Vizsla! A Love Story – Part One

We’ve welcomed a new Fuzzy into our home and she wants to say hello:

Hi there! I am Wirehaired Vizsla Point of Honor Vizcaya Dallas, but you can call me Afton...or Ashton....or Aston.

Hi there! I am Wirehaired Vizsla Point of Honor Vizcaya Dallas, but you can call me Afton…or Ashton….or Aston.

She’s a 4-year-old spayed female. Her breeder calls her Afton, after Afton Cooper from the original Dallas series, but our lips &/or brains can’t seem to spit out that name on a consistent basis. We seem to be calling her Ashton more often than not, and she responds very well to Ashton. So…yeah. Probably Ashton.

Although her coat is considered undesirable for breeding or showing, her heart is perfect for loving.

That said, she does have a few behavioral issues, including a quirky little phobia related to persons of the male persuasion. It’s not a constant problem, mind you. Just when the scary two-legged male persons move around without her permission….or cough…or, you know, do man things. Apparently, this troublesome phobia has made it difficult to place her in a permanent, forever home. Until now.

The man of THIS household is decent, kind, patient to the core and infinitely gentle with nervous dogs.

Technically, we only have Afton/Ashton for a trial period right now, but I am in love, love, LOVE with this fuzzy love monkey. Michael is slower to declare his feelings, but I believe he is also hopelessly smitten.

In order to fully explain how over-the-moon thrilled I am by this unexpected turn of events, I’ll have to tell you a star-crossed love story from my past….

Once upon a time (almost 20 years ago), I took a job as a full-time dispatcher for the Cruelty Investigations and Animal Rescue unit in a large, metropolitan humane society. (I LIVED Animal Cops before it was a TV show on Animal Planet). Looking back now, it was one of those “best of times, worst of times” experiences but I’m not going to get into all the nitty gritty details from that period of my life. I just want to tell you about one particular case.

(*cue Dragnet theme music*)

It was a sunny, sweltering hot summer day. I received a call from the Airport Police Department. They had an animal cruelty case involving two dogs in a locked car…only one was responsive. The officers on the scene needed a humane officer to take custody of the dogs and advise on the charges to be filed against the owner. It sounded like an ugly situation, so I radioed the officers on duty to get out there as quickly as possible. They returned to the shelter with a deceased Rottweiler and a sweet little bundle of anxiety who looked a lot like this:

Sad Vizsla“It’s a Veeezuuuhluuuh,” Officer Manion told me, squinting at his case notes. “V-I-Z-S-L-A. Hungarian hunting breed.” The refugee in question had her whole body pressed against my leg with her head glued to my lap while I entered her information into our intake computer using my right hand. My left hand couldn’t stop stroking her velvety ears and smoothing the worried wrinkles on her brow. Even as her tail thumped the floor, she continued to cast nervous looks back and forth between me and Manion.

“She’s a very sweet doggie,” Manion said, (Hello, Captain Obvious.) “but she’s had a rough day. If you want, keep her here with you for a while before you put her into a kennel for the night.”

One of the best, most wonderful perks of being a humane society dispatcher is getting to bring some of the rescued pets into the back office for some one-on-one time. I couldn’t afford my own dog at the time, so spending time with these temporary companions was important to me. During the few short weeks she was in our custody, I brought the Vizsla into the office as often as I could. (Notice I have not mentioned her name. That’s because I don’t remember it. We were all enchanted with the word Vizsla and she responded when anyone called her Vizsla, so that was the only name we used during her entire stay.)

Everyone warned me not to get attached to her, but I couldn’t help falling deeply in love our darling Vizsla…even though she could never be MY dog.

This is not a tragedy, at least not for the Vizsla. I feel certain that dog lived a long, happy, healthy life. But after she walked out of our shelter, I never saw her again.

Skip ahead a few years to an all-breed dog show where I was watching the final Best in Show contenders file into the ring. Sitting alone on the cold, cement floor, I suddenly became aware of a gentle warming pressure along my back. Turning my head slowly, I came nose-to-nose with a face that looked a little like this:

Vizsla FaceHer owner/breeder could not stop giggling. “I think she thinks you’re related,” she said. “Your hair…” As she broke into another fit of giggles, I gathered my hair into a side ponytail and draped it over the dog’s head. Back then, I used to color my hair a coppery red that matched the dogs coat. I mean it matched EXACTLY. We sat like that, the Vizsla’s head on my shoulder with my hair falling over her ears while her owner took some pictures and I quizzed her about the personality and temperament of Vizslas.

