Includes book reviews and bits from writer's journal. For the professional stuff, see website link below left.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Selene Turns Nine, and Other Milestones

Selene turned nine years old yesterday, and has now been living with me for one year, two and a half months.

She has become resigned to being an indoor cat again, as the extreme weather means there are too many mosquitos outside. Neither of us wants to go outdoors in that sort of weather anyway!

She follows me about like a dog

She usually spends her mornings in the spare bedroom, enjoying the pheromones coming from a dispenser plugged into the power point. Afternoons, if I am home she follows me about like a dog, happy to hang with me wherever I am; lying on the floor somewhere near, or beside me on the couch in the evenings if I watch TV. 

And she has playful times when she chases her toys around the floor – toy mice or tiny plastic balls with bells in them – or I dangle long fluffy cords for her to leap and catch. 

When I go to bed, she hurries to come too, snuggles up against me and purrs. (Yes, these days she often purrs, albeit very faintly, always to express her pleasure at being next to me.) I leave dry food and water out for her overnight. If she gets off the bed to go and have a snack, when she returns she always comes straight up to me and greets me all over again before settling down. Eventually – after I put the light out, but not immediately after – she moves to the foot of the bed and stretches out to sleep.

She likes me to stroke her, and I'm happy to oblige. If I'm reading in bed and stroking her with one hand, she looks up if I stop for a moment, to politely ask for more. If I'm walking around the house and she's lying on the floor, she requests (with body language) a pat as I go past. She still doesn't miaow – unless I happen to step on her if she's come up soundlessly behind me. Then I find out she is only non-vocal by choice; she is quite capable of a hearty yelp!

[Update on the update, two days later: The purring is becoming ever louder and longer and she now stays snuggled against me all night, to my great joy. Could this be the result, not only of pheromones etc, but also of my projecting light and love at her purposefully, every time I remember? Of course it earns her extra strokings anyway, and so the bond grows closer.]

Allergy update

As well as the pheromones to calm her, I give her feline tranquilisers which are largely Vitamin B. (All this on vet's advice.) Something's working! She now submits to an occasional dab of the calendula cream prescribed for her mosquito allergy. The first time she stayed still and allowed me to put it on, she then washed it all off again with her paw! But now she doesn't even bother doing that. She must have realised the stuff doesn't hurt her.

There are still limits. I can't even attempt to put cream on her poor, denuded belly. However, it is starting to grow fur again, a fine fuzz. The vet also prescribed some tablets I was able to crush up and put in her wet food, and she took them without any trouble. They seem to have done the trick.

She is now costing me a fair bit for the pheromones and Vitamin B, and the expensive foods which keep her teeth clean and her gullet free of furballs – but I don't grudge it (well, not TOO much) for the sake of keeping her healthy and happy.

It's HER home now

She's comfortable in her home now, has explored every room, and exudes the confidence of ownership.  If there are unaccustomed noises on the street outside – voices or car sounds that don't belong – she comes to attention and inspects the situation through the flywire at the front door. I'm glad to say she never shows any inclination to go out that door. I have a look too, and explain to her calmly what's going on, then she ignores it again.

When someone knocks on the door, she disappears. You wouldn't know there was a cat here. If they stay awhile, and she decides she likes their energy, she'll eventually come out to say hello – though rarely with men, whom she distrusts most. She trusts me more and more, but I think it's fair to say she trusts her own judgment best and will always be slightly suspicious even of me.

Understanding each other

But we rub along, having come to an understanding of each other. She amuses the heck out of me at times, with her funny little ways. I don't know that I amuse her, but she is very patient and tolerant with me when I am slow to understand what she's trying to communicate. And there are times when I don't misunderstand, I refuse. (Such as feeding her what I consider too much to be healthy.) She has learned to understand both 'No' and 'Yes', and also 'Fish!' when I'm about to give her a treat.

'You are the most beautiful cat alive,' I tell her. This wording stops me feeling guilty towards the ghosts of previous felines, who were all beautiful too. At times I still miss Freya and Levi acutely, but that is a separate matter from my relationship with Selene. They were my precious children, no matter how old they got; she is my house-mate and companion, becoming 'family' but in a different way. I address her as 'girlfriend', 'honey-bubble' and 'darling'. I inform her that she is my treasure. She gazes back at me meaningfully, and arches her head for a pat.

