The Joy of Animal Rescue and Care

“I meant,” said Ipslore bitterly, “what is there in this world that truly makes living worthwhile?”
Death thought about it.
CATS, he said eventually. CATS ARE NICE.”
― Terry Pratchett, Sourcery

This weekend I had the pleasure of volunteering at a shelter and tending to  a tiny four-week old kitten who, while waiting to go to foster today, was screaming his head off. He was no bigger than the size of my hand, but had the vocal strength of a fully grown cat.

I have often said that I am a sucker for kittens, and this was no exception. His black coat was roughly salted with strands of white fur, and he had a thin, white strip down the side of his nose. I immediately thought of him as Stripe. He alternated between begging at the cage door and hissing at me. The begging quickly won out when I opened the cage door. I moved slowly and spoke softly, and he responded right away with sniffs and with head bops.

I wanted just to scoop him up in my arms, but he had wreaked havoc on himself as well as the cage. His water bowl was empty. The litter was totally soaked, as was his blanket, teddy bear, the floor of the cage, and his entire body. Litter tracked on the cage floor. A quarter of the dry food was spread in his cage and another quarter on the tile floor.

I proceeded to take things out of his cage cautiously so as not to scare him. I slowly wiped down the cage as I took out items to clean or replace. I layered a blanket on a thin bed and made sure to include a few small, stuffed toys for company. I gave him a clean litter box and new food, but food was the last thing on his mind.

I had to get some paper towels to soak up the water from his paws and body before I could hold him, but it was a largely futile exercise. My shirt got filthy anyway. Well worth it. He climbed up and down off my shoulder as I leaned into the cage. Stripe pressed his tiny head hard against my chin and pressed his little body against mine. As I pet him, he tried to lay down against me and then would flop over for more petting.

I pet him as long as I could, but eventually I had to go and help with other kitties. Before I left, I peeked into the room to see him sitting comfortably on his new bed. All morning, I had been mentally calculated the logistics of bringing him home with me. I eventually decided against it due to logistics  and the fact that I literally cannot take home every cute kitten that I fall in love with. Believe me when I tell you there have been a lot of them.

During my itty bitty kitty petting session, I started to realize that I had endorphins coursing through my body. I was actually beginning to feel high and loopy from the baby kitten love fest. I think that’s what happens when you provide physical love to a helpless, loving, and lovable baby: the pleasure center in your brain lights up like fireworks to reward you for your altruistic attention and physical affection for another being. Every time this happens, you want it to happen again as soon as possible. I have no kids, but I can only imagine the degree to which this happens to parents. It is addiction in its highest and best possible form.

When I am down or angry, all it takes is for one of my kitties to give me some unsolicited attention and love. Suddenly, I forget what was going through my mind and smile, returning the love that is so willingly given to me.

Writing Progress + Practice

“A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”
Thomas Mann

Got my butt (and the rest of myself, too!) to Starbucks for writing. Mark is working from home today. Intermittent, remote meetings means he can’t necessarily get out of the house. What do I want to do? Get out of the house, of course. So I went with my college-ruled notebook and my aging MacBook Air to Starbucks where I write.

Two days at Starbucks does not a writing habit make, but it’s a start. I have to start somewhere, don’t I? For some reason, I seem to keep going back to the start, to the beginning instead of holding steady and making progress. It’s so frustrating! I started out the year with writing at the forefront of my mind, and then I let it go and refused to pick it up again. That’s how I fail. At some point, I pick myself up and begin again.

I want to get back into writing, all sorts of writing. I can work on a novel, sure. But I have also written poetry and short stories. Working on different styles of writing can cross-pollinate your creative works. I heard about a writing contest for a 1,500 word short story. By Monday. Putting it out here so maybe you can give me a kick in the pants. It’s totally doable. I have a 6K+ word short story that I could totally adapt and make it work, or I could write a new one.

When I worked at the Berklee College of Music, I took some online creative writing courses. I still have the digital and physical materials. I was thinking about going through them again, doing some of the exercises, practicing. I did review some of the work that I did. And I thought: You know, the topic is a bit silly (I wrote about cats in more than one assignment) but the strength of the work itself stood. If you asked me then, I would have been like, Yeah. So? Now, I see that my writing skills were evident. But I need the practice.

Writing Practice is just like any other kind of practice. There is nothing in the world, no activity, that does not require practice. This means doing for the sake of doing. Sure, you’ll get better – over time. And you might be able to look back and point out a specific time where your work changes and you’ve improved.

