Tag Archives: pets

Chaos Theory, and the process of writing…

When we last left off, our hero had inadvertently left a sketchbook of his next novel in a public restroom in the Sears Tower in downtown Chicago. When he returned the book was nowhere to be found. Hurt, but not disheartened, that night he went to buy a new Journal, but still lamenting the loss of the original, calling it a “friend,” he couldn’t bring himself to rewrite the piece so soon. The next day a dear friend left a new notebook on his desk, with words of inspiration scribbled inside. And so begins the latest episode…

The process of creative writing is chaotic and anything but predictable. I’m not talking about cheesy romance novels, formulaic horror yarns or bubblegum-esque thrillers. There are predictable templates for those genres. Which isn’t to say they don’t have a place. They satisfy a certain hunger, the same way a Snickers bar does. If that’s all you eat, or read, well, so the saying goes about garbage in and all that. Authors of literature are attempting to offer a meal, something substantial and nurturing to the soul, rather than a patch that sedates one from going postal at the airport when their plane is delayed for the third time.

If that sounds a little arrogant, it should. Literature is supposed to uplift through the sublime dissection of the human spirit. It should exalt through tragedy and trial the human condition, and it should champion revolution and justice by rendering injustice. It should assail convention, and eschew doma in all its forms. And finally, writers of literature should not be content that a character is afraid, or spiteful or cruel, but has the responsibility to delve deeply into the very cells, indeed the mitochondria, and some primordial instant from which that motivation or emotion arose.

I have found that sitting and forcing  thoughts and ponderances to the surface isn’t practical. I have also found that “letting” life happen is rather a lazy approach. There is a fine line between the two. A paleontologists knows where there is probability in finding a fossil, from various epochs and even an idea of the type of creatures he or she may uncover. That is the process, the education and the experience culminating towards a moment of discovery. It is hope and presumption that an animal actually dies where the scientists looks, and precisely which creature. The scientists doesn’t wildly attack the dig with a shovel if nothing is at first discovered, nor can he or she wait in the tent for the bones to walk in and offer themselves. Through meticulous observation and study, and the knowledge that life is indeed random come the best opportunities for discovery. Writing is hardly different.

And so I lost the outline, the sketches for the first chapter and ending for the next novel: Oliver and Me, the story of a cat who gains the ability to speak. I still recall most of what I had written, I still know the ending(the characters dictate how they will get there), and recall much of the outline, remembered what I’d so hastily scribbled on the train that fateful morning and could fairly easily reconstruct what was lost. I could, but then something odd happened.

Just yesterday Oliver, the real Oliver, whom I am basing the character on, was ill. He’d been out in the yard much of the day before chasing birds in the 90 degree heat. Where usually he’d be bounding outside the instant I opened the door, Oliver remained curled on the couch with those sad, sad eyes. It struck me at that moment, that everything I’d written previously was all wrong. Digging into that hillside, I’d been disappointed at one turn, only to have that magical chaos, the beautifully unpredictable randomness of life lead me to a new and exciting discovery. I had the new opening for the novel and couldn’t have been more satisfied…

Oliver had fallen into a deep malaise. He withdrew, spending long hours curled in the corner, his eyes fixed narrowly in my direction. I retreated from those emerald-green eyes. I shrunk from their silent accusation. Eventually I just made excuses to remain in the other room…

Like losing a friend: A writer’s sad, sad…sad lament

Had this idea last winter during one of the few actual snowfalls we’d had. There were these big fat snowflakes tumbling slow and wet, bumped by a soft wind. Most melted straight away as they touched the warmer ground and the still green grass. Oliver, my Hemingway cat(Google Hemingway’s cat. See the cat on his desk as he’s writing) was throwing himself  at those lazy white snowflakes, tackling some, reeling when others landed on his pink nose. I recalled his first winter after we’d got him from that shelter up in Michigan. It was his first winter and he was ecstatic from his first encounter with snow.

I extrapolate most things into some sort of tale or wild fiction, which I believe nowadays may be the last place to really find and share heartfelt truths about the heart and soul. And so I did, conceiving a story about a grief-stricken widower who, wanting of companionship, discovers a way to make his cat speak. I love the idea instantly, as it spoke about issues of freewill, autonomy and our relationships with animals, and if we truly understand the scope of those relationships. I loved the idea. I loved the idea of smartly exploring all that in dialogue between my human character and Oliver the cat. I even had a title, still watching Oliver play at the snowflakes: Oliver and Me.

Next day I went straight away to the bookstore and picked up the perfect journal, a spiral bound sketchbook with this Asian cover depicting the ocean and great thundering waves. That night I sketched out a cover with a pen and ink drawing of Oliver looking back over his shoulder a bit sadly, with a little hobo’s bundle slung across his back. The sketch for the first chapter went smoothly. I managed part of chapter two, and outlined better than half the story. The ending was easy as well. I always know the ending. The fun is in following the characters from beginning to end. They will tell the writer what they want to do.

Oliver. Note the opposable thumb. Hemingway’s cat had the same attribute

I set the story aside. Occupy my Heart: a revolutionary Christmas Carol was about to hit the stage, and I had begun pulling together some of the sketches for The Last Man. Emmetsburg, a depression-era novel I’d written that summer would be the next book published. Oliver and Me would have to wait a bit, which was well enough. Better sometimes to mature through a story a bit. I tossed it on the backseat of the car as an incentive to scribble down a few ideas, or a bit more of the story.

