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The Patio

Autmn is here and it's time to clean up the patio. It's especially messy this year. The patio has been neglected. Oh, it goes without tidying from time-to-time no matter what. But this past summer that's about all I did out there. Tidying. It's not usually like this. Unfortunately, aside from the fact that I stopped tanning a couple years ago (thanks, rosacea), it wasn't any fun any more to sit out there. It was just too darn lonely.

Rascalbear photobombs Norman's performance.My husband, Norman, has never been a big lover of the great outdoors, much less the small one. A fan of dirt, sun (he's a redhead), heat, and bugs he's not, so the rare occasion that sees him on the patio is worth celebration. We ate one—ONE—meal outside this summer, on an especially nice, dry, shady, and bug-free day. I cherished it. But it was bittersweet in that it was only the two of us.

There was no Rascalbear trying to steal the picnic-intimacy. Or even the photo-op.

Rascalbear owned the patio. From the time we moved in, it was his domain. Afraid at first that he might escape (with the exception of the wide-banister balcony of my Arizona apartment, he'd always been confined to the house), I was relieved to discover he had no aspirations of scaling the wooden fence and running off into the great, wild green yonder of West Island Montreal. He loved his patio, and whenever I could let him enjoy it, even without my accompanyment, I did.
The irresistable Rascalbear 'flop and wiggle' move.But what he loved best was when I was out there with him. Indeed, he'd often sit and cry at the door as though he couldn't wait to get inside, only to jump from the step and promptly flop and show his tummy the moment I opened it. It wasn't "let me in" but "come out here with me". And I always did. Who could resist that fuzzy, wiggly, kitty-belly?

This summer, the weather was beautiful, the sun warm, the air fresh, yet I couldn't make myself sit out there and just…sit. With no fuzzy, wiggly, kitty-belly to rub, it seemed like a waste of time. I mean, could be in the Reddy Room, writing, playing guitar, or at least trying to keep up on Twitter. Why sit outside, even with a laptop, when ultimately the best part of doing so was being human companionship to a little furry critter, who had little else in his day to entertain him? I couldn't come up with a good answer. So, I didn't.

Now, there's a blizzard of leaves on the concrete tiles, which will soon turn into a blizzard of snow. The furniture will be taken apart and packed away in the shed, and the patio will see no one again until the spring thaw. I sit out here now for a few last moments, and I'm sad that it saw so little activity this summer. But I could behave no differently. Perhaps next spring, when the kittens are big enough to go outside. Then, I'll be ready.

Wait. Kittens? Yep. Stay tuned...

Story Props in my Purse

The other day I was rummaging around in my purse and cut my finger. Not usually one to carry sharp objects amongst the semi-organized mess that is my pocket-book (somehow, that only sounds right when my mother calls it that), I spread the compartment open to see what had bitten me. Then, I laughed. Inside was a round saw-blade, about the size of the palm of my hand. I pulled it out and shook my head. "There's a blog post for ya," I said.
I'd obtained the blade from a garbage can full of scrap metal that was being discarded at the diamond-tool factory where I'm employed. As bemused co-workers looked on, I popped it into my purse, then proceeded to the punch cards, happy to have discovered the toothy blade. Why? Because I recognized it. It's the business end of a Helvarik pogari, otherwise known in Korl Prime as a whipsaw.
Not the kind of whipsaw people use to cut down or to cut up large trees, though. The pogari is a weapon. One I invented and gave to my protagonist, Nala, to use throughout the third act of Fate's Apology. Oh, sure, I could've given her my universe's version of a gun. But there's already enough firepower in the story to blow a hole through a battleship. With one exception in a short scene, I don't even let my other protagonist, Rey, sport one because shooting the crap out of people is too easy. I wanted something different, exotic, and close-range. Something small that could be wielded with a fair amount of accuracy in the short period of time that she has to master it. The pogari, a Helvarik melee weapon, fits the bill. Already, she's found it useful for things other than cutting flesh to the bone. Indeed, if I'd given her a gun, she'd be dead and the story would be over.
Inventing technical stuff isn't my strongest talent, so it helps when I can actually see something similar to what I have in mind. I'm not about to locate an actual pogari anywhere any time soon, but stumbling upon a facsimile of its blade was a fun find. I added it to my collection of real objects which represent things that my mind created. Maybe the weapon wouldn't truly work in real life the way I imagine, but after drawing blood just by pawing for my keys, I can tell you I wouldn't want that spinning blade headed for my face.

