Another Cat-Sitting Gig. Another Catch Up Opportunity.

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Like an oasis.

Every year around early June, I come to this house to cat- and house-sit for a week. The responsibility is an oasis that removes me from my own non-writing duties at my home to come here where all I have is the cat, picking up the mail and bringing in the trash tote after garbage day.

The writing to-do list grows.

A month prior to arriving, I make a list of books, magazines and writing materials to bring and the agenda of what I want to accomplish during the seven days I’m here.

The bad part is I delay doing some necessary writing by putting it on this list rather than getting it done at the time.

When I arrive.

I fill the dining room table with notebooks, laptop, iPad, papers and pens. The first two days are overwhelming. My to-do list may have become impossibly long, at least it feels that way when I look at it all spread across the table.

Finding the groove.

The key is to steadily work through the priority of items. Make progress.

By the second day, I love this world where it’s only me and words.

I’ve submitted short stories to e-magazines, proofread one short piece and sent it out, researched other possible submission sites, read up on blogs and writing sites.

Started a new story inspired by the neighbor’s hot tub.

I feel good.

Thanks to the cat loving travelers.

When not under contract with an agency or editor, I don’t have any outside deadlines. All is done through self-motivation.

The fear is without deadlines, I let myself get taken further and further away from the writing life. The easier it becomes to not write, to not blog, to not research sites, not submit short stories, not query agents.

What a relief that at least once a year, I count on the folks who ask me to stay in their homes, eat their food and watch their cats to provide the catching up.

Not only do I make a big dent in my writing to-do list, but I get reinvigorated about writing as well. The pull is strong enough to keep making writing a big priority when I get back home.

 

“Motivation will keep you going forwards. Hesitation will only drag you backwards.”   ~Mouloud Benzadi

 

*All images are my own unless noted.

 

 

Ninja Cats

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My Charges: Sprite and Merlin.

One of my favorite opportunities to surround myself in my writing and the business of writing is when I house- and cat-sit for family. For the last eight days, I have been watching two identical brothers, Sprite and Merlin. It is the first time their people have left the kittens alone for more than a few hours.

I keep a brief journal for the cats’ people. Nothing fancy just when they eat, whether they played, if they did something memorable.

These two clowns, sweethearts, entertainment centers drew out of me a different sort of journal. From Day One to Day Eight, I marked their process of getting to know me. They still remain hesitant to eat while I am in the room, which, in the end, bothered me more than it bothered them.

They’d rather play Ninja.

Day 1: Our people have abandoned us.

10 am: All is quiet. We are exhausted in our abandonment.

1 pm: I, the bravest of the brothers, stand at the top of the stairs but within one small leap from my people’s bedroom door. I see her walk past the bottom of the steps as she enters the kitchen. I say nothing though she smiles at me. I dash back into my people’s room.

We must not be seen. We are now Ninja cats.

2:30 pm: I hear her moving about, throwing away the one can of food she’d divided for each of us, my brother and me. She put it in our bowls for breakfast but we have ignored her attempts to get us to come downstairs, even with food, even with bad singing.

8 pm: She’s replaced the afternoon morsels that we didn’t eat with a mere teaspoonful in each bowl. When she is out of the kitchen we eat it up. She leaves more food in our bowls before she quits for the night.

Day 2: We have her fooled.

8 am: We left one of our toys in the downstairs bathroom overnight. But she doesn’t know who did it. We also ate up the food she left in the bowls when she went to bed. We Ninja cats need our energy to play all night and hide all day.

5 pm: We stir and slip into the kitchen to eat what wet morsels remain in our bowls. Food is critical for our secret survival here in the house.

8:15 pm: She has spotted us at the top of the stairs. Wait! She’s going for the bench by the door. Oh, my feline goodness, Stick! Stick! The stick with the dangle string is our favorite toy! We are tempted when she waves it on the floor. But we are Ninja. We will not bend.

Okay, we will come down a few steps but only a few. We watch. We don’t engage.

8:20 pm: She has gone into the living room, taking Stick with her. We must not weaken.

8:30 pm: She sits on the couch. Stick and its string dangle over the coffee table.

We will pretend we are playing. We bat at the string and bite the plastic tip of Stick to make her think we are having fun–but we are not.

9 pm: We slip into the kitchen to eat the food in our bowls. Then we slip upstairs to our people’s bedroom where we play loudly the rest of the evening to make her think we are bowling.

Day 3: Not to be enticed.

8 am: We wait until she is out of the kitchen before we eat. But one of us, dazzled by something in the front yard, jumps on the stool and stares out the window. He lingers too long in the open. She barely says “hey there” and we are gone.

2 pm: We must see why she has the TV on. We want Stick but we’ve yet to conquer the bench seat lid. The braver of us goes to the couch where she sits, taps her knee and runs. She is smarter than we think. She releases Stick from the bench and waves it on the floor as we watch from the top of the stairs. We come down and play only until she stands up from her seat on the bench and we are gone.

6 pm: We needed our power naps. Now we are awake and we hear her music where she sits at the desk. From another room in the house, we make a noise as if we’ve tipped over a glass. But when she gets up to investigate, she sees nothing, including us.

She puts a small teaspoon of wet food in our bowls as if that will entice us to eat. We cannot be persuaded. She returns to her desk–none the wiser.

9 pm. She cleans out the dried up food from before and replaces it with fresh. Sometime in the night we eat.

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Day 4: Into the light and the carpet castle.

8 am: She has opened the front door. We are drawn to the sunshine but we do not stay long for she is working in the kitchen. It is daytime, which means we must disappear into our people’s bedroom.

2 pm: She is making a sandwich and will not see one of us as we climb to the top of the carpet castle in the living room in front of the back patio doors. I, the bravest one, play with the curtain as I lie on my back in the sunshine. I slip out when she comes into the room.

