Dog Talk

21 11 2014

Let’s discuss etymology. For those out there challenged by syllables (i.e. certain men), I’m talking words.word

Science tells us that the humble dog is able to recognize more words than ever before thought. Beyond the simple “fetch”, “sit”, “shake”, “ball”, and the proverbial (literally) “no”.no-means-yes

Words like “impossible,” “never”, “stupid”, “stubborn”, and even (cringe) “neutering” have resided in the canine dictionary for centuries. And we didn’t learn them from man, we learned them because of man.caveman

The dog is inherently optimistic. The possibility of the “impossible” is a never-ending focus in our minds. Ever see a dog sitting statue-like at the base of a tree waiting for a squirrel to make a misstep?

Ever watch the canine attempt to bite the mailman through the front-door glass––every day, rain or shine, for a decade. the idea that it will never happen, dare I say “NEVER” occurs to him. Otherwise he would have given it up the second day.

“Stupid?” Not in the Webster’s Canine. Since wolf-times, dog has known that each failure up the ladder of success leads you closer to the prize. What dog is born with the knowledge they need to survive? Try, and try again, does not imply stupidity. It speaks to adaptation.

And “stubborn?” Nay, we use the word persistent. Part of evolution and natural selection. Give up and you die.images

“Neutering?” What self respecting canine would EVER invent the idea let alone the word?

The moral: Man is too easy with his labels, failing century-after-century to understand the root of his words, passing off traits he finds displeasing as failure, in one way or another.

Dog’s message to man: Relax. Take a Milk-bone.milk+bone1 Stretch out in a patch of sunlight pouring through the dining room window. Let your instinct guide you.

Trade your Webster’s for a dog.Dictionary Experiment

Ciao

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Writing is Listening

25 04 2014

Writing. A cakewalk some might think. Sit down with a cup of warm milk and a box of chicken flavored dental treats and pound the keyboard. For one who has inflexible toes, and no opposable thumbs, it’s an impossible scenario. To the canine writer, the closest comparison might be the paraplegic. Let me tell you why: it’s all about listening.156059336-124599_238x238

I propose a different point of view (I’m a dog): Writing is not a cakewalk, it’s a “dogwalk.”

A dog pulls the master along, pausing here and there to sniff a clue––or drop one. And so the writer leads the reader, imagining clues to add along the way as a path is created, hoping the reader will recognize, however subconsciously, the ones they’ve deposited.

How?

The written word of the author, as recited in the mind of the reader.

Ruh. You don’t have to be a canine ophthalmologist to know this.

Within those neat little sentences fashioned on the page should be everything that must be known about the story at the precise time it needs be known. To garner the information, the reader must pay attention, and here the writer is the master to its slave. The whip is micro-tension, akin to scattering a handful of liver snacks on the floor, and setting a cat on one side and a dog on the other.

How does one see the other? Micro-tension provides this insight through showing the friction between the two. Even if they are friends, there is bound to be some conflict in the above example. Let me tell you, it usually starts with a growl on one side or the other–––even though, of course, I LOVE the cat.

The two characters are at odds, resisting, undermining, attacking, either directly or in the sub-text of the scene. In exposition, emotions are in conflict and ideas at odds. The reader seeks relief by turning the page. The authors greatest hope.

The reader hears the words in his mind. If the writer has done his job, the words trigger a thing called emotion: the literary Pavlovian response. imagesWith a little luck (and a lot of skill), the feeling isn’t resignation, leading the reader, shoulders slumped, to put the book down, and shuffle off to the library for something new.

I know the importance here. This is my struggle. I may be canine, willing to give my heart to most passersby, but words can stump when used to evoke emotion. All my life, a wag of the tail, or a bared tooth, has done the job. Words on a page, free from vocal intonation, are difficult for me. But I think I’m getting closer.

