Drum Roll, Please

Hey! It’s Hallowe’en, but I’m a Hallowe’en grinch, so that’s all I’ve got to say about that, I’m afraid.

I love how, having confessed I’m not a fan of doing my own PR, my daily blog hits have plummeted to single digits, as if to say, “Well, fine, then. Be a hermit!” All the same, tomorrow’s a kind of big day for me.

First of all, there’s that guest post at Antler coming up tomorrow. I’ll link you to it as soon as it’s up. And then, of course, tomorrow also starts NaNoWriMo. Which brings us to the moment you’ve all been waiting for:

That’s a Jenn Story’s First Ever Giveaway WINNER!

Probably purely according to probability by sheer volume, the winner is Jessi, of comment-fame. Here’s the idea of (many of) hers that I am going to attempt to novelise:

You wake up and there are two of you. There is no explanation. It boggles science, raises interesting moral issues. It is impossible to tell the real you from the duplicate.

photo by Jennwith2ns: 2008

St Paul’s cathedral, London

I’ve been thinking about this idea for three weeks straight and I’m still not sure quite how I’m going to attack it, but the fact that it has been batting around in my head for that long makes me think I at least need to try. Unexpectedly, however, there is a second winner, because I’m quite sure this is going to factor into the above story in some way: Alotteyouusedtoknow–whose name, I’m pretty sure, is really just Lotte. Her idea runs thus:

The novel I would love to read from you would be ( and this is a little vague), one that discusses the idea ‘you can never go home’. So a capable independent woman has lived abroad for several years and for whatever reason is heading home to her to live with/near her family once again. I think the concept of re-entering your own culture is fascinating. As is the propensity of grown adults to revert to adolescence in the prolonged presence of their parents. ( I know I am capable of this). So clearly this isn’t a massively plot driven novel. Lol. But still its one I would like to read.

I’m not promising that this story is going to turn out the way either of these two women have envisioned, but I’m happy to announce their “winnership.” So now, Lotte and Jessi–time to contact me to discuss prizes and delivery. The following email address works nicely: jenn@thatsajennstory.com. But I’m pretty sure we can also just chat on facebook.

The first two thousand words, coming right up . . . tomorrow.

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Case in Point

In spite of the fact that I just had a little whinge about doing my own PR, and in spite of the fact that I’m convinced I’m no good at it, every so often I decide to make a stab at it, and on Saturday I read two chapters of Trees in the Pavement and one chapter of Favored One aloud at a Local Coffee Shop. I had been invited to do this some time ago, but the proprietor and I got our signals crossed a couple of times, and finally I was actually scheduled to read at an actual time, but he wasn’t going to be there. Maybe that was intentional on his part, but I think he probably usually isn’t there on Saturday afternoons.

Before I read, said proprietor sent me a “heads up” email disclaiming thus:

Typical reading, on a Saturday afternoon: Cafe could be about 1/2 full. You will be in the front of the house w your back against the wall so that you can engage the audience as needed. We will equip you with a mic and a cafe table and a stool or chair. You bring the entertainment. Very important: the cafe crowd is a very tough crowd, if and only if you desire or otherwise expect an attentive audience. You should bring at least one or two people with you to, if nothing else, feign interest and model good listening skills. Most folks come to talk, not to listen. Therefore, it is advisable to have no or at least low expectations of the audience to increase the possibility that you will be pleasantly surprised by the level of interest and appreciation. Consider: Possibly not a single person who doesn’t know you already will come with the express purpose of appreciating your reading; possibly not a single person will care that you are reading; some persons engaged in conversations may even secretly wish you weren’t reading. All that is, I think, typical and yet shouldn’t stop you from enjoying sharing your book with the people who are lucky enough to be there at the right time and place.

Brewing up a tale for you . . .

That is pretty much exactly what it was like. The people I “brought along” were my Paul, Mom and Dad, and long-time friend and fellow-writer, the Item. They were very good about modeling listening skills. Nobody bought a book though–since all of them already have one. Here is the part the Proprietor’s email didn’t predict–how it felt during the hour in which I sat in the hot seat:

1. Hot. As soon as we got there, my adrenaline, which had been on low simmer all morning anyway, shot up to high boil and I pretty much blushed for the entire reading.

2. Awkward. Because I was at “the front of the house,” I was right next to the registers, that is, the place where transactions are transacted. Innocent passers-by popped in for a cup of coffee, found the place moderately full but deathly quiet apart from some random middle-aged chick rattling off a bunch of foreign names over a microphone. They tiptoed to the counter, ordered their drinks in whispers, and skedaddled as quickly as possible. Of the people in there when I started reading, some stayed, but it was clear conversation wasn’t really happening. It was nice of them to stay, since they weren’t talking, but I felt like I was imposing.

