Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Why writers go to Starbucks to work

Because it was windy and cold this morning at 5:30a.m., I decided to write for an hour--or at least try to--and then walk Thomas. That's when the trouble began.

See, animals are creatures of habit and routine. And like grumpy old men, they become anxious if you switch things up on them. Our usual routine goes something like this: I roll out of bed already promising to take them outside/get their food/fetch fresh water as soon as I brush my teeth, etc. When all their needs are taken care of, I enjoy one cup of tea while checking my email before setting out to walk Thom for a half hour or so.

When Thomas gets anxious, he shakes his head and flops his ears. As the time approaches for us to walk, his ear-flopping becomes like a snooze alarm. He's in the back bedroom, and I'm in the dining room, but I'll hear him get up and then FLOP FLOP FLOP FLOP, the ears go back and forth. I hear it, dismiss it, and go back to answering email. Ten minutes later I'll hear it again, then five minutes later he flops again. If I'm not up and putting my shoes on by then, he trots down the hallway, then into the kitchen, around the island, back down the hall to the bedroom and FLOP FLOP FLOP FLOP.

Mind you, Thomas still does not enjoy walking. After four years, we still begin each walk with resistance, me gently pulling him up the street as he intermittently turns back for home or simply sits his butt down in the middle of the road--

"Mom, wait, there's a monster."

"No, Thom, that's just a trash can. Let's go."

"Mom, wait, no, there's another monster!"

"Thomas, no, that's a raven on top of a streetlight. He won't hurt you. C'mon."


"Thomas. That's a flag. It's windy. You're okay, buddy, let's go."

Every. single. morning.

Still.... He knows what the routine is, and if I switch it up, I'm in for ear flapping and the sound of his toenails dancing across the laminate flooring every ten minutes.

And that's just the dog....

Purrl waits for us to walk because she knows that when we return, the sun will be up, the neighbors' dogs all trotting around outside sniffing, peeing and barking, so it's safe enough for her to be allowed into the back yard (like the other dogs... even though she's a cat) to sniff around and settle back on her haunches below the bird feeder and wait... and wish... and twitch her whiskers.... (No, she can't really see the birds up there, since she's mostly blind, but she still hears and smells them.)

But this morning we didn't go. There I was, thinking I would just finish that 44th chapter of the first book in my middle grade urban fantasy novel, and I was really into it, my protagonist dealing with conflict on all sides, when suddenly--

"Meow." Tap tap tap.

"MeOW." Tap tap tap tap tap.

"MEOW!!" Tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap.

The tapping sound was Purrl, her front feet up on the door to the garage, scratching at it repeatedly so that I would let her out.

"Not yet, Purrl Jam," I said the first time, sweetly.

"No, Purrl," I said, slightly annoyed, the second time.

"Seriously, I'm trying to work here!" I said the third time as I rose from my chair and let her out. "It's cold and you won't like it and you'll be right back in the house in five minutes!" Which she was, of course. Which is about the time I gave up and put my shoes on--because I had returned to the computer only to find Sugar Plum curled in my chair. And since Thomas was making his fifth circuit around the kitchen island, I decided I simply had to cave to their demands. 

Sigh. I really do understand why some writers have to leave the house to get anything done.

"Ready go Mom?"

Tuesday, November 21, 2017


Last night I woke in the middle of the night. I felt the warmth and pressure of a cat curled against the back of my knees. I reached down in the dark and stroked Sugar Plum's head, resulting in a vociferous vibration. Another cat lay stretched against my thighs on the other side. I knew better, but like an older sibling who just can't leave well enough alone, I reached down slowly to touch her--and felt her teeth in my hand. She didn't bite down, and I chuckled. Purrl will always remind me that she doesn't appreciate being disturbed when she's sleeping.

The sheets were clean and cool, the pillow soft beneath my head. I lay in the dark, waiting, barely breathing, until I heard the sound that has been the source of comfort many, many times throughout my life in similar midnight wakings--that gentle susurration of a dog's contented sigh. Thomas has his choice most nights of where he wants to sleep. The door to the garage is always open; he has a bed there (where he sleeps when the house is too warm), a bed in the living room (where he sleeps if I have the bedroom window open--because it startles him every time the neighbor snores or coughs or... whatever... in the night) and a bed next to my bed (where he comes to be close when he feels safe). He is never with us when we fall asleep, but he is often there when I wake in the night, and though I cannot see him in the pitch-dark room, I hear the long sigh he emits when I laugh at Purrl or whisper to the cats to move over.

These three amuse me, comfort me, give me a reason to rise every morning early (because how can I not when Sug is poking her foot in my arm wanting food?) and guard me against profound loneliness. I am thankful for them.

Last night, when Thom sighed, I did, too--a long inhalation and exhalation, and I smiled. No wheezing! Nothing rattling around in my lungs. I didn't use my inhaler before I went to bed, but my breathing was clear and easy. I am thankful for that, and I am thankful for my pulmonary doctor who diagnosed my bronchiectasis five years ago and did it cheerfully. ("But you don't have cancer! This is great news!") He is bright and vibrant and funny, and I enjoy our annual talks, which have now become "How's your family?" conversations, because my lungs are behaving despite their disease. And I am thankful for that.

