Sunday, March 27, 2011

Tom's Nine Lives, Minus One

Our big black cat, Tom, cashed in one of his nine lives this past week.

We noticed that Tom wasn’t feeling great a couple of weeks ago, and at first we explained it away to old age, being overweight, and spring pollen. He had quit climbing into the rafters to get to his favorite basket to sleep, and had selected Phil’s laundry basket on ground level for his new napping place. A natural talker, Tom has always liked to meow at us whenever we spend time to talk to him, and at times I’ve felt like he was carrying on a conversation with us. Last week-end, Tom’s meow went away, and we had to read his lips to be able to tell when he was meowing. It had to be the pollen. It was driving us crazy, and we assumed that he, too, might be suffering from a case of springtime allergies and laryngitis.

Monday morning, Tom wasn’t in Phil’s face at 4:00 am demanding breakfast. We became alarmed at this change in behavior, and began watching him with keener eyesight. Tom was spending too much time in the laundry basket, his meow was still missing, and his normally bright eyes were getting a dull look to them, now watery and sticky looking. He still had an appetite, but wasn’t our morning alarm clock that it was time for breakfast. On Monday evening, when I returned home from a day of work and evening of tutoring, Tom was lounging on a chair out on the deck. I stopped before going inside to talk to him for a few minutes and see how he was feeling. It was a pleasant evening, and I decided to leave him alone and let him sleep outside, where I thought he’d be more comfortable.

Tuesday morning, Tom was nowhere to be found. He didn’t show up for breakfast, and he didn’t respond to our calls. Tuesday evening, there was still no sign of Tom. Our other cats and our dog, Diamond, were acting strangely and clinging to us, which was totally out of character for them. They sensed that something was wrong. Diamond and I went for a walk along our country roads and through our forest, looking for Tom, but couldn’t find him. When we returned home, Phil and I looked at each other with mirrored sadness, believing that Tom had gone out somewhere to die.

Tom showed up at our house on Valentine’s Day in 2000, hungry and lost. We took him in, and welcomed him into our little family. It took him about two years to decide that we were worthy of his trust, but once he made up his mind that we were ok, we became his full-time staff. He began monitoring my activities, especially when I would do things my mama had taught me. It seemed to me that he was keeping an eye on me for my mother, who had died a few years prior to Tom’s arrival at our home. Tom especially took a keen interest in my strawberry bed, which had been transplanted from my mother’s house, and he guarded it from birds and other critters stealing the fruit. When I made home-made jelly, he’d hop up onto the kitchen counter (which he never did at any other time) and watch me prepare the fruit, cook the jelly, and pour it into the jars. Only when I had completed the task to his satisfaction, would he hop down and go about his daily activities. I’ve always felt that Tom is somehow closely tied to the spirit of my mother, and has a direct line to her soul.

But, back to this past week. Tuesday night, I went to bed very sad, thinking that Tom was dead. I prayed for God to look after him wherever he might be, and also said a prayer to my mother to watch over Tom. I fell asleep with a sad heart and tears welled up in my eyes.

Sometime before dawn Wednesday morning, I heard the cat door swing open, and got up to see which kitty had been burning the midnight oil. It was Tom. He could hardly walk and his eyes were glazed, but he was alive!! I thanked God and Mama for sending him back to us, lifted him up gently, and placed him into Phil’s laundry basket.

After I went to work on Wednesday, Phil packed Tom up and took him to see Dr. Jeff, our veterinarian. Tom was very, very sick. Dr. Jeff said that he thought it was either a bad bacterial infection or cancer. Tom had lost two pounds, which is a lot for a cat. He got a shot while at the vet’s, had some blood work done, and was sent home with Phil, loaded down with antibiotics and pain killers. If it was an infection, Tom should be feeling better soon, Dr. Jeff told Phil. If it was cancer, then the medicine wouldn’t help. By the time I got home from work, Tom was resting comfortably on the ledge in the kitchen which he’d use as a jumping place to go upstairs to his basket, and his eyes were brighter looking. His meow was still hoarse when he greeted me, but his purr box was pumped up to the loudest volume. He was beginning to feel better.

Each day since then, Tom has visibly improved. He still isn’t jumping up to go to his basket high above us in the rafters, but his meow is back, and he’s talking to us again. This morning, he alerted Phil that it was breakfast time, and then came back to bed to curl up next to me until time for me to get up. His beautiful eyes are bright and sparkling, and I know he’ll be ready for jelly –making season, which begins in about three weeks.

Thank you, God, and Thank you, Mama, for looking after my big, black, wonderful Tom, and for taking care of him for us.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Writing a Book

Yesterday I posted the final chapters of the novel I wrote, Fishbowls and Birdcages, on the blog site I set up for the purpose of putting my book out into the world for people to read. What a relief! When I came up with the brilliant idea to do this, I didn’t anticipate how it would affect me.

Writing the book was similar to a pregnancy. It began with a nugget of an idea, and as I wrote, the story developed into a living, breathing entity. I struggled with the theme, the characters (which included naming each one), the setting, and the story line. I encountered several bouts of ‘false labor’, where the story tried to speed itself up and take me down some roads I didn’t want to follow. When I wrote the words “The End” on the final page, I felt like I had given birth. WHEW! I actually sat at my computer desk and sobbed.

But like a newborn baby, the story didn’t end at birth. It continued to grow and change, as I read and re-read it, and then as I entrusted the manuscript to selected people to read and critique. I revised it, re-worked parts of it, and did my best to make it read more smoothly. I took some suggestions to heart, and made changes, while ignoring others which I determined were given with the best of intentions, but which I believed would change the character of the story. In the end, I finally laid down my editing pencil, took a deep breath, and declared the story finished.

My next big step was to decide how to get the story out into the world. I didn’t have the time or the money to research publishing the book, and I wasn’t sure if it was the kind of story that would sell enough copies to make it worth my time and effort. The blog seemed to be the perfect avenue, and I decided to set up a new blog site, and post the book in serial fashion. In a heart-to-heart conversation with myself, I realized that my intent in writing the book wasn’t to make a ton of money. I had always wanted to write a novel, and the exercise of writing it was enough to satisfy me.

I posted the link to each chapter on my Facebook page, and soon I had a small following of Loyal Readers. I looked forward to messages posted on my Facebook page and to private ones sent to me via email. Everyone was very kind – I didn’t receive any negative comments throughout the entire project. I found myself speeding up the process of posting chapters. My intention had been to post one chapter per week, but as the story progressed and Loyal Readers clamored for the next installation, I began posting two-three times a week.

Posting the final chapter yesterday was like giving birth all over again. I felt a huge sense of anticipation, with butterflies dancing around in my stomach as I wondered what my Loyal Readers were going to say. Thankfully, favorable comments have trickled in, and I feel fulfilled in completing this project. I did what I said I was going to do over two years ago – write a novel – and in a strange and unique way, I have published it. I will leave the book in its entirety online for awhile before taking it down, and hope that more readers will either stumble onto it, or be forwarded the link to read the story.

Now I am trying to decide whether to bare my soul in writing another story. I think I may have another one in me somewhere, but I’m not sure what it is. I have some ideas, so I think I’ll lay low for awhile and see if a seed will sprout, showing me the way to a new adventure for some unsuspecting story character. I am toying with the idea of continuing Lou’s story in some manner, but I’m just not sure yet.

We’ll see what grows!

Please feel free to read Fishbowls and Birdcages at and forward the URL to people you think might enjoy reading it.