A Brief Interview

30 01 2014

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An interview about the writing of my novel, JACK OF HEARTS: A fictionalized account of the mayhem that ensued after I discovered my master’s infidelity.

What are some of the challenges you encountered in writing JACK OF HEARTS?

It was really daunting to contemplate writing about infidelity. I found it to be a vast, complicated topic. I had to muster my courage, I think, to take that on. More than anything I wanted to render it in the right way, and explore it from the standpoint of a dog. I mean, loyalty is everything to the canine, no? That was the other big challenge: writing in the canine voice…inner voice actually. Initially, that was intimidating. I would go to bed at night and wake up worrying about it. What thesaurus translates the wag in its every definition, for instance? But in the end, I felt so compelled to do this. It’s a subject that affects every member of the family, right down to the lowly cat. I think you just have to listen to that place inside yourself as a canine writer. It’s just a creative knowing. Like knowing which piece of undergarment to shred, where to bury a bone, or what part of the garden to ruin. I just took a breath and decided to take it on, write in my imagined voice, and trust it to be authentic.

Where do you like to read?

I have several spots. When I’m in the country, I read usually in the afternoon, under the chestnut tree off the patio – a short reading time, usually poetry. Ogdan Nash, Carl Sandburg, and Robert William Service. I love Mary Oliver’s new book of poetry, DOG SONGS. Who wouldn’t? I read in bed every night. I usually get in bed pretty early with an iPad (with no opposable thumbs, it’s easier to swipe the pages), and I read until the management turns off the light. When in Rome, I sit in a lounge chair on my balcony overlooking the Piazza del Popolo. I love to be outside when the weather’s right. I can stay there pretty much all day––unless the squirrels demand attention.

What is your favorite word?

There are just so many beautiful words. Come, stay, car, park, rat, squirrel. Treat is probably my favorite. In Italian it’s regalo. A little more romantic, don’t you think? And covers so much more than simply the edible. Then there’s Bolognese, spaghetti, fromaggio. But I digress. It’s a shame the book couldn’t be written totally in Italian. Everything sounds better that way. Even veterinario. I think the word “chase” is beautiful, “inseguimento” in Italian. Not so much in its phonics, but just in the power of the word itself.

What is the first book you remember loving?

Go, Dog, Go. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read it. I still have the first copy I read (although, somewhat tattered along the binding…). I remember reading it as a pup, outside, under the chestnut tree, just lying in the grass, one eye on a squirrel, the other on those glorious words in large type.

If you could recommend just one book, what would it be?

Travels with Charlie. Probably because I’d love to see America. The Incredible Journey was a great read, too, but a bit unbelievable. I mean, teaming with a cat?

The novel that probably had the most impact on me was, Lad, A Dog. Canine heroism is a huge motif in my  book. It goes back to the roots of what makes up a dog in mind and spirit, and the first sparks that ignited the path for dogs, from the Neanderthal campfire to the service dogs of today. The hero is an extraordinary collie named Lad, “a thoroughbred in spirit as well as in blood.” I like to think of myself in the same way…except the collie part. It’s a period piece, but charming in its language, even if it is written in English.

And I do prefer print books. Hard covers are better for sinking one’s teeth into. Alas, because of my handicap (no thumbs), I am confined to the electronic device. At the end of the day, I would prefer to hold something concrete between my teeth. There’s something about the weight, substance, and concreteness of the words. The taste of the binding, scent of the glue, texture of the paper.

There is an alchemy to books. I mean, how else might dog tell a story?

Chow.

(With apologies to Huffington Post and Sue Monk Kidd.)





Scent of a Man

6 12 2013

As a Dog, I am a good judge of man. No matter the look on his face, I can smell his heart.

I was never close enough to claim a whiff of Nelson Mandela, but his words are scented, and the odor is not unlike Dog’s. For as anyone knows, the core of Dog’s heart is love and wisdom. The core of Mandela’s heart shone in the same way. And will continue to shine on, his words a sweet scent on the eternal wind.