What you cannot do is look at a single moment and declare it a failure of creativity. I mean, I guess you could. You could decide ahead of time what you wanted, measure your current effort against it, and judge it a failure. I understand that in one context – the car you designed won’t run or has a poor design that causes wind drag and increased gasoline costs.

But in terms of the fine arts, that’s a terrible approach to take. How can you immerse yourself in your work if you’re busy judging and knocking yourself down? I put that question out there as if I don’t do it myself, but I do. I am both perpetrator and victim of my creative failures. I am not calling any particular thing I do a failure. I call my inability to carry forward my dreams with the same commitment that I bring when I employed by someone else.

The great thing about this life is that the earth continues to rotate, the sun comes and goes across the sky, and that I can pick up a pen or open my computer and start putting down words that spring from my consciousness that want to escape into this world for us all to see.

Here’s to continued writing progress!

Harder Than Week 1? Week 2

A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.

Thomas Mann — German novelist, short story writer, social critic, philanthropist,
essayist and 1929 Nobel laureate.

Last week, I made multiple posts about following author Chuck Wendig‘s Zero-Fuckery 350 Word a Day Writing Plan. I even went so far as to write over 1,000 words on Saturday before a writing critique, even though Wendig’s plan includes weekends of no writing.

In week 1, I just sat at my computer and wrote. Or I read a writing-related magazine. I eschewed morning Facebook over breakfast. By Saturday, I had written over 4,500 words, a new record for this fledgling and aspiring writer. That’s some feat (for me).

Week 2? Way harder than week 1! I read Facebook and news over writing rags. I procrastinated until day’s end to write. I felt a block holding me back, as if I were dreading something. But what? How can a writer dread writing? Just doesn’t make sense.

But I refuse to give this up. I have only not followed the plan until I haven’t written enough words, and this blog post surely counts for something. I am making the 350 word daily minimum apply to my stories. It can be 350 in any one story or among stories. Makes no difference. I am making progress either way.

The rest of the week remains challenging: tomorrow I prep for a Thursday through Sunday trip. I intend to keep up my morning meditation, my morning writing, my blog posting, and my story writing all through the weekend. With time and people constraints, I will have zero fuckery parameters to hone my writing craft in the midst of chaos.

I spend so much time not getting down to writing business. I wonder what kind of accomplishments I can make if I can get down to business with less fuckery, less Facebook and news site time wasting, and more story writing and editing. I remain committed to the process. I know where it will take me.

Home. Forever returning home.


Eating Healthy(er)

Consistently eating well is a chronic challenge for me.

When I am stressed, rushed, and – especially – lazy, I tend to open my fridge and pick out the items I don’t have to prep to eat.

Salad sits in my fridge, wilting. Instead, I go for nuts and fruit. And more fruit. And then again.

A few weeks ago, I started up my coffee habit again. This, combined with my tendency to eat sugar, is a recipe for exhaustion.

In my unscientific opinion, sugar and caffeine provide the body with false means of energy.

Caffeine is a stimulant, much like adrenaline. It wires you up and keeps you going even when your body lacks the nutrients it needs.

Chronic sugar intake exhausts your body’s ability to regulate blood sugar, tires out your pancreas, which produces insulin, and increases your intolerance to insulin (a condition often diagnosed as pre-diabetes). Sugar is also reported to be a major factor in cancer, as chronic sugar intake provides the cancer cells with a never ending source of growth energy.

I ate way too much sugar and caffeine yesterday, so much so that is a wonder I have not turned into a pile of sugar. The price I paid was exhaustion, both yesterday and today, from poor food choices and a too-hectic schedule.

I wondered why I have been unable to learn this lesson. When I have shared with my mother my desires to stop eating sugar, she provides a ready excuse: it’s the holidays, your birthday, a Sunday afternoon when it’s sunny, it’s just one cookie.

You would think my mother is built like a house. While she does have weight in her belly, she seems to carry it well. My struggles with energy and eating well have not been her struggles. I seem to be sensitive to sugar, unlike her.

I think I am a sugar junkie. In writing my evening pages today, I decided it might be helpful for me to post inspirational quotes regarding healthy eating in a couple important places.

The first quote I found that I printed, framed, and hung on my Pinspiration board is by Virginia Woolf:

The second quote I found, printed, framed, and put up on my refrigerator is by Hippocrates:

For myself, I find that positive reinforcement works much better as a motivation tool than dire warnings against what happens if I do not eat well.

Slowly but surely, my living area will contain images and photos of quotes, people, and place that remind me that love and loving choices are the way to make my way through any decision, especially ones with such a profound impact on all areas of my life.

