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Monday, March 24, 2008

Discussing Poetry Blogs (online or print publication, and all that)

The previous post has received no comments here so far. And even on MySpace where it was first aired, although readers awarded kudos for the post, they didn't immediately rush to express opinions. I guess that's because, as the first one who finally did so said, there are no right or wrong answers to my questions. Still, we did eventually get an interesting discussion happening, which I think is worth reposting here. (Just using my friends' initials; if curious, you can view the discussion in the original detail here.)

Me (Rosemary):

Well, thank you friends for all the kudos! Glad you approve; wish I was sure what you are approving of.

Ummm ... given that I have pretty much jumped in with online poetry posts despite some doubts, I guess that is what you are applauding.

OK then, I'll career on regardless. Ta!


CCC:

So most of your questions have no right answer, only personal answers. I had my time in print and much prefer the blogosphere. But my destiny rests elsewhere than my writing so my opinion is just that only my opinion on how I share my poetry. Selfishly I hope you share my view and place more of your poems here so I can read them, but then if being print published and read on into posterity is a goal of yours blog posting might be counter productive...


GG:

i'm going to re read and give it some more thought, rosemary... you raise an important point.

for me, the way i share my life is through poetry... and so, just want to give... it's like birds singing in the morning! :) just open your mouth and sing!

for me, myspace profile is set to friends only, and therefore it's like my sharing poems in emails, or in a letter... to friends, not the public.

also, i don't consider my own myspace page as a magazine, or myself as an editor, so therefore, for me, i don't consider my poems have been published, because i've chosen to share them with friends.

i'll drop by again and see what publishers/editors have to contribute to this discussion.


hugs

g


CM:

Hello there,

Interesting post!

I know that, for myself, I had rather keep my own blog than go everywhere and post in magazines. I found a couple of magazines who published me online, which gave me a great sense of achievement. I also went my own way, creating three self-published collections of poetry. But let's be honest for a minute. Where poetry was a queen of literature a few centuries ago, is now the spot of hip hop, novels, etc.

That's true, most magazines won't accept something that you published on your blog, as it is considered already published.

We have to come to the conclusion that poetry is very underrated. One day it will gain its rightful place once again. In the meantime, it's up to us to prove what it can arise in people.

Have a great day!


DM:

Hi Rosemary,

I find MySpace a great forum for posting new or 'problem' poems and getting some feedback from poets I respect. I have mixed feelings about posting 'finished' poems in blogs (although I have posted some in MySpace, in other poets' blogs and my work appears on a few websites.) I suppose I feel that this might be considered prior publication and perhaps my work won't be accepted for print journals, but like you I find that I haven't been sending much out anyway...and it's so easy to put them up online.

Maybe, because it is so easy, there's a feeling / perception that they haven't received 'validation' as 'quality' poems..by acceptance for a literary publication.

I think I'm still mulling this over.

D


B:

Hi Rosemary I must admit that I have no intention or ambition to end up in print. My blog is where I can write and find some encouragement and support from like minded people. As such I don’t care that by airing my work it loses the potential to make money for some one else. Love B


CK:

There is a big debate going on about this in America. Many online journals won't accept poems if they have been published in any other online medium -- blogs, MySpace, Facebook, etc. Even when I put up a rough draft, I'm sure it's still floating about in some cache where people can still see it. Once you put something online, it never really disappears is my thought.

I don't worry about it too much, frankly. I have had a lot of work in both print and online mags in the last couple of years and I'm delighted to say most of it has been solicited by editors. Most of those eds. know what they're getting into when they ask me for work. They know it might have appeared on a blog or in a different form elsewhere.

My advice is to research the mag/journal you want to submit to and see if they have hard and fast rules about posting poems on MySpace or blogs.


J:

Holding back your poems for people who want to read them, think on them, slurp 'em up.....one by one - for slim pickings of lit mags? Whats your honest experience of all that baloney? FREEDOM, TRUTH, BEAUTY, NOW!


M:

I've been pondering this lately myself. I tend to put most of the poems I write in my MySpace blogs, just so more people can read them. I've never been paid a penny by a publisher for them having one of my poems in their magazine, though I've had a couple of promises of cash that didn't materialise! And if having a poem posted here went against me when it came time to choose whether someone should publish, I've no idea.

Only a couple of editors have asked I remove poems from MySpace before publication and I've been happy to - no real idea how many people actually stop by anyway but I'm guessing most view stuff in the first couple of days after posting.

I had a quite dry period lately, maybe only 3 poems in 4 months, then about 15 came at once, and I was so out of the habit of submitting I suddenly realised I had quite a few to send off. This latest batch, as it's mainly magazines I've never sent to before, I've removed from MySpace, just cos I felt like they could be a surprise for folks when and if they turn up in print or online. Was even thinking about having a single blog entry listing all online poems, make it easier for people. It's ultimately about getting it read and "out there".

In the end, it's your poetry, so do what you want with it. Let petty editors be petty editors, there's plenty of good ones still around.


DP:

this a great post, and an interesting question rosemary. sorry i missed it a few days ago:) do you mind sharing which publications consider previous posting in an online blog or website prior publication? i had no idea that that sharing things on a personal, non- commercial (for the author), but never-the-less, public website might be considered publication. i rarely submit anything for publication, and if i do, it's a regional print magazine. i think of my online blogs as more of a public journal, and i have always thought of sharing my writing in this format as simply sharing my work with friends, especially since i often revise my work based on the feedback i receive. i think of it more as an online writer's group or support community.