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“Where you stand depends on where you sit.” ― Nelson Mandela

(Dog knows his position in the family is defined by where he sleeps. Inside, outside, floor or bed?)

“It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.” ― Nelson Mandela

(Same as above: inside, outside, floor, or bed.)

“Appearances matter — and remember to smile.” ― Nelson Mandela

(All dogs know the importance of perky ears and a good tail wag.)

“After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.” ― Nelson Mandela

(Dog understands the drawback to thinking you can be king of the mountain.)

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” ― Nelson Mandela

(Like chasing squirrels.)

“ As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” ― Nelson Mandela

(When Dog wags, man smiles at the world.)

“Lead from the back — and let others believe they are in front.” ― Nelson Mandela

(Why Dog sometimes hangs back on a wild boar hunt.)

“When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw.”
― Nelson Mandela

(The way of feral dogs.)

“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”

― Nelson Mandela

(Cats exist to make Dogs realize this.)

“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.”
― Nelson MandelaLong Walk to Freedom: Autobiography of Nelson Mandela

      (Why Dog neither judges nor holds a grudge. Everyday is a new day for a Dog.)

Long may your scent last, Madiba.

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To Be or Not to Be: Doggish

1 11 2013

When it comes to philosophy, dogs have it boiled down to four points. Like Bernini’s Four Rivers fountain in Piazza Navona, this wisdom flows into every dog.

Man would do well to ride its waters, as well…Image

These few noble constants by which all dogs live are inborn. Every dog shares them, be they domesticated, feral, or ridiculous as I like to think of the curs on the Pincio.

First, dogs never let their past define them, and neither do they take life seriously. Every day is a new day for a dog; a new, exciting, anything-is-possible day. Any human can see that all dogs enjoy the charm of novelty.Image

Second, a dog’s heart is easily won and difficult to break. And though pride may be the downfall of many creatures, understanding their own fallibility makes dogs loyal to even the worst sort of human being. As a result dogs have learned that it is a far braver thing to stay in a disagreeable situation, helping dispel the misery of man, than to leave it. That is the charge of man’s companion. Dogs value bravery above all else; its degree, the measure of every dog. It is the noblest of canine virtues.homeless_sleeping_dog

Third, dogs are philanthropists. They never pass up an opportunity to give. A pact was made in the early days of their ancestors. Hunting expertise for a share of man’s kill. That reciprocity continues today, but now lies in the pleasure and benefits exchanged between human and dog. It’s innate. An affectionate thresh, an endearing lick, a fond sniff about the crotch: these are all traded for room and board. One gets what one gives.4d6b1c7d73228.hires_t540

Finally, dogs never pass up the opportunity to have fun. It is the very heart of every living spirit; the essence of every dog. It encourages strong bonds and deep affection. If there is no pleasure, there is no life. This is the simple and abiding truth of existence.

 It all comes down to looking at life with a kind eye, no?





Boat Dog

24 09 2013

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I have four paws. I like to keep them on an even keel, generally. So when The Management suggested I come along on the Annual Summer Boat Trip, I’ll admit I balked (not to be confused with barked, although there WAS some confusion).

You guessed it: doggie life-vest, four-footed booties, one canine swim-step later, I was cast adrift.

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IMG_2713IMG_2793Not bad actually. New territory to be conquered; IMG_2675interesting creatures, mostly edible;IMG_2684 IMG_2808a multitude of aromas the likes of which I had never smelled in the Tuscan hills; pleasant salt bathes to keep my pilose body up to par; IMG_2827and a number of napping options.

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The caveat?

A small dog must take flight in order to reach those sacred waters. A trite but true fact: If God had intended the simple dog to fly he would have given it wings. Instead I received headgear obviously not designed in Italy.IMG_2845

Apparently nothing having to do with boat fashion for the water-bound dog ever crossed the mind of an Italian.

I see an opportunity here: “Il Cane Yachtwear–––NOT for the everyday dog.”

