Morning Glory

morninggloryI am not a morning person. But I have dogs, so even on weekends I am up by seven or so in order to take them out. Often, I am still wearing pajamas when I leash up the pups, so I sneak off the front porch to the side of house where the neighbors can’t see us. There we find an enormous tangle of bright fuchsia morning glories that are wide awake.

Each year, this cheerful crowd reseeds itself and multiplies like proverbial rabbits. I have nothing to do with it, which is part of why I love them. These flowers, with their delicate trumpeting blossoms, reemerge heartily after even the worst winters to proliferate along the path that runs from the porch to the back yard.

Tiny green double-leaved sprouts emerge slowly in the spring, trembling in the chilly breeze, seeming timid, but really just gearing up. The plants grow courageous with each day’s increasing sunlight, rapidly adding a multitude of leaves and blooms along their tentacle-like vines.

Soon they need a trellis for support, and then they overshoot that, grabbing onto the brick wall of the house with their small green hands. One long stem moves sideways to the wooden steps and uses the slightest splinters to anchor itself. In no time, it has reached the top of the stairs. Other vines have, almost parasitically, taken over the basil plants. Initially, I trained them away, carefully unwinding their strands, but they were more driven than me. Now the herbs look like drag queens in their heavy pink fineries.

Even the rose is sporting incongruous flowers, a vine having woven its way around and around and around the tallest stem, the thorns causing no disruption whatsoever as it climbed. The tomato has fought bravely against this clingy friend, but to no avail. He is smothered in unwanted, albeit cheerful, attention.

morningglorydrainThis year, a morning glory seed managed to find its way past the house and into the street, where it landed in the storm drain. Embedding itself in a mess of fallen leaves, it found enough nourishment and moisture to throw a coiling vine over the curb like a lifeline and present its happy blushing faces to the side-walkers.

Each afternoon, the petals close in on themselves, suddenly shy, twisting themselves into snug cocoons, ready for the same nap I am. Overnight, they regain energy and, at dawn, each magenta mouth shouts again toward the sun.

 

A Corgi Named Hank

IMG_3501Our friend Cassie found the four-year-old tri-colored low-rider at a pound in Nashville. She sent us pictures of him with his big warm brown eyes looking up at her through the metal bars of his kennel. The dog looked happy despite his confinement, and we were immediately smitten.

My husband Peyton and I had talked about getting a dog for years and he desperately wanted a corgi, not because he had one growing up, but because “they smile!” he said. I volunteered at a local humane society and couldn’t bring myself to purchase a dog from a breeder with so many homeless ones out there. Cassie had gone on the hunt for us and became our hero for discovering a purebred canine we could save, fulfilling both of our needs.

Once Peyton drove the corgi back to Massachusetts, the dog ran into our house as if he already knew it was home. He excitedly sniffed everything thoroughly while the cats scattered like roaches when a light switch is throw, hiding in dark corners. His physique was totally foreign to me; his long back, barrel-shaped torso, stubby legs and lack of tail didn’t fit the picture in my mind of “dog.” Despite my online research when trying to find a dog to adopt, I had never seen a corgi in person before.

Hank weighed in at forty pounds during his first vet check-up, easily ten pounds chubbier than recommended. The regimen required for him to lose a quarter of his body weight made him cranky at first, earning him the nickname Mr. Grumbles, but then turned him into an avid fan of lettuce spines and baby carrots as well as tennis-ball-retrieving and long hikes in the woods.

In addition to his thick double coat of gold and white fur, Hank has a black “saddle” on his back and a thin white blaze that runs from the top of his forehead to halfway down his nose. “It looks like someone poured a little cream on him!” Cassie said in her sweet Southern lilt, while I looked at him, imagining an odd dwarf horse. One of Hank’s ears always stands up tall like a soldier on command, the other usually flops sideways endearingly. He has a black olive nose, looks like he is wearing Egyptian eyeliner and really does smile.

When Hank goes downstairs, he hops, his fluffy white haunches bobbing like a rabbit’s backside. When Hank is very excited, he not only barks excessively, he wags his nubbin ferociously and we try not to laugh. When he wolfs down his dinner in seconds, we often say, “Corgis don’t know how to savor.” When Hank sleeps, he snores softly in a way that makes me incredibly sleepy.

