Adding to the family

I’ve decided to foster a cat for the summer. And I’m kind of terrified.

I have one cat already, a great big goofy orange boy, who I adore. Adopting him was a big decision, because I move around so much with my day job. He still hates the car, but he adapts very quickly to our succession of new homes, and we’ve settled in nicely together. I adore him beyond reason.

In the last few weeks, I have felt HUGE guilt. My current contract is nuts, and I’m working from 8am to 7pm most days. My cat is home alone in the apartment all day. And I go to bed early, so he’s alone again, really, all night. I play with him as much as I can, but I’m also exhausted a lot of the time. And he was starting to seem bored and depressed.

So I’m mostly fostering another cat to keep him company. He has lived with other cats before. My sister’s cat came to stay for a while, and they were great friends. And he has always seemed like a cat who would love a companion to play with and wrestle with. I’ve always kind of intended to get a second cat, but I was worried that the logistics would be too complicated.

And then I found out that the daughter of a colleague fosters out rescue cats. A friend of mine has already taken one in, so I spoke to him this morning about the process, and he gave my number to the girl who fosters out the cats. I was kind of expecting it to be a slow burn kind of project, but she texted me this evening and we went through the details, and Emily, a 2-year-old tortie, comes to stay tomorrow evening.

And I’m SO excited, but I’m also a worrier. I worry that Emily will beat up on my boy, or hurt him. I worry that they won’t get along and I’ll have to send her back. I worry that they will get along, but I’ll end up with an allergy attack. I worry that she’ll destroy my rented apartment. I worry that she’ll teach my boy bad habits. And I worry that having another cat around will change the relationship with me and my boy, and that would break my heart.

 

 

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When did you start writing?

On her blog, Jodie Llewellyn posed the question “When did you start writing?” and invited her readers to answer. I suspect my answer is going to be on the long side, so I’m bringing the question back here.

The short answer is: I don’t actually remember.

I do remember being nine years old and writing a project on the arctic fox for my grade four class. My teacher that year had held up my notebook to the class to shame me over the state of my handwriting, and as I was laboriously copying out my text for the project with a blunt pencil, I thought, “how can I be a writer when I hate handwriting so much?” I have such a clear memory of that. Apparently I already knew at age nine.

The first story I remember writing was the year I was thirteen. I sat in the little office area my mum had set up in the unfinished basement of our house and wrote on her old typewriter about mermaid girls who lived in an underwater country called Flamania. I found that typed page recently among my old notebooks full of writing, but didn’t reread it. Again, the memory is so clear. I remember the weight of the typewriter keys as I pressed them, and the smell of the basement, and the exact shade of brown of the floor joists above my head.

When I was fifteen I started writing fan fiction, although I didn’t know that’s what it was at the time. I was a Star Trek geek that year, and read all the tie-in books, and I decided I wanted to write my own. I wrote to Pocket Books to inquire about this possibility, and I was so proud when they mailed me back the author guidelines. I felt like I was being taken seriously. I would bring my handwritten pages of fan fiction to school to share with my best friend Sara, and she would write me notes in class about all the things she thought should happen in the story. Sadly, we never finished it.

By my late teens I knew that I wouldn’t be a writer as my primary career, but I also remember standing at the top of the basement stairs and telling my dad that no matter what else I did, I would always write.

Last year, I took a couple of continuing education classes in creative writing, more than twenty years after that first story I wrote on my mom’s typewriter. Those classes provided the right information at the right time, and I felt something shift in my writing. I feel like I took a step from being an aspiring author to being an emerging author. I don’t know that this is a meaningful distinction anywhere but inside my own head, but it meant a lot to me. My confidence in my ability has grown.

In the last six months or so I’ve been sending out my stories to magazines, online and off. So far, I’m collecting rejection letters, but one day there’ll be an acceptance in the mix. And I’ll have another milestone to remember.

Why I Write

I write because I always have. Because I narrate the world inside my head anyway.

I write even though I’m not a storyteller and I have trouble with plots and I never finish anything.