Me again:

Oh, thank you all so much for joining the discussion so generously! I admire as well as enjoy your work, and (dear CCC!) it was your valued opinions I was after. They have helped me regain a sense of perspective on all this. I've always said that with any art form, and certainly for me with poetry, the first impulse is to express oneself, closely followed by the second, which is to communicate. Not that that's all – there is also the desire to create art – but in this company that is of course understood. But yes, it's really about reaching people and sharing oneself, isn't it?

I think it matters that we take our craft seriously. I also think I was probably taking mySELF a bit too seriously there for a minute!

I too have had my time in print, and have even been paid for it (sometimes) but even in my heyday I don't know that I reached more people than I do by posting online. These things we never really know for certain, anyway.

I should have proved to myself sufficiently by now that there are people – poets and public – who like what I do and are sometimes moved by it. As for fame, I have it on good authority that the only living Australian poet that most people overseas have heard of is Les Murray – deservedly so, but there are many others equally deserving! And when it comes to the wider public, really, as CM indicates, how many people have heard of ANY contemporary poet (except for a few of those who are songwriters too)?

As a little girl I longed to be a world-famous poet, but no-one these days is really that (except Bob Dylan and the like). But here on MySpace I have an international audience, which is the next-best thing. :) Even my Blogger poetry blog, with few readers so far, has that.

DM, let's be honest, there's some crap poetry online, and it all has hordes of slavering fans telling the perpetrators what great talents they are! But I know you have enough poetic discernment to pick the real quality here – and if they like your work too, trust their say-so. We don't necessarily need publication in the print media to validate our work. And if we've already had some of that too, all the less cause for doubt. It just comes down to what we ourselves want to do with our poetry, as M says.

GG, I created a Yahoo group to share new poems with friends without it counting as publication. I'm sure a MySpace that's private except to friends serves the same purpose. Blogs that are open to anyone and everyone are more problematical.

DP, I was mainly thinking of Australian (print) publications which you're unlikely to be interested in. I don't know a lot about online publications, but I know that on MySpace The Smoking Poet and Unquiet Desperation specify no previous publication/posting, equating the two, and I think rorschach failure is the same. As CK suggests, we'd have to research any publications we might think of submitting to. I understand it's a matter of a niche market. The major fiction publishers don't mind if a novel has been aired on the net, if they think it's worth printing – I know this, as a friend did the research – because that is not going to interfere with their sales. But the market for poetry is considered so small, at least in Australia, that exclusivity is prized.

Well, if I decide I want to get into a print mag in future and they don't take stuff posted online, I'll just have to write something wonderful for that exclusive market, won't I?

Meantime, I particularly like what J and B say! So you may expect to see more poems here [MySpace] in future. I'll continue with the Yahoo group and the Blogger blog also, so people can choose what's the easiest access for them.

Thank you all for restoring me to good sense and clarity.

On with the dance!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

So what about poetry blogs?

One of my great joys in life is to catch up on MySpace with the work of poets I admire ... poets whose writing moves and thrills me. And there are some others who post their work out here in what I call the wider blogosphere, too – like Rachel Phillips at Outlasting Moths or the pseudonymous H R Wyld at Wyld Poetry. Amanda Joy of Little Glass Pen is in both places, as are Jenny Adamthwaite and Dave Pickering of Window and the poet/artist Savvyology. And I’m sort of in both places too, posting the occasional poem on my personal MySpace blog, plus weekly haiku at Haiku on Friday, and creating poetry blogs (one for haiku, one for everything else) here at my Blogger profile.

I am always in a dilemma about this. Early on I read that many literary magazines consider blog posts 'prior publication' and won’t take anything that has been so aired. Fair enough too, it seems to me. But until recently it inhibited me from sharing a lot of stuff. One of my MySpace friends, when I asked him about this, told me not to worry – there were reputable online lit mags that didn’t mind first drafts having appeared in blogs. Not quite what I meant, but a point worth thinking about. I was referring to print mags and finished works – inasmuch as a poem is ever 'finished', of course. I have tended to use already-published pieces in blogs for the most part ... until lately.

Plenty of MySpace poets don’t seem too worried, for which I am grateful as I get to read the wonderful stuff they post!

And then, I notice that I’m not actively pursuing publication in print mags any more anyway. I have friends who are somewhat militant about bypassing mainstream media in order to reach 'the people'. I’m not so ideological about it, but I do find online publication more interesting these days. Well, it tends to be where I spend my time; and now that I live in a coastal village rather than a city, even the prominent lit mags are hard to come by and aren’t in my life any more.

And, having done a 'New & Selected' not so long ago, I’m thinking chapbooks for forthcoming ventures into printed books – in which case I won’t need a new record of prestigious print mag publication to convince a book publisher I’m worth it.

So what am I saying here?

That I’m very much engaged with online publication these days, and any ventures into print in the near future are liable be rather different from earlier forays.

That I wonder about the truth of this rumour that lit mags – online or off – won’t take material that has appeared in websites or blogs. I actually know it is true of at least a few online mags and also some print mags - so where do I find the others?

That I have actually started some poetry blogs now. Couldn’t restrain myself any longer, despite wondering about the wisdom of it. Mind you, they have about 5 readers so far, so I could choose to abort them without seriously jeopardising my chances of getting the poems published elsewhere. Is it more important to just get them out there? If I have so few readers, am I really getting them out there anyway? (The same applies to some above-mentioned poets whose gorgeous work seems largely unknown.)

What do other poets think? What do the magazine editors say? Tell us, please!

And yes, I know I am ignoring the whole question of spoken word poetry. Is it that performance poets regard that as their main focus and aren’t so concerned about where or how they back it up on the page/screen?

Where do I go from here?