Sometimes, he falls asleep on his back, white and pink belly skyward. His foxy snout points, upside down, in one direction as his petite back legs point in the other, hovering a few inches above the ground. His front legs curl in front of his chest and it looks as though he is dreaming that he is flying.

1185078_10201136321422894_866336266_n

Radical Self-Care

640px-Three_flat_sheetsThe amazing Anne Lamott has often referred to what she calls “radical self-care” in her writing, which she defines as water and clean sheets. In doing so, she reminds us, and perhaps herself, that even the very small things make life that much more livable; hydration and a nice bed do indeed go a long way.

These things sound so basic that it’s hard to define them as radical, at least to those of us privileged to have easy access to drinking water and a washing machine. Yet, perhaps that is the point—at least on some level—and perhaps, because she clearly knows how hard life can be, she is also reminding us that these “basic” things are “radical” in the worst of times.

I’ve taken this concept a bit further in my life lately. My radical self-care includes doing a few yoga sunbows upon waking, reading good books in bed on clean sheets, and, most drastically, massage.

I am far from rich, and in fact have precious little disposable income at the moment—though this idea of radical self-care does sometimes require a little dosh. That’s where the local massage school comes in. For only $30, a kind student will provide a quality rubdown during a clinic in order to earn necessary hours of training, hands-on in the most literal way.

Today, I checked in with several other people, grabbed a sheet from a multi-colored stack at the desk, per the usual weird process, and waited to be called. After a few minutes, a young woman dressed in black, skinny with a long dark ponytail and Coke-bottle-thick glasses, introduced herself to me as Ashley. It was hard to focus on her eyes as we spoke because the lenses were so concentrated.

After she and I briefly discussed the kind of pressure I like (a lot) and if there were trouble-areas (neck and shoulders), she waited for me outside a changing room where I wrapped the sheet around me like a loose purple toga. Ashley settled me, facedown, on one of a dozen massage tables in a high-ceilinged room. The only lighting was natural, coming in from the tall windows on two sides of the room, a pale and grey like the day outside.

Once my face was in its cradle and she started warming up my back by running her oiled hands up and down it, I stared at the floor dumbly, my mouth ajar, remembering how I had become so relaxed during a massage one time that I actually drooled. The brick building in which the school is housed is clearly old, maybe turn of the century, which I pondered as I studied a rectangular-headed nail popping up slightly in one of the wood slats of the floor.

From time to time, I closed my eyes and tried to push away the thoughts in my head and focus on the lovely way Ashley was carefully kneading the knots in my back. But often I watched her feet, clad in lime green not-socks, moving around me almost balletically. She seemed as through she were doing a plié as she ever-so-gently pushed her elbow under my shoulder-blade. I listened to the quiet rustling of other clients’ sheets and students whispering questions comingled with the quiet whir of a fan somewhere I couldn’t quite place and inoffensive New Age music playing on a boom box on a window sill to my left.

At some point, a Nick Drake song came on, surprising me. It was a tune I love and listening to it was a good distraction from the noise in my mind. Ashley gently had me flip over discreetly under the purple sheet and wrapped an eye-cover over my face, blocking out that sense for a while, expertly she was rubbing my legs, which rarely cause me any trouble, and therefore, I rarely pay any attention to. She made lovely circles around my anklebones and paid special attention to my knees as well as working out kinks in my calf muscles and thighs.

“Take your time sitting up,” she said nicely when the hour was up. “I’m going to get you a cup of water.”

“Thank you,” I muttered, sleepily, beginning to work the sheet around me again.

“How do you feel?” Ashley asked.

“Mmm, relaxed and, um, better,” I barely managed.

“That’s what I want to hear!” she said brightly.

As sat up and drank out of a Dixie cup while she smiled at me through her enormous lenses, her blue eyes looking as though they were submerged behind deep ripples, I realized this was simply the deluxe version of even Anne Lamott’s sense of radical self-care—both water and clean sheets having played integral roles.

Sometimes, it’s blueberry pancakes at the diner. Or a cold beer on a sweaty day, drunk on the porch with a dear friend. Whatever it is, this idea seems more and more essential to me all the time. No one else will do it for us, so enjoy your water and clean sheets, friends, and enjoy the moments, the sensations, the little stuff that is such big stuff sometimes. Take radical self-care.

The Stealth of Deer

White_tailed_deer_NebraskaThe deer traffic here,
The deer from the forest
With their considerable bodies, they cross, stepping
Soundlessly through camp,
As if possessing some magic

Over mounds of brown dry leaves, littered fallen branches
Without a crunch or snap, without even a sigh

Though the dog occasionally catches
A whiff, her snout arching upward, on the air
Apparently, they have a scent undetectable
To me, nose-blind

Their single file hoofsteps have pressed bruised lines
Into green shoots on the side of a path
Tracks give them away, lead to shady spots
Under purple blossoms,
Where I envision hidden fawns, like baby birds
In ground nests, sheltered, secret
Snowy spots on their fur to match
A sun-dappled forest floor,

You hide in the shadows
Turn a gentle look at me
With some trust and some distrust
Understanding
As fleeting as
The white tail that follows the tawny flanks
Into the blackness of the woods.

They become accustomed, after time,
To our faces on the deck
Our curiosity, our wide eyes-and hush
We speak in whispered clocks
“She’s at your two o’clock”
“Where?”
“There, between the trees.
See her big ears?”

We have a staring contest
She waits a long time to take
Her next bite of leaf

Deer rely on privacy, critical
For surviving in these dusky woods.
As soon as I see a tawny ear poke above the bushes
Like a redder leaf among the green
It is gone again
Camouflaged within the tapestry of leaves

While chipmunks cause a stir, bringing attention
To themselves, micro-divas with their fancy stripes
Noisily dancing
In the pine needles and undergrowth

All day
I sense the deer with a sense that is unnamed
Everywhere
Obscure in the dusk.

Another Year Older

Cat-card-2On my 43rd birthday, I woke up and looked in the mirror at my year-older self. I had a new giant, bright red pimple, worthy of a pizza-devouring teenager, the kind even cover-up can’t truly mask. When I went downstairs to fix my lunch, the big, fat avocado I had hoped to eat, one that had the perfect give of ripeness when gently squeezed, once cut, was entirely black inside, like one giant bruise. The new shoes I had bought myself as a present—Danskos that I had splurged on (even through eBay) because they are supposed to be wildly comfortable—were already giving me blisters by the time I got back from walking the dogs. I was, you might say, a little grumpy by then.

But when I arrived at my office, wishing I didn’t have to work, my boss presented me with a box of donuts and a jug of freshly squeezed orange juice. The department had made me a card with a silly graphic of cats and books—knowing I have too many of both, and am probably equally passionate about both. We sat at our big round worktable, usually reserved for meetings and laying out the next magazine, instead eating sticky sweets and licking our fingers and laughing. It was a good take two for the morning.

Throughout the day, I received 118 Facebook posts, many emails and a few texts, all from people I really like. It was nice. I had received exactly four old fashioned cards by snail mail, and the people who sent those get gold stars in Heaven (you know who you are!).

I waited all day to see if my brother, Tommy, would remember. Ever since our brother, David, died almost eight years ago, he’s tried. I think. David was the one who always, always remembered, and always, always called. Tommy never used to—but sometimes he does now, as if he is trying to fill in where David left off. But because he’s unpredictable, it almost feels worse than if he never said “Happy Birthday.” Because now I expect it—and a wise person once said, “Expectation is the death of serenity.” It is. Tommy didn’t remember.

I missed my David painfully hard. All day.

I bought myself what I consider an expensive bottle of wine. A $14 J. Lohr Cabernet. Drank it on the porch while I tinkered with the ukulele I received from my husband last birthday, which I have barely played since. Light, pretty tones came off of its strings and floated into the summery air despite my lack of skill.

My husband brought home my favorite pizza since we were too broke to go out. We ate in front of the TV indecorously, as I wanted to, and then followed our kid-like binge with large slices of the homemade lemon cake my mother had sent. This is a totally predictable ritual. Each year, she frets about getting it here on time, worries about what the level of freshness it will be when it arrives, wrings her hands over whether it will be crushed. She always sends it Priority, and it always arrives early, perfectly intact and utterly delicious.

My dad and stepmother, both church choir singers, called and sang “Happy Birthday” to me on my voicemail—with beautiful harmonies. It nearly made me cry.

“Now I want to hear 80s music,” I said to my husband, embracing the regressive tendencies the day had brought out in me. He found a Tom Petty concert on TV and we watched it all the way through. (My first record, incidentally, was Long After Dark. I bought it with my own money when I was nine.)

At the end of the night, I emailed my high school boyfriend, the one who was born on the same day and the same year as me, to say, “I have no idea how we ended up being 43!” We had celebrated our 16th and 17th birthdays together, for crying out loud. While we clearly weren’t meant to be together romantically forever, I’m so happy we are still friends, and I enjoy the ritual of touching base each year on our birthday. I remembered vividly emailing him on our 40th and it seemed impossible that three more years had passed.

This morning, I was pleased to see a message from him. “Well, I guess it doesn’t feel as old as 46. At that point, we’ll be closer to 50 than 40 (yikes),” he wrote in reply. True.

I suddenly wondered nervously if it would feel lightning-fast to get to that landmark, since the time seems to keep speeding up each year. Then I just hoped I would make it. I realize that getting older is a great privilege, and one not afforded to all. To have donuts and songs and kind messages—and even a terrible zit—makes for a decent day of living even if you don’t get everything you wished for.

 

On Finishing (and Not Finishing)

13083376_10208025110598318_8559129665999619841_nI’m not finished with grad school, though this is technically my final submission. So I guess I’m pretty damn close. Yikes.

I already turned in my thesis and even sent it to print. I have a reading and a party on Friday followed by a champagne toast the following Friday and official graduation the Saturday after. Yet, I’ve firmly established that I won’t be finished with grad school projects until the end of May. I accepted the task of copyediting a full-length manuscript late in my publishing internship in part because it would drag on past graduation, not despite that fact. I could easily have said no. The truth is, I don’t want it to end.

Not the internship, not the publishing class associated with it, not the thesis work, not the writing prompts, not the extensive reading, not the due dates, not the discussions, not the presentations, not the research, not the interviews, not the hours and hours and hours of revisions, not even the true suffering that was part and parcel of my memoir writing.

I’m downright existentially exhausted. Part of me wants a serious vacation—or at least a really extended nap—right now. Completing edits and organization and formatting to my thesis over the past two weeks made me want to throw it all into a fire a few times. Tears were shed when my laptop’s hard drive crashed the week before that. And the self-imposed pressure of submitting a newly revised piece to a journal just-under-the-wire-close-to-midnight-on-Sunday-right-before-they-closed-acceptances-for-the-season made me question my sanity and overblown sense of self worth. But the reality is that I just don’t want to be finished at all.

The MFA program has been stressful: I’ve felt alternately really dumb and kind of smart, disappointed and elated, like a hot mess and an organizational genius. I’ve lost sleep and haven’t seen friends, skipped out on parties and ordered take-out far too much. I’ve drunk a lot of wine. I’ve worried nearly constantly that I was missing some kind of deadline and that I was probably a fraud. I miss my husband, whom I haven’t seen enough of even though he’s right downstairs. My laundry has piled up and the lack of vacuuming has generated furry tumbleweeds in all the corners of my house. My dogs definitely did not get enough walks (or belly rubs—or snacks, they tell me).

But I’ve learned that no one else really cares about my dust and that the dogs will forgive me for the lack of walks, like they forgive everything, saints that they are. I’ve also learned to be pretty fantastic at juggling and that when I want something, I can make it happen. I’ve learned so, so much about writing that I can’t even put it into words, which demonstrates how much I haven’t learned about writing.

When people, witnessing me practically tearing out my hair, have said of the program, “Oh, I bet you can’t wait to be done!” I have replied, “Well, sort of, but I love it,” reaffirming what a truly deranged person I am.

Though I like to think of myself as a planner, I’ve started dragging my feet on the final projects—like this one, which, as of this writing, is due in two hours and twenty minutes, but who’s counting?

Suddenly, I find myself frantically thinking about everyone I’ve met because of this program and giving myself further to-dos: writing thank you notes, buying books for presents, tracking down secondary email addresses. I am scared of being finished because it means disconnection. I’ve lived long enough and had enough experiences to know that what I’ll miss is the community of people. There’s nothing quite like finding your tribe. So, of course I don’t want it disbanded.