Example, from Clara’s 3rd person POV:

Max said, “I love you.” The glass of ice water rattled as he set it on the table. He looked out the window as though he’d said the words to himself. Released. Clara slipped on her coat, left her key on the table next to the frosty glass, and walked out the door leaving it open to the frigid Christmas air.

or

His words were like a warm bath. “I love you.” The glass of water Max held materialized on the table, his arms around Clara like magic. Max’s eyes in the mirror above the Christmas fire were golden in the light, but he had the look of a man being led to hang.

***

 

Okay. Not Hemingway. images

But do you know how Max feels about Clara in each of these sentences? Do you know how Clara feels? Do you care? do you want to know what the problem is between them? Do you wan to turn the page? Please tell me you do.

I’m working on another novel (5th draft geared to micro-tension. Next draft: emotion…without any wagging tails). I take notes (recorded digitally, of course), I fashion metaphorical sentences––so many that my dreams are all in 3rd person narrative, no longer images, but echoes. I awaken to fragments that make me feel something.

 

Because I listen––and pay attention to the way words make me feel.imagesChow.





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.)





I’ll Have What She’s Having

28 06 2012

Who hasn’t seen When Harry Met Sally? Even a small, Italian dog, who may have fallen asleep to a Lassie rerun and awakened to that 1990 Nora Ephron classic, knows how to fake an orgasm. Just ask our cat, Fraud.

I remember every worthwhile quotation of Ms. Ephron’s. That’s what a philosophical canine does: commit the philosphical to memory. You may think we merely lie dormant beneath the oak dreaming away the day, but we are contemplating far more than squirrels.

“I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”  Could have easily been spoken by a newly adopted dog.

“Oh, how I regret not having worn a bikini for the entire year I was twenty-six. If anyone young is reading this, go, right this minute, put on a bikini, and don’t take it off until you’re thirty-four.” As a dog who frequents the Italian beaches, I can attest.

“Insane people are always sure that they are fine. It is only the sane people who are willing to admit that they are crazy.” As a dog living in a household of infidels, I can also attest to this.

“The amount of maintenance involving hair is genuinely overwhelming. Sometimes I think that not having to worry about your hair any more is the secret upside of death.” What dog doesn’t worry about this?

“You can never have too much butter – that is my belief. If I have a religion, that’s it.” Proof Nora was a dog in her last life and will be in her next.

“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.” I would say hero but then, I just published my autodogography.

If I wore a hat, it would be off to Nora this day. For now, the examination of life and its ironic insults to humanity and the man-woman condition must surely be passed to dog. We do, after all, see things from a different perspective (the grass), closer to the basics of life (garden vegetables, ground rodents and poo) and a simpler existence: We eat therefore we are.

I will do my best to see things with a the flair that says, “this dog is both humorous and wise.”

But there is one profundity espoused by Nora Ephron that I will never be able to top:

“When your children are teenagers, it’s important to have a dog so that someone in the house is happy to see you.”

Chow.





Dog Logic

1 02 2012

Off to truffle hunt this morning.  Just as the truffles reach their peak of flavor and scent  the season wanes.  Wild pigs grow irritated at approaching unavailability of those elusive funghi.

Soon they’ll be relegated to lesser treasures: Nuts, berries, carrion…and the occasional eyeing of a certain small dog. Morning fog grunts in the background as we make our way through the wood. Leaves crackle under the oak trees hidden in the mist.

We are surrounded by boar guarding that remnants of those white diamonds beneath the soil.  We walk on up the mountain.

A half mile beyond we find a large oak, acorns strewn across it’s feet, the scent of truffle hangs just below the mist, dog-nose level.  The dig is on.

My people sift the dirt landing behind my rear legs.  Soon the small, round basket is full.  A weeks worth of truffle heaven, secured.

Truffle Butter slathered upon al dente Fettucini;

Truffled Porchetta; Clafoutis with Morels and Truffles; Truffles Fontina; Fried eggs with Truffle Shavings…Truffle Ice Cream.

There is a God.

There is a Dog.

Dog Logic the morning after: To be, one must eat; I eat, therefore, I am; Pigs eat truffles, I eat truffles.

You see where I’m going here?

Chow.








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