Month: February 2013

A Writer’s Pep Talk

It is Thursday evening, so I am a bit late with this week’s post, but it is still technically coming out on Thursday. This week, I will walk you through the type of conversation I have to have with myself whenever I have a negative thought about me. This post is based on the quote below and demonstrates exactly what I needed therapists to teach me. This is something I could have never learned on my own. I have started this writing journey, and I am getting closer to feeling that it would be impossible to not finish it, but I still have a ways to go. Enjoy, and put this method to good use if need be.
“Every time I start on a new book, I am a beginner again. I doubt myself, I grow discouraged, all the work accomplished in the past is as though it never was, my first drafts are so shapeless that it seems impossible to go on with the attempt at all, right up until the moment…when it has become impossible not to finish it.”
–Simone De Bevoir, Force of Circumstance
I can really relate to this quote because I feel like a beginner whenever I start a new project whether it is writing, knitting, scrapping or anything else. I look at the supplies and wonder how I am going to put them together into something coherent. I have the core belief that I am not good enough for anything, something so deeply ingrained that I’ve become a source of frustration for many therapists over the years. I don’t know where it came from or how to get around it either. Thinking positively rarely works because I don’t believe any of the positive thoughts I force myself to have. Rational Emotive Therapy comes closest to working as long as I remember to use it. This method forces me to question my thoughts, to ask things such as, “How do I know I’m not good enough to succeed? What evidence or proof do I really have?” It also forces to me to give honest answers to those questions. Let’s walk through it.
I’m on the precipice of beginning to write my memoir. I am reading books about writing and making myself finish them before I begin writing. I tell myself it is self-education. Knowledge is power and knowing things will keep me from writing a disaster. But how do I know it would be a disaster? Am I truly educating myself or stalling? What is the real motive behind all this self-education? Am I ever going to know enough to be a good writer? These are questions I must ask myself and force myself to answer truthfully.
Here are the facts. I do know I was successful in my grad school creative writing class. I do know my short story really connected with my readers. I do know my professor saw potential because I got an A in the course. I do know that only one of the 15 or so students didn’t like my story, but I also know he had no real knowledge of the subject matter. I know that no writing will please everyone all of the time.
So why do I linger on these thoughts of not being educated enough and feeling inadequate in general when I ought to just jump in, start writing and have fun with it? Not all writers feel the need for an MFA in creative writing or any other degree for that matter. Some writers have little college experience at all, so why do I think an MA in English literature doesn’t make me enough of an expert? Good question! I still don’t know the answer, but my hubby has begged me not to return to school, so I’ve begun reading on my own. I have already learned a lot from my reading (which justifies the expense of the books), including which of the 4 paradigms of writing is likely to suit me. So why am I not using it? Because I am afraid of doing it wrong. But there is no correct way to write. These are just suggestions of common methods. Yet I still feel I should immerse myself in knowledge to avoid mistakes. I have news for myself: There will be mistakes. Lots of them. Just when I think I have found them all, a reader will find more. Every writer makes mistakes. In fact, every person makes mistakes. It is ok to make mistakes. It is even ok to fail. What is not ok is giving up or not trying at all.
This mental banter is necessary for me to work through negative thinking and eventually I come up with a statement that I can see as true and work with it, such as the italicized final sentence of the last paragraph. Unfortunately for me, confidence is not in my nature. I have to earn it through battling myself, and it is always hard work. One of my therapists once told me I have the biggest wet noodle with which to flog myself that she ever saw. I have to prove I am worthy of anything and repeat that on a constant basis to believe it.
I wrote this back in January as I embarked on a journey to write my memoir. As I prepared for this week’s blog entry, I came across this and realized I needed to hear it all over again. Once again, I have doubted my abilities as a writer. However, skills I have learned in therapy help me argue with myself when I need a pep talk of sorts. It can help me evaluate the facts rather than rely on what my emotions about a situation may be. Does any of this sound familiar to you? Do you have doubts when you begin any new project about your abilities to complete it? Can you talk yourself out of self-doubt and despair? If so, what is your method? Please comment below and write on!


