It’s been almost two weeks since National Poetry Month ended during which I posted quite a bit, but I haven’t posted since. But I have been writing, painting, and crocheting. Pretty soon, I will post photos of my latest painting (finished today, but no good photo yet and it’s still at the studio) and of the blanket I’m almost done crocheting (tonight or tomorrow, I hope). Several writing pieces are also in the works. Some are good; others need work. But I’m keeping at it. I hope you are too!
Today’s prompt is to write a sound poem. While walking through the park, I was struck by the atmosphere after the storm and composed a poem that would obliquely qualify, but I’ve decided to write another that suits the prompt a little better.
The deep rumble of thunder
Like a giant cat
Expressing his affection
For staying home on rainy days
With a cozy blanket, a cup of tea, and a good book
While his mini me purrs contentedly on my lap.
On August 28th, 2001, I brought Leo home from the ASPCA on 91st St in NYC. He was a year and four months old. I carried him in a cardboard pet carrier supplied by the shelter. In layman’s terms, it was a box with handles. We traveled by subway. The poor thing must have been terrified. When I finally set the box down in the living room and opened the top, Leo took one look, jumped out, and ran. He very quickly found his way under the bed and took up residence there.
Over the next couple of weeks, he would venture out for food and the litter box–Leo was never one to miss a meal–but little else. Sometimes he would poke his head around the corner, but the slightest unexpected motion or loud sound sent him scurrying back to his lair under the bed. I’m sure he must have explored the rest of his domain while I was out, but when I was home, he either kept his eye on me, perhaps wondering if I were real, or nestled in the safety of the shadows. In the dictionary, under the definition of scaredy-cat, there was a picture of Leo.
Two weeks later was September 11th. I was teaching in Manhattan, but far from the site. No one had smart phones back then, at least not Catholic school teachers. Access to the Internet was not as ubiquitous as it is today. There were no working TVs in our classrooms. Information came in dribs and drabs. I heard that a plane flew into the World Trade Center, and I thought it was a Cessna. This was not that long after JFK Jr’s crash. Then I went to teach, or rather to test. That day, the second full day of the school year, was the day for the summer reading test. I was in my classroom for the next three hours. Only when I went down for lunch did I hear about the second plane and the towers falling.
Soon enough an announcement was made for everyone to go home. For some of us that meant staying until all the students had figured out how to get home. One girl, a ninth grader on her second full day of high school, didn’t know what to do, but luckily she lived not too far from me and one of the guidance counselors. We walked with her over the Queensborough Bridge to where her father was waiting. He then drove the two of us home also.
I don’t know what time I got home. I think it was around 6pm. I hadn’t talked to anyone in my family yet. I had not yet seen any footage. My mind knew the information, but I could not process it. It was out of the realm of my existence and imagination. I came home, sat down on the couch, and turned on the TV. As the first images of the horror of that day filtered through my eyes, Leo jumped into my lap, laid down, and started purring. He stayed there all night. I have a large family, but at that time, I lived alone. Or, I should say with no other humans. Leo made sure I was not alone. I am sure that Leo was God’s gift to me, making sure I had a true companion that night.
For the rest of his life, Leo was my baby, purring like a Harley, claiming my lap as his personal space, and just offering his unconditional love. And he’s been my inspiration for poetry, photography, and drawing. In the near future he may become the subject of a painting. I lost my Leo to cancer on August 19th, just 9 days short of his 15th Gotcha Day, but he will always live in my heart.
Recently, my husband and I went to a local animal shelter to adopt a cat. Leo, my feline love, has recently passed away, and while we were (and are) still grieving, we missed having a cat presence in the apartment. We still love our lost Leo, but we knew we have enough love in our hearts to welcome another shelter cat into our home.
Before we left, I took a quick look online to just get an idea of the cats available. I wanted to meet the cat in person before we brought one home, but it’s still fun to look. And I noticed two things: there are an awful lot of black cats in the shelter, and many shelter cats have crazy names. It is this latter point I wish to address today. I told my husband that if the cat which chooses us has a crazy name, we’re going to have to change it. I’m not gong to call out “Hey Chizzy Chaz, I’m home” for the next 15 years.
So off we go, and after some time we are chosen by a ginger tabby, a marmalade some say, of considerable heft named Lionel. Rich asks me, “Are we going to keep his name?” “Lionel,” I think. “That’s pretty normal. I can deal with it.” “Sure, ” I say.
Now take a moment and think before you read on. What is your first association with the name Lionel?
