Dogs live in the present – they just are! Dogs make the best of each moment uncluttered by the sorts of complex fears and feelings that we humans have. They don’t judge, they simply take the world around them at face value. Yet they have been part of man’s world for an unimaginable time, at least 30,000 years. That makes the domesticated dog the longest animal companion to man, by far!
As man’s companion, protector and helper, history suggests that dogs were critically important in man achieving success as a hunter-gatherer. Dogs ‘teaching’ man to be so successful a hunter enabled evolution, some 20,000 years later, to farming, thence the long journey to modern man. But in the last, say 100 years, that farming spirit has become corrupted to the point where we see the planet’s plant and mineral resources as infinite. Mankind is close to the edge of extinction, literally and spiritually.
Dogs know better, much better! Time again for man to learn from dogs!
Welcome to Learning from Dogs
Guess what! Now we are ten!
As is becoming our routine for a Saturday morning, Jean and I went in to the Farmer’s Market in Grants Pass. Then, because we wanted to buy some more plants for the garden, we decided to zip over to our local Grange Coop, also in Grants Pass.
The store, bless them, had given over quite a large part of their retail floor area to Shelter Friends, a local organisation supporting animal adoptions here in Josephine County.
There was one dog, a Chihuahua mix male, named Pedy. He is five-years-old and was found abandoned a few weeks ago here in Merlin. It felt like a privilege to bring him home.
So to today’s pictures.
Within less than an hour of being home, Jeannie was certain that Pedy could meet the dogs nose-to-nose so we all went outside.
More news over the coming days!
It all depends on one’s point of view!
Day Nine: Point of View
Today’s Prompt: A man and a woman walk through the park together, holding hands. They pass an old woman sitting on a bench. The old woman is knitting a small, red sweater. The man begins to cry. Write this scene.
We encourage you to give fiction a try, even if that is not what you normally do — it can be a fun way to stretch. If fiction feels like a bridge too far, take some element from the scene that speaks to you, and write a non-fiction piece about that. Perhaps you are drawn to the old woman, and will write a piece about your grandmother, or the crying man will inspire a story about the last time you cried joyful tears.
Today’s twist: write the scene from three different points of view: from the perspective of the man, then the woman, and finally the old woman.
If point of view was an object, it would be William Carlos Williams’ infamous red wheelbarrow; everything depends on it.
Consider a car/pedestrian accident: the story differs depending on whether you’re the driver, the pedestrian, or the woman across the street who witnessed the horror. Everyone will tell a different story if asked to recount the event.
Shifting point of view can be your best friend if you’ve got writers’ block. If you’re stuck or you feel your writing is boring and lifeless, Craig Nova, author of All the Dead Yale Men, suggests shifting the point of view from which your story is told:
Take point of view, for example. Let’s say you are writing a scene in which a man and a woman are breaking up. They are doing this while they are having breakfast in their apartment. But the scene doesn’t work. It is dull and flat.
Applying the [notion] mentioned above, the solution would be to change point of view. That is, if it is told from the man’s point of view, change it to the woman’s, and if that doesn’t work, tell it from the point of view of the neighborhood, who is listening through the wall in the apartment next door, and if that doesn’t work have this neighbor tell the story of the break up, as he hears it, to his girlfriend. And if that doesn’t work tell it from the point of view of a burglar who is in the apartment, and who hid in a closet in the kitchen when the man and woman who are breaking up came in and started arguing.
Now my reaction upon first reading today’s theme was that this was both fun and inspiring. Then I realised that before I could commit words to the post I would need to let the fictional circumstances brew for a while amongst the aged brain cells and, if possible, it would be wonderful to include a dog in the story. :-)
So for the next hour (I’m writing this at 10:30am) I shall use the wonderful weather we have today to continue my project of sorting out the grand mess around the back of the garage and see what creative thoughts come to mind!
“Jim, what’s the matter? You’ve seen this dear old lady sitting on the bench almost every time we’ve come walking. What’s brought on the tears today?”
Sandra thought that she knew her husband inside out, possibly better than he knew himself. Yet this quiet, sudden release of deep inner feelings from Jim had her perplexed.
Jim let go of Sandra’s fingers and fished around in his trouser pocket for a tissue. He blew his nose and wiped his eyes on his sleeve.
“Oh, it’s OK sweetheart, just some stirring of a place from too many years ago.”
Sandra re-engaged her fingers with Jim’s and they carried on walking through the park. Cleo bounded across the soft, green parkland grass, as ever looking so happy. She reflected that Cleo had always shown such happiness for being alive. Ever since they had cradled the young German Shepherd puppy in their arms. Gracious, Sandra reflected, nearly five years ago now.