3:30 pm: The sun and our carpet castle are too much temptation. We miss them. We slip into the living room and I up onto my top perch. My brother loves the cave. We keep an eye out for her. When she walks into the room, we are gone.

4 pm: She sits on the couch. We enter the living room, but she rises and we run up the stairs. She picks up the garage door opener. Is she abandoning us, too? No, she walks the driveway. We are nowhere to be found when she comes back inside. But she must know we have been downstairs; some of the food that she has placed in our bowls in the morning is gone.

5 pm: She comes upstairs but she does not enter our people’s room but goes into her own sleeping quarters. While she is occupied, we slip to our bowls and see that she has thrown away the older food and replaced with fresh. We are Ninja cats and this is how we eat now.

6:30 pm: She is in the basement, cleaning our three litter boxes. We accept her servicing our area. To show our gratitude, I, the braver one, comes up to her to say hello and let her pet me. My brother stays beyond the litter box area and watches.

In the living room, we hang out on the carpet castle.

8:30 pm: She puts food out but we do not eat until she goes upstairs for the night.

Day 5, 6: We have fun.

8 am: I, the bravest of brothers, enter into her bedroom in the morning. I must be rubbed and scratched. She is good at it. I escort her downstairs. Though I stay in the kitchen while she puts food in our bowls, I don’t eat.

I jump up on the bench. She takes out Stick. We play. We have fun. My brother joins me.

Day 7, 8: We go wherever we want.

8 am: We miss our people but we jump on the bed in her room and say hello. We are petted. We play in her suitcase.

8:30 am: We eat the normal amount of food for breakfast. She seems fine that we do this.

We go wherever we want in the house. We take our naps in the carpet castle. She picks up a bunch of Kleenex we’ve scattered during one of our many romps and puts the box back on the shelf when she cleans our litter boxes in the basement. She props up the framed photos we let fall when we chased each other on the end tables. She readjusts the waste basket in the bathroom and picks up the toy under the unrolled toilet paper.

She wonders when we did all these things. Though we are friends with her now, we are still Ninja cats. We have our secrets.

8:30 pm: She puts the normal amount of wet food mixed with a little dry into our bowls. We eat as soon as she leaves the room.

 

“One small cat changes coming home to an empty house to coming home.”   ~Pam Brown

*Images are my own unless otherwise noted.

 

January: A Prompt in Itself

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Prompt Others; Prompt Myself

I first used the word “prompt” when teaching high school English as an educational tool for students to jumpstart their individualized, brainstorm-like induced stories.

“I remember….” is an often-used prompt for fiction and nonfiction.

A photo of a man standing by a human-made wooden structure with artificial eagles perched by a real eagle’s nest is a visual prompt.

After I left the classroom and pursued my own writing, I joined a newly-formed writers’ group with two former students. I made the third and was happy to follow their rules of organization. We met every Monday at Tim Horton’s. We came with copies, read our work aloud and offered verbal comments.

The final act of every gathering was my favorite. Each of us received a small strip of paper on which to write a prompt right on the spot. We placed it in one of the writer’s fedoras and picked a prompt that wasn’t our own.

The following Monday, we shared the story coming out of the prompt in addition to anything else we’d written.

Just Because I Taught English

Just because I taught writing and wanted to write a novel, I wasn’t exactly schooled in how to accomplish 70,000+ words of engaging fiction.

Short stories were practices in creating beginning-middle-ends, in characterization, in dialogue and narration and in showing description.

I’d take my writers’ group chosen prompt and spend a week on it and have a full story completed by Monday.

After nine months, the group broke up, but I came away with a portfolio of several short stories in various stages of polish. Over the years, I’ve gone back to that file and tinkered with some and submitted some.

A Prompt From Anywhere

Out my window, a dingy white car with a noisy muffler makes its second of a minimum of three daily stops next door. My neighbor is an elderly woman and the mother of the daughter driving up the driveway to check on her.

Or is she?

Prompts come from anywhere and everywhere. As seeds, they bloom stories and stories and stories.

It’s January.

The first month of the year prompts us to make resolutions to rededicate our energies toward specific goals.

I am prompted to exceed my number of accepted story submissions.

Many good memories remain of that early writers’ trio. One of the most significant is realizing the power in the prompt.

I am never without story ideas. And if I get stuck somewhere along a story line, I look around me in hope of a prompt to lead me forward.

“Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.”  ~Orson Scott Card

 

 

 

It’s 3 A.M. Why am I awake?

I notice the quiet darkness of early morning.  A bit of muffled traffic noise filters through my open window as I wonder if it’s better to get out of bed and really wake up or stay in one spot and hope to fall asleep again within seconds.

Depending on my schedule in the morning, waking up at 3 a.m. can be unnerving. A good night’s sleep for me is as restorative as all the hype says it is. Some nights, however, I wake up far too early. The mental argument of whether sleep will reoccur within moments or get up and do something since I am awake anyway keeps me…awake.

The resolution? Get up. Go to my writing room and curl up in my easy chair. Get out paper, pencil or turn on the computer and write.

Whether it is the muse, the moon, the subconscious or the quiet, working in combination or individually to stimulate the flow of ideas and details to create words, blog entries or stories, I don’t know. I like to believe it is all that and something more that doesn’t have a name.

The smartest thing I can do when I can’t get back to sleep is head to my writing space. Answer the call. Trust that there is a reason, one deeper that I can understand, at work here to get me to the words.

The practice is full proof. I am never disappointed in what I create between 3 and 5 in the morning.

Before I began this entry, I generated a list of 26 topic possibilities for this blog. It’s rich fodder for future compositions. Best of all, I started my day with my own writing, even if I head back to sleep for a couple more hours.