I write because I love words and I love language and what it can do. I write because I read. I see the world in words in my head, not pictures. Words are how I engage with the world. The shape of them, the weight of them is a part of their meaning. The history they carry with them; my history and their own. It’s why misplaced apostrophes hurt – it’s not the same word and the meaning is broken.

I write to get the words out of my head, at two in the morning, in the dark.

I write because I want to share – what I know, what I’ve learned – so maybe I am a storyteller after all.

I write because sometimes it’s easier to work out what I feel if I pretend it’s happening to someone else.

Righting an old wrong

Once upon a time – back when I was in theatre school – we put on a play about Orpheus and Eurydice. (The story is a part of Greek mythology, and I’m sure wikipedia has all the details.)

In theatre, one of the main activities on the first day of rehearsals, after going around the room and introducing ourselves to the group, is a read-through of the play. We sit around a table (or, more often, several tables pushed together) and all the actors read their parts out loud, with scripts in hand. It always starts a little flat, with actors feeling awkward and self-conscious with all these new people. It’s not intended to be a dramatic reading at all, just an introduction, but by the end of the play there’s usually more acting going on, more emotion in the voices. This is the first time we hear the play, the first time we get a sense of what it will become, of who the characters will be. It brings the text alive for the first time.

For this play about Orpheus and Eurydice, we did the read-through in a classroom, not in a rehearsal hall which is the usual setting. I can’t remember why. This classroom was on the top floor of the school, only just big enough to fit us all in. It was a warm afternoon in early summer, and we could see the dust motes in the sunlight pouring through the windows. We kept the overhead fluorescents off, and the whole thing felt more comfortable, less formal, than our usual read-throughs.

The text of the play was quite stylized, and something about the warm, somnolent feel of the summer afternoon melded with the words to create a thing of beauty. The reading was quiet and understated, but that allowed the tragedy of the story full reign. This interpretation of the myth was grappling with why Eurydice would choose to go back to Hades rather than escape with her lover, Orpheus. The idea was that her father was in Hades, having died when Eurydice was little, and the relationship between them was beautiful and heartbreaking. And that reunion was held up against the anguish of Orpheus at Eurydice’s death on their wedding night and his attempts to get her back.

There were a number of symbolic elements in the play, but in this perfect, nebulous read-through, everything fit. Everything worked. It became one of my favourite plays of all time on that day.

And then the director got hold of it.

The result was awful. Just… awful. None of the symbolic elements worked. The beautiful stylized language became flat and awkward. The character of the father, who I had loved, was pushed to become a hard, nasal, accountant type. It broke my heart.

I wasn’t in that production. I ended up working as crew backstage. I operated the stage left elevator door, and my friend operated the stage right elevator door (the characters entered and exited Hades via elevator), and between cues we sat backstage together in the dark. Half the time we mimed slitting our wrists to the play’s incredibly depressing soundtrack of French accordion music. The rest of the time we talked about how the play should have been done. We both had a LOT of opinions.

I’ve always wanted to see that play done properly. I nearly booked a trip to New York for it, once, but in the end I couldn’t make the dates line up with my work schedule. One day, though.

All of this to explain, really, why I’m writing a re-telling of the Orpheus myth for this week’s challenge over at Chuck Wendig’s blog: “I want you to write a story about Hell.”

 

Taking up the challenge

At his website, author Chuck Wendig issues a weekly flash fiction challenge. He’ll give a topic or a structure or a prompt, and the challenge is to write a 1000-word flash fiction piece within a week.

I came across this last Friday, when I was flagellating myself over a missed deadline. I thought a no-pressure challenge would be good for me, and 1000 words isn’t much. This week, Mr. Wendig gave ten random words and the challenge was to use five of them in the story.

It turns out the challenge was good for me. I came up with a story, worked out a plot, and wrote the whole thing. I actually finished it. I am inordinately proud of myself. I never finish anything. Except now I can’t say that anymore.

The last part of the challenge is to post your story on your own site and link to it in the comments at the challenge. I’m going to do that in a separate post shortly.