True Grit

Memory Makers Masquerading as Cats

I love blog posts about the magic of ordinary days. You know the ones that expound upon the grit in our daily lives as if it’s some sort of fairy dust sprinkled over us that makes everything perfect and wonderful. This blog post is about the true nature of grit.

If you have ever owned cats or know anything about their personalities, you know they are thieving, little devils. They develop weird passions for things like pens, pencils, Q-tips, etc. Basically, anything they can swipe off a table, out of a cubby in a bathroom cabinet, or from the trash. My three cats (Henry, Simon, and Freddie) crave pencils especially if I’ve placed an eraser cap on the end. They usually chew off the eraser that comes with a pencil (I have found gnarled pieces of metal left as evidence of their handiwork) necessitating the addition of an eraser cap. I believe they work in concert to ensure this happens, and then they celebrate by waiting until I go to bed to work the pencil out of the jar in the living room, the wire spiral of my notebook, or from the side of my laptop cooling station.

Looking for one of my lost pencils is what prompted this blog post. I was on my hands and knees in the kitchen with the three offenders watching my progress as I laid my head parallel to the floor to peer beneath the printer table. I spied a popcorn kernel, and my mind flooded with memories of teaching Joshua how to make popcorn on the stove. I retrieved the kernel and sat back on my knees as I recalled what a great day that was and how many more like it we’ve had since. But I didn’t find the pencil.

I looked into the corners of the fireplace mantel also in the kitchen. A two by three piece of grey Lego was wedged behind the antique wood. It has been years since my kid played with Legos. He started by building every kit according to instructions, but his best creations were those he made up without the benefit of a pattern. The Titanic with a removable panel to simulate destruction by an iceberg, the Iron Giant, a mask similar to that worn by General Grievous, an M1 Garand that ejected the clip, a three-level ship longer than my kitchen table, and a working crossbow were among my favorites. Still no pencil.

Under the stove I found a cap from a bottle of Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy. How my cats managed to get the bottle cap was beyond me, but its discovery prompted the memory of a wonderful, teen-free evening spent with my husband. The night was outrageously hot and the light beverage tasted delicious and refreshing. Husband and I felt like newly-weds again as we whiled away hours in each other’s company doing absolutely nothing and loving every moment. Again, no pencil.

I crawled all over the house looking for my pencil. I could have simply used another one, but it was a matter of principle now. The cats trailed me with mild interest, and I swear they nodded their heads toward their litterbox as if suggesting I look there. Little creeps.

Every room received a thorough search, and along the way tidbits of stuff located beneath furniture or in corners prompted memories of the past twenty five years. At times I fretted over scuffed baseboards and the scars of puppy-chewed carpet, a house that looks quite “lived in” and the realization that I need to sweep more often than I already do! (A wise friend once said, “If you have pets, you’re going to have pet hair.”) But every inch of every room in our home offered up life that was and still is sound and stable. I cast a glance at my cats who sat just out of reach watching me. Their smug faces seemed to say, “You’re welcome.”

I eventually found my pencil inside the cooling station where a clumsy paw had pushed it in an effort to snag it off the table. I threaten to beat their hides every time one of my pencils goes missing, but I have to admit the process of looking for it adds to my memories most positively. Someday—hopefully not in the near future—my broken heart will reminisce Henry, Simon, and Freddie, and I’ll be most appreciative for the days they decided to steal my pencils.

With This Ring

It is amazing the stuff William and I have accumulated over twenty four years of marriage.  About every five years, we purge the closets, cupboards, basement, and garage.  We have a sale or haul the pile of unearthed stuff to one of our favorite charities.  Every time we do this, we say, “There.  We’re done.  We’ve rid ourselves of everything we didn’t need or haven’t used.”  And yet, somehow, the stuff manages to creep its way back in to our home, hiding in the closets and cupboards, piling up in the basement and garage.  How does this happen?

The thing is Will and I don’t spend like we did in our younger days when we had the money and were completely irresponsible.  In our defense, we also didn’t have a child for the first seven years.  So yeah, we spent on ourselves.  But as we’ve matured (notice I didn’t just say got older), our spending habits have been reigned in completely.  Still, the stuff magically appears in our home.