Do please weigh in with some opinions!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Animal Reincarnation

[Republished from a MySpace blog.]

I've been hesitating about reposting this one here. Firstly because it's long, and that's supposed to be a no-no in blogging; secondly because I'm afraid it may be a bit 'out there' for my readers here. The MySpace blog where this and the previous post first appeared is specifically for people who have asked me to be a teacher and mentor to them in metaphysical matters. But I shouldn't make assumptions about my readers here, and everyone's free to have their own opinions anyway – and to read or not read, for that matter.

The previous post would not be complete without this one.


My Constant Companion

1. Guinivere

This story starts with my cat Guinivere, who shared my life from when she was a six-week-old kitten until she died at the age of 18.

I was married to my first husband, Don. We must have been about twelve months into our three-year marriage, as we were living in the flat at Armadale ( a suburb of Melbourne, Australia), our second and last home together. I was working as a cataloguer at Brighton Children's Library. I was twenty-three.

One of our regulars, a boy called Branko, came into the library and told us the family cat had just had kittens and he was looking for people to take them. They were too little to leave their mother yet, but he told us all about them, how many boys and how many girls and what colours. I'd always wanted a cat, but my little brother used to get asthma and we weren't allowed pets. My mother thought the fur would upset him. Now I was grown up and married, I could have what I wanted. Don was a cat-lover too, so I didn't hesitate. I asked for the grey male.

Two weeks later Branko took me to his home after work to collect my kitten. There was only one left – a tabby female. Someone else had taken the one I ordered. Branko was only eight years old and no-one else was home; it was fait accomplit. And I did want a cat.

The Universe knows what it's doing! No cat could have been more perfect for me. I love all cats, but she was THE cat in my life – forever supreme, even now. She was an amazingly aware animal, though I didn't know that yet. It would take me months to begin understanding her rare intelligence. Meanwhile I decided to call her Guinivere partly because it was a royal name. As far as I could see, she was just a little tabby moggy. I thought the name would bestow some dignity on her.

She became bold, beautiful, and inquisitive. One of her favourite games was to run towards me, stop right in front of me and then take a great vertical spring straight up in the air to land on my chest – and of course in my arms. She loved to sit on my shoulder, and would stay there as I went about my activities. When I was eating, her paw would dart out to try and steal mouthfuls from my fork. One time, her furry little foot followed the fork right into my mouth!

Marriage to Don was one of those youthful mistakes. I was afraid no-one else would ever ask me. He, nine years older, was afraid of missing the boat. It didn't take long to realise we had too little in common, and we separated after eighteen months. He decided to go to Sydney and find a new life; so I didn't have to fight to be the one to keep Guinivere – though I would have. We managed to part fairly amicably; he even helped me find a new flat in Balaclava.

'Take care of Rosemary,' he said to Guinivere, giving her a goodbye pat, 'And scratch all her boyfriends.' She followed both instructions. If someone she didn't know came down the path by my flat, she would growl like a dog. If I was sad, she would lie on my lap or my chest, gaze into my face and purr until I felt better. If any of my dates entered the flat, she would jump up and scratch them viciously on the leg. Until Bill. She never did that to him. For some weeks, though, she pointedly ignored him. Then one evening, after he drove me home from work and stopped to get the shopping out of the boot while I went ahead to unlock the door of my little flat, Guinivere waited for him and accompanied him down the path instead of rushing to the door with me as usual to get a feed. He was very touched.

We always said the animals made up our minds for us. Bill had a beautiful German Shepherd called Gigi who went everywhere with him. She was really a gentle dog, but she was jealous of his girlfriends and discouraged them by standing on her hind legs, putting her paws on their shoulders and snarling softly in their faces. After that it was impossible to convince them she wasn't dangerous! But when she met me, she sniffed my hand and let me pat her, and then nuzzled me affectionately. Even Bill was surprised. But I couldn't have dogs where I lived, and when Bill went overseas for a few weeks, Gigi stayed with his parents, which was where he had been living too. When he came back, they begged him to leave her with them, and in many ways it was the most practical solution. She died in her sleep a few years later, after a happy life.

Guinivere became our cat rather than mine, and moved with us, first to Brighton, just opposite my work, and then to Beaumaris where we lived for a year before our marriage and twenty-two years after it, in two different houses in succession. We needed a bigger one after we acquired, in turn, a Scotch Collie, a teenage foster-son, and two small sons of our own. Later we adopted a stray black-and-tan bitzer whom we called Sambo, because Steve, my youngest, fell in love with him. Like all cats worth their salt, Guinivere quickly established her supremacy. Sambo was a good-natured little dog, and he was so pleased to have a home and a family that he was content to be lowest in the pecking order. But that was when my boys were already going to school. It was before they were born that Lassie arrived.

I had been scared of dogs since childhood, and big dogs scared me most of all. Which is ironic in view of the fact that I eventually fell in love with the biggest dog I ever met. Nothing happened to make me so scared; I was, as my swimming teacher told my father, 'a naturally timid child'. (Yes, I was scared of swimming too.) I'd learnt not to show the dog phobia too obviously, and when our friend Peter was moving away and needed a home for his beautiful Lassie, I was persuaded that she was a gentle, obedient dog, and that Bill would be the one to look after her. I knew Bill would love to have another dog.

We sat in the kitchen with Peter, Lassie lying by his chair, giving her time to become accustomed to us and our home. Everything was peaceful until Guinivere walked into the room, and Lassie suddenly sprang to her feet and made a dive for her. She cornered the cat under the table, but almost as quickly I was on my feet too. In one stride I was across the room. I grabbed Lassie's collar, hauled her off, whacked her across the nose and said, 'Don't you EVER touch that cat again!' I didn't even stop to think; it was pure reflex.

