Month: September 2012

Call me Lefty

This is Sadie after she was attacked by Elsa, a tiny Jack Russell. We breezed into Elsa’s space without a care.  Of course, we should have met her on neutral turf – given the dogs a chance to sniff butts and say hello.  But we didn’t.

We heard a deep growl from this miniature being as Elsa defended her turf.  She leapt toward Sadie and as she came down to land she snatched a hunk of Sadie’s ear.  Sadie snarled and snapped at the bouncing terrier, indifferent to the havoc her own blood created as it spurted across the newly painted creamy white walls.

I left the blood for someone else to clean and rushed Sadie to the vet and a few hours later brought her home dressed as you see in the picture.

As I study the photo now, I wonder what Sadie was thinking? Did she know how silly she looked?  Did she care?  I’m not a scientist and I don’t know the “truth” about what animals “think” or do not “think.”  I only know that if she were alive now, she would be curled up next to me as I sit at my desk, her tiny white hairs embedding themselves in the carpet as she slept.  No amount of vacuuming could ever remove all the tiny Dalmatian hairs she’s shed, scattered in the carpets, in the car, in our blankets and in our hearts.  It’s two years since she died and I cannot come into the house without expecting Sadie to be at the door waiting for me.

Then comes a nanosecond when I remember that she’s gone and then a tightening in my chest as my consciousness scratches the layer of grief that hovers around my heart: the grief of losing my parents, my brother, many friends and family and my dogs.  The grief that comes with being human.

I talked about this once with someone who said, “What a bummer.”  Yes, what a bummer.  But not talking about grief, not feeling it may be more of a “bummer.”  Avoidance often leads to a foggy paralysis which is where we find Anna Simon at the beginning of the novel Turtle Season.

Anna learns, as I think all of us must, that we have a choice in how we face the losses that weave through our lives.  My father, Gershon Black, taught me an essential lesson.  He loved to write poetry and after suffering a major stroke, he could no longer use his right hand – his writing hand.  He chose to teach himself to write again – this time with his left hand – and he continued to write poems until his death. One of my favorites is this one, “Call Me Lefty.”

All my life
I have been right handed
Played ball by catching
And throwing with my right hand
Eating, dressing, doing everything
As a regular guy does.

When along comes
An auto accident
And boom I wake up
With a stroke
No longer able to speak
No longer able to move.

I began to move my left hand
And to speak after a fashion
A mere auto accident won’t stop me
Dress and eat with one hand,
I become a one handed wonder
So call me Lefty – for Lefty I remain.

In the fog

This photo was taken early one morning many years ago when I lived a short block from Green Lake in north Seattle. I could barely see the street I had to cross to reach the lake. I heard car engines in the distance and was guided by the hazy blur of their fog lights. Once on the path, only trees loomed ahead of me and a deep silence.

I was hungry to take a picture, to capture a clear shape in the fog and was surprised suddenly to see other people coming toward me from the gloom.  I thought no one else would be stupid enough to step out into such deep fog.  Silly me.  It’s where we all find ourselves from time to time.

This scene is briefly recreated in chapter eighteen of Turtle Season. I think the image illuminates the sense of discovery and the shock of the unexpected that Anna, the protagonist, experiences in the novel.

I’ve kept this picture close for years. The scene is full of metaphor for me and may be for you as well.  As you look at this photo, know there’s a wonderful lake on the right.  There, but invisible. And the people photographed are all indistinguishable. I’d be curious to hear from anyone who wants to comment on it. Does it tell you a story?

Go figure

I’ve hated turtles most of my life – no one was more surprised than I to find them emerge as a presence in my first novel.

When I was five, my father and I fished off a dock on Lake Minnetonka in Minnesota. I had just caught a sunfish and strung it on the line of other fish we’d caught that day. I noticed they all looked dry and no longer flashy and lovely, so I dipped them in water to restore their shimmer. Through the murky water I saw a sudden movement. Assuming the fish might still be alive and trying to escape, I pulled up the line and heard a chilling sharp snap. The line got feather light – rather tiny bone light – that’s all that was left after a snapping turtle sucked all our fish down in one gulp leaving only a line of skeletons.  (Click on snapping turtles if you want to see a very creepy snapping turtle video)

The next thing I remember is screaming when my parents tried to put me to bed that night. I refused to put my body under the blankets until they were able to prove no turtles lurked in my bed. Once under the covers, I couldn’t close my eyes afraid the turtles were swimming around me. I must have fallen asleep because I woke screaming even louder than before. My father moved to comfort me and I begged him not to walk toward me because the turtles were everywhere and would swallow him whole.

As I grew, I came to understand that turtles probably didn’t live under my blanket or swim around in the air around my bed. But I never warmed to reptiles in general – particularly turtles!

One year into writing Anna’s story I found myself stuck. I sat for hours at my laptop unable to find the thread of the novel. Late one Saturday night I remembered an exercise I’d done in a class taught by Mary Carroll Moore – she used collages to help us sneak into our hidden selves. I found myself at Half Priced Books gathering old magazines including a stack of National Geographics.

The first picture that caught my eye was of a massive Galapagos Island Tortoise – which I dismissed immediately. I sat on the floor surrounded by magazines consciously avoiding that picture. I studied Architectural Digest for inspiration and Sunset Magazine for a spark and my eyes drifted back to the picture of the tortoise. So I cut him out and placed him on the corner of the poster board, then lifted him and smeared his back with glue stick and attempted to place him back in the corner, but he pushed my hand until he hovered over the middle of the empty sheet and demanded to be placed there. So I did. Quickly other images jumped out at me and began to fill in the blank poster board.

No matter what images I placed on the collage, my eye locked on the big old turtle. And so I began to write about that turtle – the story I wrote that evening evolved into a dream sequence in chapter thirty-one of Turtle Season and opened the door to parts of Anna’s story that had been previously invisible to me.


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