Then, I turn to the solid mass of fur purring next to me and sing, “Hello, is it me you’re looking for?” It certainly seemed appropriate for the situation and indicates my first association with the name Lionel. Lionel looked up and kept purring.
After bringing Lionel home, I called my mother to tell her about her new grand-cat, and her response is “Is his last name Hardcastle?” You see, she is a fan of the BBC series As Time Goes By, and Jeffery Palmer’s character is Lionel Hardcastle. So, Lionel will now be called Mr. Hardcastle by his Nana.
Next, I went on Facebook to announce the arrival of the newest denizen of our apartment. Along with the many congratulations and exclamations of how cute he is, there were a few more Lionel associations. One friend asked if he likes train–ah, yes, Lionel trains, THE standard of toy trains. Another noted that like his predecessor, he bears a leonine name–seems like a tradition forming here. A couple of friends referenced Lion-O from the ThunderCats–not a bad allusion, but there is no way my Lionel will wear a blue leotard! So many associations from a limited group of people.
This got me thinking. What would come up if I googled his name? Most of the first page of results are links about Lionel trains, then Lionel Ritchie does show up as well as soccer player Lionel Messi (at least he’s not the biter). Then, I clicked the related searches tab for “Lionel name.” Here were the sites related to the meaning of names. To no one’s surprise, Lionel means either little or young lion. It is from the French, the Latin, and the Greek. Every culture seems to have a little lion in it! In Arthurian legend, Lionel is Lancelot’s cousin. (I feel like I should have known that.) Interestingly, according to one site, people with this name have a deep inner desire for love and companionship. I hope that proves true for cats too.
Every year, I have my students research the meaning of their names and ask their parents why they choose the name they did. Then we examine the names of the characters in the novels and stories we read. Often, these names are indicative of the character’s personality or circumstance or cultural heritage. And unlike parents who cannot know their child’s likes and dislikes when they name him/her, we writers know our characters intimately before we publish. We must choose those names with care so that our readers can see them as we do. Mr. Rochester of Jane Eyre seems stony when we first meet him as his rocky name would lead us to believe, and Jane describes herself as plain. In Gabrielle Zevin’s novel All These Things I’ve Done, the teenage boy who is a bit of a, let’s say jerk, has the last name of Ardsley. You know what you’re hearing there, right? That’s purposeful. And the good guy is named Goodwin who goes by Win. Yes, we know who to root for. Which association do you as a writer hope to conjure up in your reader when you name your character?
And sometimes, we writers may find it necessary to rename our characters as we move through our drafts. We get to know them better as we create their worlds and see them move around in them. Sometimes a name change clinches together pieces of his/her character that had seemed tenuously connected. And sometimes, the chosen name is too real. I once named a minor character Steve Stricker. I liked the alliteration and the strength of the name, both of which fit his position in the story. Then, one day my husband and I were watching golf, and there he was! Steve Stricker is a real person, a pro golfer! I had to make a change so that people who know golf weren’t bringing their associations of the real person to my story.
Where does this leave us on Lionel’s name? He seems to respond to it, and I’m just trying to not call him Leo.That’s a fifteen year habit that is hard to break, especially with both names beginning with L. But, I think in time he’ll live up to the little lion that he is, and I hope he’ll continue to exhibit his desire for camaraderie.
What association do you have with the name Lionel? What characters have you named for a specific reason? Have you ever had to change a character’s name? Why? Join in the conversation below.
A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but it will not create the same response from the reader if you call it an Eastern skunk cabbage.
It’s the last two-fer Tuesday of the month. Today prompts are matter (what things are made of) or anti-matter. I went with the former.
What Things Are Made Of
It matters, you know,
What things are made of.
Is the sweater acrylic? Or Wool?
The dryer cycle will let you know
If you don’t already,
But it matters, what things are made of.
It matters, too, if the gold
On the edge of the plate is paint
Or real. Will it create a spark, a fire
In the microwave, or not?
And what about you?
What are you made of?
Do you believe what you tell me,
Or do you tell me what you think
Are we real to each other? Or
Just visions of what we think
The other believes real?
I will come clean.
I will be true.
What am I made of?
Catholicism, Literature, Art,
Music, Writing, Family,
Books, Yarn, Crochet, Sewing…
But most of all, I am made of
You and me…
And our baby, our kitty, our Leo.
I am made of our family,
As we define it.