And while I know we live in stressful times with new political turmoil every day, I am thankful for what we have achieved as a society. I am thankful that my gay son can be who he is every day, openly, wherever he is. I am thankful that my transgender friends can be who they were born to be. I am so, so thankful for all the women who've had the courage in recent weeks to come forward and say, 'This happened to me, and it is not okay.' I will always feel proud to have participated in the March for Women this year, to have shown up and participated, even though it's outside my comfort zone to do so, as I know it was for many of the women and men who showed up and marched. Good job, my friends.

I am most thankful that right now, at this moment, all of my children are safe and well. That might not be the case tomorrow, I know; we are given no guarantees in this life. But last night as I lay awake in the middle of the night and did my motherly head count, I smiled to know that all four were safe and well at our last communication. May that trend continue....

I woke this morning (before dawn, of course, thanks to Sug) to brilliant stars overhead, and I took a few minutes outside (while Thomas trotted around, wagging his tail, sniffing out a possum trail) to identify the constellations I know, to allow the magnitude of the Universe to sink in just for a moment (before its enormity overwhelmed me, as it has since my childhood). Then I went back inside to make breakfast for all of us--and aren't we abundantly blessed there as well? The animals chowing down on all the good stuff that comes to them from Petco, and me with my day-greeting Irish breakfast tea and the steel cut oatmeal with raisins and walnuts that bolsters me for those long dog walks once the sun rises.

Oh, and just the walking--that is enough in and of itself to be thankful for. The Sesamoiditis I had a year ago is mostly gone--or relieved enough for me to walk as far as I want with Thom and not even think of it. The torn ligament in my left foot is healed. The SIJD in my right hip has not been an issue of late, so my level of chronic pain is way, way down.

As I write this, it's almost bedtime. The front door is open, and a cool breeze is wafting in. It's time for Thom's Last Chance Outside opportunity. Then he gets his Greenie (his favorite part of the day) and retreats to his garage bed to chew it up and, I hope, contemplate what a good boy he is. The girls have already wandered off to the bedroom; I'll have to relocate someone (gently, if it's Purrl) in order to get in bed with a good book. When I switch off the light, I will resist thinking about what happened in the news today, and I will begin to count again the many blessings in my life. Really, though, they are countless.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Wherein I applaud my new hero, Cady Mansell

This is my sister, Peg, on the day of her First Holy Communion at St. Maria Goretti Catholic Church in Long Beach, California, circa 1960. (I spent a couple of hours looking for a photo of me in a similar dress--or probably this same one, as I often wore her hand-me-downs--but couldn't find one. There is also no photo of my baptism--but don't get me started on all that because it would make for an entirely separate and very long blog post.)

And this is my new hero, Cady Mansell, wearing the outfit she planned to wear on the day of her First Holy Communion at St. John the Evangelist church. Isn't it stunning? Isn't she amazing? Are you not crying tears of joy for her that she was raised by a mom who clearly said, "Sure! Wear what you want! Be who you want to be!"? I am. Cady is me. I am Cady. Well, yes, 55 or so years ago, but still.... Oh, how I would have loved to take my First Holy Communion wearing something as stylish and non-gender-conforming as that incredible pantsuit Cady is wearing. Anything but the itchy, uncomfortable, so-not-me, Why-does-this-look-like-a-bridal-gown? dress I had to wear. My legs were always cold. My legs are still cold!

Sadly, Cady missed out on that special day--because she was not allowed to take her First Communion--because she wasn't wearing a dress. (You can read that full story here.)

For the love of Mary and all the saints that are holy, are you kidding me, parish priest? You denied her communion?!? Because her legs were encased in fabric instead of being barely covered by a dress? Come on! Give me the scriptural proof text for that outrageous mandate! But you can't, can you? There isn't one.

It is not my intention here... at this time, anyway... to attack the Catholic Church. It's not about a church or a religion. It's about a man who purports to be a holy man, connected to a higher authority, but uses that position to dictate what is and is not "feminine" (his word, not mine). Feminine? You think you know what God intended "feminine" to be, Father Clueless? You think that word only encompasses women who wear dresses? How very, very sad.

But let's not focus on the negative. Let's look again at the positive example of Cady and her mom, who are part of a new generation, a generation of individuals who have the courage to be who they are (Yes! Go, Cady girl!) and to express themselves in the style that fits their own personal identity--without conforming to some idea of a societal norm.

I am sixty-three years old. But let me tell you, Cady is an inspiration to me, and I have no doubt she is an inspiration to girls (and boys) across the country to simply be the person they were born to be. Period. Without applying labels of any kind. What a rock star she is! And a smartly dressed one, at that! 

Here's one more photo of Cady... on a different day... in a different style... because, again, it's all about being who we really are... on any given day: