Learning from Dogs

Dogs are integrous animals. We have much to learn from them.

Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

A short story – The Kiss.

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The power of the short story.

Funny how things run at times!

Back on the 20th, just six days ago, I published a post under the title of Oregon wolves, and book writing!  Frankly, it was a bit of a hotch-potch of a post but it did include a reference to Melinda Roth’s book Mestengo, that Jean adored and I was finding delightful before ‘circumstances’ caused me to put the book to one side.  For ‘circumstances’ read an email from the said Melinda.  That, in turn, was the result of a comment that Melinda left on that post, namely:

Just read and re-read your draft of Chapter 23. Extraordinary. I hope you’re not going to leave us hanging… (sending you a private email to further make my point).The draft of Chapter 23 is good, good stuff. I found myself totally caught up without even knowing what came before.

It would be wrong for me to share the whole of that email without Melinda’s prior permission but I am comfortable in revealing this:

Another book you might consider (not that you have time if you’re going to get this book finished) is “Writing for Story” by Jon Franklin:

This a a very quick read, and I highly recommend it. There are a million books out there about writing, but this one gets straight to the point in a business-like manner and gives THE best advice about how to structure a non-fiction (or fiction) book. The author has won two Pulitzer prizes and uses his two winning pieces as examples – line by line – of how he structures a story.

This book is my bible.  One day I was a ho-hum journalist writing mediocre stories. Then I read this book and the first story I wrote afterwards – following his guidelines – became a finalist for the Penn/Faulkner award. I don’t credit myself for this: I credit Jon Franklin and his book.

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Jon Franklin’s book arrived last Monday and I’m already half-way through reading it.  Wow, what a fantastic book.  Because it sets out the power of the art of the short story, or more accurately, the power of the narrative non-fiction story.  From page 23:

Then, in the ’60s, Truman Capote, a novelist, short-story writer, and playwright, performed a literary experiment that opened the way for a new kind of literature. Capote recognized and accepted the public’s growing interest in nonfiction but objected to the genre’s traditional dry style.  What would happen, he asked, if a true story were told in the form of a novel.

If you go to Jon’s website, there’s a link to one of his short stories, Mrs. Kelly’s Monster, that is in the book.  Do read it.  Trust me, you will be impressed, enthralled and inspired.

So the logic and power of Jon’s argument slammed me full in the face. And, if you will forgive me, offered some comfort to this tyro author struggling with his first book; a nonfictional book.  Because this approach of nonfiction drama resonated with me.  For way back in the late 60s I had worked as a freelance journalist for a Finnish magazine, KotiPosti, writing about Finns all across Australia (long story in itself!) and much more by luck than anything else, had written stories in the style of a ‘true story told in the form of a novel.’

Moving on over 40 years, to when Jean and I were living in Payson, Arizona, we both attended a creative writing class held at the local college.  One of my stories that came out of that class was published not so long ago on Learning from Dogs: Messages from the Night.

Which is all a long preamble to say that one of the many, many things that Jean and I share includes ‘putting pen to paper’ – story writing.

The following short story was also written by Jean when we were attending that writing course in Payson. Enjoy. I know you will.

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The Kiss

by

Jean Handover

She sat at the end of the bar.  Her misery was palpable.  An invisible shroud that hunched her shoulders and bent her head over the glass of wine.  She peered into the pale liquid like it were a pool to drown in.

She was pretty in a faded way.  Trying hard; skirt a little too short, blouse a little too low and blood red lipstick.  Dark for a pinched mouth.  A slim body the way I liked it!  All around were drunken revellers whilst she remained in a bubble.  I wanted to take her in my arms and crush her to my body and burst that bubble.

Hoisting my beer, I ambled to the stool beside her.  She didn’t stir.  Seemed unaware of my presence.  I looked at our reflections in the mirror opposite.  Then at Rose the barmaid.  Rose of the buzzcut and tattoos.  The tattoo on her neck.  Then a small voice, “Why would anyone have lips tattooed on their neck?”

“Guess that’s where Rose likes to be kissed,” I said, taking a gulp of my beer and casting a glance in her direction.

“Yeah, that is a nice place for a kiss.”

She turned and a small smile twitched her lips.  “I shouldn’t have come here.  I’m not used to this scene,” she said.

“How long have you been divorced?” I asked.

“How can you tell I’m divorced?” she replied.

“Your ring finger has a wide indent.”

She fanned her fingers and looked.  “Dead giveaway, isn’t it,” she wanely replied.

“What happened?” I asked.

“He came home one night and said he’d found someone else!”