I walked away from that encounter absolutely convinced that a Vizsla was my dream dog, the perfect companion for me. Energetic, but willing to cuddle for hours. Intelligent and sensitive without being neurotic. Obviously gentle and affectionate. But my lifestyle choices and finances still would not support dog ownership at that time. So it was a dream that I would have to put on hold indefinitely….

[To be continued...]

photo credit: hasensaft via photopin cc & peteaylward via photopin cc

Writing Weird – Tarot & The Hermit

TarotThere’s a deck of tarot cards near my writing desk at all times. It’s not the usual sort of deck, like the one pictured above (which always makes me think of Jane Seymour as Solitaire in Live and Let Die). My tarot is the Voyager Tarot. It’s a beautiful deck of photo-collage art with images from many cultures and religions.

I don’t keep it here to give readings (though it has made a few appearances at social gatherings with a select group of intimate friends). It’s not here to guide my love life or any financial decisions. I use it to help me write fiction.

Aside from my MacBook, notebooks and pencils, I believe this tarot deck is the most useful tool in my writer’s toolbox. It helps me build multidimensional characters with complex motives and desires. It’s a wonderful tool to play with plot structure and character arc. I have a few other oracle-type decks with some gorgeous artwork, but it is always my well-worn Voyager cards that help me sort out my worst plot problems and/or reignite my relationship with my characters.

To do this, I don’t shuffle and lay out the cards randomly hoping the universe will send a message about my current project. I tend to look through the whole deck, pulling the cards with images that seem to apply to the particular character or plot issue I’m working to resolve. Then I’ll arrange and re-arrange my selections into patterns until something clicks. And something usually clicks pretty quickly.

One Google search for “writer’s tarot” proves that I am not the only author who does this. There’s even a book called Tarot for Writers and Beth Barany has created a Writer’s Tarot Deck. That said, there are probably plenty of people who would think I’m twisted and weird for plotting books with tarot…and maybe they are right.

Speaking of weird…I told you all of the above so I could tell you this next thing.

Sometimes the tarot deck does freaky things. For example, last month the same card kept “jumping” out of the deck over and over. When I pulled the deck out of a desk drawer, the card fell on the floor. Later, while shuffling and sorting through the deck, the same card fell into my lap. It wasn’t one of my favorite images and it didn’t seem to have any relevance to my plotting questions, so I stuck it back into the middle of the deck and set everything aside. Thirty minutes later, Zoey jumped up on my writing desk to make a nuisance of herself while I was trying to write. Frustrated that I refused to quit typing to pet her properly, she deliberately shoved about 1/3 of the tarot deck off my desk. All of the cards landed face down except for one…yep, it was the same *bleep*ing card staring up at me.

The Hermit…

Hermit Type Photo

The Hermit – soul-searching, introspection, inner guidance

Which always makes me think about a certain “strange old hermit” who lived out beyond the Dune Sea (a.k.a Obi-Wan Kenobi). In the traditional tarot images, The Hermit could very well be a mystical Jedi Master…or a wizard…or a monk. It is one of the few traditional tarot images that I prefer over the Voyager version. So I took the time to research the card online.

Now I won’t get into all of the mystical, magical interpretations for this major arcana tarot card (because, honestly, I don’t remember most of what I read). The gist of The Hermit’s message is all about “going into the cave” to meditate, reflect and re-energize. At the time this card kept presenting itself to me, I was physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted. The details are unimportant, but I needed to unplug. And it felt like this silly little card with its three appearances in one day was giving me permission to do just that.

So I unplugged from just about everything that wasn’t absolutely essential for one month. And it felt soooooooooooo good!

Here’s the thing. This “going into the cave” routine is another important writer’s tool. For me, it is even more essential than the MacBook or notebooks or writing utensils. I know that all of the marketing wisdom is dead set against this hermit-like behavior. Oh well. Sometimes it is a mental health necessity.

