A King’s Ransom.
April 23, 2009

It’s been a good, hard few months. These moments, below, are the defining ones:

1) I’ve toiled over my quirky YA novel, The Girl Next Door, seven days a week since November 2008. Time not spent on life’s basics (or tending to dogs and horses) was spent in a sort of mental pilates, making TGND tight and lean.

I’m tired, but happily so. I’m very pleased with the end results, too. It ‘s amazing how abilities and skills solidify from one novel to the next — it’s what a writer always hears about, but to experience the process as it’s happening is pure magic.

Writing skills can morph into writing gifts if a writer is willing to put in the work. And even if you already have a knack for writing, still, it takes work.

2) We lost a bunch of photographs a few years ago when an old computer crashed. We certainly learned the hard way. At the time, I was devastated. I’ve often thought wistfully about those photographs.

I lost photos of old friends, photos of a friend who passed too young, some wedding photos, pet photos (some of the pets having since crossed the Rainbow Bridge) and photos from the apartment where we used to live, including our first Christmas lights together and a 9/11 memorial I’d started on the apartment lawn in the dead of night. (Originally being an East Coast girl, 9/11 hit hard. I’d also worked on the 79th floor of the World Trade Center after college.) The memorial was against the apartment rules, but they bent the rules for a whole week.

Just a few weeks ago, I came in from flaking the horses to see my husband bent over some strange device on the kitchen counter with a hard drive laying next to it. I still don’t know what it was, but it was miraculous; it accessed ALL the photographs we thought were irretrievable.

Wow.

I’ve spent the last few weeks going through the pictures a little at a time, surprised by the emotions that shadow these images, on the verge of tears (both happy and sad) — to see old friends, former lives, former selves — and to see my animal babies, their likenesses captured so clearly it feels like, in a small way, they’ve come back to me.

The photos have even seeped into my dreams, and in my dreams, whether they be about horse, dog or cat, I remember scents, mannerisms, barks and meows I’ve been unable to hold onto in my waking life.

It’s both salty and sweet

how the heart remembers in dreams

what the waking mind can’t keep.

I kept a hank of Takoda’s tail (my first horse) who died of colic in July of 2007, although it broke my heart to cut it even after he was gone. I vacuum-sealed the hair in a plastic bag to keep his scent close, but even so, the scent disappeared.

Gone is really gone.

3) Querying is tough. Chasing the dream is tough. You toil and research and pray. You put in the work and hope for good results, but even then, you can’t be sure. For writers, that’s part of the journey; it builds character and characters. It’ll prove you to yourself in one way or another, holding up a mirror to both your writing and your fortitude (or lack thereof).

The query process is curiously endowed with more than its original, intended aim. I understand why it drives some writers crazy. I understand the intensity and the despair. Nothing of great importance comes easily, and perhaps it shouldn’t. But perspective and a bird’s eye view remain a querying writer’s best friends.

No doubt about it — staring your dreams in the face is heady stuff. You roar, you soar, you crash, but you still burn. You rise up from the ashes humbled but determined and even more sure that you’re the real deal: you’re a writer. You need no ones permission. You are who you are. Now, you REALLY know.

Sure, you could quit. Go ahead — quit. Seriously. Most likely you’ll find you can’t quit for long. You’re a writer, you know. Pens and paper, keyboards and fingers, words and thoughts, they go together like up and down, on and off, light and dark.

Rejection is tough, dream-chasing is tough, remaining steadfast is tough. And yet, there’s no other choice. We want to master our craft. We want to share new worlds. We want to be published, yet not sell our souls nor sell out.

All these things and more rear their subterranean heads; important things withheld in the past and those who withheld them. Feelings of not being good enough. Voices from long ago, critical or incredulous or condescending. Self-doubt, heavy as an avalanche, along with the dizzying flight of believing in yourself and your abilities during those crystal-clear, this-is-why-I’m-here moments.

The query process is literally haunted by one thousand ghosts.

If you’re a querying writer, validation can be hard to come by. Please feel free to plug yourself into the letter below:

Dear My Querying Self,

You ROCK for hanging your lily-white a** in the wind and sailing your work out there. Sure, it can feel like TORTURE at times, but you have to keep putting your work out there — it’s the only way to get to HERE.

I admire your courage and cajones, by the way. They’re just what’s needed to make magic happen, on or off the page.