“Younger woman?” I asked.

“No worse, a younger man!”

“Oops!” I said.

She swivelled in the stool and faced the crowd.  The shroud was slipping perceptively.  I finished my beer and beckoned for Rose to bring us another round.  The divorcee was prettier that I thought at first.  Her hand pushed a lock of hair behind an ear and trailed down her neck, then smoothing her skirt rested on a rounded knee.  A fluid sensuous motion.  I wanted to touch that hand.

“Oh God, no,” she gasped.  Eyes large and face suddenly flushed.  “It’s him with the boyfriend.  They’ve just come in.”

“Don’t worry, Babe.  Let’s just walk right past and get out of here.”

I took her hand and as we strolled past the two men I gently leaned over and kissed her on the neck.  On the same place as Rose’s tattoo.

My lips lingered and with my arm around her waist, we drifted out into the night.

“That felt so good, what’s your name?” I asked.

“Elizabeth.  What’s yours?” she asked.

“Melissa.”

Copyright © 2012, 2014 Jean Susan Handover

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Written by Paul Handover

February 26, 2014 at 00:00

Oregon wolves, and book writing!

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Just wanted to share some good news with you. Well, regarding Oregon’s wolves!

My so-called book has rather ground to a halt.  Sturdy followers of this blog will recall that in November last year, I sat down and wrote the first draft of a book, under the umbrella of NaNoWriMo = write a minimum of a 50,000-word novel in the month of November.  That I did write in excess of 50,000 words (53,704) in under thirty days felt a wonderful achievement.

But then reality set in!

I subscribed to a NaNoWriMo webinar on editing hosted by David Henry Sterry and Arielle Eckstut of The Book Doctors. To my horror, half-way through the webinar came the realisation that what I had written wasn’t even a fictional novel: It was a personal story on the theme of what dogs have taught me over a life of approaching 70 years.

So those 53,000 words had to be rewritten as non-fiction book!

The next boulder to cause me to fall was the issue of tense.  The book had been written in the 3rd-person, as you can see from the draft of Chapter Twenty-Three.  But the more that I thought about the story the more that it felt that it should be in the 1st-person; namely this first person!  Reinforced by feedback from Jeannie and from reading Melinda Roth’s latest book Mestengo clearly written in the first-person.

Mestengo book cover.

Mestengo book cover.


Chapter One

I first smelled the smoke as I stood in the driveway of the farmhouse on the top of a hill in McHenry County in Northern Illinois that was, according to the man who leased it to me one month before, the highest point in all of Northern Illinois.

Damn, damn, damn!  Now the rewrite not only has to go from fiction to non-fiction, it also has to change the tense from ‘Philip’ to ‘Paul’; from him to me!  The words from The Book Doctors seminar rang louder and louder, “You write the first draft for yourself; you edit it for your readers!” (Smart arses!)

Then along came hope in the form of Kami Garcia, the author.  It was a NaNoWriMo pep talk.

So you made it through NaNoWriMo, and you have 50,000 words… Now what? It’s the same question a lot of writers face when they finish a first draft. The good news is you finished the hard part: you have a draft.

I can hear some of you cursing me now: “But Kami, my first draft is totally crappy and worthless. It’s terrible. I wasted an entire month of my life, and all I have 50,000 terrible words to show for it.”

My answer: It doesn’t matter if you wrote the crappiest first draft in the history of all first drafts. You have something to work with, which means you can fix it, mold it, and bang it into whatever shape you want. Here are a few tips to get started:

Read Your First Draft (and Possibly Cry a Little)

After you put away the pint of ice cream and the tissues, take an objective look at your draft. What are the strongest points? The parts that kept you reading? Whether you print out your draft to make notes or use software (I love Scrivener), mark the best bits—circle, highlight, whatever works for you. These are the parts you’ll re-read whenever you start to lose hope (which will be often).

All of which is a long-winded way of me saying that I shouldn’t be spending time writing blog posts but have my head down in the big edit.

But, hey, already come this far so going to leave you with this wonderful news.

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Hello Paul,

Good news: For the first time since 2009, the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife has confirmed wolves south of the Eagle Cap Wilderness!

Based on recent evidence, it’s clear that at least five wolves are frequenting an area in Northern Baker County. It may not be a story as epic as Journey’s, but it’s another good sign wolves are continuing to retake their rightful place on the Oregon landscape.

Those of you who have been tracking wolf issues for a long time, may remember the iconic photo of a scraggly Oregon wolf in sagebrush. The young wolf and his partner frequented an area near the Keating Valley in Baker County.

