Sunday, May 31, 2009

Come Sail Away

Went boating yesterday, on Coeur d'Alene Lake. So nice. Just relaxed. A friend of mine has a boat. It was great.... We ended up settling in to Beauty Bay, aptly named, after having putted our way over to the other side of the lake from Coeur d'Alene, to a restaurant there (I think Fast Eddie's?), where I asked for a list of summer drink specials, and they had none. This has been my new question this summer - what summer drinks do you have? And no one has any. See, I think that's weird. I think they'd be creating summer drinks right and left, now that the snow has melted.

At the end of the day yesterday, as dusk settled, we sped back. Hours of relaxation erased by a few minutes of daredevil flight across the top of the water...

Daily Free Write


synchronicities abound
and point forth the way

(want to know free writes are? Check out the "About Free Writes" category to the right)
photo credit: Storm Crypt, found here

Memorial Day, A Week Late

Note: I wrote most of this entry last Monday - Memorial Day - then really wanted to add the text of the letters between Generals Grant and Beauregard - see below - and so called Shiloh Military Park, and the nicest guy offered to send me copies in the mail. Just got them, so now I can finish the entry...

* originally written Memorial Day *

I need to go back several generations before I find family members who served in the military. I'm thinking the American Revolution. Although one of my great-grandfathers did serve in World War I. And another long-ago grandfather served in the Civil War (Union side). And all of those relatives survived their wars to live long lives. So on days like today (Veterans Day being another one), I find myself taking a moment to remember other people's family members instead of my own. The heart aches at the stories of loss, of bravery, of moments in action.

Today, President Obama sent a wreath to the Civil War Confederate Army memorial in spite of a plea from historians and others to stop that tradition (started in 1914 by Woodrow Wilson). But he also sent a wreath to honor the African Americans who fought, and died, in the Civil War - this, a new tradition. It seems a perfect solution to me. While the Civil War is defined as the war about slavery, the war itself was complex. The soldiers who fought for either the North or South - they were fighting for "their side." And still, they were Americans. Honoring all honors us all.

In 2001, I took a road trip across the country. I stopped at the Shiloh National Military Park, in Tennessee, mostly because I love the name Shiloh, and because Shiloh means "peace" and so I wanted to see how Shiloh and Military could come together.

I found out it had been a bloody battle, in early April, in warm weather. Success was elusive as each side gained ground only to lose it again. In the end, the Union Army won. But nearly 25,000 died in the process, over two days, almost equally divided between North and South - about 20 percent of all the soldiers that took part. It was the first large scale battle of the war, and its horrific casualties shocked both the North and the South. And the name Shiloh? It came from the small sweet church that sat in what became the middle of that battlefield. The church survived the battle but was destroyed weeks later. It has been rebuilt, and continues to have a congregation.

There was a short video at the military park about the Battle of Shiloh. (What had we been doing? was the thought I had that day back so many years ago, as I watched it.) And then, at the end of the video, this. After surrendering in battle, the Southern general - Gen. Beauregard - wrote a letter to Union General Grant, asking permission to return to the battlefield, now just a field, to identify and remove their dead. He wrote: "Certain gentlemen wishing to avail themselves of this opportunity to remove the remains of their sons and their friends, I must request for them the privilege of accompanying the burial party...."General Grant responded, saying that the Union army already had buried the dead - had done it quickly, due to the heat. "There cannot, therefore, be any necessity of admitting within our lines the parties you desire to send on the grounds asked," he wrote, then added - and this is a line that struck me deeply - "I shall always be glad to extend any courtesy consistent with duty, and especially so when dictated by humanity." Both generals signed their letters "your obedient servant."

So here we were, killing tens of thousands of ourselves. And then asking for that aftermath courtesy of being allowed to bury our own dead, a request that could be granted because of the dictates of humanity. How do you kill and care simultaneously? I don't think there was successful marginalizing of the enemy in the Civil War, not really. How can you marginalize yourself? And seeing 25,000 men lying dead and dying near a sweet church called Shiloh... The first page of the Shiloh park website quotes a Union veteran:
"No soldier who took part in the two day’s engagement at Shiloh ever spoiled for a fight again," he said. "We wanted a square, stand-up fight [and] got all we wanted of it."

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Daily Free Write

there is, within the soul, the deepening of life



(want to know what free writes are? Check out the "About Free Writes" category to the right)
photo credit: Lee McCain, found here

Friday, May 29, 2009

Daily Free Write

there is no end, you know -
not without a beginning



(want to know what free writes are? Check out the "About Free Writes" category to the right)
photo credit: Elfike, found here

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Coolest Phone Call Ever

So I just got off the phone with the president.

No, not the president of my soccer league. The actual president. He thanked me for all my hard work last fall. Well, me and my 10,000 closest friends (or 20,000, or however many thousands were on the call, I actually don't know).

The whole call was on health care. There are community meetings June 6 all around the country. Sign-up to attend a meeting is here:

This was a conference call by a group called Organizing For America for diehard volunteers. I'm not sure how my name got on this list. Maybe someone in the Colorado campaign office put my name on it. Somehow, I'm on it. And I get email invitations every so often to be on conference calls like this one. First time with the president though.

So here's the thing. Even though I know he doesn't even know me, or that I was on the call, even though I know I was only one of thousands on the call, when he said "thank you" for all the hard work, I got tears. It's not possible that he was thanking me individually. But it felt like that - maybe because I know that he knows how hard we each worked in our little corner of the country. And we did work so hard!

The same thing happened to me the day after the election. I happened to be in the room when he and Joe Biden called all the staff around the country to thank them for their hard work, and the staff let me listen in. But that time, tearing up at the "thank you" - my gosh we were all so exhausted from working round-the-clock non-stop for months, our emotions were on our sleeves, tearing up made sense. (I'm sure my current anemia is partly because I paid little attention to my health while working for the campaign.) But today, I teared up again. I think there's just something very powerful about the words "thank you" for what is a thankless job.

Oh, here's a fun part about today's conference call. We were getting information from the warm-up speakers and the Prez - who was up next - got disconnected, so we were waiting for him to get connected again. And then a voice come on the air and said - I think these were her exact words - "Pardon the interruption. This is the Air Force One operator. We have the president on the line." !! (And we all thought, oh, that's fine, no problem, please - interrupt.) Then someone - I think Reggie Love? assistant to president - says, "We got him right here. One second." Fun.

Back to health care. Apparently we'll be using the June 6 meetings (sign up here: to organize events like "Yes We Cans" food drives or health walk-a-thons, to be held all around the country on June 27. (I reported on a Texas "Yes We Cans" food drive here.) All admirable goals. But also, it's back to pounding the pavement. Like last fall (I'm presuming), we'll be given solid information about the health care plan as well as answers to questions that people have, and then be given addresses and/or phone numbers to talk with our neighbors about the specifics.

I'm thinking I might let my fingers do the walking. My region is pretty much set in stone - in favor of the reform plan for the most part. So I might try to make phone calls to other areas of the country.

What I like about Obama's plan is that it keeps the world of insurance while making other options available. It's quintessential Obama. Work with what you've got, but fix the problems too.

