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!

Kitty Capers

I thought it was high time to write a little story about one of my fabulous felines. Some of you will recognize this story, but it may be new to others. Read on to find out more.
The room was plunged into complete darkness other than the street lamp outside which was tucked behind the curtain, eeking a small amount of light into the room. My husband and I were nearly asleep when we heard a strange sound like scrabbling claws on the wall. Was a cat actually bouncing off the walls? We always noted that they wanted to play when we wanted to fall asleep. I rolled onto my side and closed my eyes, ready for sleep to overtake me. I heard the sound again as light from the hallway flooded through the open door of the bedroom. A scrambling pitter-pat, then nothing. I sat up slowly, allowing my eyes to adjust to the sudden light. I stood, ambled to the doorway, and peered into the silent hall. I couldn’t find a single cat, not even one displaying the innocence of a toddler next to a puddle of spilt milk. Who had turned on the light? I knew it wasn’t my husband as he was still in bed and knew better than to interfere with my sleep.
It didn’t happen every night. It was, in fact, just as sporadic as other can behaviors because cats never want to be accused of being predictable. Whichever cat it was always waited until all the rooms were dark and I couldn’t figure out why a cat would want to turn on a light, particularly since they are considered nocturnal. Once again, cats don’t want us to presume anything about them, and this was just one of the many ways one of them was telling us this. Then one day, the cat either got sloppy or decided to reveal itself. Anyone who has ever owned a cat knows they always try to convince humans that they know exactly what they are doing. It was a cloudy day in late February and the light slipping through the windows was minimal at best. The darkness was already beginning to set in that afternoon as the days weren’t longer quite yet. I was on the phone with my mother, passing time until my husband returned from a meeting 1 ½ hours away. I heard the sound again: a light thud with scrabbling claws on painted drywall. It was coming from the hallway. I glanced to my left and from my position on the couch I saw the kitchen light come on as a small, light grey blur tore down the hall, hoping I hadn’t seen her. The sound of stampeding paws stopped as she got to the end of the hall, more than likely slipping under the bed.
Iris is a slip of a cat and barely weighed 6 pounds or so at the time of this incident. She was barely 9 months old and we had just gotten her the previous July. I had no idea she could even jump that high. I couldn’t believe she’d been the culprit the whole time. Mom was trying to figure out why I had suddenly burst into laughter in the middle of our conversation. In between giggles, I relayed what I had just seen. I’m not sure she believed it either, truth be told.
When I had Iris in for her annual checkup (she now weighs 8 pounds and still looks like a kitten), I told Dr. Kim about her little capers. She, too, thought it was humorous, not to mention unusual. She said most cats that turn on lights do so from a table or other horizontal surface, but what really challenged the vet’s knowledge of felines was this: Iris later figured out how to also turn the lights off. I would be working in the kitchen and suddenly be left in darkness with only those scrabbling claws as proof of Iris’s hand in it. But then, just seconds later, the lights would come back on and I would hear her stampeding down the hallway. Dr. Kim said she’d never heard of a cat jumping for the light switch, let alone one that could turn them on and off. Iris got so good at it she could hit the switch on the first try.
Now Iris jumps for them, but doesn’t switch them on or off as if to say, “I could still do it if I wanted to.” I don’t take my chances, though. I still work in the kitchen with the range hood light on just in case she ever decides to plunge me into darkness again. The threat still lingers each time we hear those scrabbling claws. As I mentioned earlier, cats don’t like to be predictable and I sometimes wonder if she is just waiting for the right moment, waiting for a time when I forget to turn on another light. But I’m not taking my chances.
Has something your pet does ever caught you off guard? Is there a hilarious story about your pet you would like to share? Please leave a comment below!

The Dough is Risen!

