Wednesday, August 20, 2014

And Now A Word From The Cats…

Shakir and Gayatri
I’ve been blogging about Tajji, our newly-adopted retired seeing eye dog, all the training we’re doing with her, how she’s recovering from the stress of many years of service. The cats have played no small role in helping her to adjust, and she in turn has provided them with interest and amusement.

“What’s that? Oh, you’ve brought us a dog to play with. She’s very big and very, very furry.”

“Um, this dog is exceptionally rude. She moves too quickly and looks directly at us.”

“Um, this dog is also exceptionally stupid. Sure, she’s finally understood how to greet us politely and that we don’t like big things moving fast in our general direction. But when we tell her we’d like to play, she acts brain-dead. And what’s with her bowing to us? What the heck does that mean?”

“Shakir has finally educated the dog to the point where they can romp, even if the dog does get carried away. He bestows upon the dog the great honor of grooming her, despite getting a mouthful of fur – the dog is incredibly furry! But she seems oblivious of his signals that he’d like her to groom him in return. Gayatri is of the opinion that being slobbered all over does not constitute grooming.”

Both cats have now marked the dog as Theirs by rubbing their jaws along her muzzle or feet. But cats have lives beyond taking care of the dog. They engage in various typically feline behaviors, each having staked out several prime napping areas (that vary according to seasonal sunlight).

Gayatri has turned out to be musical. She’s an extremely vocal cat and will meow loudly under many different circumstances:

“Where have you been? How dare you neglect me for this long?”

“I’m starrrrving!”

“Out! Now!”

"Pick me up! Nooooowwww!"

“I know you want to nap but I want to knead your stomach more.”

“Piano! What is that sound! I must sing with it!”

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Tajji Diaries: “Cats and Dogs Living Together…”

Shakir invites play

In recent blog posts, Dave and I have discussed Tajji’s progress in dealing with other dogs. Tajji is our newly (5 months) adopted retired seeing eye dog, a 10 year old German Shepherd female who had major reactivity issues, especially with small dogs. The extraction of a fractured tooth has resolved her chronic pain, and enrollment in a reactive dog class (“Reactive Rover” taught by Sandi Pensinger of Living With Dogs, using only positive techniques, never punishment) has given us all tools to continue progress. 

It’s time for an update on Tajji’s adventures in Living With Cats. For the 8 years of her working life, she did not live with cats, although we assume she was exposed to them as part of her early socialization and training. We introduced her to our two dog-savvy cats in stages, beginning with barriers and progressing to escape-places for the cats and lots of human supervision. After some initial confusion on the part of the dog, because cats and dogs interprets many body-language signals in different ways, communication was established and détente soon followed.

The next phase was entirely the doing of Shakir, our black male cat who has a history of being extremely fond of large dogs. He adored our previous German Shepherd Dog, who was too intimidated to let Shakir cuddle with him. Tajji is of a much more phlegmatic temperament than our previous dog, and it wasn’t too long before she would curl up at our feet at the dining table and Shakir would come over, approaching her politely (no direct eye contact, curved path, looking away, soft eyes). A sniff became a rub, and soon he was polishing her feet, her muzzle, and the sides of her head with his jaw. Purring loudly, he’d pass under her head, turn and repeat, and I’m sure the banquet of kitty-butt smells was delightful to the dog. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Career Chat: Why Writing Really Good Books Matters

 Author Bob Mayer posted a great discussion entitled, If I Were a Newly Self-Published Author, What Steps Would I Take To Succeed?

I love that his first point is to write really good books, and that it takes time and practice to do that. (And, for most of us, critical feedback, which could be from a good workshop or a professional editor.)

We aren't born knowing how to write really good books. Some of us have more aptitude than others, but while -- as the saying goes -- writing cannot be taught, it can be learned. What that means is that there are many ways to get better. Didactic learning (in a classroom or formal workshop, from lectures, from a teacher) is only one. Some writers fizzle in such environments but thrive when left alone. (I'm not one of them -- I fall in love with my own hideous mistakes.)

Every once in a while, a first novel works. Gets published. Does well. Usually it's a book that the author has slaved over for years, sometimes decades. The book has been honed and evolved over time, making it the equivalent of many separate books in terms of practice. Then what happens all too often is that the second book is a failure. Expectations based on that first book are dashed because the subsequent books are written in a year instead of a decade. (Of course there are exceptions, but far too few.) The other thing is that new writers are not usually astute enough to judge the quality of a book they've obsessed about for so long. They're too close to it, they're enveloped by it.

My first professional novel sale (Jaydium, to DAW in 1991) was actually the 6th or 8th novel I'd completed, depending on how you count (drafts/revisions/novellas). (And I'd revised it -- major rewrites not just polishing -- 3 or 4 times.) I have no idea if I'm a slow learner or whether we just don't talk about all those sub-publication-threshold books we struggled through. There's nothing either right or wrong about how many books we have to write in order to achieve one that we can be proud of, one we can use to launch a career.