In the conference call, various speakers said a bunch of things that made a lot of sense. One volunteer in North Carolina said that it'll be easy to get people to pitch in. Her experience? "People are just waiting to be asked." She herself was signing up attendees for the June 6 meetings once they knew about the meetings themselves.

David Plouffe (former campaign manager for Obama) said it warmed his heart to be on the phone with us. "You were our campaign," he said. He spoke of how businesses and families are "just being crushed" on health care and that Washington "has talked about this for far too long." He said that real change comes from the country to Washington (rarely the other way around) and that he knew it would be tough but that they needed everyone to find the time to work on this in our communities - to "take ownership in this." He pointed out, too, that this is an issue that touches everyone's lives. To spread the net wide. "This shouldn't be a lonely affair," he said.

And then on came the president. He too talked about how businesses and families are getting hammered each day on health care; about how one particular person he had met (representative of so many people out there) was dealing with her illness while simultaneously fighting every day against an insurance company that wase trying to cut off her health care; about how we need to preserve what works but fix what's broken; and how this is an American issue about needing Washington to make a move. he spoke, like he often does, of change coming from the bottom up - that when people are in their communities talking and persuading and giving each other facts, it makes a difference.

The whole phone call was energizing and great. My commitment is to learn the nuances and do outreach via phone calls as the summer evolves (and as my health improves). It's important to get the details, to ensure that the solution is workable. I turn to my sister the doctor often to verify information. But the lack of adequate health care in this country for so many people is horrifying. It's time to make a move.

Playfair And Spokane Indians Baseball

There's an item in today's newspaper, that the city of Spokane may have made a mistake a few years ago when it bought an old race track called Playfair, hoping to sell the land for development. Apparently the city now is stuck with selling the property for a loss. Looks like the property will be sold to a company making steel products (with a part of the property staying with the city for a storm water storage project). "Weeds grow in what remains of the former Playfair race track" as decisions slowly get made.

Seeing the article brought me back to my own journey with Playfair. It was next to Playfair that the Spokane Indians' minor league baseball team built its Ferris Field so many years ago, in the 1930s. That was the home of the Indians team into the 1950s (though the stands burnt down in 1948 and no permanent replacement stands were ever built).

And it was in 1946, right after World War II, and on Ferris Field, that the Spokane Indians played stellar ball - until a bus crash midway through the season took the life of nine of those players. That team, and that bus crash, are the subject of my baseball novel, "Until The End Of The Ninth."

Back in 2004 (or 2005), when I knew that the city had bought Playfair and was getting ready to demolish the track, I went out to the site to imagine what it must have been like, to have baseball played out that way, next to the track. I walked around the half-demolished remains, trying to imagine it. Playfair is only a few blocks west of Avista Stadium (the current ball field), so the view isn't too terribly different (a beautiful view of mountains off in the distance). But the land of the Avista Stadium is not the land of Ferris Field, where the 1946 team played and where their fans walked to come see them. That tangible land was next to Playfair. So I went to Playfair before it was fully demolished, before it would become impossible to even imagine where Ferris Field used to be.

It made me sad, to be out there, to know that there was nothing I could do to stop this - not that there was much to be done anyway. Baseball was still alive and thriving just a few blocks to the east. And at Playfair? Baseball had been gone from there for decades. Still - a plaque would be nice, would be a way to mark the place forever as a reminder of a great team that played there once - great teams, plural, since it was not just the 1946 team that gave Spokane memories.

One thing about Spokane - it has very little awareness of history. We lose historical buildings to development projects all the time. The city council and county board of commissioners seem to have an uncanny ability to look the other way when developers want to destroy buildings that have stood the test of time for 100 years or so. The treatment of Playfair is along those lines (and I know lots of people have memories of the racetrack that they hold dear).

And now - to know a project likely is actually underway... Time marches on, yes. But maybe something can be done - even something small - that can ensure that we all can remember what took place on that land, not so long ago.

from the April 27, 1946 edition of the Spokesman Review
(don't you love the hats?)

Daily Free Write

practice seeking sound for through practice will the noise abate

(want to know what free writes are? Check out the "About Free Writes" category to the right)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Daily Free Write

the truth, as it shall be had - ramblings, deep and through


(want to know what free writes are? Check out the "About Free Writes" category to the right)
photo credit: Andreia Bohner, found here

Screenplay Progress

I've put in the edit suggestions that I gathered this past weekend on my mystery-and-intrigue screenplay, and have sent it to a member of KNIFVES (my movie networking group) who has all the experience in the world in this sort of thing and just generously gives of his time to newbies like me. Thumbs up on that accomplishment.

Here's the downside: now that I am paying attention to my energy levels (because of recently-diagnosed anemia), I float between gathering energy and spending it intensely on the writing. This means that last Thursday, I rested and was completely exhausted - a bad day, when I wondered if I would ever, ever get better. Then, on Friday and Saturday, I stayed focused on the editing projects, as the three of us went over more than just my project. Then, on Sunday, I rested again - probably slept about 12 to 14 hours off and on throughout the day and night, gathering energy for a final push. Then Monday and Tuesday - intense editing and writing. Finished yesterday at about 4 p.m., and was without anything left. I had enough "gas" left in my system to go forage for food. But then - done.

There must be a better way to live. The intake of all this iron tells me that I will reach that way soon - hopefully in weeks and not months. Patience, patience...

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Daily Free Write


refresh the soul and the mind
with forgiveness from the heart

(want to know what free writes are? Check out the "About Free Writes" category to the right)

photo credit: Stefatty, found here

Monday, May 25, 2009

Daily Free Write

do not drown in the sorrows - instead, bring forth
the sadness on a pedestal, celebrating life and
lived moments that you have, that we each have -


(want to know what free writes are? Check out the "About Free Writes" category to the right)
photo credit: Geoanne Millares, found here

Sunday, May 24, 2009

More Torture Items

There are two incredibly interesting items about torture.

First: a Chicago-based radio show host called Erich Mancow Muller - apparently he's on a conservative show, though I've never listened to it - volunteered to be waterboarded. He lasted only a handful of seconds after less than a gallon of water was poured onto his face (he got through 3/4 of a gallon). He said it was "absolutely torture," and that it was "instanteous and horrific." Here's the clip.

Second: two men with first hand experience with waterboarding and other "enhanced interrogation techniques" went on NPR to talk about how waterboarding is torture, is ineffective, obtains false confessions, and negatively affects the mental health and well being of our soldiers who were required to conduct the torture. The two men are Tony Lagouranis (a former interrogator at Abu Graib (not involved in any of the now-infamous photos) who has just written a book called "Fear Up Harsh - An Army Interrogator's Dark Journey Through Iraq") and Mike Ritz (a former interrogation instructor at SERE, our military's program that trains soldiers what kind of torture to expect if caught behind enemy lines). Here's the interview (audio form only). It's a little long, but well worth the listening.

Here are some parts of the interview:

HOST: One of the points of contention in this debate is whether the techniques actually yield useful information. Vice President Dick Cheney has been very insistent that the information obtained using these methods was important to American safety.

TONY LAGOURANIS: In my experience they didn't yield any useful information. Even if it did, you couldn't separate it from the information that wasn't useful. You can torture somebody into confessing to any crime you want. I could torture you until you confessed to murdering JFK, but that doesn't mean you did it, and it's certainly not intelligence.

