Sunday, February 18, 2018

All she's had to give...

The pitter patter of her tiny feet across the wooden floor pulled me reluctantly from my night visions. Suddenly, there she was sitting by my shoulder, staring in my face, giving me 'the look.' You know, “Listen, buster, I’m going to give you a few minutes then you gotta get up.”

She climbs on my back, and like those expert log rollers of the Canadian north woods somehow manages to remain ‘top up’ until I’ve turned from tummy to back and we are face to face. Settling in, her purring engines hit maximum rpms. It is hard to describe how I love these wonderfully intimate moments. Yep, it has been a love affair from the beginning.

Wait! No!

This is still a dream and what I am actually hearing in the recesses of my waking moments is the gentle scratching as she hobbles across the floor to the steps that help her climb to the bed. She struggles her way up until she slips beside my head, giving me the “Whew, I made it, but it was tough,” look. The engines are muffled by time and gravity, her gentle purring a mere echo of her youth. There is no back climbing and chest lying anymore. Her arthritic hips and rigid spine make it uncomfortable for her to lie flat on my chest. Anyway, she just wants me to get up so I can lift her to the sink (her preferred method of drinking water these days).

She sleeps in the living room on a little padded bed yet has the uncanny knack for knowing when I am up in the night for, well you know, personal reasons. As I sit briefly, expressing myself as it were, she unsteadily wanders into the bathroom and plants herself between my feet. When I pick her up holding her close, she purrs, but ever so more quietly now. The bottoms of her paws cool against my hands and shoulders. In the intimacy of those nocturnal moments, she feels so frail and light – her spine humped and rigid – her shoulders bony and weak. It is almost more than I can bear.

Leah is now in her eighteenth year (the late eighties in human time) and I am in pre-loss mourning. She sleeps more, and when awake, wants to be with me. She comes to my lap and sits, sorting a ‘comfort calculus,’ before snuggling and settling in. In the office, I almost always hear soft scratching as she paws the cardboard box beneath my desk. Once lifted, she curls on a multi-folded towel by the keyboard where her arthritic bones absorb the heat from a warm lamp.

I have watched this gracious creature, who in the beginning, fit the palm of my hand, move through the stages of her life, giving so much more than she ever got. It is so often said it is the memories that are alive. I don’t think that is right. While it is true the memories are there, they are not alive. Rather they are shadows residing in the hard drives of my mind, merely liquid images of events gone by. What is alive, is this moment, the quiet sorrow I feel, the silent tears that fall and the love I feel for this soul, who is softly pawing the cardboard box beneath my desk.

-ted

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Getting it to print...



Let us go forth, the tellers of tales, and seize whatever
prey the heart long for, and have no fear.
– Yeats, WB: The Celtic Twilight

We are all tellers of tales.

Think not?

While it is true there are those among us who are gifted in this regard, every social interaction is about telling stories of things we find of interest.

Writing a story – going from an idea, crafting and nurturing it into something that, once recorded, has something to say. Telling that kind of story is a different kettle of fish.

A little context…
Last week, Molly, a friend, and I visited the Presidio Museum in Tubac, Arizona. Tubac is one of the older communities in the state, and has for any number of years been known as an artist community. One can find items from moderate costs to the extraordinary amongst the wide variety of artistic offerings.

In the museum was a working facsimile of the first printing press in the state. A video showed a historian printing a page of the ‘Arizonian,’ issued more than 150 years ago. The lead type was first set (backward in the tray), inked, then pressed against a large sheet of paper. That sheet (containing six pages) was proofed again before approval. Once the ink dried it was cut into individual pages for distribution. None of this mattered, of course, unless there was news of interest to the readers.

It was agonizingly slow.

That was then…
An extension of the weekly blogs I’ve have written has resulted in three self-published books – life in small bites, life around the edges and life along the way. In addition to selling a few of these on Amazon.com, family and friends have been recipients – willing or otherwise.

My friend Melinda, an award-winning author, and leader of a writer’s co-op I attend had been encouraging a longer narrative – a novel, perhaps. After deflecting her encouragements, with comments like: “I’m really NOT a writer,” or “I can’t find a narrative longer to write about,” I gave in and thought I would give it a try.

Total honesty? I was (am) afraid it would range from derivative to simply awful. I think I have a healthy sense of self, but this seemed too much.

An idea…
Then I thought about my high school best friend, John. We have had little contact in many decades, but he remains deeply rooted in my psyche. AND so, a kernel of thought began to develop.

The comradery we had still resonated in the molten chemistry of my aging and faltering mind, so our relationship in those years became the basis for ‘Take the Shot,’ a novel I have been working on for a little over a year. In the briefest of terms, it is updated to the events of September 11th, 2001 attack on the Twin Towers.

The characters Hank Murdoch (loosely me) and Ben Miller (Loosely John) join the military in a moment of patriotic eagerness, become Army Rangers, and subsequently a sniper team in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The story begins with the murder of Ben’s wife and a man with whom she had a brief affair. The setting is in the town of Fairmont, West Virginia. The event leads Ben to contact and request help from Hank, whose life has been aimlessly drifting in California. The friendship, disconnected for five years, reunites the friends for an investigation of the murders.

The work is now ready for publication. Last week, seeing the printing press in Tubac, made me think a little about what it would have been like to try to get a book published in the 1800s in the deserts of Arizona. It also made me think about the process I went through at the end of my doctoral program.

Looking back a little…
When I was a graduate student, I had to outsource everything for my dissertation…someone to type it, a statistician to reduce the data, a graphic artist to do the figures, and a print house to whom I submitted the manuscript. All of this took several months. If there had been computers AND Microsoft Office, I could have done all of it myself and had it ready to print within a few days.