Sadly, the “Keating Wolves”, as they came to be known, were killed in 2009. Despite some tantalizing reports, since that time, only one Oregon wolf is known south of the Wallowas.

Later today, we’ll revisit the story of the Keating Wolves on the Oregon Wild Blog and post it on the Oregon Wolves Facebook page. Wolf recovery still has a long ways to go. But today’s news is significant.

Since 2009 – with your help – we’ve stopped round after round of wolf kill bills in Salem. We’ve stood up for wolves in court. We’ve worked with responsible ranchers. We’ve educated the public, highlighted the positive impacts of having wolves back on the landscape, and shared news – good and bad – of wolf recovery.

Things are far from perfect. Old prejudices die hard and wolves continue to be at the center of a campaign of misinformation and fear. The Obama administration is stubbornly pushing a scheme to strip wolves of important protections, and the state can still kill wolves on behalf of the livestock industry.

But today’s news is a sign that we’re headed in the right direction here in Oregon. And there should be more on the horizon. Wolves are mating, pups should be on their way, and Oregon will announce an updated wolf population estimate soon. That’s more news we look forward to sharing.

For wolves and wildlife,
Rob Klavins
Wildlife Advocate, Oregon Wild

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Just love.

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A guest post.

Whenever someone signs up to follow Learning from Dogs, it seems right and proper for me to thank them directly. In the majority of cases these new subscribers have their own blog site and I go across to that site and leave a thank you message.  Almost without exception, I include an invite for that new follower to consider writing a guest post for me.

That’s how the following story came about.  Mrs. G., who has the blog site Love Me, Trust Me, Kill Me contacted me and offered a guest post.  If that wasn’t sufficiently special Mrs. G. is a teenager with a talent for writing beautiful prose and poetry.  Thus the link is not only across the ‘blogosphere’ but across more than fifty years of age difference.  I find that deeply humbling.

So without further ado, here is the short but very beautiful post.

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Man’s best friend.

“A dog is a man’s best friend”.

For me, this phrase represents the incontestable truth.  I say this for I, too, have one of those wonderful creatures called dogs and I know how much love and comfort they offer. I treat my dog as I would treat a human because, in a way, they are like us just without the complicated emotions and insecurities. To know that there is someone who loves you unconditionally, someone who will never betray you as a human would, someone who will always be there for you when you need them the most, helping you, protecting you, is an indescribable and heartwarming feeling.

They are intelligent, loving, protective and they were, are and will be our companions for a very long time. We must love and protect them just like they love and protect us; unconditionally. If you hurt a dog it will still love you, no matter what. We can learn many things from them, things like loyalty and affection, what it means to care for someone, and they take away the feeling of loneliness. Dogs do not need to learn anything from us, we need to learn from them and they need to teach us how to be better persons.

I see my dog as my friend, I see him as a family member, and I love him with all my heart. I know that one day he will be gone and I’m afraid. I cry when I think about it, but that’s the way it is. Just like humans, dogs are born, they live, they die, and we must treasure them, love them, protect them and learn from them while we still can, because one day dogs may be gone forever.

Kind regards, Georgiana

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Georgiana’s dog is called Shony and she shares it with her sister.  You may see the loving animal here.

I’m sure that you, as with me, was greatly moved by Georgiana’s feelings for Shony so beautifully expressed in her words.  Further writings from Mrs. G. would be wonderful.

Closing off today’s post was difficult.  There are a number of videos on YouTube showing dogs loving people but, in the end, I couldn’t resist a video that was first published on Learning from Dogs last March.  It was included in a post called All it takes is love.

Not only is it a beautiful video of a dog loving a cat, the musical backing track is gorgeous – there will be tears, I guarantee you!

Written by Paul Handover

February 7, 2014 at 00:00

Picture parade twenty-nine.

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We interrupt your life to bring you a moment of beauty.

A wonderful set of photographs sent to me by John Hurlburt.  The first ten below with more over the coming weeks.

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What a wonderful set of pictures.  John, thank you for sharing them.

Written by Paul Handover

February 2, 2014 at 00:00

Picture parade twenty-eight.

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The third set from Bob D.

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Thanks Bob.

Now a bonus of one other picture that crossed my screen, so to speak, that I wanted to share with you.  (Think it was from Naked Capitalism.)

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You all have a good week.

Written by Paul Handover

January 26, 2014 at 00:00

Picture parade twenty-six.

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Yet more fabulous pictures from Bob D.

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If you missed the first set or just fancy looking at the pictures again, then click here.

Written by Paul Handover

January 19, 2014 at 00:00

Beware the alligators.

