Wednesday, November 29, 2006


Sadly, our little Junior-girl has left us. We haven't found a body, but we haven't seen her since early October. So, we're facing facts. The odds are not with her, poor thing.

Junior came to us as a tiny, barely-weaned kitten in the summer of 2004. We named her Junior, thinking she was a boy. She made it through the winter, and come spring, we trapped her and got her neutered along with the rest of our little colony. We tried from the beginning to tame her, but only got her to allow petting while she was eating. Chances are very slim that she has found a human family, since her level of trust is quite low. There is a possibility she found another wild colony to live with--perhaps one of the two black-and-white colonies in our immediate vicinity--maybe even with her own blood relatives. We have no idea who her parents are, for sure. (Her cross-eyes do indicate that Angus might be her father. Though I've always thought of Angus as a gay cat, you never know.)

Urban feral cats rarely move outside a one-block radius. Experts advise never to try to move them, they will only seek their original home, risking life and limb to get there. It is much more likely that she got trapped somewhere (they can live for three weeks without water or food, I'm told), poisoned (possibly intentionally), hit by a car, or died of an illness.

Natural attrition is the goal of TNR, but it's still sad to see them disappear. Godspeed, little Junior, wherever you are.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

For the Love of the Loose Cannon

I was biased going into Jim Tomlinson's short story collection, THINGS KEPT, THINGS LEFT BEHIND. Glad to report it met my high expectations.

The collection has eleven character-driven stories, most set in rural Kentucky. One of the book's characters, an old man on his deathbed, tells his nurse: "My son's a writer...he can imagine anything, make it up from nothing, and care like it was real." A good characterization of Tomlinson's work. Care is evident on every page--care for language, care for people, and not just fictional characters, but the very real aspects of ourselves that they represent.

What struck me most is Tomlinson's real sense of loose-cannon personalities: the stubborn elderly mother, the brother prone to violence, the businessman who suddenly drops everything, the young idealist who burns his draft card. The cranky, the war-broken, the adulterous--and the people who live with them--these are Tomlinson's cast, each portrayed with empathy and grace. The grace comes, I believe, from his precision. The prose is economical, but not sparse. The diction is regional, but never parody. Exasperation is always a product of familiarity, which goes hand in hand with love.

This juxtaposition of gentle telling with not-gentle characters is the key to the success of these stories. Tomlinson loves these characters the way flawed people love themselves, the way family members quarrel and reconcile. They are not rural eccentrics designed to entertain the rest of us with their novelty. They are essential beings, whose choices carry gravity.

This love of character is what makes realist fiction satisfying for me, when it is done well. I don't need neat endings or dramatic "arcs" or all that crap that short story people fetishize. What I need is to know that people are loved, even the difficult ones. And Tomlinson is one writer who understands why and how this love is a craft issue.

Catching Up

Sorry, I haven't been posting. Believe it or not, it's because I've been writing. I know, blogging is writing, but it ain't the same thing. I've been working on my new novel, and just finished draft one of section one! So, I'm five chapters / 20,000 words / 71 pages in. Feels like a real commitment.

As promised, here is a brief history of our holiday cards. (I even got Hubby's permission to post them here.) Usually they have messages like "Peace on Earth." Apologize for the dust on the scanner.

Here's 2002, our first year in the new old house. Opie is in my arms, and fat Boo is in hubby's. Wilbur is very excited.

Here's 2003, when I think we had a freak snowstorm in November. It was cruel not to let Wilbur out in the snow. He loves snow, and besides, he got all dressed up.

Here's 2004, the peak of our household count. You can see Angus, in front of Opie, is missing half of his ass. When we brought him in he basically had to have a full body shave because of abscess. He's all better now! Also pictured is Egypt, who was a holiday guest. There's catnip in the bowls, in case you want the secret.

And finally, 2005. It's a bittersweet picture, because Opie is in the urn on the table. Still, Angus is hard not to laugh at. He grew up on the streets and does not like to wear "outfits."

We're working on 2006 now. Nothing good yet, but we still have time. In the meantime, I got this cute shot of our newest family member, Ava:

And this one can be Willie's album cover. When he becomes a folksinger.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Toy or Tool? Or Both?

Confession time, I have a new bourgeois toy. Sweet Hubby got me a new camera for my 40th. I'm just starting to figure out what it can do. I'm starting with portraiture. Above is Queen Egypt Holwerda-Williams, who visits us for about a month every year while her folks go to Holland. And boy, is she in charge.

The new camera lets me capture motion. Here's Ava trying to decide which food bowl is better.

I'm still getting the hang of it. The lens gets some good color. Here's our little crosseyed Angus.

What I like is now I have more control, I just need to learn how to use it. I can manual focus, and turn the flash off, to get natural light. Like the gorgeous brown eyes of Wilbur, now free of that green crap I used to get whenever he looked in the lens.

So first project is to make a good Christmas card. We've done family portraits for the past three years. Maybe I'll try to digitize them and share our little history, with its changing personae.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Dia De Los Muertos

My mother had the good sense of humor to die on November 2nd, Day of the Dead. So I take the day to remember her, and as the years pass, the memories change. The first few years I had vivid memories of her last days in the hospital, the details of the room, the crowd of people gathered, bonding with each other over our shared love of the woman in the bed.

This year, without any forcing, my memories are of her as a vibrant not-sick person. She was a proj-aholic too. She put muslin banners on our kitchen walls in Seattle, to pin up our art projects for proud display. She was a constant cheerleader for the creative lives of the family members--my father's music, my writing and plastic arts, my brother's theater. And she was wildly creative herself.

For her, creativity was her way of playing, reconnecting with her own innocence, fostering mental health. If she had aspirations to become a professional artist, she didn't push them. For her, it was the joy of the project itself. Knitting, of course, she usually had a sweater or afghan in the works. Drawing--she was a gifted cartoonist, too. Gardening--her roses were incredible. And music. She played organ, and was one of those musicologists who could identify a composer by hearing just a few bars. She had her favorites, particularly "Mr. Brahms," as she called him. She sang, for pleasure, in the car and while working in the kitchen, and in choirs. She was an alto, like me.

She was also messy, like me. Hurricane Jane was one of her nicknames. She used to say, "if you want creative children, you have to be tolerant of messes." One of her mottoes. Another: "if you want to be an artist, you need to learn a trade." So I can credit her with a few things--my messy studio, my tolerance of day-job compromises, my ability to make a living but not forget the art, my intense craving for creative endeavors of all kinds.

She was a lover of cats. We couldn't have cats in the house because of allergies, but she became best friends with an outdoor cat when we lived in California, who stuck with her through her illness. During some of the rough spots, she would lie on the couch with a towel across her chest, and Tillie, a big white fluffball, would be allowed inside to sleep on top of her. Tillie was a good kitty, she knew not to wander the house. She knew what her friend Jane needed. Maybe Tillie needed it too.

Cats symbolized something for Mom. A certain independence, a kind of childlike devilishness. Cats are very busy creatures. They also like a good hug every now and then. Mom was the same way.

I miss her terribly. Her legacy is obvious, it's all around me, the knitting book next to my elbow, the graph paper and pens under my laptop right now, the stack of papers behind that, and the joy I find in all these things. So if I can't have her nearby, I can at least know her ideas have shaped my life for the better. The things she taught me are among the things that keep me sane.

Thanks, Mom, I'm turning out like you and it's not so bad. I wish you could meet my beautiful husband, and my family of four-legged furry ones. I tell them about you, every chance I get.