3. More awkward. There’s this place in Trees where the protagonist, at age 4, encounters the man who will be smuggling her family most of the way from Kosovo to England, and her first impression of the man is that he is bald and fat. The story is told from her point of view, so of course this detail is described without mincing terms. At all. As I began reading this, I realised the man directly in front of me along the wall was of a, um, larger build, and bald as a cue ball. (My Paul later told me he had earbuds in and wasn’t listening to a word I was saying, which was a relief, but I didn’t know that at the time.)

4. Still more awkward. After the main character of Trees grows up a little bit, she starts school in a very ethnically diverse section of London. She has some racist tendencies. She calls people of South Asian origin the British Asian equivalent to nigger: Paki. Although even the first time she does this in chapter 2, my narration cites this as “her rude word for them,” it’s hard to know, when you’re reading aloud in a room where half the people are strangers, if the fact that you don’t condone such attitudes is really all that clear. Especially when three of the people in the cafe are South Asian. And they don’t stay for the whole reading.

5. Unprepared. I’ve read sections of Trees aloud many times. Saturday was the first time I ever read any of Favored One aloud at all. The first novel’s got multiethnic names in it, but I’ve actually known people named those things, and I could always pronounce the place names. (Even Leicester, British friends, thank you very much. We’ve got one of those here, too. But not in the book.) However, I discovered as I stumbled over it once or twice on Saturday, I’ve never pronounced Yerushalayim before. I probably should have checked with Sister-in-Lu or TheBro, who have lived there, before I tried inflicting that on anyone.

6. Futile. It’s hard to compete with an open door on Main Street, with buses, motorcycles and ambulance sirens whizzing past.

7. Like I just passed an exam. It wasn’t something I felt comfortable about at all, but I did it, and my family and friends were still talking to me afterwards, and the barista who is always friendly to my Paul and me when we go in there now knows who I am and can talk my stories up to her literary friends. Right? I mean, that’s what’s supposed to happen after one of these things, isn’t it?

I still think doing one’s own PR is excruciating for writers like me. I mean, you’re asking a bunch of people who are usually by nature pretty self-effacing to start outlining themselves with Sharpie, in effect. But in the end, self-effacing or not, it turns out I still think I write a good story.

——–

P.S. Speaking of that, I guess someone else thinks I write a good story, too. Antler is publishing a guest post of mine on Thursday. I’ll remind you. But just so you know, the website is here.

The Artistic Temperament

Okay, let’s be honest. Artists in general and writers in particular have always had to personally contort a little to become noticed and known. Dickens published serialised chapters of his books before they came out as books. The Bronte sisters and Mary Anne Evans had to change their names to men’s, and Moses (or you might say, God) and Jeremiah both had to rewrite (or re-dictate) some of their writings because the first version got destroyed. Even to this day I suspect most novelists start out writing articles for magazines or something before anybody notices them for anything else. It’s a tough gig.

Still, lately I’ve been feeling downright grouchy about a writer’s lot in the early 21st century. I know–in some ways we have more freedom than we ever did. Or maybe in one way–now anybody can put down some cash and get published, and maybe get lucky with an audience even if you bypass getting lucky with a publisher altogether. It’s just that, in my experience, even though self-publishing may well be a better respected means of getting your words out there than it used to be, very few of the self-published books I’ve read are all that well-written (or well-proofread). I feel like, in any medium, there will always be dreck that gets acknowledged over and above quality, but do we really have to glut the market with the dreck so that we can’t even find the quality anymore?

Why can’t I be a hermit AND famous?
(image credit: oscarthegrouch.wikia.com)

I realise this is a blanket statement. Not all self-publishers write and publish mediocre work. But I do feel like someone just took the screen out of the window. And in any case, the thing that’s really bugging me is this whole personal-PR thing. I’ve already about dropped out of authonomy because it feels more like a popularity contest than an actual place to have the merit of one’s writing evaluated. True, some really excellent books make it to the Editor’s Desk, but I have no assurance that these deserving authors are always being offered book deals, and in the meantime, there’s so much support-swapping (or, if you don’t play that game, retaliatory undermining) that goes on, that it seems to render the whole forum kind of useless.

Except in the sense that it gives publishers a sense of whether you’re good at PR and can establish a fan base. Which is apparently what publishers are looking for these days. And I understand that. Given digital publishing and self-publishing, trad publishers have to figure out a way to put bread on their tables, too. It’s just that it seems pretty unrelated to actual good writing.

I just started a monthly newsletter group on Google because I’m told good, up-and-coming writers have such things. I’m still not sure what I’m going to tell people, other than that I’m going to do a reading from Trees in the Pavement (a four-year-old book) in a coffee shop on Saturday.

