March 11, 2009

Things That Go Bump In The Night Posted by Lorraine (L.L.) Bartlett, better known as Lorna Barrett I don't sleep well. See, we have a problem at our house that often keeps both of us awake awake at night with squeaks, tap, tap, tapping around the floors, and scratches on woodwork. We don't have a ghost, we have an insomniac named Fred. He's a cat. Fred had an unhappy childhood. For a long time he lived in a cage at the local PetSmart with his brother, George. (Fred and George -- Weasley.) I saw Fred in the summer and fell in love with him. But we weren't in the market for another cat. I went back in the fall and saw Fred again, looked at him wistfully, bought my cat food, and went home. After Christmas I went back to PetSmart and there he was. The Rescue Volunteer told me he and George had been there for THRITY-NINE WEEKS. "Why so long?" I asked. "Because they're black cats. People think they're unlucky. Hmm. I'd already had four black cats in my life, and never felt they were "bad luck." I went home and told my husband about those poor cats and a couple of hours later, Frank said, "Let's go get those boys." And then the trouble began. Fred is a follower. Look up the phrase "copy cat" in the dictionary, and you'll find Fred's picture. George must've been the runt of the litter; he was tiny, but he had the personality of a pit bull. As soon as they were set free (we kept them locked up in a room for a week until the vet said it was safe to let them loose), they unleashed a rein of terror on our other three cats. And when spring came, they started marking their territory. I spent HUNDREDS OF DOLLARS to have rugs and furniture cleaned. We had to rip up the carpet in the hall outside our bedroom because the boys were marking that territory almost on an hourly basis. George and Chester had a brutal fight one Thursday night, and stupidly, I tried to break it up. The next day my thumb was the size of ripe plum and already turning black. But we were still in denial. We could make things work out. And then George beat up our precious little Betsy. That was the final straw. Fred and George lived in our enclosed porch for a month while we decided what to do. In the end, we found George a new home in Buffalo with Frank's cousin's friend, who'd been looking for a friend for her cat. From the moment we let George out of his carrier, he bonded with his new cat-Mom (breaking my heart) and he has lived a wonderful life since. (Even after six years, we still get updates.) We learned a lesson. Don't bring adult male cats into a home where you already have an adult male cat. But we kept Fred. Fred isn't the sharpest pencil in the box. He's a few fries short of a Happy Meal. But he's remarkably well adjusted for a cat with his background. He's also become my Little Prince -- my Tiny Son. He follows me around like a puppy. He guards the bathroom door to make sure I'm safe while I'm in there. He has his favorite toys, his rituals, his likes (tuna water!) and dislikes ... er, maybe not. He eats everything. And two years ago, Fred started sleeping with us. Or rather, he wakes up ... and talks...and walks around, and scratches the closet doors. See, when Fred's up -- he wants EVERYONE to be up. In the past, I'd pick Fred up, put him back on his little afghan (he has his own pillow and afghan that sit on the end of the bed) and put him down just like a little kid. Sometimes it would work, sometimes it wouldn't. When it wouldn't, he'd go in his carrier in the living room. Fred likes small places. (Remember, he was in that cage for 39 weeks. He likes to sleep in his carrier during the day. He feels safe there.) This went on for at least six months. It was a good solution. Only a week or so ago, we realized that we hadn't put Fred in his carrier at night since before Christmas. He'd been sleeping peacefully through the night for months. Yea! We were as happy as new parents in the same situation. And we could FINALLY put the carrier away. So we did. And then he started squeaking, and walking around, and STOPPED SLEEPING again. I'm not ready to get the carrier back out, but I do want my sleep. I'm dragging my butt through the days, dark circles under my eyes, and crabby from lack of rest. A couple of people have suggested we "get rid of that cat." No WAY. But another couple of nights of this, and I'll have another small piece of "furniture" in my living room once again.
The Point-of-View conundrum posted by Jeanne Munn Bracken Okay, I admit it. I am only thinking about the dreaded "point of view" because that is my assignment for a writers' group tomorrow night. Each of the dozen or so of us is supposed to do a little reading and think about what POV we prefer in our reading--and, of course, writing. I dutifully got a few books out of the library: Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, Carolyn See's Making a Literary Life, Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers and, just to round it all out, Janet Evanovich's How I Write: Secrets of a Bestselling Author. I am sure that in my home library (not all of which has been downsized so far) there are a number of other books with chapters on the subject. And I promise I really will read the aforementioned books, at least the parts about Point of View, any time now. I am sure the experts have a lot of advice for us on the topic. Some years ago I asked Robert B. Parker why he writes the Spenser books in the first person but the book about his wife's breast cancer, written jointly with her, is in the third person. He explained that in the latter case, they wanted to be able to show both of their thoughts, which was possible with third person but not with first. That advice alone was worth the price of admission (he was speaking at the local library, so I didn't actually have to pay, but still...) But in thinking about my own writing, I have discovered something rather unnerving: I have a split writing personality. I sure hope there is a therapy to cure this? A 12-Step Program? In writing nonfiction, point of view isn't an issue. I write just the facts, ma'am, and don't worry about POV. One exception is the personal essay, which librarians classify in the 820s as nonfiction (see Dave Barry, for example); most of my humorous essays are in the first person, unless I'm trying to be coy about the identity of the subject (usually my family, the poor dears). An exception is the column I write six times a year for a local literary magazine, The Lincoln Review, where I refer to the Library Bookie in the third person, even though everybody knows that I'm the Bookie. Yeah, it's more than a little affected, but I started it that way 16 years ago and I'm not bloody likely to change at this juncture. Fiction, as they say, is a whole 'nother story. My first published short stories were written for children; one had a historic theme and was in the third person, but the contemporary one was in the first. Ditto the picture books I have written (but, alas, not yet sold): they are in the first person, and it amuses me that critique groups invariably say I have the voice of the four-year-old child down pat. I try not to think what that says about my level of maturity. In my defense, I will add that my most recent short story, on a different topic and set in an earlier century, was also told in the first person, in the voice of a plantation mistress. Maybe I'm channeling an ancestor? Wouldn't that be cool? Although what a southern aristocrat would be doing hanging on my Yankee family tree, I couldn't say. There's been a buzz lately about a new book, Dog On It, about a pair of sleuths, one of them a canine, and the story is told completely from the dog's point of view. I have to say I enjoyed it, but I also recommend our own Doranna's series about the vet and his beagle Sully, with sections told from the dog's point of view. For a sample, go to Doranna's Connery Beagle website, for her dog's take on life in general. ( Great stuff. What point of view do you write in? What do you like best to read?

Lorraine Bartlett

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