This is part of why the Writer’s Contract we had to pen now makes such good sense. I promised to myself, my teacher and my classmates that I will not actually be finished—that this work will go on, and that the connections will survive. I will write at for least an hour five days a week. I will submit work to journals at least once a month. I will workshop a piece with my small sub-set of classmates once a quarter. I will continue my search for an agent.

When do I make the shift from graduate work into this post-graduate self-disciplined technically accountable-to-no-one stuff? Tomorrow? Next week? June?

I fear I will wake up the morning after graduation—and then the morning after that one last copy-editing project is turned in—and wonder what to do with myself. I fear I will feel terribly alone.

It’s why, even thought this piece is due by midnight tonight and I’m very tired, I ran out after an all-too-quick dinner with my husband to attend a reading by a professor. Because I knew it would feel so great to be in a bookstore and to hear stories and to buy books and to be hugged by people who know me and get me. Because I don’t want to be finished.

If there is a finish line, in this case, I don’t care to cross it. I want to continue running in a way I never have before. I’ve never felt so sure that what I started shouldn’t stop.

 

Language Obsessed


Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 7.20.52 PMKyle Semmel
, who goes by K. E. Semmel professionally, is the kind of guy who works to make other people look good. I get him, as this is very much the way I’ve often felt about myself and my day job, where I scrutinize projects to make someone else shine while I stand in the background. It’s not actually as martyr-like as it sounds. In fact, I think we both prefer it this way.

Kyle spent years working in nonprofit marketing and communications just as I have, so I know this role requires ensuring that places, people, products, etc. are presented in the best possible light. People like us stoop over computers in dark rooms creating materials for others to present. People like us give them their messaging, edit their letters, design their elevator pitches, write their brochures. People like us shape and polish the rough ideas of others. It’s not so different when you think about what editors do.

Kyle met Andrew Gifford, the founder and director of the Santa Fe Writers Project (SFWP), when they were both working at the American Psychological Association in Washington, DC. Due to their shared love of literature and similar tastes and goals, they “really hit it off.” Kyle has been involved with the press since its early days as a development editor, and has enjoyed watching it grow—albeit from the wings while Andrew stands in the spotlight.

Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 7.19.13 PMHe has also taught fiction, written and published—in the Ontario Review, Washington Post, World Literature Today, Southern Review, Subtropics and elsewhere—and become a freelance translator. To date, Kyle has translated eight books from Danish and Norwegian (and is working on his ninth). Most recently published is Jesper Bugge Kold’s Winter Men.

Because I saw that he has a BA in history and English from Edinboro University in Pennsylvania and an MA in English from Kansas State University, I asked when and how he learned these other languages. I figured he must have Danish and Norwegian grandparents or something. It wasn’t that direct.

“My relationship to Danish and Norwegian actually began with German,” Kyle said.“I learned German because I love German and I did study it in college, though I don’t hold a degree in it. I met my wife in graduate school, and she is Danish, and when we finished our degrees, we moved to Denmark and lived there for three years. I took formal training in Danish for six months and have continued to study Danish ever since as a translator.”

“Because I’d studied German, Danish (which shares many traits) came quite easily to me,” he continued. “Since Norwegian is very similar to Danish, it is actually easy for me to read it and therefore translate it.” This we don’t have in common. Am I the only one who can’t quite imagine this being so fluid and easy?

Kyle’s work at SFWP has involved everything from helping get the press off the ground at the beginning to reviewing and editing submissions to managing the journal—and turning it into a quarterly publication—to starting ”Translator’s Cut,” an interview series with other translators. But, he said, “I feel it’s time to step back—which is why I asked Melanie to take over,” telling me about the new editor of the Quarterly. “She’s got great ideas and it’s simply time to move on. That said, I will continue to support SFWP and always will, and that includes copy editing, etc.”

While his teaching and writing have been helpful, he credits his translation work as “probably the very best training for doing any editorial work. Every time I submit a translation, I go through an editorial process, and that is a grand education in how to read/edit a manuscript. The greatest possible training for any editor is to be edited intensely and often, as I have,” he said.

Although he’s very happy to call himself a full-time writer and translator now, Kyle confessed to me that he will likely end up back in communications long-term, which he loved, as I do. I was pleased when he told me that my recommendations and best practice tips for social media were helpful to him since he’s been out of the fray for a while. He admitted, “I’m waaay behind the curve on new trends.”