This was my first creative free write in nearly 10 years and I wrote it last fall. The topic was touch—the squish of kneading dough between your fingers, the smooth texture of it when you pat it and roll it out.
There was nothing like making bread dough to satisfy her. While most people longed for the toasty smell of it baking in the oven, she longed to relieve her stress and take all of her frustration out on the risen dough. Unlike many forms of stress relief, using risen dough requires a certain amount of patience and time since it takes over an hour to make the dough and allow it to rise. Having already done these things, she was at long last able to punish the dough before her. First, she thrust her fist heavily into the bowl, feeling the dough collapse around her hand and hearing the satisfying hiss of air rushing out. But that was just the beginning. As she took in the scent of risen yeast, she mercilessly punched and punched to release every air pocket and every ounce of anger she could find. She dipped her hand into the silky flour and sprinkled it onto the table in a wide circle. Next, she forced the dough out of the bowl and into the snowy surface. She worked and worked, turning the dough and putting her soul into its kneading, adding flour when it became too sticky until finally she could run her hand over it, feeling its smooth elasticity. She viciously tore a chunk off, grabbed her rolling pin and began working the dough into an oblong shape. Placing the dough onto a pizza pan, she tugged at its stubborn edges, willing it into shape. The corners were always the trickiest part. She tore holes in the dough as she tugged in frustration, having to repair them by squishing the edges of each hole together into one piece. She carefully popped any remaining air bubbles taking in the floury scent. She could breathe again. She felt like herself again. She took the remaining chunk, this time less viciously, and began to roll it gently in the flour. This piece was not as challenging. This piece was more lovable and pliable. There were no holes torn in frustration as she worked the dough into the corners of the pan. Once finished, she slowly ran her hands under the faucet, watching the drops leave patterns on her pasty white skin as she worked to rid her hands of tenacious dough remnants.
This entry made me think of my experiences baking pizzas. I’ve sort of gotten out of baking, but my mom still loves to make pizza and bread. I don’t know if she vents to the dough as much as I used to, but it really felt great to beat the living daylights out of some dough once in a while. Perhaps, I need to make some pizza again. Are there any activities that allow you to vent frustration in unusual ways? What are they? How do you get rid of that heavy anger we all experience at times? Please leave a comment down below and tell me your stories.

Never Empty

Rather than use a prompt, I used part of a verse from scripture to write this after church one Sunday.  It is more of a devotional than a story, but it is based on the story of Elijah asking a widow for food.  She and her son are desperately poor and she was planning to take the last of her oil and flour, make a final meal, lie down and die.  Elijah speaks to her and gives her the following assurance.  Read on.

The jar will never be empty; the jug will never fail.

We seemed to be destined to live on hard times.  We were at poverty level according to state guidelines due to the fact that I couldn’t work and Allen was in a low paying job.  It was not payday yet, and the cupboards were getting bare.  I was desperate for ingredients to fix a meal.  I opened the pantry, scanning its contents carefully.  Was there more flour in my container than there was yesterday?  I couldn’t remember, but it seemed like there was.  I looked for other ingredients and found I could at least make pancakes, which was about all I had the energy for anyway.  Wait a minute—here are some canned vegetables.  I don’t remember having those in here.  Where did they come from?  Were they expired?  Nope.  They were still perfectly good.  That gave me a start for the next meal and then at long last it would be payday.  I wasn’t sure how my pantry still had these things in it.  I scratched my head, wondering if this was the work of my in-laws.  Then I remembered an Old Testament lesson: The jar will never be empty; the jug will never fail.

This lesson always speaks to me.  There have been several other times in my life when I have sworn my cupboard only had food in it due to a miracle on God’s part.  He always makes sure I have enough.  I know that fearing to lose something earthly is like tempting God to take it, but if he does, it is returned tenfold.  This doesn’t just apply to food in our cupboards.  It applies to everything he gives us.  Even the greatest loss of a life dear to you leaves something or someone in its wake.  But I digress.  Allen and I suffered a significant financial loss in October that had us pinching pennies for two months.  Though I was more worried before the loss than after, this lesson was a comfort.  Even if all I had to cook was pancakes, it was food and it was more than some others have.  But I don’t just have to have faith.  I remember that my jar has never been empty and my jug has never failed.  I have had evidence that this is true in my life.

God gave me a wonderful partner to get through these times with.  I used to live in terror of losing him, able to visualize the whole thing.  I would spend afternoons in tears over the loss I felt sure was coming.  I know that day may still come, but I am comforted by Elijah’s words to this widow.  I just need to continue to believe that the same will always be true no matter what.  God always gets me out of places where I feel I will make my last meal, lay down and die.  But I am reminded by this passage that I will always have plenty, whether I see it as plenty or not.

Have you ever wondered how you were going to get your next meal or make ends meet?  Has God rescued you in these times with a full jar and jug?  Talk about your story in the comments section.