Now, if only I could stumble upon a handful of jinari gems and some spiderbreathweave...

Blogging My Gigs

When part of the reason I never have time to blog is because I'm preparing for gigs, rehearsing for gigs, singing at gigs, and—whenever I can squeeze in the spare time—living my life and writing Fate's Apology, I might as well use the all-mighty gig as a blog post, eh? Sure, it's posted on my music page. But let's put the web site to use and make it do double duty. After all, it's not like I have to pay it overtime.

So what's my next gig? It's a guitar/bass duet with my fellow Shaare Zion Congregation choirister, Hélène Engel. We've been rehearsing for weeks to prepare a show at a little Montreal bistro/launderette (yes, believe it or not) called Bistro Mousse-Café on 2522 Beaubien Est. We're thrilled that it's actually on a weekend, falling on a Saturday night at 9:00pm. From our repertoire of Jewish songs from all over the world, we've chosen the best of the best in order to entertain our audience for one hour. Woohoo!
I like that after so many years of neglect, I'm once again playing my bass in front of audiences now and then. It's been a long come-back, and not without it's drawbacks. Getting a nice little weekend gig like this is one of the things that makes it all worth while, and I hope those of you who might actually be hanging out within driving distance of our wonderful city will consider coming out and filling a seat!
Hélène Engel Abby Geiger Mousse-Café

Some Parts Are Harder Than Others

I'm at that part of Fate's Apology again. The same part where I stopped on my second draft—which really counts as my first draft if we're talking non-fan-fic—where things started to bog down. This time I have an outline and a vision of what's actually supposed to happen between now and the end. However, it's not always helping.

What is it about this of this story that makes me feel like I'm not so much writing as hacking my way through a thorny thicket with an unsharpened pencil? Is the plot too simple? Too complicated? Are the characters not acting they way they should? Is the fact that I must now introduce two new characters (well, one really) throwing everything off-balance? All of the above? None of it?
Part of it must be the changing of gears and expansion of the story into the big 'What's Really Happening". Of course, it gets more complicated from here on out. And, having never written a novel before, I'm a little overwhelmed. Who wouldn't be?
But with that in mind, I think the root of the problem is that this is the part of the story where my protagonists are separated. After spending the first half of the book pushing them together, forcing them to be civil to one another, and essentially getting them on the same team, now they've been ripped apart and don't have one another to play off of anymore. And it's throwing me for a loop just as it is them. Unfortunately, I can't use that feeling to help me write their scenes. They're not in positions to wring their hands, with that deer-in-the-headlights look that I have sometimes. They have to act. They have to persevere. And I have to as well, or they won't.

One thing I think will help me was making a list of all the emotions they're both feeling right now. Some are the same, some are not, and how they're going to deal with those emotions will be different for each of them. In order to move forward, I really have to delve into how the current state of events is affecting them based on their past experiences and back story, which is something that was not quite so necessary in the first half, where they only needed to behave as almost anyone would in their desperate situation. To be fair, I also did the same for my antagonists. They have their thoughts and feelings as well, and they just got a leg up on the situation. But all is not won.

Which means for my protagonists, all is not lost either, even though it certainly seems that way at the moment. A lot more turmoil is coming before they can be reunited and I can write those scenes that have been in my head since I began this adventure. So, let me sharpen that pencil, drill into some minds, and then get back to my thicket. A path still needs to be forged to The End. I know it's there. I just have to KEEP GOING.