* and *

TONY: Many of the detainees I interrogated, and tortured, didn't have information to give me. They hadn't committed any crime or action against the US forces. Beyond that, even when you're dealing with someone who does have information, I think that torturing them is the worst possible way to go. The FBI does not use torture and they have a 90% success rate in their interrogation practices, and I saw nothing close to that in Iraq using any of these techniques.

MIKE RITZ: I agree with Tony completely. I'd like to point out this isn't guesswork, we know this to be fact. If you look at the case of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi who was initially captured and cooperated with FBI interrogations. They were using report building techniques, they were giving him the incentive of promising that his wife and family could come to the United States. And this guy, who was very guilty, was cooperating, giving us actual intelligence information. What happened was that the CIA came in, asked if they could use more enhanced interrogation techniques on the individual and through rendition took him to a foreign country. They utilized those techniques. At first he clammed up completely, and then ultimately he linked al-Qaeda to Iraq and claimed that Iraq had trained al-Qaeda in weapons of mass destruction, which we now know to be completely false information and some would speculate sparked the war.

* and *

HOST: Is there some cost to you, psychologically or emotionally, in using these techniques?

TONY: Yes. When I came back I was experiencing intense guilt. I'm still dealing with that, and I think that any sane person put in the situation that I was of brutalizing a helpless person, it doesn't matter who they are, you're going to suffer psychological consequences. A friend of mine trained with me as an interrogator and trained in Arabic with me. She was sent to Iraq and asked to use these harsh techniques in the interrogation booth in Tal Afar. She refused, twice. She was ultimately taken off of her post. She ... she killed herself rather than use these techniques. We're asking our young servicemen and women to make a choice. To torture people or destroy themselves, and I don't think that's how we want to treat our service people.

HOST: You can disobey an order that's unlawful. In the real world does that happen?

TONY: Yes, but we were given rules of engagement issued by the Pentagon, so we believed that the orders issued were legal.

The tape ends with Tony Lagouranis saying that the debate about torture is not really a debate conducted by professional interrogators, who already believe, like he does, that it is not effective. Instead it is just a debate being made by civilians like Dick Cheney: "Ultimately, I don't think that torture is about getting intelligence. I think it's about domination. I think it's about revenge, it's about fear..."

Great Retreat

Friday and Saturday, I joined two of the women from the screenwriting workshop that I took from Paul Castro in March for a writers' retreat. We went out into the middle of nowhere (also known as one of the writers' homes) and worked on screenplays. The amazing thing - they both gave me five hours of undivided attention yesterday to read through the script that I started in Paul's workshop. It was so incredible, so invaluable. It's hard to imagine how they put in that kind of effort, but they did. And both of them have great storylines for their scripts. We are going to meet again in a few weeks. What a gift. Oops! I should have taken a photo of the scenery. Next time.

And now, because of my anemia (recently diagnosed), I am completely and utterly exhausted. I have to sit and do nothing all day (actually, one more entry, and then nothing) in order to let my body recover. I'm just glad this anemia is temporary. Imagine having something like this all the time...

Daily Free Write


there are moments of being that
explore beyond moments of today


(want to know what free writes are? Check out the "About Free Writes" category to the right)

photo credit: Riccardo Cuppini, found here

Friday, May 22, 2009

In Absencia

So I'm going on a brief writers' retreat, with two of the women from my screenplay writing group. It'll be a couple of days of writing, study, and fun. See you when I return - likely Sunday...

Yes, East Coast - There Is A Duck Saver In Spokane!

So I happened to go look at Amelia Duckheart's facebook page (and here is a link to my entry on the background of this story). Seems the New York Magazine is skeptical about the truth of the story of a banker named Joel Armstrong who helped a mama duck get her newborn babies to the river in a town called Spokane, Washington! The skepticism spanned from (a) it's not true - I mean, c'mon, bankers don't wear jeans, to (b) it's a bank stunt to get sympathy - how'd the cameras show up at "just the right time?" to (c) this is dangerous - the mama duck will reject her babies, the firehouse should be in charge, etc. Oh, and a favorite - yeah, sure this all happened while the town was having its own annual "Lilac Parade."

Hey. Yeah. It did. It's all true.

What is life like on the East Coast of this country, for skepticism to be so rampant? It's so sad (not to mention lazy journalism to accept skepticism first rather than do a brief search to find out the background of this story from last year - the first year that this all took place). So not only is the mama duck not rejecting her babies, but she actually sought out banker Joel Armstrong's window ledge this year, since everything turned out so great last year when she built her nest there. Not only did the babies hatch the day before our annual Lilac Parade (with princesses and everything), but the mama duck started marching the babies down to the river just as the human parade was getting ready to start. Sometimes life is stranger than fiction. Sometimes life is art.

Sigh. I mean, life isn't all peaches and cream 2700 miles to your west, guys, but - enjoy a little levity, huh? It was a nice thing. It was fun. It was something to believe in. I know, I know - I used to live out that way too (DC, not NYC, but I do understand)... Sometimes, though, it's time to lower the armor. Joel Armstrong and this Mama Duck - is just one of those times.

(Luckily Joel Armstrong - aka the Duckman - got on the NY Magazine story and made a comment. Read his May 21 post in the "comments" section.)

Daily Free Write


hear the words
of the ancient wisdom

(want to know what free writes are? Check out the "About Free Writes" category to the right)
photo credit: Parhessiastes, means "aum," found here

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Torture, Revisited

Two items on torture.

First, love that Obama. Here is what he said today in his speech on national security:

I know some have argued that brutal methods like water-boarding were necessary to keep us safe. I could not disagree more. As Commander-in-Chief, I see the intelligence, I bear responsibility for keeping this country safe, and I reject the assertion that these are the most effective means of interrogation. What’s more, they undermine the rule of law. They alienate us in the world. They serve as a recruitment tool for terrorists, and increase the will of our enemies to fight us, while decreasing the will of others to work with America. They risk the lives of our troops by making it less likely that others will surrender to them in battle, and more likely that Americans will be mistreated if they are captured. In short, they did not advance our war and counter-terrorism efforts – they undermined them, and that is why I ended them once and for all.

(And though I do not quote it here, I also appreciate the part of his speech that outlines his plan on dealing with Guantanamo detainees - very smart, methodical.)

Second - and this fits in a "did you know" category - according to NPR, it turns out that James Mitchell - one of the two Spokane psychologists who formed the basis of the opinions in the 2002 torture memos that torture isn't torture (I've outlined this issue here) - was in daily contact with the White House back then, and apparently with Alberto Gonzalez in particular. Here's an excerpt:

One source with knowledge of Zubaydah's interrogations agreed to describe the legal guidance process, on the condition of anonymity.

The source says nearly every day, Mitchell would sit at his computer and write a top-secret cable to the CIA's counterterrorism center. Each day, Mitchell would request permission to use enhanced interrogation techniques on Zubaydah. The source says the CIA would then forward the request to the White House, where White House counsel Alberto Gonzales would sign off on the technique. That would provide the administration's legal blessing for Mitchell to increase the pressure on Zubaydah in the next interrogation.