This morning running for the train, the sky darkening with an early morning thunderstorm, I suddenly found myself with a great hook to the first chapter, a way to really define characters and relationships early and have them in good position for the rest of the story. On the platform, rain threatening, resting the book on a fence, I madly scribbled out what was running through my mind like a torrent. In the train I continued, writing so furiously that the business lady beside me kept looking over at me as if I was mad, or some sort of mental patient hammering out some crazed rambling manifesto.

Its been hovering near the 100 degree mark in Chicago for most of the month. Most folks at this point are learning various ways to beat that brutal heat. I’d been bringing outfits to work and keeping them in a locker, preferring not to set down at my desk in sweat-drenched clothing. Maybe you can see where this is going, but this morning I changed in one of the downstairs restrooms, hanging my pack on a hook and propping the sketchbook for Oliver and me on a little shelf to one side. Its a public restroom, with a couple of restaurants nearby. It is nice and quiet in the morning, but by midday, between the 27,000 people who work daily in the Sears Tower, and tens of thousands of tourists daily, the building sees astounding traffic. Changed, I grabbed my pack, washed my face with a bit of cold water and headed upstairs to work.

I think it was around 4. Most of the work that could be down was finished. Everything else would work itself out around the globe by morning, or have to wait. I was looking forward to the train ride home. the ideas for the novel had come…the novel! It was then I realized I’d left it in the men’s room that morning. I bolted down stairs, checked lost and found, went to each of the restaurants, even checked housekeeping to see if they’d thrown it away, but to no avail. The book was gone, all the ideas, the outline, the sketches, gone.

I went to the bookstore after work to purchase a new journal, determined to recreate all that I’d lost. I will, but for the moment it feels a little like, well… see, there something about moments of inspiration for writers. they unburden, exalting words onto a page that flow with a religious sort of divinity. It doesn’t happen always. Most often we are beating and molding and shoving words into their proper place, only vaguely aware of their necessity until the work is complete. But there are times of sheer magic and madness, as if the heart and the hand have broken from their noncompliant body, weighted by reality and practicality and pragmatism, to paint motion and ultimate truth and visionary landscapes far beyond the feeble limitations of the body.

In the sketch of Oliver and Me there were such passages. Oe I wrote today brought tears to my eyes for the purity and intimacy of its emotion. That is not so easily re-created. It is rather like losing a friend. there may be new friends that come along, but nothing so much as replacing the other. I lost a friend today, of my of accord, which is usually the way. And that is a writer’s sad, sad…sad…sad lament.

Universal language: Our planet’s common culture

I’ve been mulling this over for some time, a way of quantifying the rudimentary universal communication, unspoken understandings, subtle negotiations, and at time overt mercies that cross the lines between species. It points to the common connection all living creatures share on this planet, and perhaps something more profound: the idea that the Earth may be more than a planet teeming with autonomous creatures, each rushing headlong towards their individual fates. Instead the world may very well be and behave as a single organism!

It is an incredible and fantastic thought, but what would compel animals to adopt and nurture animals from another species, as in the case-certainly not the only one-of the Lion and orphaned Antelope? ( BBC News,Lioness adopts third baby antelope, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/1905363.stmOr that animals would act in any way inconsistent with instinctual imperatives, such as same-sex pair bonding? (BBC News, Homosexual zebra finches form long-term bond,  http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/14479670)

But what I am looking for is a basis which connects all things to one another, to find and define that common language that transcends species. Some might call that God, or Gaia, the Great Spirit, or an energy which exists in all things. I believe that it is much deeper and much quieter and far more profound,a common and eminently simple global language that transcends any Human religion.

Fundamental to an interspecies language is life itself. There exists in every organism the imperative to simply exist. That imperative is, from a communication perspective, a statement-perhaps the ultimate statement between species. It is a statement fundamental to all living things, from the most rudimentary to the most complex. It is, from this simple statement, I believe, the cornerstone of that planetary language. From that statement more of that basic language begins to come into focus. Second to the statement of existence are assertions of pain.

Pain is hardly as simple a definition as it may seem. Pain is struggle. Pain is threat and distress, but pain can also be truth. Pain, in the absence of any direct form of communication becomes a basis for negotiation, because each individual creature’s pain is entirely its own, and therefore an absolute fact. The communication comes, between individuals, in the level of acknowledgment of each other’s pain and in the negotiation with one another’s pain.

We are surprised and awed by the Lioness that adopts a helpless antelope, by the way animals recognize human pain and illness, by the cat mothering ducklings or the dog nursing kittens. We are stunned and amazed when animals portray social and mental acuity beyond what we would expect of simple creatures possessed fully by their base instincts.

We expect our pets to respond to us, to come when we call, to fetch and heel, to shake, stay and rollover. I began last year repeating the word “love” while grooming or petting our cat, Oliver. I have no illusions that he holds a concept of “love,” so to speak. But I am quite sure that he finds pleasure in the word, for now if I say it from across the room his ears go up and his tail wags in a way it doesn’t with other words. In Oliver’s simple way, in a mental language all his own,the physical sound of the word evokes pleasurable recollections of being scratched or brushed. In a Rudimentary sense, Oliver has formed a concept-his concept- of love.

Perhaps our amazement over displays of “humanity” by animals awakens our own desires for hope and peace in the face of animosities over such terribly superficial things like religion, nationality and race among members of the very same species. In some ways it is likewise of an indictment of mercies and tenderness we so often fail to extend to one another.


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