Surprises in Interning

640px-Blue_Gass_Dove,_Romisch-Germanisches_Museum,_Cologne_(14873530361)After giving three fairly firm thumbs down, I waffled about how to respond to a fourth fiction submission I was assigned to review for the Santa Fe Writers Project Quarterly. With no experience as an editor or fiction writer, a limited view of what the journal had previously published and being very new in my role as intern, I didn’t entirely trust my own reactions.

Besides, when I started the internship, I assumed I would be working through some terrible slush pile, where the likelihood of coming across anything worthwhile would be incredibly slim. So my first surprise was reading something pretty good.

The writer drew me in so nicely. She wrote beautifully constructed sentences painting a portrait of a Bolivian community in the States, as colorful as one might expect, replete with lively parties, traditional cuisine, a big Catholic funeral, and boisterous extended families. She introduced me to the men of the neighborhood as an interesting collective group and made me fall in love with a particular woman named Betty who, after a few pages, I wanted as my own best friend.

Our heroine was white and from a completely different upbringing. She was lonely and looking for both a partner and a place to call her own. Compelling story. Her scenes she were entertaining and compelling, and gave the inside view a reader loves to have. I felt part of the action and that this writer was taking good care of me while her identity evolved to embrace the idea she was “Bolivian in her soul.”

Until the ending. It was pat and unconvincing. That was my second surprise – not a good one.

Full disclosure: I have problems with endings in general. I would wager that more than half of vetted, published, adored pieces of writing leave me cold at the end. Movies and TV series do the same. But I still found myself inordinately disappointed.

I was tempted to recommend a straight pass because I was so put off. But I remembered that the Quarterly had published her before, which meant she had something they liked, and the fact that I wanted so much to like the whole piece made me consider it further. Being so sensitive and sympathetic to both publisher and writer, when I found the story intriguing until the last page, I re-read it before I made any notes or recommendations.

I finally told the editor everything I was thinking and asked if we might discuss the ending with the author and see if there was a possibility of working with her on it a bit. My third surprise was that he was not only entirely willing to do that, but he also wanted me to make the overture.

“But do I say I’m an intern? An MFA student? A volunteer?” I asked Kyle. “That sounds sort of, I don’t know, not very good,” I said, demonstrating both my lack of confidence and probably making him second-guess my own writing abilities.

“Say you are a reader and that you are writing on behalf of the editor,” he replied helpfully. “Then we’ll see how she responds.”

So I reached out to the author of the lovely story called “Blue Dove.” My fourth surprise was her speedy, gracious and helpful response, replete with a possible alternate ending. As a writer who has been submitting work and filing away flat rejections, I could appreciate that someone (even a lowly reader/MFA student/intern/volunteer) giving her feedback and accolades felt good. But I had initially thought it was equally possible she would say “forget it.”

Then I got stuck again because I didn’t exactly love the new ending. I didn’t hate it, but I wasn’t sure. So I threw it back to Kyle, who told me my correspondence with the author had been excellent, which was deeply reassuring, and that he felt we should pass on the piece while encouraging her to keep submitting. He asked if I would like to tell her. This time, I asked him to do it, but to BCC me on it so that I could learn from him how he writes these things. (Also, I wouldn’t have to be the actual bad guy. Cop out, I know.)

And then yesterday, instead of emailing me that note, he emailed to tell me a new editor is taking over the Quarterly, who feels the piece is a go with the new ending, and I have been asked to edit it for publication! What an exciting fifth surprise.

 

Photo: By Carole Raddato from FRANKFURT, Germany – Blue Glass Dove, Romisch-Germanisches Museum, Cologne, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37880041

Story Ideas from a Cat

One of the several writing-related blogs, newsletters and mailing lists I subscribe to sent me an email this week with the title, “Story Ideas from a Cat,” and I immediately thought, That’s so perfect for me, because I am a mini-crazy-cat-lady. My mother is the real deal, as she has seven or eight cats most of the time—depending on how she’s counting on the day you ask—so it’s kind of a genetic problem, but that’s another story. I have four cats. Plenty of material there.