A new document is consistent with the source's account.

The CIA sent the ACLU a spreadsheet late Tuesday as part of a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act. The log shows the number of top-secret cables that went from Zubaydah's black site prison to CIA headquarters each day. Through the spring and summer of 2002, the log shows, someone sent headquarters several cables a day.

"At the very least, it's clear that CIA headquarters was choreographing what was going on at the black site," says Jameel Jaffer, the ACLU lawyer who sued to get the document. "But there's still this question about the relationship between CIA headquarters and the White House and the Justice Department and the question of which senior officials were driving this process."

The more we learn, the darker it gets. As the story notes at a later point, it is "highly unusual" for the White House to tell interrogators what they can and cannot do. You can read the entire NPR story here.

Daily Free Write


drink up, be merry -

the fun's the game of life!

(want to know what free writes are? Check out the "About Free Writes" category to the right)
photo credit: D. Sharon Pruitt, found here

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


A few days ago, I wrote about my cat Annie. Turnaround's fair play, or so the expression goes. So I decided I should write about Alex this time. He's my other cat - the one who beats up on Annie. He drives me crazy. Still - he's really a sweetheart at heart.

Here's a picture of him, curled up next to me. When he wants to cuddle, he's like a rag doll - lets me move him around however I must, so long as he can be right up next to me. Sometimes when I'm typing on my laptop, he wants to cuddle up across my arms. It's hard to type, with him lying across my arms like that. But it's the sweetest thing. So I let him. He is soft like a plush stuffed animal. He lets me hold him like a baby, on his back. People comment on how beautiful he is.

This is how I got him.

On the morning of Independence Day, 2002, I woke up and realized that I was going to meet a guy that day that was going to have big impact on my life. I was so sure of it that I called friends and told them - predicted it. I had a party to attend that evening, so I figured I'd meet this guy at the party. I went, scoped out the place... and nothing. No guy. No interesting and available guy, anyway.

Somewhat discouraged, I decided to skip the fireworks and go home early. It was getting dark as I pulled off the highway on my way home. As I pulled up to the stop sign, I looked to my right. And there he was. My guy.

He was still pretty small - just about two or three months old, they think. He had his back to me as he busily dug at the bottom of the doorway to an abandoned apartment building. I pulled my car off to the side of the road and went up to him. "Hey you," I said to the little kitten there. He looked over his shoulder at me, then went back to his digging. I almost heard him say, "Hey! Glad to see ya. But I'm really busy here, digging out this leaf." Some people walked by as I stood there. They confirmed that the kitten had been there for a few days - definitely abandoned. They encouraged me to take him home. What did me in was when one of them suggested that a homeless person might decide to eat him if I left him there. They likely were yanking my chain. I wasn't willing to take the risk.

I put him in the back of my car where he sat in the middle of the seat, all propped up and eager to see what would come next. When I got home, I held him and walked over to my neighbors across the street, to see what they thought. He got a little nervous with their dog there on the porch, but then relaxed... A few minutes into our conversation, my neighbor said, "Beth, look. He's fallen asleep." And so he had. He had fallen asleep in my arms.

I brought him home and Annie initially presumed he was a playtoy for her. "Annie, be nice - he's a baby!" I scolded her. The next morning, when I let Annie outside, this baby kitty went outside with her. He never got lost. He always knew where home was.

Turned out, he had mange and ringworm. It became his gift to the entire household. So he started out life having to take baths. I was supposed to leave him wet for five minutes, so the shampoo treatment could soak in, but he cried and cried and I broke after about 30 seconds. Annie didn't like any of the shampooing either, but she trusted that I was putting her through this misery only because it was necessary. This baby - he couldn't know me well enough yet, so he just felt betrayed. I think those first days really did traumatize him. He's still a somewhat high-strung cat.

When I brought him into the vet for his next check-up, she asked if I wanted to have him fixed. "Might as well take care of it now," she said. Sure, I said. The next day, I went to pick him up. The bill item was "castration." I was horrified. I don't know what I was thinking - but I thought "fixed" was a euphemism for "vasectomy" - not "castration." What had I done? I told my sister how upset I was. She thought it was something worth reflecting on - to figure out why I was so upset. "I know why I'm upset," I told her. "I've been wanting male energy in my house, and as soon as it arrives, I castrate it!"

Luckily Alex did not appear to notice the absence of anything. He's a little like a prince, that cat. Once a friend drove up to my house and Alex walked up at the same time. "He thinks a lot of himself," my friend said, as she saw him prance towards her, tail held high. "Oh, that's just the way he walks," I explained. She raised an eyebrow. I was proving her point.

Figuring out a name for him took awhile. Initially I thought of calling him "Sasha," the Russian name for Alexander, and a name that I have always loved. But then everyone thought he was a girl. Suddenly his name became Alex. Then I thought, Alex and Annie - they match. It made me think of the two youngest Romanov children - Anastasia and Alexei - the only two children of the Russian czar whose bodies were not found during the Bolshevik revolution.

As a kitten, Alex had this habit of getting himself in predicaments. He would climb a tree and then not be able to climb back down. There he would sit, high up in the tree, crying. Four different times, four different neighbor men helped me get Alex down. Each time they each told me that if Alex could get up the tree, he needed to learn to get back down. "He'll learn," I said, each time. "But he's still just a baby..." Those experiences have never has stopped him from climbing. He loves to get up on the roof, and then cry when I come home as though he can't figure out how to get down. These days, I leave him to his own devices.

For as much as I adore Alex, I know he is a little bit of a terror in the neighborhood. One neighbor had to get rid of Bo, one of her cats, because Alex had so terrorized him that Bo started peeing indiscriminately in her house, desperately trying to mark some territory. (Alex really started terrorizing poor Bo after Bo finally got up the courage to let me pet him. Alex saw this, narrowed his eyes, and then tore after that poor cat, lawn by lawn, with me chasing after them and Bo's black-and-white fur flying everywhere. It's the last time I pet a stranger cat in front of Alex.)

But it's so hard to imagine all this! Alex is such a sweet guy otherwise.

I remember my neighbor, who loves Alex, saying once that Alex was a juvenile delinquent. "My baby?" I said, shocked. My neighbor laughed at my naivete. "If cats could hold spray cans, there would be cat grafitti everywhere," he said.

But really, really. Alex is such a sweet cat.

Alex does have this habit of disappearing for days on end, especially in the summer. I completely freak out when he does this, thinking he is dead. Annie literally goes out and finds him for me when I get really frantic, and brings him home. I don't think he goes far - the mailman tells me the various streets where he see Alex, and they are not too far from here - but still... One neighbor a block away said something about "Gray Cat." Apparently Alex comes into their home often enough to eat their cats' food that they have named him. The thing is, no one really corrects his behavior. He's so beautiful and charming (to people, not cats) that they just let him get away with pushing every boundary in sight. At least he is well behaved in other people's homes (my neighbor assured me).

On the other hand, Alex does keep clear tabs on me. One summer I was feeding Cat (the name of the cat next door) when my neighbor was in the hospital and couldn't take care of her. Alex was, as usual, nowhere to be found. As soon as I opened that creaky back screen door to Cat's house, however, suddenly he was there, meowing at the door. "Don't help her. Help me!" he seemed to be saying. It's a miracle he's ever nice to Annie, given how jealous he is of other cats.