The Walking Stomach

January 2013 292This week, I introduce our third cat, Gideon. He is extremely intelligent and creative when he wants to be. He can get almost anywhere he wants too, including on top of my kitchen cabinets. But the reason for all of his prowling and jumping is usually food. I call him “The Walking Stomach.”
We had no idea what we were in for. We walked to our local video rental store one day in late August as the sun was beginning to descend. When we got there, we saw a cat in the parking lot that fit the description of the cat I had mentioned wanting next after the passing of my darling Cedric earlier in the year. I had imagined a dark, smoky gray male, and there he was sniffing around the lot. Allen inquired about him inside, and the staff person told him this cat was a frequent visitor and was being fed by the staff. I was hesitant, not sure I was really ready for another cat, but we decided our Gigi needed a companion and he looked exactly like the cat I had imagined. We went home and got our pet taxi, the minivan, and some food for good measure before driving the few blocks to the store. Allen got out of the van, put some food in the back of the taxi, and waited. Surprisingly, the wait wasn’t very long. The cat sniffed briefly and walked right in. Allen secured the door and the cat munched happily the few blocks home.
We released him into the basement where he hid for a couple of days. I would fill the food dish, and it was always empty when I went to check on him. I thought he was hungry after being homeless, but I quickly learned this cat would do absolutely anything for food or treats. We’ve had to get creative over the years. He prowls in desperation every time feeding time gets close. He will climb any mountain if it means being united with his food dish. A while back, we got automatic feeders so he could stay on schedule even if we weren’t home. He learned that by sticking his paw up the food chute he could coax extra kibbles out, so we can’t keep the feeder on the floor all the time because he will dig all day for that extra food. I could have given him a name like Gobbler or Hungry Cat, but I have always preferred using obscure human names for my cats and this one was given the name Gideon.
We later learned that he can’t say no to food, even when he is full. This is when I started saying, “You can take the cat out of the alley, but you can’t take the alley out of the cat.” My parents came up for a visit one weekend in March when we still lived in Iowa. My well-meaning father always insisted on giving the cats treats to get them to like him. I made the mistake of giving him a full bag of fresh treats that weekend. Per the usual, both cats flocked to him every time they heard the crinkle of the treat bag. Gideon would even sit in his lap and eat out of his hand, which Dad loved. By the time Sunday rolled around, we could tell even Gideon was full. Gigi had stopped responding to the treats by the end of Saturday, but not Gideon. Dad shook the bag and Gideon got up, swaggered towards Dad’s outstretched hand, and stared at the treat as if getting the courage to eat it before he gulped it down without even chewing. If a cat could break a sweat, I believe he would have been moist all over. I could see each time that the decision to eat that treat was getting more difficult, but Gideon was determined. He always ate as if he would never see food again. We tried to get Dad to stop, but he insisted that Gideon was starving and needed treats.
Mom and Dad left after lunch and I put the treat bag back into its drawer. I had no intention of giving either cat treats for the rest of the day. Even Gideon didn’t look disappointed. Then, about 25 minutes after they left, Gideon started coughing. Before we could move him, he threw up all over the bed and there wasn’t a hairball in it. It was all the treats he had eaten. I called Mom and Dad on their cell phone. They were looking at Amish furniture in the next town south of us. I told them they needed to turn around so Dad could clean up his mess. They didn’t, of course, but they probably laughed all the way home. To this day, Dad is rationed when he comes over. He gets a small baggie of treats for all 3 cats. He always says they are still hungry after the treats are gone, but I never budge. He will even go as far as to tell me they are too skinny when I know full well they aren’t. I learned my lesson. Not only will “The Walking Stomach” do anything for food, he will also eat until he bursts.
Have you ever taken in a stray, starving animal? Did they ever become secure about meals and realize they would get food daily? Gideon never has! Tell me a story about your stray experience in the comments below. Write on!

The Tale of the Highbrow Cat

Happy Valentine’s Day to those of you who choose to celebrate it! Tell me what your plans are with your true love today! For this week’s blog, there was something that happened this weekend with Link that I just have to share. He had us in stitches most of Sunday afternoon. Read on to find out why!
During the past several months, Allen and I have used bits of free time to go through our enormous iTunes library and match albums with artists after they were messed up when Allen moved our music temporarily to a different player. Many of the albums had “unknown” listed as the album artist, but had the names of the albums and their song lists. In order to complete labeling the artists successfully, we often had to play short clips of songs in order to properly identify the artists. We have a very eclectic collection of at least 500 albums ranging in genre from rap to jazz to country to alternative. Nearly every genre and subgenre is represented somewhere in our vast collection.
To begin with, I must explain that Link likes to chase the fairy cursor Allen uses on his computer. His computer is connected to the 51” television next to his desk. Link often sits on the desk or on the printer, pawing at the screen where the cursor is floating while Allen is working at the computer. This has become a favorite past time for Link, the fairy being similar to Navi from The Legend of Zelda games Allen has played. Navi was Link’s best friend and once Allen beat the last game, Link continued to search for Navi, so when Allen moved his computer into the living room, he adopted this cursor so Link could play with it.
As usual, Link was perched on the edge of Allen’s desk, chasing the fairy when Allen played a clip. It was Maria Callas’s powerful opera performance of “La Momma Morte” from the movie soundtrack “Philidelphia.” We went ahead and played the entire piece because we both admire it a great deal as we went about labeling things. As Callas belted out one powerful note after another, Link sunk down onto the desk, sprawling halfway across its width. His head hung off the edge and rested awkwardly on the printer. He closed his eyes and seemed to thoroughly enjoy the piece in its entirety. He was a cat who appeared to have found heaven. Once it ended, Allen moved on to another clip, this time playing “Mack the Knife” sung by Frank Sinatra. While “old blue eyes” had probably soothed many a savage beast in his time, he brought out the savagery in Link. He abandoned his relaxed state and suddenly attacked Allen’s left arm, chewing on his hand and the button at the cuff of his sleeve, wailing his little battle cry. Both of us had already been giggling while watching him enjoy the opera piece, but we were guffawing through Sinatra.
As we went down the list, we experimented, playing some clips longer than others, just to see what he liked. He always seemed to relax during anything classical or opera-related. If we played something fast-paced or heavy, he attacked Allen’s arm. At one point, Link became rather passionate in his protest of what Allen was playing. Allen began playing a song by Johnny Cash and Link gave his little battle cry “meeps” and attacked Allen’s arm again. During the attack, he pivoted so that while his teeth bit Allen’s hand, his back legs straddled the arm just below the elbow and his hips gyrated. Thoroughly grossed out, Allen withdrew his arm from the humping cat and played a classical piece. We now have reason to believe that Link has “highbrow” tastes in music, preferring opera and classical to other types. He is a music snob. Just because he was born on a farm doesn’t mean he likes country!
We are going to have to start playing more opera and classical! I’ve heard that there is a cable station available in some areas for dogs and one is in the works for cats. Does your pet have musical tastes? Do you ever leave music or television on for your pet when you are away? If so, what type of music or television do you leave on? Please leave your comments below. Write on!