What was it that had been stirred in Jim’s memories?
OK, it was the first time they had seen the old woman knitting but, otherwise, the woman was a familiar sight always sitting quietly on the park bench. Sandra struggled to recall exactly what the woman had been knitting; seemed like a tiny sweater, possibly for a very young grandchild. Why had that reduced Jim to tears? He was such an open man. That was what had attracted her to Jim all those many years ago when they had first met by chance. Jim’s previous wife, Diana, had been killed a few years before in a tragic car accident, her own husband had died of a coronary a couple of years before she met Jim.
Jim sensed that his sudden weeping would have raised some deep questions for Sandra. He struggled to rise above the pain of his recollection and decide what to do about that memory. That memory of his and Diana’s first child, a son, born with such hope yet with such tragedy written into his potentially short future. How the hospital staff had broken the news. Little Philip had been born with a massive brain aneurism and, at best, had a life expectancy of a few months. Philip never came out of hospital and died sixty days after he was born. Jim quietly ran the numbers through his mind; nearly eighteen years ago now.
He had never mentioned it to Sandra. A connection to the past that really should have died that same day as Philip died. First Philip and then Diana. After Diana died in that terrible road accident he thought that was the end of everything. Thought there was nothing that could ever happen in his future that would return a smile to his face, return the feelings of love to his heart. That’s when he started volunteering at the local dog shelter. There was something about helping those unfortunate dogs, dogs of all ages and circumstances, that, over time, spoke to him and made him discover reasons for living again. If these dogs, many of whom had had such terrible experiences, could so easily put their past behind them and enjoy living for each new moment then so could he.
That’s how he and Sandra had met. She had come in to the dog shelter carrying a small, lively little mongrel mix that she had found in the forest when out on a walk.
Their walk today, as usual, had brought them almost full circle and they were approaching the black, wooden park bench; the old lady still knitting away.
Doris had seen this couple on many previous occasions when the weather made it pleasant for her to sit on the bench here in the park. They seemed such a happy couple, unusually so in these complicated times. Every time she saw them it reminded her of the many happy years that she and Larry had had together. Still couldn’t accept that it was over five years ago now since he had died. That’s why, whenever the weather made it possible, she would come and sit on this park bench and remember the times when she and Larry would sit quietly here and just watch the world go by.
Today, for reasons only known to Cleo, as Jim and Sandra approached the park bench, Cleo went bouncing over to the old woman and next thing was sitting next to her on the seat.
Doris put out an arm to Cleo and ruffled the soft warm hair between Cleo’s gorgeous Shepherd ears. She watched as the man came over to her. “I’m so sorry but Cleo, for whatever reason, has taken a shine to sitting next to you today. Funny why today Cleo sensed the need to be with you on the bench. For we have seen you sitting out here in the park dozens of times before”
The man’s wife joined him and they both stood in front of the wooden bench. “My name’s Jim and this is my wife Sandra. I know we have seen each other frequently over the months.”
“Hi Jim and Sandra, my name is Doris and, yes, I have also seen you both out walking frequently. It looks as though your dog, Cleo is that her name, has instinctively sensed my good news.”
Jim and Sandra looked quizzically at Doris.
“Yes, I heard last weekend that my daughter and her husband successfully had the birth of their first child; a son. My grandson that is. I’m knitting him a sweater, as you can see.”
“Oh, that’s wonderful, Doris”, said Jim. “Wish we could stay a little longer and chat but we need to be home within the hour. When we next see you can we come across and here the good news in detail?”
“Of course you can! Go on, off you both go and take your gorgeous dog with you otherwise I will steal her away from you!” There was a soft laugh in the back of her throat.
“Come on, Cleo”, called Sandra and off they went.
Later when Jim and Sandra were back home and enjoying a hot tea after their walk, Jim apologised for his tears and quietly explained what had brought them on.
Sandra put down her cup of tea, came up to Jim and kissed him very slowly and tenderly on the lips.
“That was nice, sweetheart, what did I do to deserve that?”
“Jim, I didn’t want to mention it until I was certain. I have not had my period this month. I’m pretty sure that I’m pregnant. I’m going to town tomorrow to take a pregnancy test.”
For the second time that day Jim uncontrollably burst into tears.
I’m not sure how well I really captured each person’s point of view but it was fun writing it nonetheless!
Back on Monday with Writing 101 Ten.
More twists and turns on the writing journey.