During my month of unplugging we finished moving into our new house and I set up a new writing room. I created a 5 x 4 foot chalkboard (more on that another day), read lots of books, took some online writing tutorials and worked on Snowflake Plotting. Now my writerly batteries feel recharged and ready to go.

What do you do to recharge your batteries?

photo credits: ukslim via photopin cc & h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

Wil Wheaton on Bullying, Compassion & Being a Nerd

“When a person makes fun of you, when a person is cruel to you, it has nothing to do with you. It’s not about what you said. It’s not about what you did. It’s not about what you love. It’s about them feeling bad about themselves. They feel sad.”

Wil Wheaton, you are a credit to nerds everywhere. I salute you.

Empathy – An Essential Tool in Life & Writing

This video is aimed at professionals in the health care industry, but I think it’s a wonderful reminder for each and every one of us. Fair warning: It makes me cry every time I watch it.

I’m posting this video for two reasons:

  1. The world always needs love…and more empathy!
    • Imagine what a wonderful world it would be if everyone looked at their fellow humans this way. What if that grocery store clerk who seemed rude is actually fighting through a migraine headache? What if that guy who cut you off on the highway is actually rushing to the hospital to hold his newborn for the first time? What if that waiter who messed up your order just learned his fiance is cheating on him with his best friend? Most of the mundane stresses and annoyances that suck the joy out of our daily experiences would pretty much disappear with a liberal dose of empathy.
  2. This video perfectly depicts my favorite way to build fictional characters; it’s how I walk around looking at the world every day.

Which is not to say I’m some omniscient being who casts my eyes upon mere mortals and immediately KNOWS what is happening in their lives. Nope. I make it all up. Walking through life in my little writerly, Walter Mitty-esque bubble, I assign the most outrageous, twisted, heart-wrenching stories from the darkest depths of my imagination to perfect strangers.

Some people might believe this practice to be rather sick and wrong. I believe it’s the perfect way to build a huge arsenal of complex characters.

What do you think? Am I the only one who does this? Or is there anyone else out there who endures a long checkout line by dreaming up weird and wild stories for everyone else in the line?

Help! Pre-Surgical Jitters

Excuse me while I freak out for a moment…
Freak Out KittyAs I have been mentioning all over the Internets in every place where I normally post personal things about myself for the whole world to see, my right knee is badly damaged and in need of surgical repair. Surgery is scheduled for Thursday 1/23/14. And that is a good thing.

Whenever people notice me hobbling around on my crutch with a crooked leg and ask how I’m doing, I tell them I’ll be much better after my surgery. Every person who hears about the surgery responds in a way that tells me they think having surgery is about the worst possible thing aside from dying. It’s not. The worst possible thing aside from dying would be to hobble around on a twisted leg, in pain, with no hope of repair. Surgery is a blessing, folks.

To tell the truth, my knee has been wonky (a.k.a. unstable) for YEARS and this surgery is going to make it better than it has been since 1993. Seriously. A good thing this surgery is. (Picture me squinting and nodding with Yoda-like certainty.)

So…why am I freaking out?

1 – The beloved Man Pillow has a cold. He is shuffling around in his bathrobe, speaking in a voice that is a full octave lower than normal, drinking pots of tea, making chicken soup and coughing. Which is a polite way of saying he is spewing nasty germs all over MY living space. ARGH! When he told me he was sick, I cursed. Loudly. I was a flat-out, selfish, unsympathetic meanie. I seriously considered tying a bandana over my nose and mouth.

The poor man is miserable and I should be taking care of him. I should be making the soup and brewing the tea. I should be massaging his back lovingly with no selfish thoughts about my own health. I swear, this would be the way I would normally behave. But I’m not. Instead, I am hiding in the spare room. Why? Because I NEED this surgery.

When the medical scheduler called me, she tried to schedule surgery for mid-February and I unleashed some serious freak out on her. The words “Do you have any idea how difficult it is for me to take a bath like this?” came out of my mouth. (Side Note: If you are now or have ever considered a career as a Medical Scheduler, reconsider. Know that you will be dealing with a segment of the public that is coming to you damaged, upset, and possibly in pain. You will be verbally abused. On a daily basis.)

Long story short, I practically twisted off that poor woman’s ear to get this surgery scheduled for this week. Now I’m afraid they may have to postpone it if I get a cold.