That was the end of my fear of dogs. Lassie and I became loving friends. She never did attack Guinivere again but I'm afraid I can't say the same in reverse. That cat knew she was safe thereafter, and had a nasty trick of waiting in some high vantage point and leaping down as Lassie wandered past, to land on top of the poor dog. She would rake her claws across Lassie's back, swiftly and hard, then leap straight up to her possie again, unreachable. Even then, Lassie never retaliated. Apart from that little exercise they maintained a sort of armed truce for many months, until Lassie was hit by a car, was away at the vet's a few days, and came home with her hind leg in plaster. Guinie went up and sniffed it, rubbed noses with Lassie and made sympathetic murmurs, and after that they were friends.

She was a naughty little cat in other ways too. When my first child, David, was a baby, I used to put him outside in his pram under a tree next to the house, to get some fresh air and sunshine as he slept. When he woke, I'd go and bring him in. Guinivere was supposed to stay outside in the daytime. She learned to imitate the baby's waking cry so well that I would go to the door, open it, and she would dart inside. David would turn out to be fast asleep still.

I've seen her crouch down just outside the lounge room window in nesting season and imitate the cry of a baby bird. When the mother flew down to investigate, she pounced. She didn't get that one; I dashed outside immediately and made her drop the bird before it was harmed. Eventually I was able to train her that mice were fair game but birds were off limits. I've never been able to train any other cat like that. When we moved into our second Beaumaris house, there were signs of mice. Guinie disappeared for two days and we were afraid she must have run away, but then she reappeared nonchalantly and we never saw any sign of a mouse after that. There was a big garden and lots of lovely birds visited, which she ignored.

The next bit you're really not going to believe. It's true, though. She would sit in front of the fridge and make a miaow that sounded remarkably like the word 'milk'. Perhaps we'd said it often enough in conjunction with that stuff she liked to drink. And she was a good mimic. It might have been our imaginations – except that we all heard it the same way, and only in those circumstances. I used to say that she'd either been a person in her last incarnation or was going to be one in her next.

She outlived both Lassie and Sambo. Sambo got ill quite suddenly with a liver infection and died almost immediately, when Steve was ten, breaking his heart. Lassie eventually began dying of old age, growing weaker and weaker. She was finding her last summer very trying; Bill and the boys couldn't bear the thought of having her put to sleep, but I could see how she was suffering so I made the painful decision.

'Get a puppy,' said my friend Beth when I told her how the boys were grieving. So we found Suey, a German Shepherd cross. When she came into the house, a happy youngster, she rushed up to play with Guinivere, who scratched her deftly on the nose. Once again the pecking order was established, and they got on fine after that.

Guinivere seemed young and agile most of her life. She would run up trees to show off if we were watching, and people were amazed in her later years to know how old she was. Only towards the very end of her life she lost her sense of smell, her eyesight wasn't as good, and she slowed up. Then she started getting thin no matter what we did, and finally seemed to lose vitality suddenly one weekend. I decided to take her to the vet first thing Monday morning. That Sunday night she spent some time on my lap, then on Bill's, then on the arm of David's chair. Steve, a natural morning person, was always first up, and would let Guinivere out to relieve herself. She was waiting for him by the door that Monday and he patted her and talked to her a bit, then let her out as usual. We never saw her again. She knew our big property very well. We never could figure out where she went, but we understood that she had selected her resting place ahead of time.

When she was alive, she liked to curl up on the clothes-basket of clean washing that sat under the laundry bench until I got a chance to put it all away. Oh dear, cat hairs on the clean clothes! But I could never succeed in discouraging her, so in the end I would put an old towel on top and let her enjoy it. She would make little noises of greeting when anyone went past as she was resting there. After she died, the kids and I would still hear these little greeting noises when we walked by the clothes basket. This went on for weeks, and stopped so gradually that we didn't really notice when.

Some time after she died, I lay down for a nap one Saturday afternoon, and as soon as I closed my eyes (I was definitely not asleep) I 'saw' her come and walk on my chest and rub noses as she used to do – but one thing was different: her eyes were all red and full of pus, which they never had been. This upset me so much that I got straight up and went out to the back yard where Bill was working, telling him in tears that Guinie had come to see me but her eyes were 'all mucky'. He held me in his arms and let me cry. It was after this visitation that the hauntings stopped.

Of all cats, she was THE cat. I thought I'd never have another. But years later, after our dog Suey eventually died of cancer, some friends presented us with two kittens. They'd been to a pet shop, chosen two for themselves, couldn't bear to leave the other two and thought, 'Who else needs a pet? Of course – Bill and Rosemary.' Who can resist a kitten? I named the silent, smoky-grey little girl Ishtar. Bill named the vocal, long-legged tabby Sam.

2. Flint

When the boys grew up and started University, it wasn't that they left home – home left them. Bill and I sold up and moved from Melbourne to Three Bridges, a tiny, isolated place between Yarra Junction and Powelltown – just farms, not even any shops. By then our kittens were young cats, rather timid as unlike Guinivere they were the newest and youngest of the neighbourhood cats around our Beaumaris home. They got bullied if they ventured outside their own territory. After the move, at first they were terrified of the new surroundings but gradually they started exploring further, and soon became very confident. They had both been neutered early of course, but we used to say it was as if Sam got his balls back. We had fourteen acres, a lot of it uncleared bush. He started leaving his uncovered droppings on stones in the bush near our back gate – most un-catlike behaviour. Instead it's the behaviour of a male animal in the wild, asserting his dominance to others that might be around.