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Nothing to add!

(Except to thank Bob Derham for sending this on to me.)

Written by Paul Handover

January 18, 2014 at 00:00

Posted in Art, Communication, Culture, Humour, Jokes

Tagged with ,

Picture parade twenty-five.

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More wonderful pictures courtesy of Capt. Bob Derham.

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Possibly, some of these pictures have appeared previously on Learning from Dogs; but so what!  They are so gorgeous they warrant multiple viewings.

Written by Paul Handover

January 12, 2014 at 00:00

One man’s love for a dog.

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Millions will share these sentiments.

I can’t recall how I came across the story but it doesn’t matter.  A story that was presented on the MNN website back in May, 2013.  That had it’s origin in an episode of the Johnny Carson Show back in the year 1981.  An episode where the late Jimmy Stewart read a poem about his dog, Beau.

Here’s the clip of that 1981 show.

Impossible not to be deeply moved by that clip.

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A further web-search came across this item on WikiPedia:

Background

James Stewart owned a “willful but beloved” golden retriever named Beau, of whom he was extremely fond. Beau slept in the corner of Stewart’s bedroom, but would often crawl onto the bed between Stewart and his wife Gloria. Stewart recalled, “he was up there because he wanted me to pat his head, so that’s what I would do. Somehow, my touching his hair made him happier, and just the feeling of him laying against me helped me sleep better.”

While shooting a movie in Arizona, Stewart received a phone call from Dr. Keagy, his veterinarian, who informed him that Beau was terminally ill, and that Gloria sought his permission to perform euthanasia.  Stewart declined to give a reply over the phone, and told Keagy to “keep him alive and I’ll be there.” Stewart requested several days’ leave, which allowed him to spend some time with Beau before granting the doctor permission to euthanize the sick dog. Following the procedure, Stewart sat in his car for ten minutes to clear his eyes of tears.  Stewart later remembered:

After [Beau] died there were a lot of nights when I was certain that I could feel him get into bed beside me and I would reach out and pat his head. The feeling was so real that I wrote a poem about it and how much it hurt to realize that he wasn’t going to be there any more.

You can understand why I sub-titled this post ‘Millions will share these sentiments.’ because there are millions of dog-owners right across the world who have their dogs sleep with them in the bedroom.  We have five do just that: Pharaoh, Sweeny, Cleo, Dhalia and Hazel.  Hazel and Dhalia sleep in line pressed up against me and Sweeny sleeps in the crook of Jean’s legs.  Yes, it can be a pain turning at night.  Yes, it can be a pain going to the bathroom in the night.  But would we miss them sleeping on the bed: YES!

To reinforce that last point, here are two photographs of me and Jean on Christmas Day morning.

Hazel being very slow to get off the bed!

Hazel being very slow to get off the bed!

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Cleo, foreground, and Sweeny helping open presents!

Cleo, foreground, and Sweeny helping open presents for Jean and me!

That web-search that found the WikiPedia item also found an excerpt from Professor Stanley Coren’s fabulous book Why We Love the Dogs We Do.  I say fabulous because it’s a book that I have read and is on the book-shelf not four feet from where I am sitting.  With Stanley Coren’s written permission, for which I say thanks, that excerpt is now republished:

While I was on a book tour a few years ago, I had the opportunity to meet with Jimmy Stewart. He was no longer the young Charles Linbergh character that I remembered from the film The Spirit of St. Louis, or the easy moving character that became a hero in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. His age had begun to show on him, and he appeared to be almost fragile. He was slow moving and even slower talking than I remember him being in the movies. However, when he started to speak about his dogs his face broke into a smile and the pace of his talking picked up. He told me:

“When I married Gloria she already had a German Shepherd named Bello. He loved her a lot and, after a while, he and I got along. Gloria really loves German Shepherds best of all, but sometime after we lost our second one, she decided that they weren’t the breed of dogs that I needed. Anyway, she went out and got me this Golden Retriever named Simba, and its been Goldens ever since for me. “We actually have three dogs now. Kelly and Judy, are Golden Retrievers, and then there is Princess who is some kind of a mixed breed that my daughter found and we sort of rescued. Princess had some behavior problems and I think that Kelly and Judy picked up some of her bad habits–figured that if Princess could get away with it so could they. We had met Matthew Margolis [who co- authored of a number of fine dog training books, such as When Good Dogs Do Bad Things, with Mordecai Siegal] and Gloria liked him. He runs the National Institute of Dog Training. Kelly and Judy were not behaving. They didn’t listen to anything we said, and they were always jumping up and barking and pulling on the leash–both were just imitating Princess, I think. Well, anyway, Matthew told us that he would have to take the dogs to his training kennel for six weeks to get them to behave. The reason that he wanted them at the kennel had something to do with ‘socialization’ and other dog things like that. It was supposed to help their shyness and excitability. Gloria and I didn’t like it, but she felt that we had to do something. Well that lasted just one day. You know I love my house, but without any dogs around it feels like some kind of mausoleum. I told Gloria ‘Get those dogs back home because I can’t put up with them not being here.’ Anyway, Matthew tried to set up a training program at the house, but it really didn’t work so well. In the end we compromised. We broke the three dogs up into squads, so we could send one or two of them to school for short sessions, and still have one or two at home for company. I still didn’t like it, even though we got to visit their school on weekends. Gloria made a lot of phone calls to make sure they were OK–to reassure me I guess. “I suppose the truth is that I’d rather have a happy dog than a trained one. My dogs have never been good at things like ‘sit’, ‘stay’ or even ‘come’. I think that we’ve given the tourists a few laughs, especially when the dogs hit the end of their leashes hard enough to drag Gloria down the street. I don’t even mind it when the dogs jump up. Matthew showed us how to jerk the leash to correct that kind of thing. I suppose that it does have to be done–you know to keep them from knocking someone down or messing their clothes–but it seems kind of cruel to me. If my dog jumps up on me I figure that he wants to kiss my face and tell me that he thinks that I’m a really nice person. I don’t believe that you should punish a dog for saying ‘I love you.’ When your dog’s face is up looking at yours like that I think that you should tell him just how nice you think that he is too. Gloria told me that Matthew says that we mother the dogs too much and that they’ll never really be well trained. Well, they’re a lot better now than what they were before, so some of the training must be working. The difference between ‘trained OK’ and ‘trained perfectly’ doesn’t really matter all that much to me. I once did a film with Lassie. When that dog got excited it jumped all over Rudd Weatherwax [Lassie's trainer]. Now that’s the smartest dog in the world. If the world’s best trained dog can jump around to show he’s happy then my dogs should be allowed to do the same. “The truth is that it’s just really hard for me to get to sleep without a dog in my bedroom. It’s funny about that. I once had a dog named Beau. He used to sleep in a corner of the bedroom. Some nights, though, he would sneak onto the bed and lie right in between Gloria and me. I know that I should have pushed him off the bed, but I didn’t. He was up there because he wanted me to pat his head, so that’s what I would do. Somehow, my touching his hair made him happier, and just the feeling of him laying against me helped me sleep better. After he died there were a lot of nights when I was certain that I could feel him get into bed beside me and I would reach out and pat his head. The feeling was so real that I wrote a poem about it and about how much it hurt to realize that he wasn’t going to there any more.”

I later learned just how intense his feelings were for his dog Beau. At the time, Stewart was making a picture which was shooting on location in Arizona. One evening he got a phone call from his veterinarian, a Dr. Keagy. The call was about Beau. Keagy told him that Beau was very sick. He was having trouble breathing and was in considerable pain. The disease had progressed to the point that it was obvious to Keagy that the dog couldn’t be saved. He was calling for permission to end Beau’s life quickly. Stewart’s wife Gloria said that she couldn’t make that decision since Beau was Jimmy’s dog. “I can’t just tell you to put him to sleep like this,” Stewart said, “Not over the phone–not without seeing him. You keep him alive and I’ll be there.” Stewart was always known as an easy actor to work with, who never made excessive demands. So, the director was taken aback when he went to him to ask for a few days off to fly home to see to his dog. The leave was granted and Stewart got to sit with Beau for a long while before making the decision. He later admitted that when he left the veterinarian’s office he had to sit in his car for around 10 minutes, just to clear his eyes of tears, so that it would be safe to drive home.

NB: Please note that Professor Stanley Coren is the author of the above excerpt, the material is copyrighted by SC Psychological Enterprises Ltd and has been republished with permission.  I would thoroughly recommend visiting the blog-site of Psychology Today, Canine Corner.

Written by Paul Handover

January 4, 2014 at 00:00

Picture parade twenty-three.

with 8 comments

A bit of a compilation for today.

First, a few more of those ‘senior moment’ cartoons continuing from last Sunday.

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Now two pictures taken on Christmas Day of a young deer feeding on cob that we put out daily.

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Then animal greetings to you all …

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Finally, enjoy this short video sent to me by Dan Gomez.

These boots aren’t made for walking.

Written by Paul Handover

December 29, 2013 at 00:00

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