Is that true? Does anyone know if you can get knee surgery with a cold? Or will my surgeon have to postpone if I catch this [bleep]-ing illness that has invaded my home?

2 – Honey responded to my terror of infection by doing some research. Then he proudly told me I may not have to be put under general anesthesia for the surgery. I may even (he told me with an excited look in his eyes) be able to WATCH my surgery on a TV while it is happening.

Uh…what the WHAT?!?!?! Who thinks that is a good thing?!?! Not me. I have no (zip, zero, nada) interest in watching a sharp instrument cut into my flesh nor in seeing foreign objects rooting around inside my body. EEEWWWWWW!!!!

Both my mother and I think he is wrong about this. We think they will put me OUT like a light. But the very thought that they may not put me out is like this giant monster zombie chewing on my brain. And I won’t be able to ask my surgeon until Tuesday when I see him for my pre-op appointment. Hence this desperate plea for information.

Has anyone out there had knee surgery to repair the ACL? If so, did your surgery use general anesthesia or local? Please post in the comments or on Facebook or email me.

photo credit: macwagen via photopin cc

2014 Resolution #1: Accentuate the Positive

Let’s start with the amazing, brilliant & endlessly buoyant John Green blasting just the sort of positive news needed to muster new hope for the new year: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oUhA6fjgnLY

Woo hoo! You go, John! Sometimes it feels like rampant negativity is a modern disease more virulent and destructive than any influenza pandemic. The talking heads on TV are always screaming, “It’s the end of the world as we know it and no one feels fine!” Every time I log on to check my email, I’m assaulted by horrible news feeds depicting death, disease, despair and other tragedies. Even speaking to friends and loved ones can quickly devolve into a detailed discussion of all the “bad things” that plague our daily lives.

So, this year, I’m going to accentuate the positive. No, really. I am. The glass is now officially half full.

I resolve to write down 3 things that make me feel grateful every night before I go to sleep.

A list of 3 seems quick, easy and doable, doesn’t it? What actions will you take to accentuate the positive in 2014? Or do you think this is a woo-woo waste of time?

A Confession…

I’m having an illicit affair.

His name is Sr. Rossi. His eyes are the color of the Caribbean Sea at sunset…and perfectly crossed. His body is a creamy buff, but his ears, face, toes and tail are a delicious shade of coconut brown. Every time I get close to him, he turns somersaults and purrs thunderously.

20131105-113623.jpgI am in LOVE! Don’t tell Zoey.

Alas, he is not mine. When I leave this beautiful place, I’ll be forced to leave my love behind.

And I must admit, after watching him frolic along the seashore with his lawful owner, he seems very content in his current relationship. He shadows her as she strolls through the waves, happily pouncing after the tiny scuttling crabs, never more than 20 feet from her side. Sigh.

20131105-114449.jpg

stalkerish photo of my fantasy feline and his owner taken from our balcony.

Star Wars – Not Your Typical Ghost Story

Hello everybody. I had a wee tiny little mental health breakdown that required a short vacation from the internet and blogging. Nothing serious. Don’t be concerned. Just a small bout of the writerly working girl blues. It happens. But I’m MUCH better now.

So let’s get back to Haunted October! And Star Wars!
Ghost Peeps and StormtroopersHuh? Ghosts and Star Wars? The original Star Wars trilogy has been called many things – the most elaborate, most expensive, most beautiful movie serial ever made (The New York Times), a spectacular intergalactic joyride (The Washington Post), the greatest space fantasy of all! (Marvel Comics) – but I don’t believe anyone ever refers to the original trilogy as a ghost story.

Well I’m here to change that. Remember this guy?
Ghost of ObiWan on Hoth

“You can’t win, Darth. If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.”

-Obi-Wan Kenobi

Ah, Obi-Wan! My favorite fictional ghost of all time. Who could not love the crazy old wizard who turns out to be a wise and fearless Jedi master; calmly accepting death so that others may live? [Sigh] And yet, even death could not stop Obi-Wan from mentoring and encouraging the callow youth destined to save the galaxy. Obi-Wan is so awesome in ghostly form, he even has a ghostly action figure.