The world can always use more magic, more understanding, more connection, more alternate worlds that teach us what’s important in this one. Do what you need to do, amigo, but whatever you do, don’t give up.

I know it can look bleak down there in the query trenches, but we got where we are now because of those rejections — they paved the way to that one YES that changed everything — EVERYTHING. The process made you tougher. It made the writing better. It was sooooooo worth it.

You want proof? See this book I’m holding in my hands? That’s YOUR first novel! So keep querying, keep dreaming, keep hoping and keep working — but most importantly, KEEP WRITING.

With gratitude and admiration,

Your Published Self From The Future — I owe it all to you!

P.S. I’m really sorry about the a** in the wind thing, though.

The Little Things.
October 10, 2008

Elizardbeth (one of the resident “little things”.)

One of the things I love about being a writer is the intensity that comes with the writing mind. Always ticking, turning, whirring, we deconstruct life in order to recreate life in our work. You could say we study life itself, and then report back to the page. We tell the things we need to tell, most likely always aware of a need to tell, to capture, to record, bending time and space to create our new worlds of words.

I find this writing and creative life, on the flip side, also requires a lot of alone time, time thinking and reflecting, daydreaming, even. That’s when the little things really come into focus, the small details that add joy and texture to our days (and our writing), along with the people, places and things that make life sweet and worthwhile.

It’s especially why I love the weekends. The weekends are all about the little things — not so much writing, unless inspiration strikes, but the little moments in life, in my life, that happen off the page.

Like how, last weekend, when I began the usual afternoon ritual of hoof-picking Cloud, he unexpectedly lifted his foot for me and held it in the air. He then proceeded to do the same with the remaining three.

Coming from Cloud, a slaughter-bound horse who came to the ranch underweight, grumpy, and distrustful after so many broken bonds, I was floored.

I can’t quite put the feeling into words; I’ve been trying all morning, yet I come up woefully short. It’s the feeling of a wary, distrustful animal handing over its heart for safekeeping. You almost expect to hear a sigh of relief follow, as the horse’s muscles visibly relax. After almost a year of patient reassurances, good old Cloudy was finally home.

I get a lot of dog play-time in on weekends, which means I’ll do a lot of laughing. On weekend mornings, the sun is peach-colored and slow to rise, and often a cool breeze blows through the desert like an apology for summer.

The songbirds are beginning to arrive in flocks from places grown colder, singing into the evening. Also, the butterflies are back, as they are every year, and I stand still next to where they land, willing them to land on me. Supposedly, when you’re still enough inside, they will.

Saturday and Sunday mornings are the only days I don’t need to jump out of bed immediately, hurrying off to feed hungry horses and dogs, each a hair-covered alarm clock set for early breakfast. Therefore, my favorite part of the weekend has to be the carefree, lazy mornings sipping coffee in bed and reading blogs in my pajamas.

I hope your weekend is filled with all the little things that make you laugh and smile. Sometimes it can be hard to shift gears after whirring through the work week, and other times things are tough in so many ways that it’s hard to let go and enjoy the moment. Yet when we don’t, especially during the tough times, we end up feeling worse.

So, slow down. Do something fun. Laugh hard, and make it a weekend to remember. 

 

Cloud and Mr. Bean

(Two horses saved from slaughter.)

Photos by Emily Murdoch

Dogs In The Moonlight.
September 30, 2008

Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Dogs in the moonlight … except in the desert it can be dangerous. The wild animals come out at night — coyotes, bobcats, javelina, wild dogs — and the moonlight belongs to them.

Christmas

My husband brings the rescue dogs outside each morning and safely locks them in their large kennels before he leaves for work. However, because Christmas has had knee issues, she’s become the temporary queen of the front porch, (which is fenced in), where she can’t play too hard or reinjure her knee.

When I woke up this morning and went outside, Christmas was gone.

For all of twenty minutes.

But what a long, long twenty minutes it was.

Christmas became so excited when the dumpster was being picked up that she undid the gate — a freak happening — because the gate is locked. Once she was loose, my best guess is that she took off after a rabbit or a butterfly.

Needless to say, a new lock was installed this afternoon so it can’t happen again, and I’m so grateful for a happy ending. After pulling a few pieces of jumping cholla off her legs, Chrissy was as good as new.