I’m not talking about the unexpected gifts one receives and upon opening says, “Oh…that’s so…lovely,” all the while thinking, This has garage sale item written all over it.  Those items disappear immediately.  (Right now my very much alive mother is digging her own grave so she can roll over in it all the while despairing of my bad manners.)

Will is on vacation this week, and it is the perfect time to rearrange the closet in the back bedroom where I have stored all sorts of home décor and mementos from our son’s baby years.  My darling hubby takes up half of the closet we share with his dress and casual clothes, and now he needs another full closet for his works clothes.  This means it is also time to move the shelf from the basement where his overflow of clothing is stored as well as empty the bins where he keeps his unmentionables.  Remember:  I have half a closet for all my dress and casual clothes, shoes, and lingerie.  Is there something wrong with this picture?

The job takes longer than I expect because I have to dust and sort the home décor and Joshua’s keepsakes into separate bins, and I discard a whole bunch of stuff I forgot we even owned.  When combined with the things removed from the basement shelves, we part with a Victoria’s Secret purse given as a promotional item with a purchase of perfume, a vintage-looking hat stand, two egg trays I never used, a two-pound dumbbell whose mate went to Goodwill years ago, a mini-vacuum for electronics, a bag of tee-shirts, paint-by-number pictures Will’s Grandmother Richards painted, three Asian prints I swore I’d have framed someday, and on and on and on.

Why do we hold on to this stuff especially when it isn’t even the good stuff?  Still, I’d like to think we received a reward for making the effort to clear our lives of so much junk.  Will shifts the shelf in the basement and immediately realizes it must be swept off before I allow him to move it another inch.  As I step closer to pick up what our two cats have knocked under the shelf, I spy something of incredible worth lying in the dust.

“Oh my gosh,” I scream as I squeeze past Will and the shelf, swipe the item off the floor, and crash into my canning jars.  I break one of the jars, so now I’m hopping around on one foot, our son has come running down the stairs because he believes I’ve hurt myself, and William, who cannot see what I’m holding, is in a bit of a panic.  He shouts at me to not cut myself on the broken jar.  But my face is beaming and I’m laughing as I hold up a gold, circular band and say, “Look—I found your wedding ring!”

Two years ago, one of the cats (probably Henry) knocked Will’s wedding ring out of the cubby hole beneath our bathroom cabinet.  When I noticed the ring wasn’t in the bathroom and hadn’t been placed in my jewelry box (where it belongs), I questioned Will.  Long story short, we came to the conclusion that it had been batted down the sink or into the register vents, lost forever, my heart broken.  Today, it has been restored to its proper place.  No, not Will’s finger; he’s still employed in a warehouse doing work that would wreak havoc upon fine gold jewelry.

As I think back on the whole wonderful experience, I keep wondering why after two years of praying did I find Will’s wedding ring now?  Yes, finding the ring is reward enough, but I also believe we learned the lesson of keeping our lives clutter free.  Whether it’s physically, mentally, or spiritually, a clean life really does provide opportunity for extraordinary reward.

Don’t Compound Your Problems

Full Moon Cats by AliceinParis (Shelagh Duffet) available on Etsy

You may not have known what it was called, so you couldn’t even Google the answer, but I’m here to tell you, friend, it is compound possession, also known as joint possession!  That’s right; it’s that tricky little scenario that makes your fingers falter across the keyboard when you’re writing about two subjects in possession of something.  Does each subject have an apostrophe and an S or does only the last subject in the group have the apostrophe and the S?

For instance:  George and Mary’s cats are always escaping.

From this sentence, we can assume that George and Mary live together and are in possession of a herd of fugitive felines.  The rest of the story would probably bear this out.  But what if George and Mary are actually neighbors in possession of separate mobs of moggies who escape for midnight sessions of group yowling on the fence between their properties?

Then the sentence would look like this:  George’s and Mary’s cats are always escaping.

Your decision will be based on whether or not the two subjects are in possession of shared items or separately owned items.  You may be saying, “Yes, but George and Mary both owned cats, and since cats are the same thing, shouldn’t it always be like the first example?”

Consider this:  George’s and Mary’s coats are in the front closet.

