Wednesday, September 26, 2012

I just love my dog

For some unknown reason stories of much-loved pets have been popping up, on line and in life. In 2010 shortly after I started this blog I wrote about Harley, the good-boy in the picture which accompanies much of my writing. This is as good a time as any to re-post my sweet boy's story.

This is Harley's story.

To tell about Harley I must first tell about Brandy.

Brandy was a fine old girl, quirky, brave, and a love. She was part golden, part yellow lab, part angel, the perfect dog to grow up with our girls. After she died we swore we would not get another dog for a long, long, long, time. The devastation of loss we experienced as a family was overwhelming. Two months later a friend of my husband told us about a young boy, with four legs and a biker’s name looking for a home. He showed us a picture, I said, no way, he looks too much like Brandy, under no circumstances was that male coming to our house. And then he told us about Harley a beautiful little pup growing up in Virginia. 

A woman, I don’t know who she was, stood on the shore of a river in Virginia. This woman watched as two little boys played with a energetic fluffy little ball of yellow fur. The boys took the puppy into the river. The woman, at first, thought they were going to play in the shallows with the little guy. But they went further out until finally, where the water was deep enough; the boys plunged him under and held him there. He struggled to get away, they held him down. Rushing into the river the brave angel grabbed the drowning dog from the boys; he was rag doll limp but still alive. She dried him off, held him tight and took him home, nine hours north.

The woman lived in a condo, no pets allowed, so she gave him to a wonderful young couple one town over from ours. They lived with family, the wife was pregnant, the puppy, now Harley and eighty-five pounds was more than the young family living with in-laws could handle. During the day he was kept in the cellar while they were all at work and in the evenings he was walked on a lead because of the close neighborhood.
The day we picked up Harley, the couple who loved him had a difficult time letting go. The very pregnant young wife cried and the soon to be father climbed into our van with Harley, held him tight and bawled.
“He was the best dog I have ever had,” he said just before we drove away. Our boy came home to live with us.

Having lived with Brandy, an old girl, for so long, living with a young boy had its challenges. For the longest time when I would glimpse him, I’d see Brandy and my heart would swell. But as he grew larger and as his wacky personality made its mark, he became his own man. He is not tied on a chain, or caged, or walked on a lead. He does not spend his days in the cellar he spends them on an old couch in our bedroom. We live in the woods where he chases field mice, squirrels and turkeys, he would not know what to do if he caught one, he barks at deer and runs back inside the house.

His life is ruled by his obsessive compulsive love of the Frisbee; he has half a dozen scattered across the yard and in the house. He always takes one to bed with him at night. His bed is a huge pillow at the foot of our bed. (He is over 100 lbs. now.) Next to his Frisbee is often one of my husband’s shoes or baseball cap. Harley doesn’t chew the shoe or hat, he just sleeps with them.

Harley is understandably afraid of water and that is okay. He is well behaved, a stoic dog and very handsome; he is a good boy.

On that terrible day when the brave angle waded into the water to confront and save that little pup I like to think Brandy was watching over the little ball of fur because she knew he needed us and more importantly, we needed him.

Harley is old now, slower and set in his ways. I do not want to think of a time when our good boy will be gone. For now, sitting on the front steps, the couch, or in his sunspot in the dining room, we hold him tight. He is safe, he is loved.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Hellooo Ruthy

What is this blog about? Me? Writing? Yes.
Today, both.
I told my husband recently…I’m going to write another book. I’ve written two. With them I have rewritten, revised, and reworked and queried, queried and queried again. I’ve listened to people tell me that my books are phenomenal, that my books will become movies, that they will be blockbusters which will make me famous. I’ve listened and taken in the compliments until the smoke up my ass has blinded me. So I’m going for number three. This time, the process is very different and I’m wondering if that will make a difference to how well it is received by the folks with power, not just the smoke blowers.
Before I wrote one word of this next book I knew the beginning, middle and end. In my head I built the arc, knew every scene, knew the driving force, the stake and how it will end. I wrote a synopsis and a query before I wrote chapter one. It was done before I began. All I have to do now is tell it to my fingers.
As I proceed I feel as if I am reading a favorite book for the second time all the while knowing exactly what is going to happen next and yet surprised and pleased by what I am reading. It’s strange writing this way; exciting and yet very, very strange. This third book, is timely, has depth, is funny and ends on a note that will give every heart an extra beat. It’s the kind of story I long to read.