Day Eight: Death to Adverbs
Today’s Prompt: Go to a local café, park, or public place and write a piece inspired by something you see. Get detailed: leave no nuance behind.
Thoughtful writers create meaning by choosing precise words to create vivid pictures in the reader’s mind. As you strive to create strong imagery, show your readers what’s going on; avoid telling them.
Today’s twist: write an adverb-free post. If you’d rather not write a new post, revisit and edit a previous one: excise your adverbs and replace them with strong, precise verbs.
The sin of telling often begins with adverbs*. Author Stephen King says that, for writers, the road to hell is paved with adverbs:
The adverb is not your friend.
Adverbs…are words that modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. They’re the ones that usually end in -ly. Adverbs, like the passive voice, seem to have been created with the timid writer in mind….With adverbs, the writer usually tells us he or she is afraid he/she isn’t expressing himself/herself clearly, that he or she is not getting the point or the picture across.
Instead of using adverbs as a crutch, rely on strong verbs to convey emotional qualities that imbue your writing with nuance, allowing the reader to fire up their imagination. Consider, for example:
“She walked proudly out the door.”
Remove the adverb “proudly” and replace it with a strong verb to denote how she walked:
She strutted out the door.
She sashayed out the door.
She flounced out the door.
Each example connotes the emotion with which “she” moved, creating a more vivid picture than “proudly” ever could.
Note we’re not advocating the eradication of all adverbs all the time. The goal of this exercise is to place a constraint on adverb use to help you to focus on using strong, precise verbs in your writing.
I read the theme for Day Eight at 3pm yesterday afternoon. Jean and I had been out before lunch. To the recycling yard some six miles away to deposit a load of old steel fencing that had been retrieved from the property over the last couple of weeks.
Hardly the stuff of inspiration!
So I decided at this point to put down ‘my pen’ (aka keyboard) and go and sit next to the pond where the mother goose is still sitting on her eggs and use that as my source for a short, adverb-free post.
The power of motherhood
Twenty-eight days of loving her unborn brood. Still she sat, her head turned towards where I was sitting, just keeping an eye on me as I hadn’t been this close to her before.
Besides where I was sitting, to my left, the leaves of the bamboo tree rustled in the steady afternoon breeze. The green of the leaves contrasting the blue of the clear sky above me.
I just marvelled at the patience, at the commitment, of this mother goose. The magic of nature.
Our mother goose had loved her egg-bound goslings as Spring had arrived in this beautiful part of Oregon. Loved her goslings through rain, frost, fog and cold nights. Rewarded with an afternoon of glorious Spring sunshine.
Sitting on her eggs as the delicate leaves of the Japanese maple had burst clear and unfolded themselves over the last four weeks. Now the leaves offered some shade from the afternoon sun.
Then I noticed the harmony between the rustling of the bamboo leaves, so delicate a sound, and the roar from the tall pine trees to my right, on the boundary between us and neighbours Larry and Janell. As if the bamboo was whispering in concert with the pines.
Surrounded by some intangible magic, beyond definition, but not beyond meaning.
The power of nature.
See you all on Friday.
Jaw, jaw is so much better than war, war!
Day Seven: Give and Take
Today’s Prompt: Write a post based on the contrast between two things — whether people, objects, emotions, places, or something else.
Remember those “compare and contrast” essays in composition class, in which you’re forced to create a clunky juxtaposition of two arguments? Just because that particular form was a bore doesn’t mean that opposition has no place in your writing.
Bringing together two different things — from the abstract and the inanimate to the living and breathing — creates a natural source of tension, and conflict drives writing forward. It makes your reader want to continue to the next sentence, to the next page. So, focus on your two starkly different siblings, or your competing love for tacos and macarons, or whether thoughts are more powerful than words, or …… you get the idea.
Today’s twist: write your post in the form of a dialogue. You can create a strong opposition between the two speakers — a lovers’ quarrel or a fierce political debate, for example. Or you could aim to highlight the difference in tone and style between the two different speakers — your call!
Emulating people’s speech in written form takes practice, and creating two distinct voices could help you see (and hear) the different factors that play into the way we speak, from our diction and accent to our vocabulary and (creative?) use of grammar. (We’ll discuss the topic of voice more formally later in the course; for now, take a stab at writing dialogue on your own.)
Today’s task makes writing about dogs look like a piece of cake!
I spent quite some time wondering how to approach this, what to draw upon in terms of my own experiences, what the scene might be. In the end, I chose to write a fictional exchange between me and the landlord, David, of my local pub back in the days of when I lived in Harberton, near Totnes in South Devon. (David and his wife are no longer in residence.)
