from A Pondering Mind
Did you ever know a serious emotion to express itself in a subordinate clause?
~ Clouds of Witness, BBC TV miniseries, 1972, based on Dorothy L. Sayers’ novel Clouds of Witness, a Lord Peter Wimsey mystery. IMBd credits both Sayers and Anthony Stevens as writers, but because the line is used solely to create atmosphere, and Sayers died in 1957, I doubt it was her idea.
In Part 1 of Cat Talking, I conceded that, although it’s been scientifically demonstrated that people who talk to their pets–anthropomorphize–are more intelligent than those who don’t, I might not be quite so smart as other pet talkers. In fact, I admitted my IQ might be three points below that of the sea sponge.
For the moment, however, let’s forget all that and assume I’m as smart as all the rest.
Yesterday’s subject was William, who doesn’t take direction.
Today I write about Ernest, who, wonder of wonders, does.
We’ve had our battles. He clings. He stomps on me. He stomps on the keyboard. He stomps on me . . .
So I set out to teach him to lie down.
Lie down. Lie down. Lieeeeeee dowwwwwwwwwn. Lieeeeeee dowwwwwwwwwn. Lieeeeeee dowwwwwwwwwn. Lieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee dowwwwwwwwwnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn.
Somewhere in the 1.5 million repetitions, he not only figured out what I wanted him to do, but he started doing it.
For a while, we fought over positioning–he wanted to lie facing away from me, with his rear straddling my forearm, for maximum tummy exposure. See photo above.
Now he lies down facing me, his head on the laptop. He does it voluntarily. Just jumps onto the chair beside me and plops himself down.
Our system isn’t perfect. He lies down only on his right side, never his left. And he seems to think a laptop must be present.
But I am impressed. In fact, I am gobsmacked.
I’ve had many intelligent cats. But Ernest is the first cat I’ve ever trained to do something he didn’t want to do. I’m impressed with him, and I’m impressed with me.
And I think we’re both way ahead of the sea sponge.
An article posted on Facebook–my chief source of information these days–states that people who talk to their pets are smarter than those who don’t.
This is not news. We pet owners have always known we’re more intelligent than the rest of the population. If the rest of the population didn’t know this, that wasn’t our fault. But now everyone knows it, because everyone belongs to Facebook.
It seems that talking to pets is an example of anthropomorphizing, the attribution of human traits, emotions, or intentions to non-human entities. I was familiar with the word but had been told it meant my IQ was three points below that of the sea sponge. Obviously, that was wrong.
I have one question: Does talk mean traditional adult speech or does it also include baby talk?
For example, I say, Go stairsies? to my cats; would a scientist say that’s evidence of my mental superiority? The phrase means Do you want to go downstairs? or upstairs, depending on where we are. Ernest usually wants to go stairsies as soon as he’s asked; William mulls over the possibilities and decides later. He wants to make sure it’s his idea.
I tell William and Ernest they’re sweet puddy tats (readers my age will know where that comes from). Sometimes they’re feet puddy tats. Or they’re feet puddy wuddies. I tell them I wuv them (I wuv ooo). When I step on a tail, I say, I sowwy.
I ask them if they’re hungwy and want some breakbus, which is silly, because they’re always interested in food.*
This afternoon, William was hungwy. He jumped onto the arm of my chair–something he rarely does, because he doesn’t want his humans to think he likes them–and headed for the plate of bread crumbs on the table beside me. I moved the plate to the other side. William stayed where he was. I went back to work and forgot about him.
Suddenly he was in front of me, standing on the keyboard, again focused on the plate. I pushed him backward, then forward, but he weighs more than twenty pounds and is passive aggressive. He stayed where he was.
I finally gave up and let him cross in his own time, but not before he’d typed gggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggg and sent an email comprising one sentence, one fragment, and the line of g‘s. It was a business email. By the time I realized it had been sent, it was too late to Undo.
At that point, I wanted to say something that wasn’t baby talk but I kept my peace. William ignores criticism. Orders. Suggestions. Requests. Invitations. Pretty much everything. It all has to be his idea.
I’ve just realized this post has taken an unfortunate turn. I began by praising myself for being an intelligent cat talker, and am ending with a story about allowing my cat to send an email. Which suggests the cat is pretty high in the IQ department. And maybe I really am three points below the sea sponge.
*A relative I won’t identify used to ask her little boys what they wanted for lunch–eggy-do or soupy-doup. I have not yet fallen so low.
Part 2 of my thoughts on writing: my writing process. Some observations, and a couple of Rules about Facebook and Candy Crush.