On my way home from food shopping a while back I passed one of those old motels along Boston Post Road. You know the kind of place, groups of little cabins or cottages, scattered along an old main road overtaken by an interstate. Here, it’s Route 1 which runs from Florida to Maine. Because of the highways whole towns have been bypassed and many of the ‘motor-hotels’ have been torn down, yet some have remained as rundown sad answers to a families 1950’s dream of success. I wondered that day as I passed by, who lives there, who hides there? By the time I traveled one more mile I knew exactly who was moving in, why she was hiding, how she was going to survive and the difference she was going to make. When I walked through my kitchen door, arms full of groceries I knew the background of the owner and that of every person who rented one of the little cottages. 

A likeable, alone and broke Ruth Madoff at the bottom of a barrel, climbs up, out and over the rim.

Because I’ve already written two books, 75,000 words and another at 82,000 words, I realize the task at hand and when it’s done and revised and rewritten I’m wondering what I’ll do if my effort has the same outcome as the other two.  I guess the important thing is to just write it, get it done, rewrite, polish, have it read and believe. That’s the important word I guess, ‘believe’. Because when number three is done, I’m done. I doubt I will try again.
I won’t give up writing, it is in my DNA. Hopefully when it’s finished I will still be writing my column and blogging. I still will be posting my daily quotes on Facebook and still be making people think and smile and tell me, I like the shit you write.
But this book, this number three, gee God you handed it to me on a sunny summer afternoon and told me the story during a ten minute ride. Why would God do that if the story were not to be told?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The pursuit

            Because of my daughter’s wedding I took six days off from writing, a vacation from pursuit, a lull in the quest. It felt good to step away because while in the midst, the drive becomes the effort instead of the writing.

            Planning an experience as life-changing as a wedding for a child puts the dream of success, (in anything, not just writing), in perspective. It’s so easy to get caught up in pursuit that we fail to realize the profundity of the moments which make the pursuit worthwhile. Like the saying, ‘take time to smell the roses’…sure that’s right but it’s not only the fragrance, it’s the beauty, it’s taking the time to contemplate just how magnificent a rose is, what a miracle it is as a living thing. That we should open our eyes and ears and hearts to the depth of everything around us creates those ah-ah moments, that’s what smelling the roses means.
            As a writer it is my job, (it’s actually in my DNA), to notice that which flits by other’s eyes and left for me to recall for them. It’s my job to interpret the universal theme which lies within the individual’s heart, it is my job to step-back and see, to contemplate, to communicate. These last six days of not playing the song has filled me with music. I am ready to give my concert. Let the music begin again.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Nuptial alert

I don't think I'll be posting for a few days, my youngest daughter is getting married and the reception, (120 people) is at my house; eeeeek !
My house looks like an episode of Hoarders.
How about a new reality show, 'Wedding Hoarders'.
Got a tent, a hell of a lot of chairs and a couple of cute little white plastic outhouses a-comin' to my back yard. G-willickers we is goin' to have us some fun.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Playing the 88's...26 letters at a time

One summer, after moving to a new town, with no friends and home alone, both parents worked, I spent eight hours a day learning how to play the piano on my own. One Sunday morning, while my parents were still in bed, I started to quietly play Ebb Tide; I didn’t want to wake them up.

My mother shouted from their room, “Turn up the radio, I love that, it’s beautiful.” When they learned I was playing the piano they both stood in the dining room doorway, mouths agape; they had no idea I could play as well as I did. My mother cried, she always cried when she listened to beautiful music. Yes, I admit, it was beautiful.
“Play something else,” my father said. I couldn’t, that’s not quite true, there were lots of songs I could play but none as perfect as Ebb Tide. My point is that it took me 40 hours a week all summer long to play one song really well, and a lot of songs, okay.

Twenty-five years ago I took an adult-ed writing course. It was taught by op-ed editor Greg Stone, he now teaches journalism at the University of Connecticut.  The emphasis of the class was on essay writing/op-ed but I remember reading a fiction piece to the group and how well it was received; I drank the support like it was a Heineken on hot day. Some months after taking the class I sent Greg an article. It was about the importance of getting involved, not being a Silent Accomplice to an unjust act. After he suggested a rewrite, it was published. With a few off-tune fits and starts I had, without realizing it, learned to play Mozart by-ear. My writing wasn’t that of a great composer but it made the playlist. After I had figured out what it was they wanted almost everything I sent out on spec made it into the papers and magazines.

