Demonstrating Care — Something Else My Dog Taught Me

Caring for a pet can teach you many things. One is the importance of communicating through actions rather than words.

I find myself talking to my dog a lot. I tell Milton I love him hundreds of times a day. I like to think he gets it, but I know my words don’t really mean anything to him.  I could be saying “I love glue” or “I ate stew” and he’d comprehend it just the same.

Sure, my tone conveys some sense of meaning, but using a particular tone of voice and accompanying speech with movements or even facial expressions are actions. As far as the actual words, it’s all probably “blah blah blah” to his ears.

We know dogs recognize their names. We also know they can respond to commands. Unlike people, though, it’s not because they understand the language and make the connections. It’s through repetition and training that our pets associate certain sounds with certain consequences. In effect, and to repeat, it’s the actions they understand.

The communication thing works both ways. Milton’s use of my native tongue is worse than limited. He tries, though. Barks, grunts, whines… he vocalizes to get my attention and try to get a point across. It’s the looks he gives me and the way he acts when he makes his noises that help me interpret what he might want.

Being aware of this, I do try to demonstrate how much I care for Milton as often as I tell him. We play, we take walks, I pet him, I give him treats. I do my best to take good care of him and make his life comfortable. I pay attention to him.

This relationship with my dog helps me realize my interactions with people, particularly people I’m close to, needs the same kind of care. They may have the advantage of sharing a language with me, but simply telling folks they are special isn’t communicating well enough. Real understanding comes from showing them how much they mean to me.

I probably shouldn’t pet and cuddle the people around me like I will my dog, but I can and should give them attention. I can help them when they need it. I can do things, large and small, to make their lives comfortable, to help them feel cared for.

It’s easy to say things. Sometimes too easy. Caring requires thoughtful action.

It’s been said many times before: You can’t just talk the talk, you have to walk the walk. Sometimes with a leash and a clean-up bag.

Some Pictures From My Phone This Week

Wanting to make a blog post, not sure what to write about. Here are some pictures I took over the last week.

Oh, man! Got these yesterday. They are great! Ashley says we’d had them before, but I’m pretty sure I’d remember.

I’m a big fan of Lay’s dill pickle chips as well as most jalapeño chips. These sort of combine what’s good about those flavors.

The first taste was amazing. I savored the next several chips and just kept eating. Noticed after eating about a third of the bag they weren’t tasting as great. There wasn’t anything different about the chips deeper in the bag, I’d just had so many I suppose my tastebuds had acclimated so I wasn’t experiencing that fresh, new flavor. I was also by that point crunching my way through the bag somewhat mindlessly. There is certainly a lesson or two there.

Food again. We had some andouille sausage I didn’t totally use when I made jambalaya last week. Added it to some blackeye peas with diced tomatoes and chilies, and threw in some leftover spinach leaves.

Made me happy for a few reasons. First, I cooked this up in the morning so Ashley would have a dinner option she could just hear up when she got home (I was working that night and wouldn’t be home for dinner). Second, I love using up leftovers and clearing stuff out if the fridge and pantry. Third, it smelled and tasted great!

We got new chairs at work. Might seem like a good thing, but it made a lot of folks mad. Goes to show you what a difference perspective makes. I like the upholstery pattern, though. Also, there is supposedly soy in the cushions because the manufacturer is committed to reducing the use of petroleum based materials.

Whoo-hoo! Maybe the most exciting thing this week — I got a new car stereo! Thank you, Ashley!

I’ve needed one for a couple of years now. Still had the original, 15 year old factory-installed unit, and it had been giving me trouble for a long time. It had got to the point where it wouldn’t play CDs or even eject them.

This new one does have a CD player, but also finally gives me modern options to connect my phone or other devices to play digital files. That’s how I was playing Al B. Sure’s “Off On Your Own (Girl)” as you’ll notice in the picture. Yay, Bluetooth!

This new stereo makes me happy and excited to be in the car. I can’t adequately express the amount of joy it gives me. It’s funny how long I dealt with the messed up CD player I had, especially when it was fairly easy to replace. Another lesson to apply to life.

Oh, and I did install the stereo myself. Not only did that save a bit of cash, it gave me a sense of accomplishment and pride.

You’ll almost always find a new picture of this guy on my phone. I love my buddy. This was after a walk. It’s so hot these days, he actually appreciates coming in and resting on the cool tile. So grateful for our good air conditioning!

What I Don’t Know About My Shining Moment

This is a totally true story.

I was driving to band practice one day, thinking about our stage setup. We’d discussed wanting to add to our visuals onstage, and a backdrop had been mentioned specifically.