In the beginning, it wasn’t chaos. When I was in elementary school and junior high, writing was easy. I started at the beginning and stopped at the end.
My early writing process
When I entered the eighth grade, trouble began. I thought about the assignment for about ten seconds; then my brain vaporized and was replaced by a vacuum.
I realize now that things got all balled up because assignments became more complicated: a certain form, a certain length, a topic more abstract than I’d ever wrestled* with.
About thirty minutes before deadline, my brain started up again, but in fits and starts, like it had the hiccups. I always produced the essay, but writing was a harrowing experience. Chaotic. It still works that way.
My current writing process
I like to think of it…
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As a beginning blogger, I wanted to be serious. I intended to write about the writing process, to quote famous authors, and to record my progress toward publication (or toward the satisfaction of having written). I wanted to write about Literature and Life.
Halfway through my first post, I discarded that notion. Once upon a time, I could tear apart novels and poems with the best of them, but as soon as they put that Master’s Degree in my hand, every scrap of every thought about literature leaked out of my head. And I didn’t want to work hard enough to get them back.
And my writing process is chaos, pure and simple. Chaos. Other people write books about how they write books. They say, This is the way to write a book, as if they know. But I don’t know.
So I write about life with a lower-case l. Life with a lower case l comprises cats, a mis-spent career in education, memories of my youth, my crazy family, and my general ineptitude. General ineptitude comprises such things as the time I dropped the remote control into the Jello instant pudding mix and milk that I was trying to beat into pudding.
But then I realized I wasn’t going to apply for anything, and if I did it wouldn’t be a job important enough to require a background check, so I said, What the heck, just tell it all.
I titled this blog Telling the Truth–Mainly because I admire Mark Twain as both a writer and a social critic, and because I thought the name appropriate.
I embroider some of the stories I tell; the embroidery relates to the Mainly.
But nearly every post begins with Truth, and most of them stick pretty close to it. The story about the remote and the pudding, for example, didn’t need any embroidery at all. I told the story exactly as it happened.
“Hell on Wheels,” the story about the librarian, which appears in the crime anthology Murder on Wheels, is not true. I didn’t find my mother pouring ground glass into lemon pie filling, and I didn’t plan to push her off a bluff. I was a librarian, but I didn’t take belly dancing lessons for years so I could fit into a bikini and spend the rest of my life on the beach in Aruba.
The completely true, entirely non-fiction story: I took three belly dancing classes because I once saw a belly dancer on the Tonight Show lie on the floor and roll a quarter over and over all the way down her torso, all that was open to public view, so the speak, and I thought it was really neat. I also liked the costumes. I had no illusions about ever replicating the act, but basic belly dancing looked like fun.
I stopped after the third lesson because I was so tired after working all day and then driving to Austin to attend class that gyrating around a room with a bunch of other middle-aged women was not doable.
I used belly dancing in the story to add verisimilitude, etc., etc., etc.
So. The librarian story was fiction, plus a few bits from lower-case l life, merely corroborative detail, intended to give artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative.*
The question now arises: Is fiction ever true? Yes. But it’s complicated and I don’t want to discuss it.
I planned to end with a few comments on my writing process–not how I write, or how to write, but lessons I have learned from chaos.
But that will wait till next time.
*”Merely corroborative detail, intended to give artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative” is a phrase written by W. S. Gilbert for the character Pooh-Bah in Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado.
(The funniest play ever written, with music or without.)
photographs from morguefile
We have a fountain. It gurgles. The gurgling is supposed to remind the cats to drink.
We installed it in the living room. The Quality always have a fountain in the living room.
It works but doesn’t fulfill its original purpose.
Ernest was skeptical. When he stuck his paw into the water, we knew he’d figured out what it’s for. He can’t drink without first dipping his paw into the water and licking it. Two or three times.
I’m not surprised it didn’t catch on. It’s poorly designed–as you can see from one of the pictures above, the squared-off front makes the bowl too small to drink from comfortably. There’s no room for whiskers.
I learned about whiskers from Mrs. Fricke in the fourth grade, but, because some of what I remember from fourth grade is no longer operative, I looked it up. Mrs. Fricke was correct. According to the VCA website, whiskers “prevent cats from getting into jams“:
“As a kitty approaches a narrow spot in the fence, a slender space between rocks, or a small area between the living room chairs, whiskers help him determine if he can fit through the passage without getting stuck or turning over the furniture. This keeps the cat out of trouble in more ways than one!”
We tried raising the water level, but that didn’t help. Ernest sipped once from the stream. Since then, he’s ignored it.
With too much water, there’s no gurgling. David and I enjoy the gurgling, so we poured out the extra water.
The fountain still sits in the living room, gurgling away.