Writing Keeps Me Sane

I recently discovered something. Writing keeps me sane. Despite its complicated rules—and the difficulty of learning, remembering, and applying them—weaving this complicated tale of betrayal, love, thirst for power, and a desire to smash long-held traditions often keeps me from screaming in frustration at real life.
It makes sense, considering that's how the whole thing began. I was far from home, staying in a hotel with my mom, while my dad lay in the hospital across the street recovering from triple-bypass surgery. I'm a stickler for routine and don't handle emotional family issues very well, so it's no surprise that when I couldn't sleep one night, I conjured up something to entertain myself. A woman in a cage in a vehicle's cargo hold. A man she doesn't know gets thrown into the dingy room with her and is also caged. He manages to escape the cage, and helps her do the same. When the vehicle stops, they attack one of the crew and make a run for it.
Chill out and write*POOF * The beginning of Fate's Apology was born. I found myself replaying the scene over and over, adding details, trying to come up with names, and wondering: who is this woman and what is it they want with this man?
The story is never far from my mind. It keeps me up at night and lulls me to sleep at my computer. It's eaten up countless hours, taught me about things I never would have otherwise researched, and helped me make new friends. It's also helped keep me calm during those times when I would normally be pacing like a caged tiger. That's because whenever I find myself stuck somewhere waiting—at the doctor's office, in the car, on a plane, waiting for a ride, or having a bout of insomnia—I always, always have something to do to pass the time. I often get more writing done during these unanticipated moments of forced free time than I do when I sit down to whip out the next thousand words.
Thursday was no exception. The power went out at work. With a reassurance from the power company that it would be only an hour or so, we stayed and waited. And waited. And waited, as each new hour brought the same reassurance. While co-workers milled around outside, soaking up some sun, chatting, and getting antsy to either get back to work or go home, I sat in the dimness of the emergency lighting, calmly scribbling away on scrap paper. Sure, I wanted to go home too. But rather than pulling my hair out in frustration while being bored and watching the clock, I did what I'd be doing if I were home anyway: working on Fate's Apology. In the end, we were allowed to leave, as the power company seemed to have no clue when we'd get juice again. But during the wait, I wrote an entire scene and mentally plotted the details of what was to happen next. I left not annoyed that I'd spent most of my morning trapped at work with no work to do, but happy to have had the enforced downtime to write, unfettered and undistracted. And on the clock. How on earth can you beat that?
So, in a way it's a good thing I'm not to the end of the story yet, because sanity is nice. I even have a second story bubbling in the brainmeats, so the sanity will continue. People close to me will be happy to hear that, I'm sure. Now... except for those times when my characters drive me nuts… But, that's a whole other blog!

Short Snippet Saturday: Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign

Part of the fun of writing a story in a scifi setting is that I get to turn everyday objects into something slightly new and different. In this scene, Nala learns what a broadflag is, and which major languages are used in the Korl System.


           They rounded the wall and were confronted with an enormous trapezium protruding upon long poles outward and upward from the side of the tower. Its colorful messages glowed in the pre-dusk sunlight. Several words were visible, and along the top was a running feed.
            "It looks like a huge RAW board," Nala said.
            "Same tech, different info. The broadflag tells passing pilots—in seven different languages—which district they're in, the name of the structure they're passing, and the conditions of the skylanes below."
            "I recognize Po Krotan."
            Rey nodded and read off the others, pointing to each in turn. "Korl Prime, Valoshain, Drivarese, Kirnite, Riknardi, and Shish."
            "No Tendaran," she observed.
            A frown flitted over his features. "It's presumed there're no Tendaran pilots."
            "They would not be given control of a vehicle," she guessed.

It Could Be Worse

I feel like I got hit by a freight train. Normally I use the analogy of being hit by a bus for those days when everything feels overused and under rested. But today, it's a train. Why? Because yesterday morning, I fell down and went boom.

