May 29, 2012

Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum

Posted in Life tagged , , , , , at 10:35 PM by Dawne Webber

I choose books by their covers, wine by its label, and movies by their trailers. And I thought I didn’t care what other people thought of my choices. Until I had an encounter with O. W. Toad.

O. W. Toad Margaret Atwood Author

She doesn’t look like a toad.

I wasn’t always that way. When I was younger, I knew that knowledge was the key (to what I wasn’t sure), and that I was ignorant about many things. I relied on the well-informed and scholarly to choose things that would help me attain knowledge.

I also knew with a certainty that belied my youth, that classical literature was the foundation of knowledge. During high school my brother developed a consuming passion for literature. He devoured it like potato chips. He became my literary mentor. I borrowed his books– Steinbeck, Fitzgerald, Tolstoy, Dostoeveky. But I couldn’t devour them. I nibbled at them like they were steamed broccoli. I didn’t enjoy it and if I got any benefits, I wasn’t aware of them (I felt the same about broccoli).

Movies weren’t foundational to knowledge, but they could be building blocks. So I looked to the experts, the movie critics, to guide me into knowledge-acquiring-movie-Nirvana. The critics led me to Pulp Fiction. AAAAHHHH. I wanted to bleach my brain after that. Then their wisdom led me to Sideways. And I wanted to hunt down the critics that had “widely acclaimed” it and demand reparation for the two hours of my life that had been wasted. And while they were at it, they could reimburse me for the movie rental.

Pulp Fiction, John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Quentin Tarantino

In the end, I owe those critics (well, let’s just call it even) because I begin to choose movies without reading reviews first. Move over Quentin Tarantino, I’ve realized I’m not meant to be knowledgeable. Enter Miss Congeniality and Legally Blonde. I don’t care what the critics say.

Literature followed a different path. I just stopped reading for myself; I read to my kids. But when I started grown-up reading again I browsed the bookstore shelves with the anticipation of a teenager with a shiny new driver’s license, getting into a car alone for the first time.

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…”
― Dr. SeussOh, the Places You’ll Go!

I didn’t look at the best-seller list or book reviews. I chose the books that called to me. And I began to acquire knowledge. Not the kind I’d thought was necessary. The kind that taught me about other people, living in their own bubbles, trying to give me a glimpse of themselves. Both of us, reader and writer, connecting somewhere in our guts.

After reading lots of contemporary fiction, deciding to read classic literature again was like summoning up the courage to tip-toe into the cold lake water at the beach. I was fearful that if someone didn’t explain it, or tell me what to think, it would be lost on me. In fact, I was so focused on the mechanics I almost gave up. My brother told me to chill and just read it. So I did.

And I still do. And for the five hundred salient points that sail right over my head, I’m smart enough to get three or four. And that gives me plenty of stuff to ponder.

Which finally brings me to the point of this post— Margaret Atwood (also known as O. W. Toad).

I’d been hearing her name often so I decided to read The Handmaid’s Tale. It was not what I was expecting, and it was not like anything I’ve ever read. As I read, I was vaguely aware of a running commentary in the space between my conscious and sub-conscious minds. It went something like this: “What are her views on this (whatever cultural issue)? Is she trashing my views? Is she anti-Christian? Does she…..?” For the first few chapters I waited for a bogeyman to jump out at me and attack. But he never did. And I became engrossed in the tale and the place in Atwood’s gut that had given birth to it. It was an amazing place.

When I finished it, I gave it four stars in my Goodreads/Facebook account  before indulging in my usual obsessive information glut (this explains my in-depth knowledge of  things like Temple of the Dog, the life of Ernest Hemingway, and the in’s and out’s of NASCAR racing).

Is this where we live now?

I saw things like “anti-Christian” and “mocking traditional values”, and my heart did a little jumpy thing and a thought went through my mind, like a wisp of smoke, incoherent, just a dread— “Maybe I’m not supposed to like Margaret Atwood’s writing. Maybe I should delete my high rating so they won’t know.”

And I wondered if this place is unique to me or do we all live here? In this place where we believe that someone “from the other side” doesn’t have anything relevant to say, and isn’t worth listening to. So we don’t.

Then I shook my head and the smoke cleared. I did not delete my rating and I won’t delete my opinion. I can’t live in that place. If I did, I’d have to love Pulp Fiction.

Margaret Atwood The Handmaid's Tale

Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum

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May 16, 2012

The Puppy Nobody Wanted Or Hound From Hell?

Posted in Life tagged , , , , , , at 10:55 PM by Dawne Webber

I have  a confession to make. I don’t like dogs. We always had a dog when I was growing up and I never connected with any of them. I’m sure my life would be a little easier if I liked dogs, so I’ve tried. But I can’t force it. Wait— there’s more. Since one took a chunk out of my hand, I’m afraid of them too. For all you dog lovers out there, it’s nothing personal; I don’t like cats either.