And after a day of suffering slings and arrows, and grunting and sweating and bearing whips and scorns and contumelies, not to mention fardels, David and I sit in our easy chairs, put our feet up, and chill out.
There’s nothing that gets rid of contumelies faster than a good gurgle.
You probably noticed I included no pictures of William. There aren’t any. He cast a baleful eye on the fountain, gave us a “you-gotta-be-kidding” look, and sashayed off. William is a bit of a Luddite. He says technology is okay, but some things can’t be improved on, and his plastic water bowl is one of them. And he already knows when to drink, thank you very much. As for fardels, he wouldn’t know one if it jumped up and bit him.
Yesterday I shared a Juneteenth memory–roasting ears. Today I’m sharing memories of two more foods that made June special.
The first is even better than roasting ears: watermelon, which is grown around Luling, ten miles from my hometown. Corn could be frozen for use any time, but when I was a child, watermelon made you w-a-i-t. And once the season was past, that was that. It took forever for Juneteenth to roll around again.*
For more than sixty years, Luling-ites have celebrated each harvest with the Watermelon Thump, a long weekend of music, dance, a parade, carnival rides, arts and crafts exhibitions, the coronation of the Thump Queen, watermelon eating contests, and the event that stands out from all the rest–the World Championship Seed Spitting Competition, which takes place at the Watermelon Spitway. According to Thump history,
In 1989** a Guinness World Record was set for the first time in Luling for the longest watermelon seed-spit. The record of 65 feet, 4 inches was set by John Wilkinson, a festival attendee from Houston, Texas. Then in 1989,** a local man, Lee Wheelis, re-established the record spitting a distance of 68 feet, 9 1/8 inches. This year a $500 cash prize will be awarded to the top spitter in the Championship Contest and should Luling’s record distance be broken, an additional $500 will be added to the top prize.
In addition, “[s]pitting champions have also been featured guests on the Tonight Show starring Jay Leno, the Regis and Kathy Lee Show, and Howie Mandell’s show.”
Luling also claims to have the world’s largest watermelon. Click here to see a picture.
But, although the Watermelon Thump is a grand festival, it’s really beside the point. The pleasure is in the eating.
I don’t have the words to describe the taste of watermelon, but Mark Twain did:
“The true Southern watermelon is a boon apart, and not to be mentioned with commoner things. It is chief of this world’s luxuries, king by grace of God over all the fruits of the earth. When one has tasted it, he knows what the angels eat. It was not a Southern watermelon that Eve took: we know it because she repented.”
The italics are mine. And Twain was right. Who could repent of eating watermelon?
(Not wishing to spread misinformation I looked it up. The Bible doesn’t say Eve repented after eating the forbidden fruit, but, all things considered, I’ll bet she did.)
My last Juneteenth memory is Aunt Bettie Waller’s birthday. She was married to my great-uncle Maurice from 1905 till his death in 1970, and I don’t think they ever had a cross word between them. That’s not an exaggeration. They were crazy about each other and spent a lot of time laughing. He was the quietest person I’ve ever known, though; when other people guffawed, he just shook. Occasionally Aunt Bettie would decide they should do something, such as air condition the house or turn a screened porch into a sitting room, and he would disagree. When that happened, she talked–quietly, mildly, just mentioning it from time to time–until, after a while, she’d convinced him it was his idea. And after it was done, he was always so pleased with the result.
She did report one major subject of discord. When their son, Pete, was very young, Uncle Maurice refused to discipline him because “he won’t love me.” Aunt Bettie pleaded: “If you don’t make him behave, he won’t know you’re his father.” Once when Uncle Maurice corrected him, Pete retorted, “Uh-uh. That’s Ma’s job.” Then one night at dinner, Pete lobbed a plate of food at Uncle Maurice, and family dynamics underwent a radical change. Everybody kept on loving everybody else.
We often celebrated Aunt Bettie’s birthday with a dinner, featuring corn and watermelon, of course–but the entree was always hamburgers. To her, that was what the angels eat.
Treated to lunch once at a fashionable restaurant, Aunt Bettie ordered a hamburger. Her host expressed disapproval, something along the lines of, “Miss Bettie, I didn’t invite you to this restaurant for a meal you can get at the Dairy Queen. Order anything you want.” Aunt Bettie wanted a hamburger.
The menu at our gatherings rarely varied. Each woman brought a signature dish. Even for her own party, Aunt Bettie made potato salad. Unfortunately, no one asked for the recipe; there probably wasn’t one. The secret ingredient was probably sugar. That generation of Wallers put sugar into everything–and still, most of them were built like scarecrows.