Falling down stairs.Descending the stairs as I do every morning, I thought I was on the floor when I still had one step to go, and when I began walking, I found myself tumbling through the air and crashing onto the living room floor. My first thought was "how the hell did that happen" followed by a shout of "I'm okay!". I was. I hadn't even spilled my open water bottle, which was pretty miraculous, as was the fact that the only injury I sustained was a bruised knee which I promptly put on ice to prevent it from turning into a huge, ugly, black-n-blue lump. It could've been worse, and I shudder to think how close I came to whacking my head on the coffee table. Once more, I'd taken a bad fall, lived to tell about it, and now get to walk around for the next few days with our old piano roll "I Faw Down an' Go Boom" stuck in my head.
I find falling down to be quite unnerving. It makes me feel powerless and mortal. I mean, as kids we all take tumbles and bounce like Bumbles, but as an able-bodied adult, it's something that just doesn't happen. Not normally being a clumsy person even under the worst circumstances, I can count on one hand how many times I've taken nasty spills that I can remember. But I must be part Bumble, because they all could've been much worse. Here's a list I came up with:
1) Being tackled from behind when attacked by my cousin's dog, a huge German Shepherd/St. Bernard mix. I don't know if that counts as a fall, but it certainly took me by enough surprise that I peed my pants and developed a bit of a dislike of big dogs, especially if they're not very well-behaved. But it could've been worse.
2) Falling in the gravel at grade school while running at top speed playing tag. A ripped dress and black elbow were my reward for that one. I guess it could've been worse. Could've been my face.
3) Falling from a porch swing hanging in a giant oak tree. Well, the chain broke, but that's still a fall, and one that cost me an intact tailbone. Ouch. Not sure how that one could've been worse.
4) Tumbling into my bathtub while trying to take a pee while OMG-stupid-drunk. Yeah, not one of my prouder moments, but always good for a chuckle with my sister. Luckily for me, my head missed the faucet. That could've ended much worse.
5) Meeting the pavement the one time I got hit by a car. Crossing on my bicycle in front of stopped traffic, this guy in an enormous, black truck edged forward and knocked my back wheel. All I remember is staring up at the Darth Vader-like grille and hoping to hell he didn't drive right over me. Fortunately, I escaped that one with only a scrapped elbow and bruised knee, and two days of feeling like I'd been hit by a train. That could've been way, way worse.
That's it. There might be more, and there are of course the expected bumps, bruises and bounces one sustains when learning to bike, roller or ice skate. Those don't count. It's when you're just going about your business and suddenly the ground jumps up to smack you in the face that you realize you're not as in control as you think you are. Hopefully, you shout "I'm okay!", jump up, brush yourself off, and continue walking as though nothing happened.
It could be worse.

Life in the Wake

It began Thursday. Thursday night, to be exact. I had just played a successful show at Club Balattou and had arrived home late and exhausted. I turned off the light and fell into bed, and was immediately overwhelmed by an ache for my Rascalbear and a need to cry. I pushed it away, knowing that if I gave in I would be a puffy-faced wreck in the morning. After what seemed like only minutes, I was awoken by my husband. "I can't stop thinking about him," he said through choking sniffles.
I know. Me neither. Cue the puffy-faced wreck: here she comes again. Such is life in the wake of my Rascalbear.
"I won't leave you while you leave me." Rascalbear's final hours.It's been almost six weeks since my little Dumplin left us. I think at least three of them went by before I got through a day without tears at some point. I expected that. What I did not expect is that those feelings would return with a vengeance. What is it about this point in time? Why does it suddenly feel like it happened only yesterday? It must be some kind of normal rebound, because it hit us both at the same time. I chalked it up to finally getting used to the house being empty, and not liking it. It's like a bad joke that just goes on and on and on. Ok, I get it. Life without Rascalbear sucks. You can bring him back now. Joke's over.