Today’s prompt is to fill in the blanks, and it was a tough one! I knew instantly I wanted to write about my VSC, very special cat, but how to do that was the question. I played with different forms and rhythms before settling on the rhythm and rhyme below. I hope you can understand why My Leo is so special to me.
My Leo, the Gift
A furry ball of black and white
A tuxedo cat, ready for the night.
Leo is a shelter cat
Who came to me in that room and sat.
The cat picks the owner they say.
And Leo picked me on that day.
At first, though he just hid.
When we got home, under the bed he slid.
For almost two weeks, he stayed there.
Afraid of this home, this sofa, this chair.
Only for food would he venture out,
And with too much noise, he would go without.
Then in 2001 on September 11,
Leo proved he was truly my gift from heaven.
I was teaching that day in NYC
Waiting till each girl could go home,
No reports did I hear or footage see
Till I came home that night to an apartment, alone.
But not alone, Leo ensured.
He jumped in my lap and purred,
And purred, and purred, and purred.
His presence there kept me moored.
Today’s prompt is to write a “How—-” poem. Start with How and finish the phrase as your title. Then, go. The idea can be a How to or a How did I get here or anything else that starts with How. I decided to be a little humorous about the whole PAD Challenge with my poem today. I hope you enjoy it.
How to Write a Poem a Day
Get up early.
Turn on the coffee pot.
Turn on the computer.
Wait while the ancient computer warms up.
Do some back exercises before
Sitting down at your desk.
Check the blog that delivers
Your prompt for the day.
Make a cup of coffee.
Feed the cat.
Take out a pencil and
A fresh pad of paper.
Doodle squares and curly-ques.
Get up from the desk;
Go to the gym to “work out”
Your ideas and your abs.
Come home; make lunch.
Fire up the computer, again.
Check Facebook. Check your email.
Read the prompt again.
Start to type “How to Write a Poem a Day”
Walk away when the computer freezes.
Do some laundry.
Make plans for Sunday.
Get the mail.
Make more coffee while your ideas
Go to the grocery store.
Check Facebook again; check email again.
Send three emails; post two cat memes.
Feed the cat again.
Clean the litter box.
Notice that it is now 11:45pm.
Write the poem
And post it to the blog
With one minute to spare.
For Tyson and J. S.
I write here about creativity, about finding ourselves, about expressions of self. Indeed the last post was about the time we spend in solitude, the time spent alone, in order to create. Creativity can sometimes seem a very egocentric thing, and indeed, it does require a bit of selfishness to accomplish. However, I am reminded today that the most important thing we can create are connections.
Every time we create something, be it a sketch, a painting, a dress, an afghan, a story, a song, we release a part of ourselves into the world. We are asking people to know us, to “get” us. When we hope that people “like” what we post, we ask them to acknowledge us. Even when the art is controversial, or perhaps especially so, there is a clamor for attention, for interaction. Humans are social animals. Our creativity, in whatever form it takes, allows us to engage with those around us. In some ways it is oxymoronic in that this deeply personal expression can act as a gate keeper. We can both express ourselves and hold others at bay through the medium of our art and our reaction to others’ reactions. Yet, in the long run, we want to drop those barriers and connect. Connections feed us as much as our creativity does.
Have you noticed, I’m sure you have, how much of Facebook and other social media sites are inundated with animal pictures–cats especially, but dogs too, and other species? We humans are addicted to watching dogs and cats snuggling, bears saving ducklings, puffins falling down and sliding. Why do you suppose that is?
My thought, my answer, is because animals don’t judge. As much as we need our creativity to fulfill a human part of our soul’s being, animals allow us to be. We do not need to create for them. They will cuddle up whether we’ve finished our painting or not. They will prance and wag their tails whether or not we’ve written the next chapter. They will sing, bark, mew even when we could not think of dragging out the sewing machine. Our animals are specials gifts to our creativity. They are the rechargers of our batteries. They offer us open, unconditional love in exchange for a kibbles, bits, and an honest, loving petting. And when it comes their time to go, if they can, they wait until the loving arms of their human parents can birth them into their next world. We feel the great grief of their loss, but the memory of their lives can continue to calm us. And this in turn feeds the human creativity within us.
These wonderful beings do another amazing thing. They connect us to each other. We group ourselves sometimes by species: cat people, dog people. We meet friends at the dog run. We share stories and photos of our animals with new friends. We call our friends animals by name; they do the same with ours. And when one is lost, we commiserate.
Rest in Peace Tyson. God Bless.