This morning, I was sleeping soundly with my part-Bengal cat, Quincy, tucked warmly next to me on my right side, as usual. He’s the most Zen and genuinely nicest cat I’ve ever known, as he will sit placidly and observe the roaring vacuum cleaner with only mild curiosity while all the other animals in the house scatter like the sky is falling, and, importantly, he picks fights with no one ever. Even the always-happy white and black (not black and white) cat, Levon, who has the word “love” in his name somewhere, still picks on Jasper, the most senior cat, which makes him sound old or old-acting, which he isn’t—and doesn’t—at all. It’s just that he’s the most solitary, a loner even, and something about that annoys Levon the Lover, who truly loves everyone, even Jasper, except when he doesn’t.

10848894_10204339050209112_900344771494291822_oAnyway, I woke up because the baby of the family, Desi, who is just two years old, was walking all over me (as he does in every possible literal and figurative way), purring his brains out, tickling my face with his whiskers, and shoveling his little fuzzy head under my hand, trying to force me into petting him, even in my unconscious state. Once conscious, even semi-so, I did my usual cranky shove and knocked him off the bed.

This technique is so completely ineffective that doing it in even a semi-unconscious state is fairly unforgivable. It’s like that definition of insanity everyone likes to repeat all the time—as if you needed someone to remind you that are making yourself crazy when it is perfectly clear—except when it isn’t. Desi is a lot like one of those inflatable doll things that stands up by force of a weight in its base and that, if punched, pops right back up over and over and over. It seems to me these dolls are always grinning in a kind of manic way too, just to be extra maddening. I realize this is sounding rather violent, and it really isn’t, but you don’t know Desi AKA Shit Burger, which is supposed to be a cute nickname, but really defines his personality in a way that his sophisticated moniker, Desmond, really can’t.

11886139_10206297566970807_2908449272992223500_oWhen I adopted him, his shelter name was Gator, a sign I chose to ignore. Instead, I focused on his gorgeous, jet-black mane, cartoonishly fluffy pantaloons, and tail so oversized that, attached to his otherwise stuntedly small body, makes him look a lot like a black squirrel. He’s a truly beautiful cat. Desi topped out at eight and a half pounds, so he’s what my husband and I call a “perma-kitten,” so light that he makes his big brothers seem enormous even though they are totally average. His feathery and feather-weight body make him incredibly tantalizing to hold and pet and kiss, which he then rewards with lightning-fast bites.

So I pushed him off the bed and he popped back up nearly instantaneously like one of those stupid grinning inflatable punching dolls, purring furiously and again pushing his small glamorously silky head under my trying-to-sleep hand. Because I never learn, I attempted one more sleep push. I’m sure you can’t imagine what happened.

Desi also lives to pick on Quincy, which is unacceptable for the aforementioned reasons, but it’s also completely predictable. So next, as part of the customary ritual, Desi started licking Quincy just long enough for Quincy to relax into thinking this might be a kind, brotherly gesture, despite the way these things always go, and then, like a cobra, Desi struck him with his perfect clean white fangs.

Did I mention it was before 6:30 a.m. on a Sunday?

Cursing my superficial tendencies for the thousandth time, I got up and removed Desi from the bedroom and closed the door, still knowing, yet ignoring the knowledge, that this was a sheer temporary measure. Desi is like that person who keeps poking your leg over and saying, “Hey, hey, hey” over until you crack and yell, “WHAT??!”

After a short spell, where I began to drift back into a dream, I started to hear a little scratching and saw a plush black paw reaching under the door. Then it began in earnest:

Meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow

11792040_10206212010551950_5749560414556876074_oYou can’t outlast Desi; he will always win. One time I tried to ignore him for almost an hour, during which I felt sure he would eventually pass out from his efforts. He meows with no pause. I don’t know when he even takes a breath. It’s quite something to behold.

There’s only so much ignoring a person has in them. I’ve tried. I’ve really tried. I’ve put in earplugs, smooshed a pillow onto my head, moved him to a downstairs room, put on white noise on my phone, given him a toy, food, catnip (foolishly). Everything short of a heavy-duty sedative. He is the definition of incorrigible.

One time, my mother told me she had mentioned Desi’s abundance of energy (isn’t that a nice way of putting it?) to her vet, who recommended that, in order to wear him out enough so that he was too tired to bother me, I get him ANOTHER KITTEN.

He got a robot playmate instead, recommended by MY VET, who does not cave in to that kind of crazy-cat-lady-stuff. It’s called a Froli-Cat and it shines red lasers in two directions that move in erratic half-circles while the inner workings of the machine grunt and whirl. Desi loved it at first, but we had to keep replacing the batteries because he would play so long that the damn robot got tired.

We blow catnip scented bubbles, pull around strings, give him plastic balls and bells and crumpled up foil, and pet the other cats a lot after Desi chases them down the stairs—and up the stairs—and down the stairs—and then pounces on them like a wild cheetah. He’s a pint-sized adversary. Any one of them could kick his furry butt, yet they don’t, and I do appreciate them for that.

12642592_10207326550774759_7399527752247732543_nDesi jumps up onto the top of doors and cabinets, where he hangs out, leering at us in a superior way, from above. His giant green judging eyes are sometimes the only discernable feature. He loves to tightrope walk the banister above the stairs. He leaps over his brothers on the way to breakfast each morning like an acrobat. He’s bossy, he’s funny, he’s fearless, he’s got a violent streak. He’s not one of those cats that just sits in a sunny spot all day. He’s never dull.

So, it’s Sunday morning and I’m awake far too early. Desi really doesn’t give a shit that it’s my one day this week to sleep in and I am far from rested. He generally doesn’t give a shit about anything.

I go back to the original email I received from one of those writerly, inspiring places, which I initially failed to read beyond the subject line, and realize that it says, “Sometimes the best way to get story ideas is to think from another point of view—like that of a cat. And there is no better way to get into the mind of your characters than to become like them.”

This assures me, for the millionth time, that I have no business writing from anyone’s point of view other than my own regardless of how desperate I am for a story idea. I am most definitely not going to walk on people, force them to pet me, and then bite them. That’s some kind of sick S & M stuff I want no part of.

Book Trailers

Screen Shot 2016-01-21 at 6.51.44 PMToday, while reading my Shelf Awareness e-newsletter, a publishing industry mailer, I was reminded of a literary promotional concept that is wildly intriguing to me, and which I somehow didn’t discover until very recently: the book trailer.

I’m a marketing person by day, and I’m now in a position where I have to conceptualize and direct videos, which is a totally new channel for me. Videos are enormously popular online and are gaining momentum all the time. But I never would have considered the possibility of creating a promotional trailer, just like a movie trailer but for a book, on my own. It’s so odd! Books have no pictures or music like films do. Who says, “Go check out the video for my book on YouTube?” Lots of people, it turns out.

I saw one in the fall for the release of Kristin Hersh’s Don’t Suck, Don’t Die, a book about the musician Vic Chestnutt, and was riveted. She’s a musician first and published author second, so there is fantastic original music by her on it—a song she more than likely wrote about him, in fact—as well as tour photos of them together. I’ve had the good fortune of seeing her play in person many times, and, in recent performances, she’s interspersed her songs with readings from her books. We, the audience, sit around her sipping our beers and listening with as much focus as kindergarteners sitting Indian-style, sucking our thumbs, while riveted by our amazing teacher. So, anyway, I thought maybe this was something of an anomaly. Her book trailer is a lot like a music video, only with quotes from reviewers and a few brief synoptic notes interspersed with the photos.

Screen Shot 2016-01-21 at 6.48.50 PMBut then I watched another one that was linked to Shelf Awareness with simply this introduction: “Book Trailer of the Day: One More Day, a novel by Kelly Simmons.” Enough said. You want to click it and check it out. I did, and I love this one too, even though it’s really different, as different as, say, oh, movie trailers. Hersh’s gives a lot of information about what you’ll read along with the mood music and great pictures. Simmons’ is almost all atmosphere, mysterious to the point of total confusion and/or complete intrigue. Beautifully cinematographic color images are collaged, portraying trees, driving, family photos and lots of baked goods. (What’s that all about?) One question in white text is broken up and overlaid on several screens. Then there are the wonderful reviewers’ quotes.

I think the only thing in common is that both take the opportunity to show the viewer the book cover, which makes a lot of sense, right? As teasers go, I think these are pretty fabulous. And so different from typical print ads or book reviews. They seem genius in this time of online living and attention spans short as gnats.’ Commit just two or three minutes to a fascinating watch, and there you go.

Of course, now I just want to go check out trailers on YouTube, never mind reading the books. Just kidding! Hersh’s was really great and everyone should go buy it right now.

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