Clearly, George and Mary aren’t going to wear the same garment.  They own separate coats.  The same applies to their cats.  Now if George and Mary could just contain their wayward beasts, the rest of the neighborhood could sleep in peace.

A Day in the Life

img_20160922_0851090761So the top portion of my uniform is back from the laundry. I sure hope they removed all the cat hair this time. I adore my cats, Henry and Simon, but let’s face it, they leave quite a bit of hair in places they shouldn’t. Like my couch and my uniform. It’s a good thing they’re light-colored cats or it would really show up! But I hear the laundress is an amazing woman. I believe she’s a writer, too.

a-day-in-the-life-2Anyhow, I have to don the bottom part of my uniform because I have to stop working for a few moments to take the kiddo to school. For some reason, he doesn’t appreciate my choice of uniform pants. I tell him he has no sense of style. He rolls his eyes. What can you expect from a teenager? He comes home from school, wipes out the food in our cupboards like a ravenous locust, and has the gall to look at me in my uniform and say, “You haven’t showered yet?” The ingrate. Does he think all this writing happens by magic? And what does the kid have against the Autobots?

a-day-in-the-lifeAt least I can stop by the refueling station for some gas after dropping him off. I know some people prefer that pricey fuel with the fancy green mermaid on the cup, but I find my favorite establishment brews a tasty cup of java juice. Besides, I don’t require all that frou frou stuff to keep me going. The grittier the brew, the better the writing I always say. And depending on how good they did with mixing the perfect balance of coffee and cream will determine if I visit my other favorite libation in the evening to keep the writing going.

Now the really hard part starts: tending one’s social media without getting sucked in to cute kitten videos and all the political garbage flying around. Ten minutes is what I usually allow myself which means I’ll be on Facebook and Twitter at least an hour. My punishment is to stare at a blank screen for the rest of the day as I try to come up with blog posts, short fiction, and another chapter in my current WIP. One of the benefits of being a writer is that you get to use cool acronyms like WIP, POV, and MSWL.

img_20160812_185540197So here I sit. Instead of fascinating storylines that will keep my readers riveted, all I can think about is the ten years’ worth of scrapbooking I need to do in time for my kid’s Eagle Scout Court of Honor. See how I worked a little shameless bragging in there? Another cool part of being a writer. Then there’s the weeding I need to do in the flowerbeds all the while knowing I won’t get to it until next spring when I plan on tearing them out anyhow, all the folding I need to accomplish because I was ill this past week and chores stacked up, decisions about what to make for dinner, wondering who will show up to Critique Group tonight, and my book club selection I need to finish reading. I need a nap.

img_20160906_081749882Time to throw some glitter at the screen and hope the writing fairies show up. Or I could text my mother to see if she’s up. There’s a good chance that making contact with her early in the day will result in an invitation to breakfast. The best part is that I can wear my uniform over to her condominium association because no one over there cares what I look like when I arrive. Got to love the elderly and their screwy sense of fashion! Of course, Mom’s place is the black hole of comfy-ness, and I’ll waste the entire morning over there, accomplishing jack squat toward my writing. Perhaps I’ll just raid the kitchen for some cashews and press on.

Being a writer may sound like an easy job. After all, the uniform alone is a major plus. But imagine giving yourself really hard homework for the rest of your life. Not only do you have to create the task, you have to provide the solution. There are days you love it and days you wish someone would have hit you in the head with a ball bat or at least warned you what it would be like. It’s an addiction, and no matter how long a break you give yourself, you always come back to it. It is a vicious cycle, and the doubts and fears can pop up at any time even when you thought you’d vanquished them two years ago.

And yet, you can’t help but create, and when you remember that you’re part of an amazing group of people known as The Creatives, which also includes artists, musicians, photographers, etc., it helps you get through the long, dry spells of no ideas and rejection letters. Take comfort in the fact that unlike many people who only wished they had taken up the pen, you actually did. When querying feels like you’ve placed your beautiful baby in the public view and begged for someone to tell you everything that’s wrong with it, remember that you had the guts to query in the first place. You rock. I rock. Heck, we’re all pretty amazing when you get right down to it. If me telling you that isn’t enough, take it from people who have been where we’re all hoping to end up. (Writing Inspiration)

Now, go forth and create. I have to get back to staring at my blinking cursor.

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