Then the other day a new follower on Twitter pointed me to another writing site, like authonomy but “with more resources.” She seems a well-intentioned, encouraging soul, so I know she was simply trying to do a good deed and be helpful, but I went to the site and felt totally overwhelmed. And more grumpy. There’s all this nonsense about authors and readers tweeting about each other, and discussion forums (can I say “fori”?) and different ways to get people to review your book and . . . I don’t even know what else. I told her I didn’t know where to start, and she told me where to, but I went back the site, sighed with PR/social media fatigue, and clicked out of it.

It’s not that I don’t want to work. It’s not that I don’t want to promote the works of authors I happen to know and whose writing I believe in. I don’t think that I’m just such a marvelous writer that I should be able to sit on my hands and become Stephen King overnight. (That would be complicated from multiple angles.) Even though sometimes, I confess, I do think that.

Sometimes I think, “Maybe I should just write and write and write and someone will discover my stories posthumously and then they’ll teach them in high school literature classes. That should be enough.” But then, maybe that’s not much different that really long, slow self-publishing, without even living to see any payoff. Maybe mediocre self-publishing and crazy self-promotion are the way to go then. I guess I just know that for me–and I imagine it’s the same for many other writers–I write because that’s what I’m good at. If I were good at sales and marketing, I’d do that for a living. As it is, I don’t even evangelise well, which I guess is as close to sales and marketing as I ever get. But I do write well, I think, most of the time. Why can’t I just do that?

Mulberry Street and Other Miscellany

I don’t think this is the blog where I explained that I call my work commute (from wherever I’m living to wherever I’m working) Mulberry Street, in honour of Dr Seuss’ inaugural book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street.

Let me tell you what I saw on Mulberry Street today:

1. A fully-bearded hippie with hair about three times as long as mine, jogging–a Dr Seuss image if ever there were one. Both his beard and his hair were flowing out behind him as he ran, and he was wearing stereotypically hippie garb (by which I mean some sort of hempy-material tunicy shirt and loose, flowing trousery things–okay, I didn’t get an extremely good look), as opposed to stereotypically jogging garb. My first thought was, I REALLY hope that hippie believes in showers.

2. A very tall policeman bent at the knees and the waist in order to give a person in a small car a speeding ticket. It’s exactly what would happen to me if I were a member of the police force, but the guy was young and just looked so awkward and gawky, and generally lacking authority simply on the basis of his being at the mercy of his and the car’s relative heights, that I burst out laughing, to Oscar’s bewilderment and concern in the seat beside me.

3. An enormous yellow billboard for cake-flavoured vodka. Ew? The one before that was baby blue for “fluffy marshmallow” flavoured liquor of the same variety. I just . . . why would anyone drink that? I’m sorry. It’s probably just me.

Other things I’ve been thinking about lately, including in the car on the way to work, but not necessarily related to what I’m seeing out the window:

1. I’m not sure what person in their right mind offers a giveaway contest that lasts for half a month. Probably by the time I announce the winner, you all (including the winner) will have totally forgotten about it. Plus, I’ve basically narrowed down my choices to two. So . . . I’m not saying you can’t keep entering story ideas, but I am saying the chances of my seriously entertaining new ones are kind of slim. Let’s be honest.

2. I’ve had the opportunity to write two guest posts for other sites recently. I’m still drawing a blank on one of them, but I finished the other the other day and happily, the guy overseeing the site really liked it, so stay tuned; I’ll keep you posted about when it . . . gets posted. It’s about “writing toward God.” I didn’t know what that meant at first either. You’ll have to go read it to find out what I found out after writing about it.

3. I’m still trying to figure out this writer’s newsletter thing. But if you want to sign up for one from me, I created a Google Group here: https://groups.google.com/forum/?hl=en&fromgroups#!forum/thatsajennstory. Send me a request–I’ll sign you up!

The World According to LARP

Anna Russell, minister’s daughter–was not much of a reach.

I’m not sure that you could really call me a LARPer, although I have in my travels once worked for nine months at a place where I suppose you could say I got paid to LARP professionally. Either way, sometimes I like to pretend I invented the concept. (I seem to be using a lot of acronyms and semi-acronyms lately. LARP stands for Live Action Role-Play.) When I was very small, my grandmother gave our family some songbooks illustrated by Swedish children’s author and illustrator, Elsa Beskow. (She’s the one whose books made me realise I wanted to “write stories,” incidentally.) The songs were all in Swedish, but the illustrations were glorious and my grandmother told me what was happening in all the stories that the songs were about. Then, when she or my mother would play and sing them, I would prance around the living room or hide next to the piano or whatever the characters in the songs were doing (I even knew what was happening verse by verse), acting out the stories.

After a while I started to do this with any song at all, and sometimes with unsung stories when they were being read to me. The rest of the time I would pretend that I was some sort of animal character, the identity of whom I would announce at the beginning of my imaginary shape-shift, and then I would get very upset if my parents (or some other adult) addressed me by my real name. I used to think everybody did this (and I know some other children do, because TWCN used to do this exact same thing and I never even told her to), but as I grew up and interacted with more children I began to find that most other kids with whom I was surrounded found this kind of play a bit of a stretch.