We were practicing at Mitch’s house, which was pretty remote in Union County, outside of Monroe. I was taking a slightly different route for a reason I can’t remember. Probably bad traffic on Highway 74. At any rate, I was on a road I hadn’t been on before, out in the country.

I was running through different ideas for a backdrop and stage set, everything from a banner with the band logo on it to assorted hardware and mechanical assemblages. We considered ourselves an “art rock” group, and kind of liked being weird. We also considered ourselves poor, and our resources were extremely limited.

Used to being crafty out of necessity, I suddenly had the idea that we could use a Twister mat — you know, from the game — as a banner hung behind the band. I hadn’t actually seen one in a few years, but my recollection was that it would be big enough and the simple design — big circles of different colors evenly spaced — would hit several aesthetic buttons, as well as some nostalgic ones. In my mind, it kind of fit with part of our band image, which was one of 70s sci-fi fans making android cowboy music in a basement.

Guess you had to be there.

Our Nessie-fied logo

So I’m thinking about this idea, figuring I could pick up a Twister game at Target or, even better, a thrift store or yard sale, driving on this country road all alone, when I notice something in the road a half mile or so ahead. Closer I get, it looks like maybe some roadkill. Kind of big though.

I get closer… closer… pull in the opposite lane to avoid it (there wasn’t any other traffic out there), and just as I drive get next to the lump I realize what it is.

Right. A loose, kinda balled up Twister mat.

In the middle of the road. The remote, unoccupied, no houses anywhere nearby country road.

I drove about a mile farther. Came to a stop sign where the road I had been on ended. I thought about it for a second, then turned around, went back to the Twister mat, and stopped. Still no other cars.

Swear to God, it felt like I was in a Stephen King movie.

Got out, looked all around the area, then walked over to the mat.Afraid maybe there was something wrapped up in it, a puppy or kitten or human head someone no longer wanted, I cautiously picked it up.

There wasn’t anything else in it or around it. Just the playmat. I shook it out, let it flap in the breeze for a sec, looked around again for anyone it might belong to. Folded up the vinyl, put it in my trunk, and continued on my way to band practice.

I’ve experienced some weird shit before, but this is still one of the weirdest.

I don’t know if I had a premonition about the Twister mat or if I somehow willed it into existence. Might have thought I’d imagined or hallucinated the whole thing if I didn’t actually have a slightly dirty Twister mat in the trunk of my car. Had God for some reason chosen THAT silent wish for a Milton Bradley game accessory as my prayer to answer? I’ve heard He does move in mysterious ways. Never reckoned it was that kind of mysterious.

We never did utilize the mat on stage. I think the other guys weren’t into the idea so much. Although we didn’t create anything to set up behind us, I did get to smash and throw a couple dozen marshmallow Peeps at the audience a little while later. Maybe I’ll tell you about that one sometime too.

It exists. Still. Picture taken today, May 27, 2016, of my (dirty) car trunk.


What I Didn’t Know About Wildcat’s Origin Story

I’m a comic nerd. Have been all my life. Being a superhero fan, I feel lucky to have been a kid during the 70s and 80s when comics were arguably the best they’ve ever been (go on, argue with me about it). Not only were Marvel and DC producing monumental new books at that time, but both publishers delighted readers (while saving some bucks) by reprinting material from as far back as the 1930s — what’s known as the Golden Age of comics — too. In addition to comics, I’ve always liked history, Old Time Radio, and old pulp action heroes, so this was great for me.

Wildcat was a character from that Golden Age. An old-fashioned kind of vigilante, he didn’t have any true super powers. I thought he had a pretty cool costume, though. Ted Grant, his alter ego, had been a championship boxer, so he was a pretty tough guy. For whatever reason, Grant decided to put on a costume and fight crime. It was a thing some tough guys did in those days. He called himself Wildcat and wore a solid black cat suit, complete with cat mask.

That might sound a little silly to you, but if you can believe it, a similar non-powered fella had turned hero wearing, of all things, a suit that made him look like a bat, and that character’s books sold incredibly well. For 75 years.

Wildcat’s popularity never came close to Batman’s, but DC Comics did bring him into the modern age, along with the rest of the Justice Society of America, in the 1960s. He was featured not only in reprints, but also in new stories. He was even shown to have trained Batman and other crime fighters. DC had a whole multiple earth scenario that explained where the Golden Age heroes came from. If you watch The Flash, you’ve seen a little of that. And if you watch Arrow, you’ve seen Wildcat. A version of him, anyway.

For decades, Wildcat has been portrayed as kind of a lunk. Undoubtedly a hero, full of heart, but more a jock than a thinker. Not simple-minded like Johnny Thunder, a more humorous character, but not as bright as the rest of the Justice Society, being mostly scientists, doctors, and industrialists in their secret identities.