I don’t have a fancy-schmancy BA or MFA. I’m a self-taught, play by ear writer who sometimes hits the mark and sometimes clunks off-tune on the eighty-eights. I’m not recommending that my way is the right way, or that formal writing education is a waste of time and money, no I’m not recommending that at all, because this art, this craft, is all about education, self-taught, formal or otherwise; although I’m not sure what ‘otherwise’ might be, pure talent maybe, like self-taught, plays-by-ear Sir Paul McCartney.
Yes, I call what I do writing by ear. Like sounding out chop-sticks on the piano if it sounds right, it’s a song. The choice of the tune is what makes the difference; Three Blind Mice vs. Beethoven’s Ninth determines what you write, one finger or both hands determines how well you write.

Essays are a writer’s one-sided conversation with the reader. It isn’t until the conversation ends that the reader’s chorus of thoughts sounds. An essayist’s subject matter…the tune they decide to play, composer Wagner, (the equivalent of an essay about the death of a child) or Lennon, (world peace), or Joel (write just the way you are), one can tailor one’s ability to any given subject. Writing about what makes you feel good, creates a decent essay, what makes you mad, gets attention, writing about that which makes you feel uncomfortable, makes it great.

Play it like you hear it, perform it until it sounds right to you. You’re a writer. Trust your ear.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Hellooo... down unduh?

    With scarab-like Bluetooth beetles in their ears, some mumbling, some talking quite loud, I see shoppers lost in their own little worlds of communication. Why people need to talk on the phone to share their shopping experience with someone in Australia, yes Australia, sharing their own down-unduh shopping experience is beyond me. Email, it’s cheaper.
    Years ago, somewhere between cell phones the size of a brick and flip-phones, I remember the first person I ever saw talking in public without a phone visible.
    Standing behind a rather tall construction-type at Dunkin Donuts one morning; I listened as he ordered a large, light and sweet and something coated in sugar with a hole in it. Placing his hands on the counter, and staring ahead he carried on an entire conversation with himself.  The coffee-kid looked at me and shrugged; I raised my eyebrows and backed up. To me it was obvious, Mr. Large, Light and Sweet was a few drops short of a full cup. 
    Smiling from behind the counter, coffee-kid watched as the guy left, “I think he was talking on a phone,” he said as I placed my order.
    I thought it stupid that in a room full of early morning highly caffeinated-strangers he carried on a conversation as if he were conversing with the little voices in his head, not with someone on the other end of a phone. I guess we were the stupid ones, he was doing then what comes so naturally now.
    While standing in line recently at Stop and Shop I came to the realization that there is a direct correlation between cell phones and cash registers; approach cashier, phone rings. I know it’s rude to answer my phone while the cashier is completing my order, it’s rude to answer in a restaurant, a church, at a wedding or a funeral and against the law in the car but I’m always afraid someone needs me. That's what I say but actually that’s not it; I don't just don't know how to stop the ringing before it gets to voice-mail after ten rings. Ten rings is long enough for people to get really annoyed and boo like I'm A-Rod at bat at Fenway.
    Though cell phones and their free-minute by free-minute intrusion, seems like an assault on our human need to be alone, they are both a blessing and a curse to parents with teenage children. When I wanted to stay out late, or my car broke down, I had to find a phone booth and a dime to wake up my mother and make excuses. When my daughters started to drive, a cell-phone went along with their license; an electronic-chaperone of sorts. I could call them whenever my intuition went wild, and they could call me when they needed to lie.
    Personally my cell phone gives me comfort. With it buried in the pit, I call my purse, I’m never alone. I may not be able to find it but I know it’s there if I need it. I have one of those common ring-tones half the world’s population answers to, so when it comes to life in a crowd, I hear half a dozen people mumbling, ‘is that my phone.’ No, it’s my purse.
    Children, born in the last few years, are being raised in a Steve Jobs world of technology. Cell-phones of today will be the dial-phones of tomorrow. I expect those Bluetooth beetles, people wear now, will become implants. No need to worry about digging my phone out of the pit…sneeze, and someone halfway around the world will answer, ‘G-day mate’.