The perfect cat for me at this time in my life 

I am not blind to the fact that she is the perfect cat for me at this time in my life. (Thank you, Universe!) I am sorry to think that it came from being abused, but the fact remains that she is the best-behaved cat I ever met, and possibly the most intelligent. She has her own mind, but as long as her boundaries are respected, she is incredibly obedient. 

I have my boundaries too, and she respects them. I'm happy to be obliging to her in other ways, if I can. When I say no to something, she might ask, 'Do you really mean it?' once or twice, but then she accepts it with a good grace, and finds something else to do.

She is sufficiently self-contained to put up with a writer who spends large chunks of time at a computer. Unlike most cats, she has never attempted to come anywhere near the computer, let alone get between me and it. If I won't give her my attention, she doesn't keep demanding it. Perhaps she knows she'll get some later; but no other cat I've ever had has shown that degree of patience.

Despite attention to writing and other things, my life revolves around her. It has to; she is my responsibility. And, though I have lots of people and activities in my life, at home it's mostly just me and her. What I realised recently is that, even more so, her life revolves around me. I'm actually all she's got, the only one. It's a good thing she seems to have decided I'll do.

I should add that, like all cats, she's magic. 

Occasionally she disappears. She's a quiet wee thing, but eventually I notice she's not around. 'Where are you?' I ask out loud. No response. I check the spare room. I check every other room. I look under the beds, the tables, behind the couch, inside cupboards, calling her name. Nothing. It's as if she's dematerialised. I start to worry that she might have gone outside, but I know I haven't opened any doors she could slip through. Anyway, she's always hesitant to cross those thresholds.

Just when I'm at a complete loss, I turn around and there she is in the middle of the floor, calm and self-possessed, looking at me enquiringly. I never see where she materialises from; she just suddenly, silently, reappears.

Friday, March 10, 2017

It Is Possible ... 'as well as' rather than 'either/or'.

Re-posted from facebook:

[Don't know who the (obviously American) author of this is, but I like the thesis!]
For all of you who aren't sure, it is possible to be gay and Christian. It's also possible to believe in God and science. It is possible to be pro-choice and anti-abortion.
It is equally possible to be a feminist and love and respect men. It's possible to have privilege and be discriminated against, to be poor and have a rich life, to not have a job and still have money. It is possible to believe in sensible gun control legislation and still believe in one's right to defend one's self, family, and property, it's possible to be anti-war and pro-military.
It is possible to love thy neighbor and despise his actions. It is possible to advocate Black Lives Matter and still be pro police. It is possible to not have an education and be brilliant. It is possible to be Muslim and also suffer at the hands of terrorists. It is possible to be a non-American fighting for the American dream.
It is possible to be different and the same.
We are all walking contradictions of what "normal" looks like. Let humanity and love win.

(The author is encouraging copy/paste if you like. If you share, only our mutual friends will see the post.)

Chromosomes, Bigotry and Science

(Re-posted from facebook, so as not to lose it.  Author unknown.)

Monday, January 30, 2017

A Year with Selene

Yes, she came to live with me on January 19th 2016.

For the most part it’s been a happy year, gradually building trust  and affection between us, establishing our little domestic routines and learning each other’s behaviours and boundaries. 

She likes to hang with me, to be close to wherever I am; but she also regards the spare room as hers, and sometimes likes to retreat to her own space for a snooze. She is thrilled when I sometimes have occasion to go into 'her' room. She welcomes me with a big fuss, as if I'm paying her a visit. 

In the evening, if I watch TV, she will soon be relaxing on  the couch beside me. She gets VERY relaxed.

I have some long, dangly things I use for playing with her; the game is that she jumps up and tries to catch them. Once caught, she is not so much interested; she lets them go so I’ll start all over again. When she sees me getting ready to retire for the night, she insists on having playtime first.

When I do go to bed, she comes straight onto the bed with me and settles down. But at some point, after I’m asleep, she goes off to her own space again.

As I may have mentioned before, she is mostly non-vocal. But there was the day I came home after a very busy morning and decided to have a little nap, which I rarely do in the daytime. She came up onto the bed next to me as usual, and then she began to purr. It was very faint but it went on for about two minutes. For this cat, that was A LOT! I was thrilled to pieces.