Foiled Again

20121212_085937This is a story I wrote this week about my cat, Link, who is the most bashful of cats and rarely seeks attention from either my husband or me. The prompt I was using asked me to get inside the head of an animal, and I thought, “Whose head would I rather be in than Link’s? It’s so mysterious!” Those of you who have met Link know exactly what I mean.
Mom says I have an incredible pink nose. Actually, I have the only pink nose in the house, so I’m not sure why she considers it to be special in any way. On a quest to find out exactly what incredible means, and to surprise Mom, I decided to saunter into the bedroom one morning while she was still asleep. I sat right next to the bed, waiting to see if she would awaken. After a couple of long minutes, I decided that she might need some help waking up. After all, she was still breathing rather deeply. Slowly I reached up to the edge of the bed with my front paws, sniffing the air beside her. She still didn’t stir. This is going to be epic I thought as I pondered pouncing her feet. With my paws still grasping the edge of the bed, I craned my neck a little further, still working my pink nose to sniff the air. Just as my nose made it over the edge of the bed, I saw one eye open briefly. I ducked my head back down quickly. She must not see me plotting. I raised my head once again. Phew! Her eyes were both closed. I waited for a bit longer, hoping she would go back to sleep before using my front paws to hoist myself up all the way onto the bed, landing with no audible sound. I love being a cat for that reason. Cats are like ninjas and one never knows when we might strike. Just then her left arm moved, fingers reaching right for me. No! This could not be! I was invisible and inaudible, just like a ninja! But her fingers grazed down my body, grasping the crook at the tip of my tail as I tried to leap away. Only the best of my ninja moves could save me now. I hopped back down to the floor, jogging down the hall. I just knew she was smiling at my retreating form. Ugh! She’d succeeded—I’d been petted! I knew I had to lick it off immediately. I can’t be petted; it hurts my machismo too much. I am no longer a kitten that needs constant cuddling. I’m my own cat now, and big boys don’t need cuddles! I slunk underneath the futon in the living room, bathing my battle wounds. I really thought I had her that time. I should’ve left when her eye opened. Ugh! Petting is awful! What I really hate is that involuntary vibration my vocal cords make that she calls a purr. She thinks it means I love her and love the petting, but I have no control over it. Purring just sort of happens sometimes when she pets me. I can’t explain it. Suddenly, I heard her footsteps plodding down the carpeted hallway. Silly humans! They should learn it is impossible to sneak up on a cat. Our senses are too keen to miss their stumbling shenanigans. I maintained my position under the furniture. I wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice. Two pettings in one morning? My skin shuddered like that of a flea-infected animal at the mere thought of it. Why does she always pet and hug me anyway? She has to know I don’t like it. I don’t need my mommy anymore. I can stand on my own four feet! Just as I straightened my spine a bit at the thought of how independent I could be, I saw her shadow next to the futon. Her knees creaked as she squatted down onto the floor, reaching for me again. Her hand flailed around helplessly, trying to feel for my orange swirled fur, which I had just licked clean. She ducked her head down underneath the frame and eyed my shadowed form against the wall. How much love did she think I needed? I gathered my senses, waited for the right moment and darted out from underneath the futon. I ran down the hall and regrouped under the bed. It was much harder for her to reach me under there. I was safe for the time being at least.
Link learned not to disturb my sleep eventually. Does your pet have a routine for waking you up in the morning? Feel free to tell your story in the comments section!