So there we were with our two cats. All our dogs had died and we had no thoughts of getting more. We were occupied getting to know our new neighbourhood and learning about country life.

I used to walk down a long lane to the road to pick up the morning paper from an old milk-can letterbox at the roadside. I started getting an image of a young dog, male, springing and running alongside me, darting into the bush to chase a rabbit for a second or two, then bounding back out and coming to me for a pat. He was brown, with big floppy ears. I had no idea where this dog in my mind had come from; he was unlike any dog I'd ever had. And I thought that if I wanted a dog, I'd prefer a female. But he kept turning up in my head every morning. I started behaving a little as if I had a real, physical dog with me. I'd pat my leg to call him to heel. One day I noticed that when I did so, the top of his back was level with my upper thigh.

I became curious. What breed could he be? I asked to be shown, and got an image of him as a young puppy with his litter mates. But I still couldn't tell. Brown. Soft wavy fur. Floppy ears. Maybe a spaniel? But no spaniel I'd ever seen was so tall.

Gigi, though she didn't live with us, had been Bill's dog. Sambo was Steve's. The rest were family dogs, belonging to all of us. I had never had a dog of my own, just mine. I had not been conscious of wanting one. But now I began to get interested in that idea. Luckily I did start mentioning my visions to a few people, otherwise I don't think anyone would have believed me later, when he turned up in the flesh.

I decided to manifest him by a certain date. I was reading Stuart Wilde's little book, Miracles, all about a technique for manifestation. I decided to try it out. The next thing that happened was that our friend 'Patricia' (not her real name) needed someone to mind her dogs for some months. A professional musician, she was doing a residency at a school. There was a house in the school grounds for her and her daughter, but definitely not for her Border Collie and her Labrador cross. So, by the date I had set for manifesting my dog, we had these two. They were mother and son. Beau, the son, appeared fully Labrador. I wondered if he was the dog I'd been seeing. Wrong colour, not quite the right height, but still.... I now think the Universe decided that as I had specified a particular date, they'd better give me something to go on with. My timing was a bit out.

Patricia's dogs were spoilt and hard to manage. And they had never been trained not to chase cats, so we had to be vigilant. They were grudgingly obedient at best. We got pretty fed up with them. Also Patricia and her daughter missed them. So one weekend when the school was empty of students and teachers, Patricia asked us over to dinner on the Friday night so that we could drop the dogs off for the two days. She would have them back to us on Sunday evening and no-one would ever be the wiser. We thought it was a very good plan!

On Saturday morning we woke and lay in bed a while, luxuriating in the absence of those damn dogs. Then we heard a bark. 'But we haven't got any dogs,' I exclaimed. It came again. We looked out the window, and saw a dog looking into our yard over the gate to the paddocks. We thought he'd wandered in from a neighbouring farm and would go back the way he came, but no, he kept giving these little barks to get attention. Eventually Bill got out and opened the gate. Then we realised how big he was. We had thought he was standing on hind legs to look over the gate, but he didn't need to, he was just resting his head on it.

Our front gate was open as we had no stock, so we figured he'd run off through there and go back where he belonged. We went back to bed and lay there talking about what kind of dog we'd like, if we were to get a new dog. The only thing we couldn't decide was the breed, so we eventually said German Shepherd in default, because we did like them. Finally I got up to make breakfast, and saw through the glass of my front door the strange dog lying across the mat, So I opened the door to send him on his way, and he stood up, sort of shy and eager at the same time. I took a look, saw how thin and dirty he was, and said, 'You've been on your own for a while, haven't you?' Well, I had dog food in the house, didn't I, for the other two. 'You'd better come in,' I said. Then, as he came hesitantly across the floor, I took another look and said, 'Oh – I know you! You've arrived.' I went and told Bill. 'Congratulations,' he said. 'You've just got yourself a dog.' He wanted to be the one to name him, and for some reason settled on Flint. He said it just came to him.

The first thing I did after feeding Flint was take him to the vet. I felt a responsibility to the other animals to make sure he was free of any contagious diseases. He had a thin, old collar on and I had a spare lead of Patricia's. He was fine in the car, and well-behaved in the waiting room, sitting quietly. The vet wanted me to leave him there for examination and collect him later. I handed the lead to the receptionist and turned to go. Suddenly there was a huge commotion, as he scrambled frantically to chase after me. Surprised and touched, I patted his head and said to him, 'It's all right. You go with the nice lady and I'll be back for you later.' He relaxed immediately and went off with her quite happily.

We had two lovely days with Flint, then Patricia brought her dogs back late on Sunday afternoon. They were furiously jealous and clearly thought we'd moved them out for the weekend in order to move this interloper in. Flint displayed great tact and intelligence by deferring to them and putting himself at the bottom of the pecking order, yet standing his ground too. He was clear he had a right to be there and he wasn't about to be forced out. He would defer only so far.

I did all the things you're meant to do about trying to trace an owner, making enquiries at all the local vets and the police station, putting up notices in shops, while inwardly praying I could keep him – and as no-one showed up to claim him, I did. Of course he turned out to have every one of the qualities Bill and I had said we wanted in a dog, as we lay there fantasising on the morning he arrived. As for the breed, we didn't have a clue. The vet said a Curly Retriever cross. That seemed right, as in Australia we are used to relatively small Curly Retrievers. We did think the cross must be with a Great Dane! He was so big that people used to say, 'That's not a dog, it's a horse.' Much later, a friend found a picture of an Irish Water Spaniel, and that looked very like him. Later still we found pictures of Curly-Coated Retrievers as big as him, and like him in every respect, even more so than the Irish Water Spaniel – though that is very similar and is thought to be an ancestor of the Curly-Coated Retriever.

