Grateful at the End of a Frustrating Day

The other morning Lionel tried to convince me to stay home. “Meow, meow,” he said “rrrmmeow.” I should have listened to him.

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Be warned: There is much grouchiness in this post.

The train was slow, so I missed my regular subway and took the next one. So far, not too bad–a couple of minutes behind schedule. But then, the third subway was crowded and late, and worst of all, I missed the announcement that it was going express. I ended up 11 blocks past my destination and had to walk back. So, instead of getting into work at 7:20, I arrived at 7:40–and I had a coverage first period. (For those of you not in the teaching profession, this means that I had to cover a class for a teacher absent today instead of having the prep period I expected.) No time for breakfast.

For the previous two days, my classroom had been boiling; the head had been pumping full force, so I dressed a little lighter: cotton top with 3/4 sleeves, long skirt, no tights. Naturally with Murphy’s law in full force, after first period there was an announcement: “There is no heat today. Students may wear non-uniform hoodies and jackets.” Great. Just Great. It was cold in there!

Luckily, though, it was a half a day with no faculty meeting following, and I had plans to meet a friend to see Da Vinci’s Salvatore Mundi at Christie’s. Yes, Leonardo Da Vinci. This painting had been in private and royal collections for the past two hundred years. It was being sold that night and will probably not be seen again for another two hundred years. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity. And, I missed it. When we got to the auction house at 1:30, they informed us that the viewing ended at noon. So much for my attempt at buoying my creativity with a 500 year old masterpiece.

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Nevertheless, I still tried to muster some creativity. I went to a public atrium to write, but alas, there were no seats left. I trudged over to Barnes and Noble only to discover, after buying a tea that I really didn’t need but bought because I wanted to settle in at their cafe, that their wi-fi was not really working. I wanted to edit something on my Chromebook, so I needed the wi-fi to access it. UGH! I began to feel like I was wasting the day. It’s not often that I have an afternoon with neither classes, meetings, nor make-up tests and the like. And here I was traipsing from place to place, carrying a laptop, but getting nothing done.

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Annoyed and a bit aimless, I went back to the public atrium and, lo and behold, found a spot! PHEW! I popped open the Chromebook and started writing. FINALLY! And like that–WOOSH–the day was saved. So in this week of Thanksgiving, I want to publicly express my gratefulness for words-words on the screen, words on the page, words typed by my hands, words inked by my pen, words shared by others, words by the greats, and words by the small.  Let me remember to let writing, and reading, take me away from the grouchiness of the world when the best laid plans lead me to one obstacle and then another. Let me read my way to another reality, and write my way out of a funk. Thank you. Word.

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Writing, Rambling, and a Cat

Today I managed what I consider a great feat: I got my printer to work again! Ever since my computer updated, I have not been able to print anything. And for the most part, that has been okay. But I have been writing for much of the summer, working on a novel that I have attacked in fits and starts for years now. I really wanted to make some headway this summer and see if it still has life to it. And I have. You see, since I have worked on and off for years on this and in different places, the bits and pieces have been all over the place. I wrote much of the story longhand at first in a couple of different notebooks. I have take much of that and revised and typed this summer to get a good idea of what I have, putting different chapters or sections in different files. Getting the printer going has allowed me to print it all out and read through it together–as one would a novel. Now I can get an idea of what works, what doesn’t, and what’s missing as I figure out if the parts make a whole.

So I am very happy with myself.

Then, I start reading.

Immediately, I realize that the whole beginning needs editing. I mean, of course it does; I am not shocked, but still. The beginning? The first line? It can be a little disheartening. But I get to it. I make some changes. It’s good, but there’s a question I am not sure about regarding the positions of mortician and coroner. Hmmm…(Did I mention that much of the novel takes place in a funeral home?) I’d better do some more research. Luckily, I have a friend who just finished her mortuary science degree, and I have been able to call on her for some detail verification, but today, I went to the Internet where I found some fascinating reading on the history of coroners and mortuary science as well as the incredibly varied systems around the country regarding the business of death. But, I digress. Time to click that tab shut, close the laptop, and return to the printout.  Which I do. And I find a way out of the dilemma that sent me to those articles in the first place. Another win!

Then, my assistant shows up:

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He has another opinion about writing.

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His opinion is that writing keeps me from petting him, and therefore all implements thereof must be destroyed. Luckily, he has not been successful in his attempts, but I do think a petting and feeding break is in order!

Wish me luck as I continue on my quest, especially as it seems there is one file missing. I may have to go back to the notebooks yet again to continue the revision and typing before I can attack the ending–as of yet unwritten in any form, but floating around my head looking for an anchor.

 

Creativity and Mr. Hardcastle

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! 

In the meantime,  here’s a picture of my Lionel Hardcastle doing what he does best,  being cute. 

PAD 6: Rainy Days

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.

Rainy Days

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.

Photographic Inspiration

Everywhere you look, there is something to inspire you. Let the creative juices flow and appreciate the beauty of the world around us. And when that beauty is hard to see, create it! Here are just a few images from the past six months that make me smile. I hope they do the same for you.

Leo

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.

The Daily Post

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A Rose by Any Other Name…

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.

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PAD 28: Matter/Anti-Matter

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

I believe?

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.

PAD 20: My (Blank), the (Blank)

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.

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PAD 10: How —-

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.

Think.

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.

Call Mom.

Make plans for Sunday.

Get the mail.

Make more coffee while your ideas

Percolate.

Go to the grocery store.

Make dinner.

Watch TV.

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.