Ghost Obi Wan Action FigureBut seriously, Obi-Wan’s ghost gave me my first glimpse of a deceased person who CHOSE to hang around in ghostly form to do some good. Aside from the Holy Spirit, I had never heard of a good ghost. I’d never even imagined a ghostly mentor willing to show up with just the right advice at just the right times. Think about it. Most fictional ghosts are depicted as vengeful victims (Hamlet’s father), or wretched penitents (Jacob Marley), or dangerous entities unleashed by evil deeds (Poltergeist) or pathetic lost souls who can’t seem to find The Light (any episode of Ghost Whisperer).

Obi-Wan depicted a hopeful, powerful, enlightened, comforting ghostly image. And this was very important to me. VERY important.

Grandpa Eldon died in March of 1980. He was the only man I ever called Daddy, my best friend and the light of my life. (Sorry, Mom. I know that makes you cry, but it’s true.) He suffered a massive heart attack in the middle of the night and I was not allowed to visit him in the hospital during the final days of his life. We didn’t have the chance to say goodbye.

Or so I thought.

Three months later, my grandmother took me to see The Empire Strikes Back. There were many reasons why that movie changed my life. Among those reasons, Obi-Wan’s ghost along with Yoda’s teachings (“Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.”) were far greater comfort to me than any of the Biblical passages that were muttered over the cold, square hole in the ground when we buried my Grandpa.

Not long after seeing ESB, my beloved grandfather came to see me in my dreams. That first night, he walked me through our house. Each room was decorated for a different holiday; it was Christmas in the front room, Halloween in the TV room, Thanksgiving in the kitchen and Easter in the front yard where he had hidden a rainbow of plastic eggs for me to find. Overjoyed to see him, I asked my Grandpa why everyone had lied to me and told me he was dead. He just smiled and told me he would always be with me. Always. Through every season and every holiday.

OK – all you skeptics and amateur psychologists out there might be tempted to point out that Grandpa Eldon’s message echoes Obi-Wan’s final line in A New Hope and that might lead you to the conclusion that this deeply spiritual and powerful experience from my childhood was just a case of wishful thinking. To you I say, pthththththth! It was real.

Grandpa continued to visit me in my dreams as I grew up. When my dog Pom Pom died, she started scampering through those dreams. In my late 20’s, after many years of not seeing him, Grandpa brought my recently departed kitty Charlie to say goodbye. Even though Charlie was very ill and suffering when I made the decision to let him go, I was plagued with debilitating grief and self-loathing for days after the vet carried him away. Grandpa assured me I’d done the right thing, taken the most compassionate action, and he was proud of me. Charlie was free from all pain and suffering now. I woke up after that dream, locked myself in the bathroom and cried. Oh how I cried! But it was a really good cry.

Whether anyone other than me believes that these dreams were real visitations doesn’t matter to me one wit. I don’t believe, I KNOW. My grandfather helped raise me from beyond the grave. Just like Obi-Wan helped train Luke from beyond the grave.

Recently, a sudden realization hit me; an epiphany of sorts.

I believe that the fictional depiction of Obi-Wan in ghostly form opened a door in my mind…a door that my grandfather walked through. And so, for me, my love of Star Wars and my fascination with ghost stories will always be intertwined. And perhaps I’m not the only one…

Ghost & Fett PumpkinsWhat about you? Have you ever had a loved one guide and comfort you from beyond the grave? Would you welcome a ghostly mentor? Or, like Scrooge, would you try to dismiss the encounter as “an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato”?

photo credit: ShellyS via photopin cc, JD Hancock via photopin cc, thepollen via photopin cc & Simon Davison via photopin cc

Ghosts of Octobers Past

Just 5 more days until October is upon us. Woo hoo!!Ghost in the Autumn Leaves

As mentioned previously in this post, October is my most favoritest month of the year. Unfortunately, I keep failing at October. Are you wondering, how on Earth does one FAIL at October? Check out My Halloween Score Card for 2011 to learn more. The Ghosts of Octobers Past are rattling their chains and demanding a little more fun in 2013.

This year I have a plan. Which is to say I have a better plan than I had back in 2011 and a way, way, WAY better plan than 2012. This year there will be more ghosts. More hauntings. More movies. More writing. And, most importantly, more October-themed posting on this blog. This time I double, triple pinky swear.