Flint's eyes were a little too small for the sockets, the vet explained, and when he used to run in the bush behind our house, the tall grasses would irritate them and they would get all red and full of pus. I remembered the strange, distressing experience of dead Guinivere visiting me, her eyes just like that. It hit me that Flint was her replacement, her reincarnation. I finally made sense of that strange experience: she must have appeared to me to tell me she would come back, and to give me a sign by which to recognise her. And certainly, of all dogs, Flint was THE dog. Although I'm really a cat person, he was the only pet I ever loved as much as Guinivere. If anything, I loved him even a little more.

Patricia's term at the school came to an end and she took back her dogs, to the relief of our whole household. Flint and the cats coexisted happily. The cats used to curl up against his warm fur to sleep on cold nights. And when I went for walks in the bush, quite often all three animals would come with me. He was a friendly fellow, but a good watchdog. He had a deep, baying bark that scared strangers. He was the gentlest creature, but his size made him look fearsome, so he functioned as a good guard dog even though that probably wasn't in his nature. No-one would have been game to put it to the test.

One time I was in such a rage with Bill that I emptied a bag of rubbish all over the bonnet of his truck. I used to get a bit crazy like that in those last years with Bill. Our cat Sam jumped onto the truck and sniffed curiously at vegetable peelings. Flint immediately rushed up and barked fiercely to chase him off. I had to laugh. Clearly, if his Mum had put that rubbish there, no-one was allowed to disturb it! Restored to sanity, I calmed the dog, soothed the cat, and cleaned the truck.

After Bill and I separated four years later and I moved back to Melbourne, I had Flint with me for a time, but I couldn't supply the space and attention he needed, so I gave him to Bill, who could. Bill died suddenly of a heart attack just after Andrew and I, married a year by then, moved to northern New South Wales and signed a lease on a house. It specified no pets. Although I pleaded with the landlord, he was adamant, so I asked some friends in Melbourne to take Flint. They had a little girl he was very fond of. They looked after him very well, he was happy with them, I got to visit occasionally, and he eventually died of old age.

After he died, he used to visit me sometimes. One time a neighbour's cows got into our front yard and I couldn't get rid of them. They were Angus cattle, aggressive things. When I went to chase them out, they turned on me with heads lowered, so I retreated hastily to the safety of the verandah. When I lived in the country with Flint, the neighbour's cows would sometimes break into our front yard, and he would always chase them out. So on this occasion, on a sudden impulse, I mentally yelled for him. When I looked around, the cows were running out the gate and down the road as fast as they could, just as if something invisible was after them!

A psychic friend who had known Flint, and who had a special gift for communicating with animals, told me that Flint was 'working his way back' to me. She couldn't tell me exactly what that meant. It was good news, but I didn't let myself hope too much. I was in no position to have a big dog like that any more – or any dog for that matter, even though Andrew rather hankered for one. But we actually enjoyed our pet-free years.

3. Two cats

My cat Sam died while I was still living at Three Bridges. He had feline leukemia from a kitten, but its progress was very slow and he would go into long periods of remission. By then both Bill and I had learned Reiki. Sam and Ishtar were lap cats so they got a lot of stroking and therefore a lot of Reiki, which comes through the hands and is activated by touch. That cat had a nose for healing hands! Whenever any other healer came into the house, he would leap into their arms even if he'd never met them before. But the time came when he too disappeared, just as Guinivere had years before. I was much more aware by then. I woke one morning and just knew his energy had gone. Then I noticed that, of two cute little toy cats I had sitting in a window ledge, one had fallen face down on the floor – in a position that it was most improbable it could have fallen into naturally – though no-one had touched it. Neither had ever fallen before, in months of sitting there. I didn't want to accept it of course, but sure enough, he was nowhere to be found and never was. All the previous week we had noticed dead animals by the side of the road – road-kill. I have a theory that that's how he chose to go, and that he went a long way from home so that we would not be distressed by the sight of his body.

I felt remorseful about poor Sam. I had blatantly preferred the sweet, beautiful Ishtar. Sam was a loud, demanding cat who constantly nagged us with his shrill miaow. I loved him too, but I often got impatient and sent him outside when what he really wanted was more of my attention. I vowed to learn my lesson with future pets.

Ishtar came with me to Melbourne. I shared a house with a friend whose toddler started tormenting the cat – not meaning to, just in play, but unchecked. I couldn't have that, and I wasn't always around to prevent it, so I gave her to Bill too, and later to the family who took Flint, where she too lived happily and died old, curled up peacefully in their garden.

Sam was one of my guides. I found that out while he was still alive, when I did a course in psychic drawing. We used to meditate and then draw. I used chalk pastels. Convinced I couldn't draw, I would let myself be guided as to what colours to pick up and where they were to go on the paper. On this day our meditation was to connect with our guides. Afterwards I produced a very stylized cat, unrealistic but recognisable. From the particular configuration of stripes on the face, I knew it was Sam. I asked The Guys Upstairs why a guide would come in that form, and was told, in a tone of mild surprise as if stating the obvious, 'Because you like cats.'

When I learned Reiki II, with a technique for communicating with the inner being of the client, I discovered that Flint too was a guide for me – which was no surprise. In fact he turned out to be mostly Higher Self with just a thin veneer of dogginess. That, of course, was when he was still alive and we were still together.

In 1998 Andrew and I moved to North Tumbulgum. Soon afterwards we inherited two young cats from a friend who couldn't keep them: Levi and Freya. Levi is like a big black panther; Freya is more puma. The vets call her tortoiseshell but she's mostly grey. I realised I'd been catless too long!