But Alex does have a good heart. Get this - once, my neighbor's friend (several blocks away) lost her cat name Snowball. My neighbor didn't tell me about it, but it was on his mind. A few days later, Alex came up to my neighbor's house with Snowball at his side. Alex had found Snowball, and somehow knew that if he brought Snowball to Matt, that Matt would know how to get Snowball back home. How weird is that?

One more story about Alex. Once, he was hunting a squirrel. I was getting in my car to meet someone for breakfast. I started to pull out from in front of my house, but then realized I didn't know where Alex or the squirrel were, and so stopped to watch them scatter away. No scattering. I got out of the car. Apparently the squirrel had decided to commit suicide, because he had run head first into my front wheel tire just as I had started moving. His head was crushed under the wheel. Alex was crouched next to him, waiting for the next move. OMG - my cat had used me as a tool for his evil plans! I got back in the car and rolled backwards off the very dead squirrel. Before I could get back out, Alex had grabbed the now-free squirrel's body and was trotting with it down the street - carcass hanging between his legs. "Alex! Drop it!" I yelled. This made Alex only trot faster. I chased him, finally cornered him, and shooed him away. A neighbor helped me bag the squirrel in a plastic bag - ick - and I threw the poor squirrel away in a nice dumpster nearby. Ick, ick.

So, that's Alex. Adventurous. Incorrigible. And then he curls up next to me and he's my baby, all over again.

Daily Free Write


a scene, a sound, a heart -

a feeling through love

(want to know what free writes are? Check out the "About Free Writes" category to the right)
photo credit: Matthew Fang, found here

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Jesse Ventura

Yesterday I had the chance to watch a video of Jesse Ventura (former governor of Minnesota) talking with Elizabeth Hasselbeck on "The View" about torture. Ventura was a Navy Seal, and received SERE (survival) training from the military before going to Vietnam. As I have discussed in the past, it was the SERE training - which taught our soldiers what to expect if captured by an enemy who might use torture to elicit "confessions" to use in propaganda - that got co-opted by our country, via Spokane psychologists, so that torture (and waterboarding) suddenly became a pro-active interrogation tool rather than a training tool to protect our guys, and our information, from illegal torture.

In the "View" segment, Ventura was very articulate. He had been waterboarded through his SERE training, to know what to expect in foreign countries if he got captured. "It's torture," he said. It just is. Hasselbeck attempted to distract in a variety of ways, and Ventura held his own. He also pointed out that this country has only waterboarded Muslims. Fascinating. "Why not criminals, to get a confession?" he said, and then said, because it's torture. (In fact, it goes even further than just that, though that would be enough. In part it is because "confessions" obtained through torture are so inherently unreliable that they are not admissible in courtroom cases, even to disprove a defendant's otherwise inconsistent statements.)

I've never paid a whole heck of a lot of attention to Jesse Ventura. But he was great in this clip. He sussed out the issues succinctly. He just made sense. And he knows of what he talks - he experienced the waterboarding first hand, when our country waterboarded him to help him know what to expect from countries who act illegally, unethically, immorally...

So then this a.m., I was up before 6 a.m. (unfortunately) and thought, hmm, since I'm awake, I might as well take a gander at "Morning Joe" on MSNBC. Sometimes I like this show, though it's sort of a sitting-duck arrangement for the host Joe Scarborough, a former Republican U.S. representative. Joe can be a bully and the show is set up to let him bully whoever when he's in the mood. Still, they have good comentators and sometimes it is worth watching.

This morning? Not so much. I flipped it off about as soon as I flipped it on. His target? Jesse Ventura. I didn't need to listen to much more, after I heard Joe say there should be a law against "being that stupid."

Seriously? Ventura was articulate on "The View." He was real. He was smart. He was compassionate to a different point of view while simultaneously extremely clear that the view was incomplete, misinformed.

It just may be that this a.m. was the last time I watch "Morning Joe." It's one thing to disagree. It's another to be an attack dog, and to laugh arrogantly, when you know - you know (and I believe Joe Scarborough knows) that you are attacking someone who is telling the truth. I thought Joe was better than that kind of blatant partisan line.

Here's a clip discussing Ventura and Scarborough. (Also, interesting note - some of those sticking up for Scarborough say that Ventura "admitted" that this country waterboards because he "admitted" that he himself was waterboarded. Those comments fail to understand the SERE program.)

Sacred Contracts

This past Saturday was a very interesting day. It was the first session of a class that I am taking on the book "Sacred Contracts," by Caroline Myss. I've known about this book for a few years - very interesting to me, as it discusses soul archetypes but with enough detail that it is worth the study and not just a throw-away concept. Just recently, however, I met a woman here in Spokane who learned about "Sacred Contracts" from Caroline Myss herself, and who was teaching a class in it.

Normally people take the class for self-insight. For me, though, I was interested because of my writing. I wanted to learn more about all archetypes in general so that I can put interesting characters into my stories.

Okay, so what is this book? hmm... The way I currently understand it, "Sacred Contracts" is based on the assumption that we all enter this world with a destiny - an agreement about where we are headed. We either can let circumstances dictate where we end up, or we can create a consciousness about our future, claim our destiny, and be self-directive. And whichever way we decide to live our lives, we have within us a set of archetypes that we use - either consciously or subconsciously - to move through life from point A to point B and beyond. Caroline Myss identifies a total of 70 archetypes, with room to adjust and create nuances. We each have 12 archetypes (four standard that everyone has, and then eight from the larger list) and then we have 12 different types of ways each of our archetypes can be used (through work, through individual self, through the cosmos, etc.).

This past Saturday, the class focused on identifying each of our own 12 archetypes. Part of how we chose them was to isolate the ones that resonated into various classes of archetypes, so that we had one each of a female archetype, a male one, a divine one, a healing one, a wisdom one, etc. In the next session (a month from now - it's six sessions over six months, with study groups to be formed in between), we will "throw" the "wheel" - meaning, we will place each of our archetypes into one of the 12 categories described above (like work, self, etc.). It's called a wheel because the categories are listed in a circle split into 12, like slices of a pie. (Here's a link to Caroline Myss' explanation of all of this.)

So I have chosen my archetypes. I love them all. They all are very cool. It makes me wonder if I did this right. I mean, who ends up with all cool archetypes? I guess the Magician (my "wild card" archetype) has potential for trickery, which is a potential challenge. But still. Who doesn't want to be a magician, and then use their powers for good?

The main reason I took this course is to find out about archetypes in general. Yes, it will be fun to identify them for myself. But my bigger interest is understanding more about what makes people tick, for purposes of my writing. For instance, I just don't understand people who lie - who default to lying as the first step. I just don't get it. But - if I study these archetypes as a whole (which include the archetypes of Thief and Trickster), maybe I'll get some insights and I can design characters more fully.

