True Companions

The world can be divided into two categories: Pet People and Non-Pet People.  I am a Pet Person from birth.  My sisters and I grew up with varying numbers of dogs and cats. Yes, at the same time — my mother loves cats and we almost always had at least one, while my dad considered hunting dogs indispensable.  I like both cats and dogs, but I married a man who spent large chunks of his youth as a paperboy being chased by neighborhood dogs.  Ergo, our pets have always been felines.

The current non-human population of our home consists of two cats and a refugee gerbil from my oldest daughter’s dorm room. I have written thousands of words with one or both of our cats curled up beside (or on) me.  Nominally they belong to our children, who selected them as kittens from our local Humane Society.  (Unless you want a specific breed of animal for a particular reason, I strongly encourage adopting from a shelter.  Even if it charges fees for spaying/neutering and micro-chipping your new pet, it’s a bargain compared to pet stores and you are likely saving an animal’s life.)

Star is our Siamese mix (we believe the other part is moose).  She’s sort of like Dory from Finding Nemo, if Dory shed a lot and weighed 20 pounds.  Star suffers from short term memory loss, except when she can see the bottom of her food bowl.  At those times, her determination to get our attention and bring us to the site of the disaster would put Lassie to shame.  Star doesn’t care for laps, but she likes to curl up beside me when I write notes on the couch or when I sit downstairs at my desk.  Her weakness is clean socks, which she steals and hides in her lair under the bed.  We once found a dozen pairs there.

Tiger, our ‘plain ol’ cat’, is just plain rotten.  I knew this the first time I set eyes on him flipping  dried poo outof the litter box in his cubicle at the Humane Society and batting at it.  Unfortunately, when your 7-year-old looks up at you and says “But Mommy, he looked right in my eyes and said he wanted to come home with me,” you know you’re doomed.  Luckily for him, he grew up into a very handsome fellow with the softest fur ever, and he loves having a writer in the house.  When he’s not making himself comfortable on my lap, he’s happy to chase down the Evil Crinkly Balls of Paper after I wad up my notes or other scribblings.

The companionship of pets bring so much into our lives.  Their dependence on us calls forth our best qualities: love, caring and patience.  They love us unconditionally,  listen to us when we need to talk, and sometimes when we need to cry.  Food and a clean litter box are a small price to pay, though I’ll admit I could live without the hairballs.

Are you a dog person or a cat person? Or even a reptile person? (I have always found monitor lizards and smaller members of the constrictor family fascinating.) Tell me your favorite pet story or memory!

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Being Here

Dry.  Blocked.  Stuck.  Staring at the screen.

One of a writer’s many nightmares is sitting down, putting her fingers on the keyboard and…nothing.  No words, no idea, no clue comes on how to finish this wretched story.  She has to write the scene — she wants to write the scene — and her mind says ‘beeeeeeeeeeeep’, like those old ‘end of the programing day’ screens before television was on 24/7.

I think every writer deals with this syndrome at some point.  Most of us call it ‘writer’s block’ though my mentor, S. J. Walker, calls it ‘writer’s procrastination’ with some justification.  When the words don’t come it is too easy to turn off the computer or set aside the notebook and say “It’s just not working today.  I’ll do something else.”  Don’t get me wrong, everybody needs mental breaks, even from work  they love.  But the biggest secret to accomplishing any creative endeavor?  It ain’t talent or unlimited time or an independent income.  It’s showing up, plain and simple.

If you don’t make it a habit to pick up the needle or the paintbrush or sit down at the computer, then the quilt, the drawing, the story will never get done.  You gotta set a schedule to give yourself creative time, whether it’s your full-time job or weekend projects, and you gotta show up on the schedule you set for yourself, be it daily or weekly.

My goal is to write for a set number of hours, six days a week.  Even though I’ve been spinning my creative wheels for the last month, I am still here.  I haven’t felt so unproductive in years, but I am following my friend Sally’s dicate: “Write anyway.”  My frustration shows in stilted dialogue and entire scenes that have nothing to do with my story.  (Another important part of writing is accepting that the first thing I come up with is usually crap.)  I groan, hit ‘delete’ and try to remember that one point the chance to write these characters and their story thrilled me.

I’ve lived long enough to learn that creativity, like the rest of life, goes in cycles.  I’m in a dry spell where the right words are as scarce as water in the desert.  But if I show up and keep stringing one word after another, I will find my way back to the story I hope to write.  And then the words, like rain, will come again.

Then I’ll probably whine about drowning.

Free Book Winners Announced

Congratulations! MJ and Kelly have won signed copies of TO BE SEDUCED.  Ladies, you can send me your addresses at AnnStephensRomance@gmail.com and I’ll get them right out.