Today…
Today’s self-publishing environment is the equivalent of Microsoft Office as described above. Amazon.com has a subsidiary called Create Space (Createspace.com) that permits indie authors to do everything a publishing house can do but by oneself.

Creating a book requires only the ability to learn the formatting methodology, having a manuscript, getting a book cover, uploading them to Amazon.com, and ordering an on-demand printed proof – all done from the comfort of one's office and computer.

The first printing press by Gutenberg was an unbelievable contribution of technology. The Tubac press was, in some ways, light years ahead of that, but by today's standards, both are archaic. It’s easy to take for granted the electronic technology and the access available to publish practically anything. Someday, we may be able to create and print just by thinking.


There is, however, something that has not changed for the teller of tales – having good stories to tell. And that as it always has been, is a different kettle of fish.

- ted

Sunday, August 27, 2017

A secret place...


“Few are altogether deaf to the preaching of pine trees.
Their sermons on the mountains go to our hearts…”
– John Muir: Naturalist.

KA-BOOM!!!

The explosion of light and sound was unexpectedly bright and loud. It was so close we could smell it. The signature odor result of the electrical charge separating two bonded oxygen molecules that quickly form a three-oxygen-molecule bond, emitting the pungent, chlorine-like smell of ozone. Yep, the lightening-strike was close enough to excite three of our five senses. In the spirit of full disclosure, it pretty much emptied our sinuses from the instant overflow of adrenalin. It was sudden and breathtaking!

It had been raining cats and dogs creating that wonderful sense of isolation and connectedness that happens when one experiences storms from a dry and protected space. For me, there is something primitive about being in the middle of a raging storm as a shielded observer. We had been chatting about how much we enjoyed this kind of weather when the lightning hit close by.

There was a millisecond pause where we froze like two deer in headlights as our protective instincts sent warning electrical impulses buzzing down our neuro pathways. This was quickly followed by him saying, “We had better unplug everything.” He immediately began crawling the floor by the edges of the walls pulling cords and shutting things down.

The ‘he’ is my friend Clayton. I was sharing a weekend at his hideaway in Pinetop, nestled at 7,200 feet in the White Mountains of Arizona. This is tall pine country on eastern edges of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forrest, and just north of the Fort Apache Reservation, seventy-miles or so as the crow flies from the New Mexico border.

The two of us are in a writer’s co-op in Tucson that meets weekly to review each other’s manuscripts. For the past two summer’s he has invited me to leave the triple digit temperatures of the Sonoran Desert floor and take the three-and-a -half hour drive ‘to altitude.’ This past weekend it happened.

A context…
I was privileged to grow up spending summer holidays in the hardwood forests of Central Ontario. In addition to the oak and maple, there were white/silver birch and a variety of evergreens – pine and cedar. Those summer days were idyllic and almost fairy-tale like in their moments. Our cottage on the family property was tucked away on the northeastern shores of Lake Joseph in the Parry Sound/Muskoka regions of the province. Those annual visits were soul cleansing before I knew anything about the importance of disconnecting from the treadmill of life to recharge one’s internal engines.

Back to Pinetop…
When we arrived Friday afternoon, he announced, “Two rules while you are up here. The first is that if it’s solid, flush twice (for the sake of the septic tank), and the second is that you are here to vacation.”

“Sounds pretty fair to me,” I responded. In truth, the first instruction would be easier than the second…there had been a lot going on.

The first morning I was out for an early walking exploration of the wooded neighborhood. As I walked the ‘summer home’ lined streets, I was transported to the Canadian woods of my youth. Smell is a powerful evoker of memory. I can’t really describe how the tall pine-scented woods pulled me so powerfully back to those Muskoka days. Any number of people and experiences emerged as welcome guests from long neglected memory banks. Some were so real, I could feel their presence as though they were with me…Of course, they were as only I could have known them.

I would be remiss not to note these walks were not just amongst the pine and oak and birch and other living fauna. There were squirrels, humming birds, large blue jays, robins, and black birds that looked as if they had been on steroids. None of them seemed intimidated by me. If I passed by them in relatively close proximity, they simply ignored me and went about their business.

In the middle to late afternoon, it started to rain as a thunderstorm came our way. When rain is falling in the woods, it has a curious sound and unique smell. It is not the water hitting the street or the tops of buildings, but its pelting of the tree leaves and branches as gravity pulls it to earth. If there truly is holy water, it is the movement of cloud dispensing liquid falling through the trees to the forest floor. The smell is one of refreshing cleanliness. When closing my eyes and taking deep breaths, I was overtaken by a timelessness connecting me to the universe in ways unachievable by any method of prayer or meditation I have ever practiced.

As it turns out Clayton also loves thunderstorms. Once the electricity had been shut down, He said, “Let’s sit outside on the porch and watch this thing.” I grabbed a couple of chairs, and we settled in. As the rain encased our little-covered area, we were provided a cocoon of intimacy…a place of safety. We talked until dusk emerged. Clayton and I have enjoyed each other's company since we first met. He is one of the more unique people I have known. He has an ‘in the moment' personality with a serious dose of intellectual curiosity. The time we spend together is always thought-provoking. We are also both old enough to have tolerance for one another's idiosyncrasies – which each has in abundance.   

The rest of the weekend was spent watching a little football, a few episodes of Game of Thrones (I had not seen any of it) and writing. Clayton is an extraordinary cook, and so the food was spectacular.

Heading home…
When Monday rolled around, it was time to return to Oro Valley leaving Clayton and the woods behind. The early morning walks, the thunderstorms, the comradery of a man with whom I resonate made the weekend trip to the mountains cleansing and refreshing. I hit the road, energized and looking forward to the week ahead.

As it turns out, I was also successful at following both Clayton's instructions.

- ted