Pinspiration Board

pinspiration board

Pinspiration board

In creative wave #6 of yesterday’s post, I described wanting to put up a cork board with pictures of loved ones, inspirational quotes, poetry, and reminders, which I call my Pinspiration Board. I tried to control myself from tacking up paper because I wanted to start with images, but I just couldn’t help myself.

I tacked up a housewarming card from a beloved friend, a card from my dear husband, pictures of three cats (two of whom passed away), my list of life goals for 2014, a lists of Basic Principles and Rules of the Road from Chapters 2 and 3 from The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, and a sticky memo of ideas. 

My Pinspiration Board replaces a bookshelf that I moved to a wall behind me and a large framed print that I moved to the wall to the left of my desk. The small collage framed above the board was made to me by another beloved friend and was displaced by the hanging of the large framed print to the left.

With the bookshelf gone, I have more space available at the back half of my desk surface. Not only does my desk feel roomier, but the room itself feels like it opened up. I was able to stack my jewelry supplies higher. To the right, I stacked only the books on the right that I am immediately reading or using. To the left, I have two framed print with words and pictures that keep me focused on my writing and my art. An electric candle adds a stained glass glow to my corner as I work in the evenings as it gives off a faint perfume.

No desk of mine would be complete without a full cup of steaming hot coffee. I’m mad about coffee! Unfortunately, I usually am so engrossed in my morning writing that my coffee goes cold before I have the opportunity to drink the full cup. The cup holding my morning java was given to me by a third beloved friend. We used to work at a college together, and she bought me this cup because I often talked of feeling tired or wanting to eat a dessert. Vive le café! Vive l’écriture!

Self-Loathing and the Making of Art

Life is short, art long, opportunities fleeting,
experience treacherous, judgement difficult.
~Hippocrates (460-400 B.C)

While reading one of the blogs I follow**, I learned about a book called Art & Fear, Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of ARTMAKING by David Bayles & Ted Orland, which contains the quote by Hippocrates at the beginning of chapter 1. Since fear has long interfered with my ability to follow my artistic dreams, I ordered myself a copy and began to read yesterday. The book’s main topic is why art does not get done.

As I read through, I saw myself in each chapter. Reasons I have told myself why I couldn’t do art:

  • I have no imagination/ideas/creativity.
  • Other people are better than me at art.
  • Art is an all-or-nothing gift and I was left out of the party.
  • Whatever I do, it won’t be good enough.
  • I’ll never make money making art.
  • It’s not practical and, therefore, it is indefensible.
  • I feel stupid saying I am an artist when my stuff isn’t any good.
  • It’s easier for others/impossible for me.
  • It’s too hard.
  • I can’t get good enough fast enough to justify doing it.
  • I must justify my art/my own personal pleasure isn’t a good enough reason.

According to Bayles & Orland, I am not alone. All artists go through periods of self-doubt when moving forward seems impossible. The difference between those who do and those who don’t is the difference between those who stop and those who quitI don’t think I have been a stopper; I have been a quitter. The longest sustained art making that I have done is with my jewelry making, although I have taken a bit of a hiatus since I stopped working at a bead store. (I think I need to find a new place where I can go and make art so I can get out of my house).

In recent days, I have begun to outline a novel I wrote so that I can evaluate the storyline and make organizational changes. The more I have reviewed my writing, the more stupid I felt. I began to hear my voice in my head: This story is unsalvageable. The dialog unimportant. The characters’ actions ridiculous. When I imagined sharing my writing, I felt a sense of inadequacy and shame. How will I be able to face people when I show them this tripe? The sense of hopelessness I felt was increasing.

And then this morning, as I was drying off after a shower, I realized that my problem was not fear. I remember as a child trying to play Barbies with my best friend. What was I supposed to say? What was I supposed to make them do? It was difficult, and I felt stupid. The more I felt stupid, the more I hated myself for it. One can only take self-loathing for so long, even when the activity brings you joy. For years, I have thought fear was my problem. But I was wrong.

I am glad I realized that feelings of self-loathing have interfered with my art making. Now I can address the real feelings, which means I might be able to process them and let go. Because, this time around, I’m going to be damned if I quit this writing thing. I am going to devote my time to improving my writing craft.

I will ask for help. Read books and articles. Take workshops. There is a year-long NaNoWriMo group in NYC dedicated to helping members write their drafts and give each other feedback. I will attend an information session in 10 days. If that does not pan out, I will search for and join another writing group to get writing feedback. Whatever I will go through, I do not want to go through it alone any more.

[**Unfortunately, I cannot find the original post so that I can link back to the blogger who got me thinking. If it’s you, let me know so that I can update this post and link back to you.]