The long danglies we play with usually live in a drawer but one day I left them on the table. She knows she is not allowed on the table, and they stayed there untouched while I was out that day. But after I came home, I walked past the table and she reached up to where the end of one was hanging a little over the edge and gave it a tug with her paw, looking at me meaningfully. ‘Initiating play,’ said my social worker friend approvingly, when I told her later. (Yes, she got her game.)

We have had nice times out in the back yard together, me sitting in an outdoor chair meditating, reading or writing; her reclining nearby or inspecting the garden. It’s a small enclosed back yard. She can’t get out under the fence and shows no inclination to climb over it – much too afraid of what might be on the other side. She knows there are dogs and men in the neighbourhood.

She still hides when visitors come, but when they are women she’ll eventually come and check them out. She was OK with a gay male friend, too. It’s masculinity that scares her most.

She has got to the point, I believe, of loving and trusting me as much as she could any human being. Although it's unlikely she’ll ever be a cuddly cat, she has even let me pick her up now and then. And I do get to stroke her when she’s lying beside me on the couch or the bed. 

Everything progressing so nicely – and bang! Trouble. In this heatwave summer we’ve been having, she doesn't want to go outside in the middle of the day (neither do I). But she asks to go out briefly in the morning before it heats up, and again late afternoon / early evening, when it cools down again. Mostly I haven’t accompanied her, and she hasn't stayed out long. But long enough.

I started noticing odd little white spots on her fur, which appeared immediately after her being outside. Also the hair over her eyebrows has thinned noticeably, and under one paw. Her beautiful white eyebrow whiskers fell out a while back. (‘They do moult,’ said one of the vet nurses; but so far they haven’t grown back. I’m glad to say her whiskers proper are still there.)

I made a vet appointment, and for a few days beforehand accustomed her to having her special fishy treat in her carry cage – that is, the food in the cage and her poking her head inside to get it. But on the morning of the appointment, when I tried to push the rest of her in, she was quick to wriggle out of my hands. I waited a while, and then tried to pick her up. Instead of letting me, she twisted and bit my thumb before running off to hide. It wasn’t a hard bite; she really doesn't wish to attack me too fiercely nowadays. There was no bleeding, but the skin was broken in two places.

I went to the vet without her, but with photos. The vet thought it was probably an allergy to mosquito bites, and agreed to do a home visit when she could. That happened yesterday, and she confirmed the diagnosis. Selene hid at first but then came to say hello, and the vet was able to pick her up and pet her. But when she went to give her an injection, Selene bit her too. The vet was wearing cat-proof gloves, so no harm done. But no injection either; Selene was off her lap and away very smartly. 

The vet had come prepared, and gave me some tablets to crush in her food. That works. I am also supposed to slather calendula cream on her areas of fur loss. Well I can get it on the spots behind her ears, but she won't tolerate it anywhere else, and by now is afraid to come near me in case I try and put it on. No more bites, but if I were to try and force the issue, I’m sure there would be. So the next thing is to get a sedative from the vet tomorrow and see if that enables me to get her in her cage and take her there the next day. 

The worst thing is her poor little belly. It was always a bit furless around the nipples, indicating she’d had a litter. I hadn't noticed that the pink area had gradually spread. When the vet remarked on it, I said, ‘It’s always been like that.’ Then today I saw her washing it, and to my horror realised the bald area is already spreading down the insides of her back legs – since yesterday!

She seems happy enough, apart from distrusting my medicinal intentions, and not in any discomfort. But I am distraught. I realise that I can’t manage her in a crisis, and that the trust I’d established over a whole year is fragile. She will be 9 in April; she is not likely to change at this stage. For a while I was comparing how easy it was to manage our other two cats when Andrew was here to help. But really I doubt if even two people would be able to manage Selene.

The rest of the time she’s a sweetie, extraordinarily well-behaved and keen to please. But when she’s afraid, there’s no reassuring her.

I have been feeling guilty too. I had originally intended she should be an indoor cat, which was what she herself obviously wanted. But a friend heavied me about it being cruel to keep her inside, and around that time Selene started looking a little curious about the back yard, though perfectly content to survey the front yard and street from safely behind the flywire. So I made sure the back yard was safe for her, and encouraged her to try it. I have been doing some beating myself up that I didn't stick to the original decision and keep her inside, safe from the wretched mozzies. However, she has enjoyed the back yard, and as the vet said, 'It’s a summer problem.’  