Now I teach Reiki, and in a Level II class I try to have students work with a variety of clients, not only people but also plants and animals. I use the opportunity to do healings myself, along with the students. In one class, I chose Levi to work on. Imagine my astonishment when his inner self said clearly, 'You liked me better when I was a dog.' I did a huge double-take, knowing instantly there was only one dog he could mean. Yes, it's the same being, with me again. He has exactly Flint's personality, translated into catness. Every now and then I think this couldn't possibly be so, it's my fevered imagination – and then his eyes will suddenly get pus in them (which they normally don't) or he will sit with his chest erect and front legs crossed just as Flint used to do (which again he doesn't usually) – as if to show me that, yes, it really is him.

In that same Reiki II class, I had one of my assistants – an old friend who had known all my animals – work on Freya. Not knowing at that stage what I had been getting about Levi, she was informed that Freya was a reincarnation of my cat Sam. Again it made perfect sense. Freya looks very like Ishtar, and of course is female too, but she has Sam's demanding personality and his strident miaow! I figure she came back in a form she thought I'd prefer. I make sure I give her lots of love and attention this time around.

As we can't have dogs where we are now, but cats are allowed, it makes sense that Flint became a cat once more. In his dog life, Flint loved me best of anyone, but he liked men and used to follow Bill all over the place. Levi follows Andrew around like a dog, and comes when whistled. He flexes his paws in the way Flint used to, and unlike other cats he won't retract his claws no matter how much I try to teach him. Flint was much too big to be allowed on the bed, though he craved it and occasionally sneaked on when no-one was around, looking very sheepish when discovered. Levi loves to lie on the bed, but is always a bit hesitant, never taking it for granted – unlike Freya, who has been my cat in both lifetimes and thinks it's her right to get on the bed.

They are good cats and we're a happy family. But Levi was right – I did like him better as a dog.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Animal Ghosts

[Republished from one of my MySpace blogs]

There are people who swear that animals don't have souls. How bleak an afterlife that would be, with no animals! The idea is nonsense, I know. Sometimes they return as ghosts; sometimes they reincarnate. I have personal experience of both.

My cat Sam, when alive, used to love to jump up on to the bed next to me with a resounding thud. After he died, I would sometimes be sitting on the bed, and there would be a sudden thud beside me. Or when I was outside I would catch a glimpse of his silhouette looking down from the edge of the roof, another of his favourite activities. In life, of course, he was clearly visible when he was there. In death, he would show himself only long enough that I knew it wasn't a mere trick of the eye or a moment of wishful thinking, and then he would vanish. I felt he was playing a cheeky game with me.

For some years I attended a meditation group in which the host's cat, Specks, liked to participate. Jim would spread a towel across his lap to stop her ecstatically flexing claws from digging into him, and she would lie there quietly for the whole meditation. Specks grew old and eventually died. One night as I came out of meditation, just as I opened my eyes I saw Specks sitting on the low coffee table. I was startled fully awake, and she was gone. Jim said others had seen her too. 'She tends to look bigger and paler than she was in life,' he said, and I nodded. That was exactly how I had seen her. But why was she on the table? He grinned. 'She wasn't allowed on it when she was alive.'

My Scotch Collie, Lassie (unoriginally named by her previous owner) was a motherly soul although she never had puppies. She mothered her human family instead. When my sons were little, if I scolded them severely she would place herself between them and me and growl at me softly. Lassie adored me and would never have hurt me, but it was her way of telling me I was overdoing it. As far as she was concerned, they were her kids too! She was similarly protective of their father and me if she thought we needed it. She had been dead a long time – years – when I was working late in my study one night, pushing myself even though I was tired, a bad habit I had got into. Something made me turn around and look behind me. I saw Lassie in the doorway, perfectly clearly – but I saw her in that classic way ghosts are described: I could see through her. It was very strange; I could both see her in every detail, and see the room and its contents through her, at the same time. She was coming in the door, head forward, looking purposeful, and I realised she was telling me it was high time to go to bed. This was not a matter of moments; I stared at her for some time, amazed but not at all scared. After all, this was my dear Lassie! As soon as I got over my surprise and understood her message, she quietly disappeared.

A later dog, Suey, a German Shepherd, never showed herself to me after she died, but I would hear her. I worked from home when we had Suey, and she had the habit of following me about the house during the day, when there were just the two of us there. I wasn't always prompt to trim her claws, and as she followed me they would scrape audibly on the wooden floors. After her death, for months she would still follow me around, as I knew by the comforting scrape of her claws behind me. Eventually it happened less and less. I didn't really notice when it stopped altogether.

This was the way of it with most of my friendly animal ghosts. Not all of my pets did return to haunt, and Lassie only came that one time long after her death, but mostly they would be very present for a few weeks or months, then less and less so and then not at all, like a gradual fading. I suppose they stayed attached for a while and then moved on. Usually my children perceived them too, in exactly the same ways I did, over the same length of time. Sadly for him, their father never did. He didn't exactly disbelieve, but for much of his life anything intangible was an unknown world. I think he sometimes felt we were having illusions, our subconscious minds arranging to comfort us for the deaths of these beloved pets.

Indeed, might it not have been so? It seems all too feasible — were it not for my experiences at second hand. I work as a psychic reader, and sometimes this takes the form of mediumship. I use a big crystal ball. I am more clairsentient than anything else, so instead of scrying, I place one hand on the crystal and with the other I hold my client's hand. I shut my eyes, and then I see images behind my closed lids and hear messages in my head. Anything and everything can come through when I do this; I am just a channel for whatever the Powers That Be choose to present to help the client. Sometimes a guide will arrive to give a message. Sometimes dead relatives or friends will come. Often the client will ask to be put in touch with specific people who have passed on; sometimes they turn up unasked. These are experiences of great love, which, being clairsentient, I feel in my own body. I am often moved to tears — never by grief, but by the depths of the loving.

