Sunday, May 24, 2015

Jazz and Trixie

Our family dog Jazz died yesterday. She was my son's constant companion. I rescued her, but she rescued Matthew when he came home after a heartbreaking divorce. She was both adorable and adoring. Devoted and loving and playful and fun and loyal and fiesty and protective and.... The list is endless.

Every once in a while a dog will select one person, pick him or her out of a crowd or in a family, and choose to be that person's constant companion. Jazz did that with Matthew.

I was blessed with a dog like that, too. I got her at the city pound for Matthew's birthday. He was leaving for college at Texas Tech, and I thought he'd need the company.

I had to get into the dog cage with her, she was so withdrawn and scared. I remember filling out a 3-page adoption application and going through an intimidating interview. My friend Lee Orrell was with me and he vouched for my character, telling the interviewer, "Ma'am, that dog is gonna think she died and went to heaven after she gets home with Joyce."

When my son came home with a few guy friends that afternoon, the dog backed herself under the table and barked and barked and barked. It became obvious she had a problem with men, possibly the result of neglect and abuse. Matt summed up the situation and told me, "This is not my dog, Mother, she's yours." And he was right. Turned out, I was the one who needed the company, and somehow she sensed that.

She was an Australian shepherd-terrier mix, and I named her Trixie. She was the best pet I ever had. She listened to my whining without ever giving advice, she took me for walks every day, and she never lectured me for eating Blue Bell at midnight--even let me share. She was crazy for a toy duck that went "Quack-Quack" when she bit into it just right. She'd shake it, toss it, chase it, and bite into it again.

She loved to sleep in my bed, loved to eat food from the table, loved to sit on the couch next to me, loved to have her tummy rubbed. Most of all, she loved me. Completely.

Trixie is dead now, has been for six years, but her spirit still feeds me. That's the gift you get from a dog who chooses you. That's the gift Matthew received from Jazz. Unconditonal love.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The thrill is gone

BB King died two days ago. He, Fats Domino, and Bo Diddley introduced me to the blues.  The music originated in the Mississippi Delta where black musicians played in the juke joints after working in the cotten fields (from sun-up to sun-down for 50 cents a day) back in the last century.

I love the blues; I love the way the music moves me. The mind empties and the body moves to the beat. The lyrics are simple, repetitive, and earthy, speaking to the soul rather than the intellect.

Raw, rough, and real, baby.

BB King earned many awards and accolades during his life and inspired countless blues players. But he warned young blues guitarists not to aspire to be the next BB King or the next Eric Clapton. He said, "Don't mimic; be yourself." He said it is important to find your own style, your own sound. I think that's brillant advice for anyone in the creative arts, and it's advice I need to remember as I tackle the next draft of my novel.

He's right, you know. I don't want to sound like someone else. The real reason I'm a writer is because I want people to hear me, not the echo of someone I might try to imitate. And so while I may have my idols, I need to be true to my voice.

RIP, BB. Thank you for the music and the advice. I hear you, man. I really do hear you.

Saturday, May 9, 2015


I've been struggling lately.

Struggling with revising a novel. Struggling with building an online class. Struggling with being a better person.

Where has all this gotten me? To be honest, it's gotten me very tired. But yesterday I learned an important lesson from a very gifted teacher.

Charlotte Gullick is an author and creative writing teacher in Austin, TX, and I spent the day with her--along with 20 other writers who've been struggling with their revision process. Charlotte broke down the process for us and then she gave us time to play with different perspectives, suggestions, and strategies.

Aha! In six hours I discovered the process for unraveling the twisted parts of my manuscript and filling in where it is threadbare. But that's not all. I also discovered I could apply what I learned about revising to my creating an online course that is engaging and my developing into the woman I long to be.

The Aha moment came with the way Charlotte had us break down the process into one specific element at a time. Instead of attacking the mammoth manuscript all at once, she advised us to rate each craft element (plot, point of view, verb choices, etc.). Each revision draft focuses on one craft element only, so the writer can concentrate on what needs her attention.

I can do that with my manuscript now, and I am so excited and so ready.

Over the last six weeks, I have built an online class for English 1301 that, now that it is finished, I absolutely "hate" what I've done. There is no pacing, no rhythm, no enjoyment. But I have hope. I'm going to revise the course, one element at a time, and make it sizzle. I believe I can do that now, thanks to Charlotte's class.

Lately, I have been hard to get along with. My sweetie says I've lost my sense of humor--that I take everything wrong, that I'm so fast to pick a fight. As I think about Charlotte' class yesterday, I recall the title for her course was "Honing the Spark," because she thinks it is crucial for us to remember and embrace the spark that first led us to undertake a full-fledged novel. That spark is what sustains us as we revise and move from good to better to great. I think remembering the spark is important for relationships as well.

Ronnie felt an instant spark, he says, when he first met me. He says it was my smile that grabbed his heart that day almost four years ago when I walked in the restaurant. For me, the spark came later and took awhile to ignite. I'd been badly burned before and not so quick to be dazzled. But he is the love of my life, and I want to be the woman he deserves. So today, I will focus on the spark and let go of my petty-mindedness that leads only to regret. And tomorrow I will focus on another element of my love for him so I become more of the woman I want to be.

Thank you, Charlotte, for a map for revising my manuscript, and the other important things in my life!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Porch sitting

My sweetie and I are trying to perfect the art of porch sitting. We have three porches attached to our 1875 Victorian home in Navasota, Texas: a downstairs front porch, a back porch, and an upstairs porch. It is the upstairs porch where we sit and have morning coffee that brings us the most pleasure these days.

We count the trucks, cars, SUVs, motorcycles, bicycles  and people on foot to determine which is the most popular form of transportation. Answer: pickup trucks are three times more popular than anything else on the street, and Ford 150s are the most favored although Ram and Tacoma are gaining popularity.

We also pay attention to who's going to work, taking their kids to school, making a run to the grocery store; who's out for exercise and who's out to play. In a small town everyone is supposed to know everyone else's business, so we're just trying to keep up.

But there's more to do than counting vehicles and people watching. Yesterday, for example, we noticed the wasps are coming back. Last summer we had a slew of wasps that built nests under our eaves and between the windowpanes and screens. I'm not kidding--we easily had a dozen nests connected to our 2-story house. I really didn't want to see another dozen replace the ones that winter destroyed.

My introduction to wasps occurred when I was around five years old. My two brothers and I discovered a hive of hornets under the roof of a neighbor's porch. My older brother Stone charged in and poked the nest with a stick. In those days, I'd follow my older brother anywhere, so I ran up the porch steps as he retreated. The hornets flew at me and despite my trying to bat them away, I got stung on my neck. My younger brother Mark watched and decided to stay as far away as he could. Is it any surprise he grew up to be the smartest?

My sweetie remembers being stung as well when he was climbing a tree and upset a nest of yellow jackets. He was stung on his head, his back, and his arms before he flung himself from the branches and ran like the wind to escape those flying warriors.

We talked yesterday about the returning wasps and what we could do to deter them. After much discussion, we decided it might be best that we give them a wide birth.  Wasps, you see, eat those other pesky insects, like spiders. I'd rather put up with a few wasps than face a Black Widow spider...  which wasps love to eat as much as I love Blue Bell ice cream. Just saying.