Right now, I have a bias. I think characters in movies and television shows - especially television shows - are often unbelievable because their character flaws do not fit their actual characters. It's like the writer decides the story needs conflict, so suddenly conflict is inserted by making the main character do something dumb or mean or unforgivable, and voila - conflict. Unfortunately, the conflict action is not consistent with how that character would ever behave. So suddenly there's a whole lot of dissonance that doesn't make much sense. I've learned to write off that dissonance - chalk it up to a Hollywood fascination with making good people do bad things - but it's still there, and creates inauthenticity in storylines that just as easily could have been made authentic with a little elbow grease and creativity.

My own Achilles heel is making my heroes do bad things. I like my heroes. They are good. How could they behave badly? Perhaps an understanding of archetypes in general - maybe even their archetypes in particular - will help me get to my heroes' flaws authentically and tell their stories with conflict that makes sense. So this class is a step in the right direction.

Daily Free Write


the boldness of life is a gallant one to have

(want to know what free writes are? Check out the "About Free Writes" category to the right)

photo credit: Michelle Greene Wheeler, found here

Monday, May 18, 2009

Daily Free Write


explore the mind together, without fear

(want to know what free writes are? Check out the "About Free Writes" category to the right)
photo credit: Kira Westland, found here

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Ducklings Have Landed!

As I mentioned just recently, we have a repeat performance from a mother duck who last year built her nest on the side of a bank building and got the assistance of Joel Armstrong (one of the bankers) to catch each of her children as they jumped from the nest, and so kept those newly hatched babies from cracking their heads open on the hard sidewalk.

Well, the eggs hatched Friday night. And last night, the babies were ready for their march to the Spokane River - just a few blocks away from the nest. All they needed was to jump out of that nest! Joel was ready this time. And succeeded again in keeping a bunch of baby ducks alive and well.

Don't know if you can see it (because our local paper blocks non-subscribers), but here are some links to the story with a video slideshow. And here is a link to the mama duck's facebook page (she now is named "Amelia Duckheart"). Also, one of the local television stations provided this video. It does appear that there were some glitches along the way - including that the mama duck disappeared for awhile and then was very unhappy with the thought of her children being transported by box to the river (so Joel had to let them all out, and they all walked sweetly behind her as she guided them to the water).

What I love is that the babies decide to have their march to the river on the very evening of the Lilac Parade - a staple of Spokane. Two parades all at the same time! What timing!

We wish the little rascals all the luck in the world. I hope they haven't used up all their luck already.

Playing Soccer Sick

As I've mentioned before, I play soccer on Saturdays. So yesterday I went to the soccer game, even though I am short oxygen (because of my recent anemia diagnosis). We lost, 3-2, but we were short three players so I think we did pretty well under the circumstances. I let everyone know I would be short of breath, but they didn't quite get it. I would do one great run, but then have nothing left for a few minutes - but I'd still be on the field and my teammates would presume I could at least hobble together a defense, which I couldn't.

So I started to just pull myself off the field when I was out of breath. That seemed to work, if only because it brought me boatloads of sympathy. ("Are you okay? Are you injured?" I even got a ragtag first aid team to meander their way to where I was lying on the grass one time, just outside of the field. "Need some water?") My team did finally figure out that I could not be consistently reliable.

It's like having half a gallon of gas in the car. The car runs beautifully for a little while. But then - it's out of gas. You have to wait to until there's more there before you can start the engine again.

At one point, though, I thought - hmm - they still do not get this. Our offense had a corner kick, so all the defenders (except me) moved up to play offense. One of the forwards from the other team - who was playing next to me - said something to her defenders like, hey, they left us with only one defender here, so kick the ball up fast if you get it. I said the unspoken thought: "And it's the anemic one that they left back here!" She laughed and said, "Yeah, and it's the anemic one!"

This may just be my last game for the season, as we have two weeks off, and then the first two Saturdays in June I'm unavailable. This is probably better. I probably am overdoing it just a little to be playing soccer, of all sports.

But before I forget - I need to recite something that happened a couple of weeks ago. As I may have mentioned before, this is a team that "plays to drink," so we almost always go out for a beer after the game. A couple weeks ago we were at "our" bar ("Bottoms Up"), and I said, "You know, I never drink beer except for after soccer games." One of the guys (who prefers to remain nameless) responded, "The only time I stop drinking beer is during soccer games!" So funny. We're such cards. Love that team!

Daily Free Write


return towards the soul,
the environment of possibilities

(want to know what free writes are? Check out the "About Free Writes" category to the right)
photo credit: Exper Giovanni Rubaltelli, found here

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Daily Free Write

the wealth of the soul shall be yours


(want to know what free writes are? Check out the "About Free Writes" category to the right)
photo credit: Hartwig HKD, found here

Friday, May 15, 2009

Vitamin B-12

I could quote Cheech and Chong here... but this is a family blog.

Still, I don't think I've ever been prescribed such a nice pick-me-up as Vitamin B-12.

A couple days ago, I learned I am anemic. It's pretty severe. No one's suggesting it yet, but technically my hemoglobin is low enough that I think I am a candidate for blood transfusions.

Being anemic means that I do not have enough red blood cells. Which means there is only limited oxygen in my blood. Getting this diagnosis is a blessing. Now I know why I've been so tired.

My normal problem with anemia (having had it four years ago - though not as bad as I have it now) is that my body doesn't absorb iron pills - they just make me sick to my stomach. Also in the past, I haven't been able to take a multiple "B" vitamins without feeling nauseated. But my naturopath doctor had some good - um - stuff, man, that is absorbable (so he says, and he's a man of his word). Included in the drugs he gave me (a pill and a liquid), which I now take twice a day, is some form of B-12. Apparently you need infusion of both iron and B vitamins (and B-12 in particular) in order to fight anemia effectively.

As it turns out - I am loving that B-12. And from what I hear, it is a little-kept secret that vitamin B-12 can deliver this kind of pick-me-up. I just didn't know about it until this week.

Here is my daily pattern these past couple of days. I wake up a little lethargic. I take my B-12 (and other drugs - I mean, vitamins). Suddenly, I am energized. I think I own the world. I go out and let the world know that I am a benevolent dictator.

And then I crash.

Because, for as much as I like the energy, the truth here is: I am anemic. I have too few red cells. This means I have no oxygen in my blood. So it doesn't matter how much energy the B-12 gives me - I still am anemic and without enough oxygen.

The doc thinks I'll be replenished in two months. At least, that's when I'm supposed to get my next blood test. In the meantime, I'm riding a roller coaster of energy. And I seem to be out of breath a lot.

Still - gotta say it again - I am loving that B-12!

I've also adjusted my diet so I'm eating iron-filled food. This means I've been eating a lot of beef. When I read that dried apricots also have iron, I was thrilled. That would be a lot lighter intake than beef, is what I thought. So I ate a big bag of dried apricots last night. Urp. Let me just say - I don't recommend that you do the same. Too much of a good thing, is the best way to describe it. And - um - I think dried apricots could moonlight as refried beans when it comes to digestion. Enough said.