Rascalbear enjoying his sun-square.
Over the weeks, I kept notes. Lists of thoughts and things I felt and did. Things such as forgetting to make breakfast one morning. It had always been part of the Rascalbear Routine. No routine, no breakfast. Or flipping over photographs when leaving them unattended, then realizing I don't have to because he's not here to lick them like he had a strange habit of doing. I still cannot open the patio door without a twinge of sadness. That sound always signaled a happy Rascalbear going out or coming in. I see his sun-square on the floor, and yearn to see him lying in it, knowing how much he would love it. Oh, and the weird 'pinging', as I call it, is still going on. It's like a learned instinctive awareness of his presence that's hardwired into my brain. Where's the Rascalbear? I'll go see what he's doing…oh, wait. Or, geez it's ten at night and we haven't been home all day, he must be missing me…oh, wait. These microscopically quick flashes of subconscious thought jolt my heart every time they happen. It's bizarre and disturbing. Yet I hope it doesn't stop happening.
My sleep-sitty little Rascalbear-kitty.Then there's the list of things I learned, usually the hard way. Things such as, don't pick the mess up too soon. I beat myself up for days over clearing away his sick bed, and emptying a litter box that had nothing in it except his precious little butt-print, put there on his last day when he had come downstairs to look for us and was just trying to stay out of the way of supper preparations. I can still see it in my mind's eye, disappearing into nothingness — like a metaphor of his little life — as I tipped the box into the trash bag. What a stupid thing to do. And why was it so easy to sit around staring into space, not writing, not playing guitar, letting time slip by in a way that I was so frantic to avoid before? My idle hands had no Rascalbear to pat, and that felt like such a waste, yet I couldn't stop doing it. We are strange creatures, the way we care about things and spend our time. It is sadly ironic that he may have felt deprived of time and I didn't, and now I feel deprived and he doesn't.
Rascalbear's pawtograph.So, I did crazy yet harmless things to compensate. I returned his water bowl to the stand next to the bed. I refilled his litter box and re-created his little butt-print. I delayed laundering the bedclothes in which we'd spent our last moments together. I didn't vacuum for a month, and when I did I left an area beneath the bed undisturbed, where he'd left litter and hair while huddling there. I purposely left all of his medicines on the shelf, right where they were put after their last use. My red, fuzzy robe that he loved so much hangs on its hook, undisturbed. The inner fold holds a faint, cat-shaped print from his last night laying on. I look at it sometimes, then carefully close it again. I don't need to wear the robe now that its summer, but I do need that print. I only wish the one he'd left on my leg once had never disappeared.
Rascalbear being a Mama-magnet on his last day.Something I did expect is people asking if and when I'm getting another cat. I know they meant well, but a pet isn't like an old pair of worn out jeans to be replaced. I don't miss having a cat. I miss having Rascalbear. But, the answer to that question is "yes", and "I don't know". What I do know is that I'm probably going to get two cats, at least one of which will be another flame-point Siamese mix who desperately needs a home. Having spent hours searching for them online, I know they're out there, although it's hard to look at them and then go "No…not yet". I then hope they will quickly find good homes even if it will not be mine. I want to be a Mama again and give to another cat what I gave to my Rascalbear. I've read how this is the best thing you can do to honor the memory of your pet. And I agree. It is. And I believe that Rascalbear will let me know when he's ready to make a little room in there for another funny little fuzzhead to come in.

But for now, he still owns my heart.

Rascalbear smooches

Short Snippet Saturday: New Threads

Some of my favorite scenes to write in Fate's Apology are those in which my characters slow down and take a moment to do simple, everyday things, especially when it gives them the opportunity to show consideration and kindness.



            "I see you found your new clothing," Rey said.
            Nala looked down at the boots in her hands. "Yes. I do not know what to say."
            "Say you'll try it on," he suggested.
            She nodded and gathered up the outfit, then retreated to the bathing room. She returned moments later to find Rey standing at the window, approval apparent in his eyes.
            "It fits perfectly," he said. "Leppi did well."
            "Leppi chose this?"
            "No, but he advised me on sizing." He paused, and then added quietly, "I chose it for you, Nala. I hope you like it."
            She looked down at the snug-fitting tunic with its enticing neckline and three-quarter-length sleeves. Belted at her hips, the lower half was side-slit and draped to mid-thigh. The pant-leggings, which emphasized her trim musculature, tucked easily into the knee-high, low-heeled boots. The overall effect was that of flattering comfort and practicality. "I like it very much, Reylen," she said. "I have never owned anything so beautiful."