I always describe to the client what I am getting. I don't know these people! I have to double check. The client will confirm, 'Oh yes, that's my grandmother,' or perhaps will say, 'Oh no, that sounds more like my aunty'. It delights me when, occasionally, a deceased pet comes through. It makes the clients very happy too. I've encountered both dogs and cats, and once a horse. These animals appear healthy and happy. They are always glad to be communicating with their human friends, but not grieving in the slightest. They have absolute trust that they will be reunited in the spirit world; it's not in question, and there is no impatience.

I suspect they have ready access to this world anyway, even after they have fully passed on into spirit. They don't give the impression that these assisted meetings are rare reunions; they don't seem to have been fretting for the person. Animals when living are so psychic, they can be aware of things a great distance away. Why should it not be so after death? This I don't know for sure; I speculate on the basis of my observations. I have no doubt, however, that animals do have individual souls.

Some people firmly believe there are only collective animal souls, one for each species. Some of the people who think this base it on their own psychic experiences. I think they have encountered archetypes. There are nature spirits associated with the various life forms. There are individual spirits for the individual manifestations of any form — a single plant, a specific animal — and there is also the archetypal spirit of 'dog' or 'wolf' or 'wattle tree' or whatever.

But that's another story….

Monday, March 10, 2008

Can it be coincidence?

Hey, guess what? I suddenly realised my spam level has dropped to nil. Andrew says it's the same for him. Can it be connected to removing my 'adult content' warning from the poetry blog?

His connection to this profile is apparent but indirect, so I don't know. In his case it may have resulted from clearing his cookies after he responded to a message purporting to be from our bank – and luckily realised his mistake promptly.

Three cheers, anyway!

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Four Things Meme

Thanks to Jenny Adamthwaite's From the Living Room blog for this one.

Four jobs I've held.
- baby sitter
- waitress
- shop assistant
- librarian

Four movies I've watched over and over again
- Empire of the Sun
- Sleepless in Seattle
- Four Weddings and a Funeral
- Gone with the Wind

Four places I've been
- King George Sound, north-west Australia
- Machu Picchu, Peru
- Enchanted Rock, Texas
- Uluru (Ayers Rock), central Australia

Four places I've lived
- Launceston, Tasmania until I was 15
- Merbein, near Mildura for two years. Couldn't wait to get out of the place!
- Melbourne (successively: Pascoe Vale, inner city, Carlton, Caulfield, Ripponlea, Armadale, Balaclava, North Brighton, Beaumaris, Elsternwick, Brighton.)
- under The Pinnacle, far northern NSW, in a place that didn't have a name. (Postal address was "via Tyalgum".)

Four TV shows I watch
- Dr Who
- Doc Martin
- Robin Hood
- MASH in its endless repeats, of which I never tire.

Four radio shows I listen to
- Australia All Over on Sunday mornings, on the car radio on the way to market ... or sometimes in bed on non-market days.
- Life Matters
- The Philosopher's Zone
- Poetica
(All on ABC – the national broadcaster – and none of them very often. I'm not much of a radio listener, and only hear them when Andrew turns them on. Would not remember without him. I never think of daytime TV, and never think of radio at all; I forget they exist.)

Four things I look forward to
- Checking Google Reader to find new postings from my favourite bloggers
- Swimming weather
- Payday
- Haiku on Friday

Four favourite foods
- Dark chocolate
- HOT curry
- Shellfish of all kinds
- Mangoes

Four places I'd rather be
I like it here, but for time away ...
- Austin, Texas
- Kerrville, Texas
- Machu Picchu
- Venice, Italy

Four people I email regularly
There is little regularity in my life! But four I email often:
- Andrew (even though he sits at his desk opposite me. We are always saying to each other: 'I just got/found this thing ... would you like me to send it to you?')
- BFF Helen
- Jennie Fraine
- Leah Kaminsky

I'm supposed to tag people to do it. Probably four, but will just say Jennie and Mikaela, and anyone else who feels like doing it – and let me know so I can have a look at your answers on your blog.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Cancelling the X Rating

Enough already! I have taken away the 'adult content' notification from my Passionate Crone poetry blog. Just couldn't cope with the level of sex-spam received thereafter, as previously reported. I decided my poetry is innocuous compared to real porn. Even the erotic stuff employs few four-letter-words or explicit descriptions. (I'm more likely to talk of 'flying' than 'coming', for instance.) After all, I'd rather use asterisks occasionally than have my work equated with hard-core material. The whole exercise was useful, I guess, for me to arrive at that conclusion.

The emails haven't stopped yet, though my spam filter is now identifying most of them as what they are. 'Give it time,' I thought. Then I found out my husband's getting a sudden spate of them too. So it can't have been the blog. None of his are x-rated.

Then today I received a very interesting email, which my mail program has labelled junk mail – quite correctly, I believe. It tells me I may need to update my anti-virus settings asap as my PC could have become infected. It lists nasty possibilities such as identity theft, spyware and so on, and helpfully provides several clickable links to enable me to get the sender's anti-virus program pronto. I use a Mac, so am less likely to have been infected ... but I do wonder if this timely offer is mere coincidence or something more sinister. I was already thinking seriously about installing a better spam filter. Spam is not necessarily the same thing as a virus, but may well carry at least one.

How did these people know I needed increased protection? Was it just a lucky guess? Or is it a set-up? A protection racket, in fact?