Aunt Bettie lived to be 101. She would have been 132 last Tuesday. She was a delight to be around, and I miss her.
I miss that potato salad, too. I wish I had the recipe. More to the point, I wish I had a big bowl of it.
And I wish I were one of the Wallers built like a scarecrow.
*Watermelons are available all year in grocery stores now, shipped in from Elsewhere. No waiting. Small. Bland. They’re not the same.
** The paragraph from the Thump webpage was copied and pasted into this post. I assume one of the dates reading 1989 is a typographical error.
Washington Post subscribers can read more about seed spitting in Luling at https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/kidspost/at-texas-festival-watermelon-seed-spitting-is-big-sport/2014/06/26/4c58d270-f588-11e3-a606-946fd632f9f1_story.html
On June 19th, I wrote about the official Juneteenth holiday. Today I’m sharing a memory that surfaces every year when June 19 comes around.
In my corner of the world, Juneteenth marks the time corn is ripe and ready to eat. Although most people prefer sweet corn, my family ate field corn–roasting ears, commonly pronounced ros’nears–the same kind cattle eat after it’s dried. Considering the amount we ate or froze to eat (usually sheared off the cob and served creamed) after the season ended, it’s a wonder there was any left for the cows.
My father’s uncles grew corn. When it was ready, we made a pilgrimage (or two or three . . . ) to the cornfield on Uncle Maurice’s place. Picking was an itchy job. The men usually took care of that. Shucking and removing silk was no picnic either, but everyone participated. I helped shuck (also an itchy job) and silk, but I wasn’t strong enough to chop the stem end off. More to the point, my chopping technique lacked accuracy, so I was best occupied elsewhere.
The variety was Yellow Dent–so-called because the kernels have “an indentation in the crown of each kernel.” Wikipedia helped me with crown; I didn’t know the word. (I use capital letters in the name because the it deserves them.)
Field corn has a heavy, musky taste; or maybe it’s musty. Neither word is correct, but they’re the best I can do. No matter–boiled, slathered with butter and covered with a sprinkling of salt, it’s delicious.
Several years ago, I mentioned Yellow Dent to some of the teacher-farmers I worked with; they’d never heard of it. I assumed that over the years it had been replaced by hybrids. A paragraph in Wikipedia corrected the assumption:
Most of the corn grown in the United States today is yellow dent corn or a closely related variety derived from it. Dent corn is the variety used in food manufacturing as the base ingredient for cornmeal flour (used in the baking of cornbread), corn chips, tortillas and taco shells. Starch derived from this high-starch content variety is turned into plastics, as well as fructose which is used as a sweetener (high-fructose corn syrup) in many processed foods and soft drinks.
So Yellow Dent is still with us, serving a number of worthwhile purposes.
Its widespread use in the American diet has brought corn under scrutiny in recent years. Corn syrup is widely used as a sweetener and is an ingredient in many refined foods. According to the U. S. Department of Agriculture, in 2001, Americans consumed 62.6 pounds of high-fructose corn syrup. Corn is also used as cattle- and chicken feed, and is indirectly responsible for the high doses of antibiotic given to cattle. Scientific American, citing a 2008 study in which researchers analyzed meat from hamburgers and chicken sandwiches produced by three separate fast food companies in six cities across the United States, reported that “93 percent of the tissue that comprised the hamburger meat was derived from corn.” More recently, it’s been linked to the obesity epidemic.
Other sources claim that health problems arise from a diet rich in processed foods containing products derived from corn. One nutritionist says,
When eaten in an unprocessed way and properly prepared, non-GMO whole corn kernels actually have some impressive nutrients to offer . . . For example, organic corn is a vitamin C food, magnesium-rich food, and contains certain B vitamins and potassium. It also supplies a good dose of two antioxidants linked to eye and skin health called zeaxanthin and lutein. Eating fresh corn on the cob also gives you a good amount of the daily dietary fiber you need, along with some complex carbohydrates that are a good energy source.
A friend recently remarked that ours is the last generation to eat “real food.” The corn I remember wasn’t organic, but it was real food. And it makes for happy memories.
On June 18, I didn’t turn my laptop on. At all.
I got out of bed, trekked up to Central Austin for a mammogram, came back home, picked up a book, and read from roughly 11:30 a.m. till midnight. The mammogram was nothing to speak of, but the rest of the day was lovely. I hadn’t spent an entire day reading for a long time.
A digression: I am honored that one of my stories is in the crime fiction anthology Lone Star Lawless (see cover picture on sidebar) along with one of Terry’s.
All right. That’s my self-serving plug for the day.
Tomorrow, I’ll write more about Juneteenth.