the immediate landscape of this writing journey I’m on. In the nearly 6 months since I’ve started blogging, I’ve made 58 posts, have had 256 visitors with 592 views, 134 comments, 149 likes, and have garnered 33 followers. I have no idea if these numbers are fantastic or dismal, but I’ve learned not to worry too much about the stats. Though stats can be useful (and a little ego boost every time someone likes, comments, or follows), they can easily turn into a an obsession, distracting from the real purpose here: writing.

So what have I achieved from blogging since I began? My very first blog post listed my reasons and goals for starting a blog. They were:

  1. Establish an online platform.
  2. Connect with other readers and writers.
  3. Talk about what I love (books and writing) in a hopefully thoughtful manner.
  4. Improve my writing.

I remember thinking, “I’ll give it a year and see what happens.” Halfway through my trial period I find I can comment on this question already.

As far as an online presence, obviously a blog is a consistent one if done regularly. I don’t blog everyday, but I’ve managed two to four posts a week, every week, since October. In that time, I’ve connected with some great people, writing or otherwise, especially my faithful blogging friend Jenna Brownson. I’ve talked a lot about books, writing, movies, television, or anything else that has tickled my fancy. And in establishing a regular writing routine, I do believe my writing has improved.

However, I’m writing less fiction these days. At first, I was worried. I thought maybe the blog was taking up too much time and distracting me from my “real” writing. But I look at it differently now. I discovered that I loved blogging, and that fiction wasn’t the only avenue I could take for writing. I thought I was “blocked” in writing fiction; I think what was really happening was that I wanted to go in a different direction, at least for awhile.

I have one published personal essay under my belt, but thought at the time it might be a one-time occurrence. Now I feel that the personal essay, and any kind of creative non-fiction, is something I want to explore further. I recently started the blog Beautiful Detour, about my daughter Lilly, who has spina bifida. I wanted it to be more than a site announcing “Look at my beautiful disabled daughter!” I want to write about the hard stuff, the painful stuff, the confusing stuff, as well as the beautiful moments of our lives.

I also spent years and years writing in countless journals about my memories and personal experiences. Now, I’m not the most fascinating or brilliant or exciting person in the world. But I think every brain is worth picking, including mine. Maybe I’ll mine a nugget or two that’s worth illuminating.

The key to personal essays, however, is to take the personal and transform it into the universal.

To help me with that, I’m reading “Crafting the Personal Essay,” by Dinty W. Moore. I’m taking my time working through it and doing the writing exercises it offers. It’s bringing up a lot of interesting things that I’m excited to explore further. And as long as I’m still excited about writing, I must be on the right track.

Some writers wonder if blogging is worth the time and effort. And I suppose the answer is: it depends. It depends on your goals and reasons for doing it in the first place. For me, I’m achieving my basic goals and having fun doing it. For me, the answer is: absolutely.

 

Surrender to the Bed II

I just spent the last four days dealing with strep throat.

I never had strep in my life until a few years ago; now it seems I suffer through it at least once every year. It knocks me down with chills and body aches, headache, incredible fatigue, and of course, a bad sore throat. I somehow managed to get through a tax appointment and a clinic at Shriner’s for Lilly; otherwise, all I did was sleep.

bed

In my post Surrender to the Bed (definitely not about sex), I talked about how illness like this frustrates me, that I get panicky when my life stops completely and I can’t write, or do anything else for that matter. Well, this time it was no different. Even in the throes of my misery, I thought: Aargh, writing! Housework! Lilly! Work! (Not necessarily in that order).

And like before, I learned a few things:

  1. Writing? Whatever. The sky will not fall if I don’t write everyday. In fact, I’m pretty sure no one notices; no one’s waiting with baited breath for my brilliant words.
  2. Also pretty sure the housework wouldn’t have gotten done anyway. I’m just seeing more dust and dirt because I’m lying around looking at it, instead of being too busy to notice.
  3. Luckily, Lilly is healthy right now, and when she wasn’t at school, my wonderful spouse was spending time with her while I napped. Illness reminds me how lucky I am to have him (he also brought me ginger ale and chicken soup), and not to take him for granted.
  4. Okay, I didn’t worry about work too much. I just missed one shift, and I’m pretty sure no one would have wanted me to give them the gift of strep.

After a few days of antibiotics, I’m feeling much better, and I’m starting to chip away at the things that need to be tended to, including this post. I usually have a few posts written ahead of time, ready to go on a certain day, but my draft folder is dry. This teaches me to write on the fly and just go with it. So here you go: me waxing philosophical on illness.

Happy Spring!