To help set the scene for you, dear reader, here are two photographs. The first is a view of the pub in the centre of the village of Harberton; population 300 persons.
The second image is of the main bar area inside where this fictional conversation is about to take place. The pub was less than a five-minute walk from my home.
“Evening David! Golly, looks like I’m first one in this evening. Must stop looking so keen to have a beer at the end of the day!”
Paul swung his backside onto the corner bar stool and lent his right arm on the bar.
“Good evening to you, Paul. Same as usual?”
“As ever, David.”
David reached out his right arm towards the pump handle at the same time as the fingers of his left hand closed around a pint glass. The sound of the mild ale being poured into the glass was a tonic in itself.
“So how’s your week been, Paul?”
“David, don’t even ask. I seem to have spent most of my waking hours wondering what the hell I’m going to do if the election goes the way it appears to be heading.”
“Well I’m sure Ralph will have clear ideas on that one when he comes in”, David remarked as he handed me the brimming glass of ale.
The pub door squeaked open in the same way it had for time immemorial.
David looked up. “Speak of the devil, here’s the man himself!”
“Somebody call my name?”, boomed out Ralph’s voice.
“David was just saying that you would have clear ideas on the election. But first let me get you a pint, Ralph.”
“Thank you, Paul, that’s mighty gentlemanly of you.”
Ralph removed his light raincoat and sat down next to Paul.
David passed across Ralph’s pint of bitter and took the ten-pound note that Paul held in an outstretched hand.
Ralph took a long swig of his beer and set the glass down on the counter. “So how do you think the election is going to turn out?”
Paul, too, took a good mouthful of his beer and looked across to Ralph. “Well if the media are reporting it correctly, it looks like there’s a better than even chance of UKIP holding the balance of power. And if that happens then I can kiss goodbye to my business!”
David held out Paul’s change in his hand.
“Oh come on, Paul, you can’t mean that! UKIP holding the balance of power will mean an end to the antics of the money-grabbing bastards who have got us into the present mess. Surely, that would be good for you!”
“Ralph, I really wish you are right. But seventy-five percent of my revenue comes from the EU countries and UKIP have pledged to hold a referendum on whether Great Britain stays or leaves the European Union.”
“Well I don’t know! Me, I just want the quiet life with me and Betty enjoying the rest of our years free from all the damned interference from bloody bureaucratic arses both sides of the Channel!”
“Ralph, I can understand that, truly I can. But I’m a long way from retirement and if my business fails I’m screwed, screwed big time!”
“Paul, you worry too much – let me get you another pint!”
Paul chuckled, “Ralph, you know how to win me over don’t you!”
“Anyway, Paul”, Ralph continued, “rumour has it that you aren’t even spending Christmas with us in the village.”
David, putting the second two pints of beer on the counter in front of Ralph and Paul, looked up, “What’s this I hear? You deserting us this Christmas?”
“Sorry gents, but it’s looking that way. I’ve been invited to spend Christmas with a couple of Americans I’ve known for years.”
“Well it’s alright for some lucky sods,” boomed Ralph, “I’m lucky if I can afford a trip into Totnes.”
He sipped his second pint. “America! Bloody Yanks!”
“I said I have been invited to spend Christmas with some Americans. Doesn’t necessarily mean it will be in the USA.”
“Come on then, tell us it’s somewhere even fancier!”
“Ralph, I’ve been invited to go to Mexico!”
And so it came to pass!
Well it was fun to write but I’m not certain that I got anywhere close to what today’s Writing 101 theme was looking for.
Oh well, another day tomorrow!
“There are no strangers here; Only friends you haven’t yet met.” William Butler Yeats
Day Six: A Character-Building Experience
Today’s Prompt: Who’s the most interesting person (or people) you’ve met this year?
Our stories are inevitably linked to the people around us. We are social creatures: from the family members and friends who’ve known us since childhood, to the coworkers, service providers, and strangers who populate our world (and, at times, leave an unexpected mark on us).
Today, write a post focusing on one — or more — of the people that have recently entered your life, and tell us how your narratives intersected. It can be your new partner, your newborn child, or the friendly barista whose real story you’d love to learn (or imagine), or any other person you’ve met for the first time in the past year.
Today’s twist: Turn your post into a character study.