Sadly, dogs are lost all the time, and not all of them are found. I can’t imagine Chrissy being out there in the world and not knowing where she is, or if she’s okay, let alone having her lost in the desert at night.

If you’ve lost your dog, there are two great sites to aid you in your search: DogDetective.com and FidoFinder.com. Each site has tips on what to do when your pet is lost, an ability to register your dog proactively, along with a system of red alerts sent out to shelters, vets and even groomers in your area.    

Home again, home again, jiggety-jig.

The first thought I had after a panting Christmas materialized in the driveway and my world righted itself again, was thank God for answered prayers. And so quickly, too!

Universe, I owe you one!

Click here: Dog Detective® – Lost Dogs & Found Dogs – the first and largest pet recovery network on the Internet

Click here: Fido Finder® – Where Lost Dogs Are Found

Christmas In July.
July 11, 2008

“All is for the best in the best of possible worlds.”

Voltaire

In December of 2006, we took in a heavily pregnant female dog, a Labrador-Malamute mix (Clementine) and the most likely culprit for her condition, a male Boxer-mix we named Lucky. Both dogs were desperate, thirsty, panicked and thin. Lying in the only shade they could find, in the wash behind the corral (wash? think sandy river with no water) under a Palo Verde tree choked with mistletoe, the two dogs were panting heavily in the sun. Watching my every move with distrustful, guarded eyes, Clementine half-heartedly barked at me, protecting Lucky, but it was too hot to bark.

Easily bribed with food, water and shelter, a few hours later their ordeal was over. Later, neighbors would report seeing the dogs being pushed out of a white truck. The driver was angry and cursing at the dogs because they kept trying to jump back in.

Right from the start, I could feel the puppies squirming inside Clementine, and even glimpse an occasional puppy foot pushing on her taut, pink belly. Calling around, I learned that many places will abort litters up until the last minute due to the sheer number of unwanted dogs in the world.

But I just couldn’t do it.

Armed with internet research, and having discussed the process with our vet, Clem went into labor on December 18th, 2006 at 9:12 pm. Watching in amazement as life came to life in my hands, I rubbed fat bellies to stimulate the breathing process, cut umbilical cords and tied them off with dental floss, handed puppies over to Clemmy to clean, or, cleaned the puppy myself as she cleaned another. I was amazed at how well life knows what it’s doing.

During the nursing stage, the puppies were almost frightening; their thrust toward life transformed them into little hunger-demons, blind to all but the nipple. Clementine quickly became overwhelmed by so many demanding, unrelenting mouths, so I supplemented the puppies’ meals with goat’s milk, sucked one-by-one from a tiny bottle.

One of my fondest memories is weaning the puppies onto solid food. At that stage, we prepared a blender slurry of wet puppy food and goat’s milk and poured the concoction into a muffin pan, filling up eight slots. It made for a perfect, puppy-sized meal. The idea for the muffin pan had flashed into my head one bleary-eyed night at four in the morning, when the puppies were screaming to be fed and I despaired of ever having enough hands. How could I juggle eight bowls? Then I thought of the muffin pan.

Last month, we noticed that one of the puppies, Christmas, (a puppy given sanctuary at our ranch when she didn’t find a home), was limping. Cordoned off in a puppy play-pen in the kitchen to limit her movement, we made an appointment with a veterinary specialist at the recommendation of our regular vet.

(It brought back a torrent of emotions for me, since the last time we’d seen the specialist, our 16 year old terrier had gone into multiple organ failure. He was helped over the Rainbow Bridge that night. I miss him terribly. )

At Christmas’ appointment this morning, this time the news was good: Christmas doesn’t have a hip issue, but a knee injury, likened to a football injury, involving her tendon. It’s one hundred percent fixable. The relief in the house is palpable.

I’ve had the first lines of an Emily Dickinson poem in my head all morning: “Because I would not stop for death, he kindly stopped for me …” But this morning death kept going. We got a break.

Who knew hamburger with cheese on top could make such a fitting victory cake? Happy ranch dogs in Arizona, with hamburger bellies that remind me of the puppy days. Even my husband, recently complaining about Christmas waking us up early on weekends to go outside and play, had tears in his eyes at the good news. Summer feels like plain old summer again, with the worry lifted.

I only wish I had a big pin to pop the sky and bring down the rain so I could dance in it. Instead, I dance in the hallway with the terriers, who, on the command “dance”, stand on their hind legs and hop up and down with me.