But I’m not a total cretin.  I like other animals. I love watching squirrels. Don’t let anyone tell you squirrels frolic; they are serious (if not misguided) about their business. And I squeal like a two-year-old when I see rabbits in the yard, even when they’re eating my flowers (I don’t get angry until they’re gone; by then it’s too late.) Then there’s the roaming hawk. He let us watch him eat a mouse once. And I love watching the bats that come out at dusk….

squirrel on bird feeder

“I wish those birds would leave my food alone.”

Maybe it’s just domesticated animals I’m not fond of. I never met a cow that I wanted to bring home.

Then I met Andrew. I went to pick up my three youngest kids from a sleepover at my brother’s (aka Detroit Dog Trainer). They wanted me to come in and meet one of the dogs my brother was currently working with. I was reluctant to say the least.

“Please come in and see him. Please, please, please,” D³ begged me.

I sighed (deeply) and went in. To my surprise, I liked Andrew. He was an adorable, little mutt, with puppy-dog-eyes. Not all dogs have puppy-dog-eyes. And he didn’t jump, yip or nip. He sat quietly at my feet waiting for me to pet him. So I did. Then he rolled over and I rubbed his tummy. My daughter, D³, had fallen in love with Andrew and was quite encouraged to see me petting him and enjoying it.

“If I ever got a dog, which I won’t,” I told my brother, “I’d take Andrew.”

Finn, dog training

It’s ironic. Had I known Andrew’s background, none of us would have met him. Cute, little Andrew had a dark past. After a stint with abusive owners, he was taken to Almost Home, a non-kill rescue shelter, where he spent the next six years in his cage (that’s about forty-two dog years). He was adopted and returned four times. After many failed attempts to help Andrew, Gail, the founder of Almost Home, was ready to give up. Enter Detroit Dog Trainer (my brother), Andrew’s last chance.

On their first night together my brother couldn’t get Andrew to come out of the cage because he attacked anyone who came near him. So my brother put on a heavy hockey glove and shoved it into the cage. Andrew bit it for forty-two minutes before giving up. My brother called him “The Little Ball of Hate.”

no kill animal rescue shelter

Adorable puppy or hound from hell?

Three weeks later Andrew was a changed dog and my daughter and I both fell for him. But my brother was concerned. He already owned two dogs and couldn’t keep another, and he worried that Andrew would regress if he had to go back to the shelter. Andrew needed to be adopted. But not by just anyone. Even though he’d come a long way, because of his past, Andrew was considered a “special needs” dog. And he needed a family that understood him.

Enter the miracle. A couple that wanted to adopt a special needs dog was interested in Andrew. A meeting was arranged at the shelter.

“I want you and D³ to come,” my brother told me. “She was really good with Andrew. It’ll be good for them to see him with a little girl.”

So one drizzly Saturday afternoon we make the trek to the shelter— my brother, D³ , Andrew and I. Gail, a pretty woman with long brown hair, greeted us with a wan smile. I could see the trepidation in her eyes as she looked at Andrew, who was still huddled in his cage.

A crowd had gathered around him— he was well-known at Almost Home. But he wouldn’t come out; he had a sudden bout of stage fright. The couple waiting to meet him watched with concern.  Everyone backed off as my brother and D³ coaxed Andrew out of the cage and began walking him around. When D³ took the leash and began to pet him, Gail broke out in a huge smile.

“So how does it feel to be Cesar Millan’s (the Dog Whisperer) sister?” she asked later as we watched Andrew with the couple that had come to meet him.

I shrugged. “I don’t really like dogs,” I admitted.

She looked at me with disbelief and I added, “But if I was ever going to adopt a dog, I’d take Andrew in a heartbeat.”

Then she burst out laughing and told the older gentleman standing behind us, “She’s Detroit Dog Trainer’s sister and she’s afraid of dogs, but she’d take Andrew.” He grinned at me.

Then Gail repeated it to everyone she saw and she’d laugh just as hard each time.  And they’d laugh too. I finally realized that it was because a miracle had occurred. Andrew, the ferocious dog they’d loved but had almost given up on, had been saved. And I felt the love in this place, and I was grateful that D ³ and I got to experience it.

After my brother said goodbye to Andrew, he watched him with his new family. “This makes it all worth it,” he said.

But as with so many of the truly good things in this world, there isn’t a happy ending. Rescue shelters are being stalked by an insidious menace. But that is for a later post. Right now, I’ll just be thankful that such places exist, loving and caring for discarded animals that otherwise would have no hope.

Click here to read more about Andrew and Almost Home.

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May 9, 2012

A Siren’s Call to Writers

Posted in Writing tagged , , , , , at 8:00 PM by Dawne Webber

My muse has been vexing me.  She’s gotten into this annoying habit of visiting late at night or when I’m in car without so much as a dirty napkin to write on. (I recently paid the kids to clean the inside of the vans.) I should have a talk with her, but I won’t. I never do. I’m afraid of offending her.