In preparation, Mike and I just loaded up our Netflix queue with the most delicious mix of classic and recent movies that are filled with mystery, suspense and/or things that go bump in the night:

  • The Awakening (2011)
  • The Innocents (1961)
  • The Trouble with Harry (1955)
  • The Woman in Black (2012)
  • House of Voices (2004)
  • Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)
  • Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
  • Spellbound (1945)
  • Dial M for Murder (1954)
  • Vertigo (1958)

There’s more in our queue, but we probably won’t manage to get through that lot. We tried to choose movies that one or both of us have never seen…or don’t remember very well.

I’m also very excited to report that the Holly Theater is staging Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap in October. (SO excited!)

What about you? What are you planning for this October? Or do you prefer to save your excitement for other, less spooky months of the year?

15 Minutes of Reclaim

Hello Everybody. Welcome to my 15 minutes of writing allotment for today. Let me explain…

I’m still recovering from Dragon*Con (more about that experience coming soon) and struggling to recuperate from a brief vacation on Edisto Island, SC…which shall heretofore be known as the Vacation From Hell (or VFH).

Beach Freak OutWhy was it the vacation from hell? you may ask. Well, honestly, it wasn’t that bad. It was my mood and my attitude that magnified every minor issue into a calamity of unbearable proportions. Have you ever noticed how the worse it gets, the worse it gets? Yes, well, I have some strong beliefs about that. Beliefs that most people would consider weird, kooky woo woo stuff. But seriously, this vacation was like a case study on the power of negative thinking. A few highlights:

  • A television that turned itself on and off randomly
  • Lights that flickered on and off every 3-5 minutes
  • Eternally running toilets
  • “Clean” utensils/dishes in the drawers/cabinets crusted with old cheese
  • Swarms of insects
  • Suspected food poisoning (for Mike)
  • Sore throat/cold (for me)
  • My first jellyfish sting (down the back of my right calf)

So…at a relatively calm, peaceful, pleasant break in the bad stuff, Mike and I sat together on the beach taking deep breaths and trying to dissect my current plethora of mental health issues. I tried to explain to him…well, everything. My escalating job pressures. My crazy, marathon schedule. My berserk stress levels. My writing goals. My marketing goals. My disappointments. My failures. My grief.

Mike listened thoughtfully, as he always listens, then confessed that he has been observing me over the past few months (Shall we say since May?) and he is worried. Either I’m going to explode into a thousand million pieces that no one will ever be able to put together again OR I am going to collapse into myself until I am the human equivalent of a sucking black hole.

As cautious as Pi approaching that man-eating tiger, Mike asked me to seriously consider a suggestion.

Stop. Just stop.

Stop doing everything extra outside my core job responsibilities and focus on my health – both mental & physical – for the next two months. Exclusively.

Wait! Stop everything?

Yes, everything. No writing. No blogging. No marketing. Just stop. Not forever. Just for two months. Channel all creativity and focus into health and well-being.

Whoa! This was a horrifying request/suggestion. Especially that part about not writing at all. What the WHAT?!?! That will make me even crazier. Unused creativity is NOT benign. It will eat me up inside! (Note: My sweetheart is not a fiction writer with that incurable need to create stories.) Still, I did promise to take a day or two to consider what he was suggesting.

The next morning, while catching up on my favorite author blogs, I saw this post from one of my favorite authors – Laurie Halse Anderson. It’s time for her 6th annual Write Fifteen Minutes A Day (WFMAD) Challenge.

My first reaction: Heh…how sad that some aspiring writers find it challenging to write for ONLY 15 minutes every day. I am so beyond that.

Second reaction: Wait! this could be the perfect compromise/test for Mike’s proposal. I will allow myself 15 minutes and ONLY 15 minutes to write each day. Blog posts, journal entries, new fiction. I can use my 15 minutes however I want, but I can only spend 15 minutes each day. For one month. Then I will re-evaluate.

I submitted my counter idea to Mike and he seemed quite pleased and proud of me. And now, we have an agreement.

So…you have just read my 15 minutes for today (Oops! 17 minutes. Don’t tell my honey.) Tomorrow will be my first day working on a first draft for only 15 minutes (gulp).

photo credit: Amy McTigue via photopin cc