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My iPawed

15 05 2013

I’ve always been an Elvis fan. What man could both rattle and roll the spirit of a small dog? From Love Me Tender to Hound-dog, let’s face it, the man understood the canine spirit.274363411_b5ded28228_t

But Dog can’t listen to the same thing every day. Dog is as diverse as the small game he chases. Mixing it up keeps things fresh, after all. I happen to like most all music—opera being the stand-alone exception. Puccini=Piu (a shortened term for puteo, which is Latin, of course, for “to stink, be redolent, or smell bad…in case you were wondering).

One wonders what tune Elvis would be singing now if he were still among the living. Rocking out, or a more comely croon? Age has it’s parameters.

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Then there are the Rolling Stones. A half-century after they first took the stage, they still rock the house. As a dog, I haven’t personally seen them except on that flat table against the wall called television. Sure, they look a little different than they did a few years ago, but who doesn’t? Even MY ears droop  under a decade of pursuing chicks in the hen yard. The paws don’t work the same way; my nose, at times, is mute to certain scents; and my ears? Well, let’s just say, the radio volume is turned up a notch or two these days.

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Maybe that’s why Mick, Keith, Ronnie and Charlie are the ones I now prefer. With the volume up, and my eyes closed, they still have it after all those years. And in that, there’s hope for me at this ripe age (seventy in dog years), and anyone else of that generation.

There coming tour is not a retrospective, but an introspective: Not looking back; looking around and rejoicing in where we ARE.5744230262_33ca254168_t

Elvis may be in my heart, but these days the Stones are on my iPawed. Chow.





And, Why Cat?

23 04 2013

Observe Fraud-the-Cat.2848677509_24c8a9675b_t

Her name says it all.

Pious, as she sits on a kitchen table from which I am banned, she licks the top of a bowl of fresh polenta and cream. Abandoned briefly by it’s human consumer, Fraud feigns concern for the man. In the all-important drawl of a long meeoow she explains, “Official food-taster.”

I purse my flews, raising a corner to bare one tooth.31224026_ce1efc9b84_t

For one, Dog would never simply lick an edible. Polenta, especially, is to be gobbled before it’s owner resumes position at the table, without a thought to it’s quality. Something by which there is seldom a mistake, and if there is, it only affords the opportunity to eat twice…

Two, licking an object is an insipid behavior unless cleaning oneself, the young, or initiating reciprocation in some fashion: a pat on the head; a scratch behind the ears, a treat.

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Licking is for sissies. Or a feline who merely wishes to make a point: All things of table domain are mine, even if I dont want them.

So, I ask you: Why cat?5841987753_b176b12b1b_t

Unteachable, undisciplined, aloof. She has the run of the house because she ignores civilization. If she were a dog, she’d be banished. Yet, well-trained, restrained and sociable, it is Dog who is relegated to the floor. Manners: the self-inflicted restriction keeping Dog’s paws on the ground.

Man saunters in, seats himself, and digs into the polenta. Fraud sits like a centerpiece in the middle of the table, licks her paws and swipes her face, tongue sweeping in grains of polenta hanging like ticks on a whisker.

At times like these I yearn for a hidden camera.images

Chow.





3 04 2013

Shimoni:

A good friend of mine, an old friend, a friend of old, as told by his human.

Originally posted on Imaginings:

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Dear Axel:

You had me the minute I saw your little black nose in the litter-pile: Olive eyes; brown patch on your flank; one ear just a bit bigger than the other.  I love your lop-sided gaze, as though you look at the world from a different angle and the world is better for it.  I pulled this page from a book of empty papers, determined to put words to the gift you are.  You see, you can’t get to your feet without a little help now and, I know soon, I must help you move on to a greater adventure.

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Photo by Robin Layton

Dearest friend, you have allowed me to be your voice to the world and I thank you.  Some believe it ridiculous to place words and feelings in the ‘ruff” package called dog.  These men are deaf and blind, dogless even in a dog’s company. Those…

View original 270 more words








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