I recently lucked into a copy of The Greatest Golden Age Stories Ever Told at The Last Word which includes Wildcat’s first appearance and origin story. Written by Bill Finger, who happened to also co-create Batman and the original Green Lantern, among others, the story is classic pulp, full of tragedy and heroic determination. As superhero origins go, it’s really good. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing, but was bowled over by a revelation early in the story.

On page two, in only three panels, my perception of this character was totally changed.

Ted Grant not only went to college, he went Ivy League.

So it looks like the ol’ pugilist grew up somewhat privileged, and not only went to college, but Yale of all places. To top it off, he didn’t want to be a professional boxer. HE WANTED TO BE A DOCTOR.

I know this is just a comic book story, and I’m sure it lacks some impact if you haven’t read the treatment of the character for decades, but it got me thinking. Have you ever thought you had someone pegged, then found out something about them that changed your view of them?

Most of us are probably guilty of categorizing acquaintances and coworkers in simple terms. It’s unfortunate that we make assumptions about people based on limited information. We might encounter one side of a person, or deal with them in only one kind of situation. I understand why we make the judgments we do, but it’s kind of a shame we can’t read everyone’s origin story.

You’ve probably heard some version of “everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” I do believe that’s true. In our day to day dealings, we rarely know where folks are coming from or what they’ve been through. I’d like to say it doesn’t matter, but being the social creatures we are, knowledge and understanding do affect our relationships. Even and especially our briefest and most casual.

I happened to be studying marketing recently (I don’t only read comics), and a message I encountered with repetition is that no matter what you’ve done, no matter how good you are or what you’re capable of, if people don’t know about it, you’ll not make as much of a difference as you should. That it’s up to you to “market” yourself so your accomplishments and experience don’t go unnoticed. Well, if we’re wise enough to understand that, can we be wise enough to flip it around and understand that there are folks out there doing incredible things who AREN’T good at marketing themselves? What might we be missing? If I’m smart enough to know I need to put myself out there, I hope I’m smart enough to know to look deeper at who people are, what they’ve been through, and what they’ve done.

You certainly don’t need to know everyone’s background in order to be friendly or have a good relationship. Rapport is built in the present as easily as on similar past experiences. I do hope, though, I’ll be careful to consider there’s more to the people I meet than the impressions I interpret.



What I Don’t Know About Plotting a Novel

Most of you know I am working on completing my first novel.  Right now I have about 3/4 of the first draft done, and hope to finish it by October.  With my day job and other responsibilities the time I am able to make to work on the book is limited.   My writing process isn’t always as quick as I’d like either. That’s a major reason I haven’t been posting a lot here or in other social media lately.  I figure every minute I spend on blogging is time taken from the book.

Being so close to actually finishing this project feels great.  This book, by my best count, is the ninth I’ve started since about 1993, and will be the first to reach the end.  Of course, once the first draft is complete I’ll still have a lot of work to do, going back and revising.  I already have several things in mind to change, add, and take out.

As I’ve been writing the book, characters have filled out and situations have developed I hadn’t considered originally.  It’s been fun and occasionally puzzling winding the story from one point to the rest.  This morning, while working on the increasingly intense third act, I had an idea to switch something major.  It’s a good idea.  A really good idea.  It makes the story more interesting.  It also means I’ll have more of what I’ve already written to change.

That’s okay.  Since getting serious about this project, I’ve read a lot on the craft of writing for both instruction and inspiration.  It was not exactly news to understand that writers approach their work differently.  Some create detailed outlines before beginning their draft, others simply start writing and let inspiration take them wherever it will.  Some writers, like myself, try a method somewhere in between.

I had a basic premise, a setting, and a title that suggested a story.  I worked to make sure I had a beginning and, most important, an end.  I wanted to believe I could trust luck and talent to create an ending once the story worked itself out, but since my goal was to finally — FINALLY — complete a novel, making sure I had an end relieved some of the anxiety associated with the grand project.  Several important scenes in varying degrees of specificity were imagined to fill out the middle and move the story from the beginning through to the conclusion.  It approached an outline, but was not particularly thorough.

I’ve revised a little bit as I’ve gone along.  Mainly dialogue.  I did restart the novel completely after already writing three chapters.  It was the right thing to do and the book is better for it.  I also removed and reworked a chapter far into the book.  That also made the story stronger.  Most of my revision, though, I am saving until I get the basic story written.

The idea that occurred to me today will change the plot a little.  It will require adapting passages I’ve already spent a lot of time and effort trying to get right already.  Oh, but it really is better than what I originally had planned.  Flexibility, I’ve been reminded many times, is an important quality in many circumstances.  For a writer of fiction, I think it may be necessary.