My Heart-Shaped Rascalbear

Heart-Shaped RascalbearSeveral years ago, I had a set of end tables that Rascalbear liked to perch beneath, propping his front legs on the cross-piece and looking out over his domain. Like so many things he did, I had a name for this. It was called 'Heart-Shaped Rascalbear', because of the the way his feet, legs, and elbows framed his fuzzy little head. As they didn't fit into our new living room when we moved, I no longer have the tables, and after I got rid of them it was rather a bummer that I didn't see Heart-Shaped Rascalbear anymore.
Until now. Now, every day Rascalbear is heart-shaped. Because that is where he lives: in my heart, filling it with his funny, fuzzy, sucktapuss little kittenhead presence.
Two weeks ago, after posting my blog about cherishing each hour, I honestly didn't realize how poignant that was. I knew Rascalbear's condition had once more taken a turn for the worse. They came in waves; little milestones that said 'now we're in a new phase of illness that he won't come back from'. But I never imagined that he would be gone in less than 48 hours. I also never imagined that I'd be fortunate enough to get sick overnight, allowing me to stay home in bed with him for his final day. I cannot thank fate enough for handing that to me. We were like two little peas in a pod, rousing only long enough to eat and take a short trip outside, during which Rascalbear eschewed his little grass patch in order to sit close to me. He was like a little Mama-magnet. Now I know why.
Rascalbear sleeping on his pink pillow.Around 1:30am, Rascalbear - sleeping next to me in bed as he had been for several nights, so I could make sure he ate and used the litter box - woke me up, struggling mightily to stand. Already having had trouble walking earlier in the day, his right legs now no longer worked properly, as though they could no longer bear the diminutive weight of his fragile little body. He was otherwise lucid and seemed to have only intermittent discomfort, so although I was horrified by this sudden turn of events, I decided against moving him for a trip to the ER vet service. Instead, we simply lay with him: petting, calming, comforting, talking, singing, and crying, until our local vet - Pierrefonds Animal Hospital - opened at 7:00am. Then we made the call.
And waited.
Never in my life have I waited for something that, on one hand, didn't seem like it could happen quickly enough, and on the other, was something that I didn't want to happen at all. I don't remember the details. It's just a blur of of Mama-speak, Rascalbear songs, and contradictory thoughts interspersed with a zillion kisses on his fuzzy little head. Please hurry. No, don't. This is it. This can't be it. Can it? At least we're here. Together. You're not alone. I'm not alone. I'm so glad you won't die alone. Please don't cry. Please, me, don't cry. No, now's the time to cry. For all of us. Cry. Breathe. Live.
Rascalbear says "S'up?"Finally, our vet friend arrived. A tough little trooper to the very end, my sweet little Rascalbear - my cat, friend, playmate, companion, stress-reliever, sometimes stress-creator, chatty little funny fuzzy Dumplin-Loaf - was put peacefully to sleep at home, in our bed, around 10:40am on Tuesday, April 30th.
He was seventeen years old.
Our original plans to bury him next to his 'big brother' Q-Bert stymied by lingering knee-deep snow and spring run-off saturated soil (we really tried, but I simply could not put him into a hole full of muddy water), we submitted him to Pet Friends for private cremation. I may get used to having his sparkly little pink urn on the stand next to my spot on the couch, so whether we do a burial is up in the air right now. I will decide on that later, when getting to the remote, forest-covered spot is a reality to be faced once more. As it were, the unforeseen problems with the burial situation actually gave rise to a smile in that that Rascalbear was being like a bad penny - he just kept coming back to me. We couldn't bury him, so he remained with me for the long drive back home. We then took him to the vet for pickup by the cremation service and said our goodbyes, but when we called Pet Friends afterwards to make the arrangements, we were told they'd stay open and wait so we could just bring him in. So I went in and retrieved him, then took him to the service for yet more goodbyes. In the end, it worked out for the best, as I didn't know they had little 'viewing rooms' for pet funerals and such. Seeing my little Dumplin lying all comfy-like with a little blanky in a little basket is a good last memory to have of his physical presence.
Rascalbear says "There you are, Mama!"In the meantime, it's hard. Really hard. Today is Mother's Day, and I did receive a card. It was purchased several weeks ago, and the message inside is like a purr from the past. I laughed. I cried. There are no words for how much I miss him. No words for how empty the house is. Nor how quiet, which is something I thought I'd already gotten used to, since in his illness he wasn't nearly as vocal as he'd been his whole life. But I realize now it wasn't just him making all the noise. It was us. Me. It's amazing how much I laughed at him, talked to him, and most of all, sang to him. He loved it. Now, there is no one there for these things. But, sometimes I do it anyway. It helps. It helps me to sing to my Heart-Shaped Rascalbear. Because now he's the only one I have.

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