“In displaying the psychology of your characters, minute particulars are essential. God save us from vague generalisations!” – Anton Chekhov, Letter to Alexander Chekhov; May 10, 1886
Describing people — whether real or fictional — in a way that channels their true essence is an invaluable skill for any writer. Through the careful accumulation of details, great authors morph their words into vivid, flesh-and-bones creations in our minds. How can you go about shaping your portrait of a person? Some ideas to explore:
Don’t just list their features. Tell us something about how their physical appearance shapes the way they act and engage with others. For example, see how the author of this moving photo essay, which documents the final weeks of a woman dying of cancer, captures the kernel of the woman’s spirit with a short, masterful statement: “Her eyes told stories that her voice didn’t have the power to articulate and she had a kindness that immediately made me feel like we had been friends for years.”
Give us a glimpse of what makes this person unique. We all have our own quirks, mannerisms, and individual gestures, both physical and linguistic.
“Our stories are inevitably linked to the people around us.”
That is so true. But so many of my stories have also been linked to the dogs around me. So for today’s Writing 101 theme instead of writing about a person, I shall write about a dog. Specifically, young Oliver who entered our lives at 11:10 PDT on June 16th, 2014.
It was the eyes that got me! Right from the first moment that he and I looked at each other.
Those yellow-green eyes just had a power of attraction that was beyond my rational understanding. As if those eyes carried some haunting echo of that ancient time, millennia ago, when a young wolf looked upon the face of early man and each registered a mutual attraction.
Dear Oliver was born on the 28th February, 2014 and rapidly became a lively puppy: too lively for the couple who had taken him on. They lived close to us and Jean and I were called early in June that same year and asked if we might consider being his new parents. We went around on the morning of the 16th June to assess this young dog, especially from the angle of how well he would get on with our other dogs, before making our minds up for sure.
Within minutes, however, we knew without any doubt that under the skin of this lively, bouncy young dog there was a heart of gold and he came home with us that same morning.
Young Oliver had every reason to be a lively, bouncy young dog. For he was the offspring of Chocolate Labrador and Border Collie parents! One can’t get much more of a lively mix than that! So those early days with Oliver in the house turned out to be fun!
Those early days also showed that Oliver’s heart of gold extended from people to other dogs. Within minutes of arriving home he was fearlessly loving up to Pharaoh. That meant that Pharaoh and all the other dogs were going to love him back in return.
So quickly young Oliver became a wonderful member of the family with not one of the other eight dogs taking even a hint of umbrage at this new puppy in their midst. Oliver’s character is gloriously open and honest, as matched in his face.
Over the weeks as we got to know Oliver better and better he has shown that he has the most beautiful disposition.
Now as I write this some ten months after we welcomed Oliver I find it impossible to imagine life without him. Or more accurately written that it would be impossible to imagine life without those eyes!
Returning after a week-end break!
I wasn’t sure if WordPress were going to take the week-end off, so to speak, but it does look as though they did.
Thus the last theme idea that was posted from WordPress was on the 9th and was:
Day Five: Be Brief
Today’s Prompt: You stumble upon a random letter on the path. You read it. It affects you deeply, and you wish it could be returned to the person to which it’s addressed. Write a story about this encounter.
Today’s twist: Approach this post in as few words as possible.
“None of us will ever know the whole story in other words. We can only collect a bag full of shards that each seem perfect.”
— From 100 Word Story‘s About page
Brevity is the goal of this task, although “brief” can mean five words or five-hundred words. You might write a fifty-word story, as writer Vincent Mars publishes on his blog, Boy in the Hat. Or you might tell your tale in precisely one-hundred words, like the folks at 100 Word Story — an approach that forces you to question every word.
For writers who tend to write more, a longer word count may be considered concise, too. At Brevity, writers publish nonfiction of seven-hundred-fifty words or less: there is space to develop a piece, yet a focus on succinctness.
For inspiration, browse two fifty-word stories — on the silence between a husband and wife, or a story on time and a missed connection — or these one-hundred words by H. Edwards to see how others write clever concise tales.
H’mm, they don’t get any easier!
Here goes ….
It was so nearly missed.
The corner of an envelope. Lost for years under the hallway carpet. Maybe lost for ever if we hadn’t decided to replace this old, worn carpet.
Pharaoh was first to it but I quickly lifted it clear of his nose.
A handwritten address across an envelope bearing an old postage stamp. Why had it never been mailed?
Addressed to Miss Susan Reynolds in New Hampshire. Should I open it?
I read: “Dear Sue, I love you and, yes, I will marry you, love Jim“
Dated Valentine’s Day forty years ago – to the day!
Exactly one-hundred words! (And it was tough to write!)