The vet also said, ‘Don’t let her out at dawn or dusk.’ Well, in this weather, that’s exactly when she was going out! So now she’s not going out at all, and we are mooching around the house looking warily at each other, wishing for the rapport we had so carefully established before, but with very different ideas of what needs to be done about it.

PS I went to the vet to pick up tablets she prescribed during Saturday's home visit and also a pheromone diffuser to set up near where Selene sleeps (OK, near where she most often sleeps). I was advised to give her the tablets for two weeks before worrying about trying to sedate her and take her in, as they should clear up the trouble, even that bald belly! – Yrs considerably relieved.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

My Interview at Smashwords

(a request to my readers)

I had to devise a self-interview as part of my profile on Smashwords, where my latest poetry book is published (actually a collaboration with Jennie Fraine and Helen Patrice: THREE CYCLES OF THE MOON).

You can read the interview here. I request that you please do so, and please tell me in the comments at this blog post whether there are are other questions you would like me to answer.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Falling for Flavia – Book review

While detective fiction isn't my top favourite genre, I can stand a bit of it now and then – in a wide range, from Agatha Christie to Matthew Reilly. 

11-year-old detective Flavia de Luce, as written by Alan Bradley, is something else again. I have rapidly fallen in love with her.

She had me from the very first sentence I read, but I'll give you this excerpt from early in the first chapter of THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE (the first book in the series) to show you why.

    The eyes, as blue as the birds in the Willow pattern, looked up into mine as if staring out from some dim and smoky past, as if there were some recognition in their depths.
    And then they died.
    I wish I could say my heart was stricken, but it wasn't. I wish I could say my instinct was to run away, but that would not be true. Instead, I watched in awe, savouring every detail: the fluttering fingers, the almost imperceptible bronze metallic cloudiness that appeared on the skin, as if, before my very eyes, it were being breathed upon by death. 
    And then the utter stillness.
    I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn't. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.

How could one not adore a girl like that? She is the girl I should have wished to be, if I'd been a lot smarter and wiser than I was at 11. But I did have one thing in common with her: a singular passion from an early age. Whereas mine was (and is) poetry, Flavia's was chemistry. She was especially fascinated by poisons – and their antidotes. Flavia is tough-minded and sometimes vengeful (particularly towards the two older sisters who torment her) but far from evil. And she is good at solving murder mysteries.

Yes, these books are in the 'mystery' sub-genre, and it's fun to watch Flavia assemble the clues. She tends to be several steps ahead of the police by means it doesn't occur to them to use. On the other hand, her favourite policeman, Inspector Hewitt, usually arrives at the same place at the same time by more orthodox methods.

The stories are set in the nineteen-fifties, in an English village, and are full of cultural references I am old enough and literate enough to enjoy. Flavia is quite well and widely-read – with some unusual preferences – and was born in the same year as me.

I see from the Wikipedia entry about him that her author, Alan Bradley, was born a year earlier and was brought up with two older sisters, which no doubt gives him a lot of insight into Flavia's sibling situation. He certainly gets into the mind of an 11-year-old convincingly, and I never questioned Flavia's gender. I still don't – heck, Flavia is REAL. 

My friend, author Leah Kaminsky, once said to me about reading fiction, 'I don't care about story; what I love is language.' I love language too, and think of people like Markus Zusak, Carmel Bird and Leah herself as shining examples. Also I need the story to be sufficiently interesting. But I have realised that the aspect which fascinates me most in any novel is the characters. Flavia is a winner! 

I encountered her via two books mid-series which I picked up at the library. Books in this series are stand-alone enough to be read out of order, but I so loved Flavia that I had to go back and start over at the beginning, and I certainly plan to complete the rest – ten so far, but that doesn't daunt me as they are so readable. 

They are designated Young Adult, I see – correctly, I think – but in my local library are also shelved with adult fiction. I like reading Young Adult books anyway; also, as a former children's librarian, I firmly believe a good book for children of any age is one that can be enjoyed by adults too. (Incidentally, another thing that endears Flavia to me is her notion that heaven is a place where the library is open eight days a week.)

I am far from her only devoted admirer. There's a fan club, and talk of a TV series, and Flavia has won Bradley several literary awards. 

I'm glad to note she is still only 12 in the tenth book. It wouldn't do to have her ageing too fast!