Daily Free Write

seek the breath of air that holds
the essence of being


(want to know what free writes are? Check out the "About Free Writes" category to the right)
photo credit: selectworld, found here

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Castro Encore

Paul Castro (screenplay writing instructor guy, note entry here) was in town again, this time giving a one-day seminar on screenplay writing and marketing over in Coeur d'Alene. What a blast! It was great. Love that Paul - his enthusiasm, his candor, his willingness to help network... He'll be back at the end of June, it looks like. About 50 people attended yesterday, and most in the room indicated an interest in the more intensive session (probably two or three days). They had a fair amount of news coverage - several newspaper articles - and then KHQ (Channel 6) had him on their morning show. (Hmm - I wonder who put that together for him?) It was a little dicey, since the station was also doing their "shredding" segment that morning - where they have trucks sprinkled around town for people to bring documents to be shredded - but they enthusiastically made space for Paul too. No shredding.

Most of us from the week-long seminar were there, and Paul asked us to chime in at various times. It was more of a lecture format, so my day was easy (though long, since I met he and his organizer, Mary Fremont, down at the television station for the early morning segment). And it was great seeing all the others - we set up an all-women's writing retreat for next weekend, with editing of my mystery screenplay top on the agenda. Poor Paul - the day took all his energy but then, after the conference, I couldn't help it, I ended up keeping him focused so I could tell him some ideas I've had stored up since our March meeting. What's a writer to do?

I'll try to give a heads-up for the next time Paul's in town, for all you other writers out there thinking about screenplays.

Daily Free Write


for all you give, you do receive -

only know that giving shall begin at home

(want to know what free writes are? Check out the "About Free Writes" category to the right)
photo credit: SantiMB, found here

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Well, I knew something was wrong. I just presumed it was my thyroid. I was really tired (but figured it was because I had worked so hard at finishing my first screenplay in a month). I was still losing some hair (but less of it, and still had plenty more). I was out of breath before I was tired (something I noticed especially while playing soccer). And I was chewing ice. I think it was when I went through a whole bag of ice in four days that I thought, hmm...

So I had my blood tested. Needed to do it for the thyroid anyway.

Turns out, I am anemic. Again. Like I was four years ago. Except even worse than back then. Since this snuck up on me gradually, however, the change in energy hasn't been as stark - and it's been lingering, I think, and just slowly getting worse. My hemoglobin is at 8.0. Normal range is 12.0 to 16.0. Apparently anything lower than 8.0 is considered severely anemic. (Some say that anything lower than 9.0 is severe.) Four years ago, when everyone was so worried, my hemoglobin was 9.2. So this is worse.

I'm so happy. Not happy to be sick (or thrilled about the months it will take to fix the anemia), but happy that there's a reason I've been tired, out of breath, losing hair, chewing ice... And I'm happy because I know I will feel better soon, and will be greatly improved in a couple months. My lower energy is not just because I'm 48. It is because I need to take better care of my red blood cells.

And then I think - how in the world did I write a screenplay in a month when I was severely anemic? How productive might I become if I had more oxygen in my blood? (That's the biggest thing with anemia - you have no oxygen.) And then I realize - I'm nuts. I've done this all my life (overridden my body's efforts to communicate). I thought I'd gotten better at listening to my body. But my blood test results are written proof that I'm just as capable as I always was of ignoring my body's signals. Does it mean I'm willful? Or that I just have strong stamina? Is it my body that works around the illness, or my mind? If I lived in someone else's body, would I have collapsed by now, regardless of my personal tenacity? If the answer is yes - then how do I monitor whether I'm healthy or sick, if I can't hear my body's SOS?

These are questions I have to consider. In the meantime, I'm taking the supplements that the doctor gave me and they aren't making me too horribly sick yet (I learned four years ago that most iron supplements just make me sick to my stomach - but apparently these supplements are designed for digestion)... And I'm hoping for the best. And I'm grateful this is fixable. What a gift - that I can fix this.

Daily Free Write

caught up in winding whirlwinds of time


draw up and above, for there I will belong,
towards a new light

(want to know what free writes are? Check out the "About Free Writes" category to the right)
photo credit: Jesse Gardner, found here

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Daily Free Write


we cannot reach without a border,

yet listen for the reality of sound

(want to know what free writes are? Check out the "About Free Writes" category to the right)
photo credit: David Ip, found here

Monday, May 11, 2009

Women, Mothers, Role Models

Recently, Bea Arthur of "Maude" (and, later, "Golden Girls") fame passed away. This past week, Marilyn French, author of "The Women's Room" - a story of a woman getting a divorce and moving into single motherhood - also died.

The work of both of these women became popular in the 1970s, when I was in high school and after my parents had divorced. My mother, sister and I had moved to Tempe, AZ from southern CA so my mom could pursue a graduate degree (after having gone back to college later in life to get her BA). These images of strong women - or women working to get strong - through Bea Arthur and Marilyn French coincided with my mother's own paralleling journey, and the journey of her friends in AZ who all were, in some way or another, working towards similar ends. It was "The Women's Room" that struck me most as resembling my mother and her friends, because that book is a story of women working together to prop each other up and give each other encouragement in the midst of huge transformation, and it was the life I saw when I came home from school on any given afternoon - these women, mothers, students, professionals, working together to encourage fulfillment of dreams. I remember, too, being known as the kid in school with the "cool" mom, giving me something of an edge as the newbie in town.

What I remember from the artistic endeavors is not the put-downs of men (which existed, I'm sure). (Hey, it was the '70s.) (I do remember one story from "The Women's Room," before Mira's divorce, where she decided to confirm her husband's belief that she was stupid by making mistakes on purpose - like sending him to work with uncooked eggs for lunch that he thought were hard boiled...) What I remember most from the show and the book is what we call today the "female bonding." The support. The willingness to believe in a life with options. The show "Golden Girls" was an extension of that same thing, just a few years later.

So in my Mother's Day card to my mom this year, I wrote about Bea Arthur (Marilyn French hadn't yet passed away). "You and the 'gang' from Tempe have been on my mind with the passing of Bea Arthur - all those independent women!" I said. "And a role model for me of what choices I could make. Thanks for it all."My mom was so tickled by my card that she sent the text to one of her friends from that time who also was very tickled and sent it to her now-grown kids. My mom and her friend added their own memories - of how young they were at the time (which they were - just in their 30s) (!), so that the comparison to the more-mature, very-strong Maude made them laugh - and then their own memories of falling apart to varying degrees (which made my teenager-memories of strength seem funny to both of them).

But I do wonder about the impact on my life, that I had the chance to witness these women choose the paths they chose and the real pain and excitement that they had when making these different choices. What if they had not shown that to me? Today, I take independence for granted. But didn't I have to grow into it? Didn't I need a role model? Or, at least - didn't the role model from my mother and her friends make it easier for me to imagine having an independent life? And then, I learned the friendships too, didn't I? I still have my strong women friends. We still figure out how to hang out together even though we each have been in varying degrees of relationship with men in our lives. We are lucky, to be friends - to value our friendships. I just got off the phone with one of my closest friends who lives in Phoenix. We still are close, even though we haven't lived near each other for 18 years. My mom and her friends showed me at a young age what it can mean, to value the women in my life.

Here's to Bea and to Marilyn, and to Sharon and Syd and Pat and Mary... to all those women who were making a difference, in the moment, over time, for all the rest of us. Happy Mother's Day, one day late!