Last night after I’d already been dragged out of bed by her a few times, I decided to hell with it and just stayed up. And I came across the siren call that seduces most writers at one time or another. The words:

writer's contest

The good news: It’s a free Writer’s Digest Contest.  The bad news: The deadline is Monday, May 14. There’s not much time.

Details: Welcome to the 10th (free!) “Dear Lucky Agent” Contest on the GLA blog. This is a recurring online contest with agent judges and super-cool prizes. Here’s the deal: With every contest, the details are essentially the same, but the niche itself changes—meaning each contest is focused around a specific category or two. So if you’re writing a upmarket (see exactly what this term means below) novel, this 10th contest is for you! (The contest is live through May 14, 2012.)

Of course, it’s for that  novel you’ve already written. Just get it out and polish it up. It’s show time.

quill, writing, book

Polish it up.

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May 6, 2012

Books– The Next Endangered Species?

Posted in Writing tagged , , , , , , at 8:48 AM by Dawne Webber

Yesterday, the warm afternoon breeze held a hint of summer. It whispered in my ear, prodding me to grab my handbag and say a quick good-bye to my family. I slipped out the door and into the car. I wasn’t escaping to the outdoors on that beautiful day; I was escaping to the bookstore.

The bookstore and I have an intimate relationship. Some of you will scoff and say, “A person can’t have a relationship with a place.” Well, a bookstore isn’t simply a brick and mortar building. It’s a place where books reside. Many of the books have an air about them that’s so palpable, they seem to breath. Of course, there are those books that are nothing more than pulp and ink and one can only hope for their demise.

People work there, and shop there, and browse there; they take what they need from the books like a plant taking water from the earth. And all these things combine to make an atmosphere that can only be found in a store that houses books. This is the place I have a relationship with. It’s the place I spent much of my young adult life.

After I had kids the relationship changed. I spent many enjoyable (and a few unenjoyable) hours in the children’s section; I never seemed to make it over to grown-up fiction. My time for reading had vanished, unnoticed in the busyness that became my life.

It wasn’t until last summer, after many years apart, I resumed my relationship with the bookstore. Every few months, it calls to me, and I steal away filled with anticipation. I love losing myself among the shelves while time stands still. My eyes feast on the myriad of colors, sizes and words that define each book and make each unique among its many siblings. I peruse the shelves, pulling out anything that catches my eye. I always make sure to go over the bottom shelf thoroughly in an effort to make up for the unfair disadvantage of being housed in that location.

Sometimes, I find “the book” right away. Other times, two or three vie for my affections. I limit myself to purchasing one. If I have two books beckoning to me, I may not be strong enough to resist the temptation to read them both, thus digging a hole of backwork that will take me a week to climb out of.

I buy my book and head home in time to make dinner. But the experience doesn’t end at the bookstore doors. It’s just begun. There’s the sweetness of anticipation. I know that later, I’ll curl up in my favorite rocker, or sit on creaky glider on the patio, and lose myself as I read.

Something happened recently that filled me with foreboding, and made me wonder if my relationship with the bookstore was in danger. I was sitting with other parents in the lounge during basketball practice. I was the only one in the room with a print book. Everyone else was engaged with an electronic device. For a moment, I felt like a dinosaur that had stumbled from its place in the museum exhibit. Then I was struck with a chilling thought: “Are print books an endangered species?”

“History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”– Mark Twain

Of course, nobody can predict the fate of print books, but I find myself thinking back to the days of vinyl music— albums and single records. It’s not the same situation, nor were the stakes as high, but looking back may give us some perspective.

Beatles album cover

OMG. Paul’s not wearing socks. He must be dead.

You’d buy the album for its music, but an album was more than music. For some, the covers and liner notes were amazing  works of art. They became a genre on their own. In fact, since 1964 there has been a Grammy Award for Best Liner Notes. If you have no idea what an album cover or liner note is, I think maybe the point of the discussion is hidden in there somewhere.

When CD’s came along, their tiny format made cover art and liner notes seemed laughable next to the grandeur of an album’s. But in time, the music industry crafted their own style of CD liner notes and covers. The liner notes and covers of old were forgotten. It seemed that nothing had been lost.

But we’ve face another paradigm shift in music. It’s modern format is electronic; CD’s are becoming obsolete and the need for physical packaging is rapidly dwindling. And the internet and Youtube are replacing liner notes and cover art. And it doesn’t seem to be such a big deal. I wonder if, in reality, it’s a much bigger deal than we realize.

I’ve never read an e-book. Who knows? Maybe it will be just as enjoyable reading a Nook out on the glider. And bedtime stories read from i-Pads will gently erase memories of printed books. But I’m not sure if any place can take the place of a bookstore.

mom reading ipad baby

A bedtime story.

Disclaimer: There may be an ad/video visible below or above. I’m not sure because they are invisible from my account, but I know they appear to my readers with annoying frequency. I do not receive monetary compensation for the ad nor do I endorse it.  

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