Daily Free Write


do not fear these ancient beginnings -
they are the way of life, and breath

(want to know what free writes are? Check out the "About Free Writes" category to the right)
Photo credit: Paul Weimer, found here

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Daily Free Write

I hear you, I have you, I see you,
I listen to you, I want you to go forward now -

gosh, and believe

(want to know what free writes are? Check out the "About Free Writes" category to the right)
photo credit: Steve Lyon, found here

Saturday, May 9, 2009


On Thursday, I took Annie and Alex - my two cats - to the vet. Their reactions were predictable. Alex freaked out in the car, meowing the entire time and periodically sounding like a little cougar (that's when his voice gets all gutteral). Annie sat very mellow on the seat next to me, loving the trip. (She's the one who has taken two cross-country road trips with me, once in 2001 and once this past year.)

Once we got to the vet's office, however, it was a complete turnaround. Alex doesn't mind all the vet's poking and prodding. Annie is sure they all are spies. Which they are, I guess, since they are trying to get information. But only for her own good! After her first bout of "treatment," she rushed into the cat box and shared it with Alex - quite unusual, since he beats up on her. And he was tolerant of her presence, also quite unusual. (Later, after he got out of the box, and then considered rejoining her, she hissed. He decided, hmm... looks like she needs her space, and left her alone.)

I call her Annie, but I think her real name is much more regal. Like, Annabelle Lee. Or Anastasia. I feel a little privileged, that I'm allowed to call her Annie anyway. And when I call to her (if she's outside), I'll triple it: "Annie, Annie, Annie," saying it fast. And still she comes when I call. Well, when she wants to, she comes. Here's a picture of her. She loves to sit on the couch by the window like that, and watch the world go by.

Annie's about 13 years old. We don't really know, we've had to guess. I got her as a young adult in 1998. She just had had a litter of kittens, and someone (her owner, most likely) placed her on Wellesley - a busy road in Spokane - with that litter of kittens. Left them to die? The pet rescue people ultimately found her and placed her in a temporary home with the kittens so she could raise them. It must have been chaotic, because the home had a bunch of dogs. That's where she got the name Annie. Once I got her, I decided she didn't need a third name in this lifetime, and left it at that. Besides, she truly is an Annie. (Short for something regal.)

She didn't like men for a long time. I figured whoever put her out in the middle of Wellesley likely was male - likely was the one in the household who would kick her when no one was looking. Over the years, she has learned to trust men. She loves my neighbor, for instance. But it took a few years before she changed her mind about them.

When we went to the vet on Thursday, they suggested getting a wellness check on her, given her age. I also wanted to get her teeth cleaned. I told them things I'd noticed - she seems to have a little arthritis; I can't just pick her up anymore, I have to let her get ready before I pick her up or she cries a little; and, just recently, she seems to have let up a little on grooming, at least around her neck and head. This one, to me, is a biggie. Annie is just a little on the fussy side. To see her fur get a little slick in places was a big surprise.

I do tell her she's not allowed to die. She's my angel cat, she circles the computer when I write, she literally "holds the space" while I work... She is very sweet, so aware of everyone else - is even nice to Alex all the time, even though he's mean to her. And I do think she's very smart. For instance, we'll be playing and she tries to grab my hand with her claws out and I tell her, "Annie, no claws," and she retracts her claws and still plays. She likes stuffed animals - will clean them, trot them around the house in her mouth... Once she got into a habit of taking one stuffed animal - a rooster that could sit upright - and she would leave him, sitting upright, facing the front door, so that when I would come home from work, there he was - sitting, staring up at me. After about the third or fourth time, I told her that she had to stop doing it - it was too creepy. She stopped.

She does this funny pen trick too - in the middle of the night, she goes through the house, finds a pen lying around (I kind of leave them for her, now that I know she likes to do this) and then she brings it into the bedroom, talking with it in her mouth, and then - pah - she spits it out on the floor next to the bed. Like - get up and write! Time to write! I grumble, say "thanks...." and go back to sleep.

Here's another game she likes to play. It's called "sit in the paper bag." At least, that's what I call it. She loves it especially when Alex is stalking her (his favorite game) because he can't figure out how to go after her when she is in a paper bag. Also, I love it because she is just so adorable there. The photo isn't a great one - but I think you get the idea. I love that you can see Alex in the background, behind the stereo speaker (which was the chaos of my house when I was writing the screenplay a couple weeks ago).

People say we're very connected, which I think is true. Last year, when I was at spring training in AZ for book signings, Annie escaped from my friend's apartment in Coeur d'Alene (Idaho) where she was staying. He looked everywhere for her but couldn't find her, and finally called after a day or so to tell me she was missing. My neighbor - Annie's friend - went over to call for her. I thought if she heard his voice, it might remind her of home... but no luck. I was frantic that she would try to walk the 30 or so miles home. So I flew home. Yes, I flew back to Spokane to go look for my cat. Which is what she wanted, of course - she wanted me home. It was time for me to come home, is what she thought. So she created a reason for me to come home. On the flight, I kept sending her images of my friend's apartment, his front door, sent her the sense of meeting me there... not words but senses... kept urging her to "stay put, stay there." ... I arrived in Spokane around midnight, rented a car (mine was down in Phoenix), drove to Coeur d'Alene, got to the apartment complex, parked, got out of my car, softly started saying, "Annie, Annie..." (trying not to wake up people)... And voila. There she was. In the middle of the parking lot. Looking at me like, yes? Did you need something? Stupid cat. But not stupid at all. She got me back in Spokane like she wanted, didn't she? (only to have me leave the next day, back to Phoenix for more book events - but still, I think she was satisfied). It took 15 seconds - maybe 30 - between the time I got out of the car and the time she appeared right there in front of me. I swept her up in my arms. She let me. I told her never to do that again. She blinked. (You two are connected, one of my friends said, when I recounted the story.)

So, on Thursday, when the vet said we have to think about things like kidney failure, I worried. I couldn't help it. And when the receptionist told me on Friday that Annie's blood tests were back but the technician would have to talk to me personally - I paced, for 15 minutes. I looked at Annie - are you sick? I asked her. She blinked, calmly, serenely... I couldn't stand the suspense another moment. I called back the vet's office and said, isn't the technician free yet?

And then, it was good news. She was just fine. Everything in the middle ranges. Of course in the middle. It's Annie. That's how centered she is. Anastasia Belle Lee would be nothing but balanced.

Daily Free Write

broken seals wrought unto a phoenix badly seared,
seamed upon resting laurels


greater phoenix, arising anew with fervour and sound
bring to me helpless, hopeless and the horizon

This entry, written in 1998 (this is only a segment of it), reflects what our country is going through now. The "seals" to me are the promises. The phoenix and laurels bring to mind the back of our paper money (even though, yes, it is an eagle, not a phoenix). (The above image is no longer in use.) And then, like the phoenix who must die to live again, we do live again, and can call to our shores, again, the helpless and the hopeless. Just yesterday, I heard the Statue of Liberty will open on July 4 for the first time since 9/11. So I chose this entry.

(want to know what free writes are? Check out the "About Free Writes" category to the right)
Warning: Fraudulent use of the above image is punishable under appropriate counterfeiting laws.