As a teenager, I tried to write a (not very original) fantasy tale about a girl who has to save an entire country from an evil queen, but in the process becomes a slave to this queen for some time. On Saturdays when I had to vacuum my room and clean the bathroom, I would pretend I was that girl, and my mother was the evil queen (did I mention we didn’t used to get along when I was a teenager?), and when I was finished with my tasks I would go off wandering in the woods behind our house and pretend I was escaping. The plot never progressed very far, because the same thing happened every week.

It was at about this time that I learned about Dungeons and Dragons, and at first I think my parents thought this would be a fun game for me, but then some people in our conservative Christian circles started talking about how that stuff was demonic or satanic or something, and we just never really looked into it enough to be sure. I suspect my parents remained ambivalent, but as I was not only imaginative but also a very serious young person who saw things in a fairly black-and-white manner, I immediately viewed the entire enterprise with great suspicion and avoided that section of our local bookstore (where the game was featured for quite some time) as I avoided “the magazine aisle.” (I avoided that one because I was told that my dad and my brother should. I dunno. Given my propensity for donning other personas, maybe I thought I’d accidentally pretend to be a “wanton woman” if I got too close.)

photo by random Ren Faire lady 2012

I know, you’ve seen both of these photos already. But finding other ones would involve photo extraction from my parents’, and scanning.

After that I toned the whole pretending thing down, but when I was halfway through university, one of my friends who at the time insisted that everyone call him Corwin and who, when I first met him, was at that very moment crafting a chain mail shirt, started up an on-campus club called The Court of Logres. It might have been joinable by invitation only, and since Corwin had a very charismatic personality and all the young women he invited probably had something of a secret crush on him, the group got very large very fast. (It also closed down about a term later when Corwin got too busy with studies to attend its meetings and so no one else felt like going either.) That was when I found out about “real” LARPing and discovered that some people kind of do it all the time. I never did–I waited until the club had a scheduled event, like Bilbo Baggins’ birthday party, or this one time when we went to a professor’s home and built a bonfire in the backyard and cooked potatoes and turkey drumsticks in it. I made a Medieval Dress to wear to these occasions (before that it had been a blousy top–thank you 1990’s–and a long skirt) from a diagram and some cheap muslin Corwin sold me, and I dyed it myself, too, and embroidered some green and burgundy “braid” around the collar.

A lot of love and care went into this thing, which is probably why I still can’t bring myself to get rid of it. When the Youth Group went to an almost-local Renaissance Faire last weekend, I retrieved the dress from my parents’ house, even though all three of us were skeptical that it would still fit me. On account of its having been made by diagram instead of pattern, the thing hasn’t got zippers, and every time I wear it I think it’s going to be the last, because it gets more and more difficult to get off afterward. To my surprise and delight, however, I was able both to don and doff it once again, so it lives to see another day.

The weekend my Paul and I went to Maine, we took a very long, exhausting but exhilarating hike up a mountain along the Appalachian Trail. I don’t remember what made me think of it (although the disheveled thick long beards of every single serious male climber might have contributed to the idea–along with the reminder from experience that as a woman, there might be some advantages to hiking in a skirt), but at one point I said, “Someone should totally start a LARPing club that hikes the entire AT in character. Everybody could pretend they were in the Lord of the Rings, on a quest.” It might, I suppose, clear the Trail of people who are actually there for the Trail, and not for living out their pretend identities. On the other hand, it could also be fun. As long as there’s a Prancing Pony somewhere as a way-station.

Stuff I Should’ve Thought Of Mentioning

Hey–if you’re new here because I’ve been tweeting it up like . . . I dunno . . . like someone who actually knows how to use Twitter, maybe–welcome! Newbies and Oldies alike, I just updated the “What’s a Jenn Story?” (i.e. “About”) page. Check it. It even has a photo.

After I posted

That’s a Jenn Story’s first! ever! giveaway contest!

yesterday, it probably went without saying, but yet I probably should have said anyway, that if you have a story idea that you’re thinking of writing–you’d best not give it to me. Because it would figure that that would be the one that I would choose. Also, mayhap (although probably not) you are already the proud owner of Trees in the Pavement (who wouldn’t be?) and that doesn’t seem like a very exciting incentive therefore. I could say, well, you should just bask in the honour of

Contest: to come up with a story idea for me to write during NaNoWriMo!

the fact that I chose your story idea, but in case that doesn’t cut it for you either, we might be able to arrange a deal for you to receive something else. Talk to me.

ALSO. I know those of you who are already playing along are just hoping that not too many people will join in because you are just dying to receive your copy of Trees in the Pavement (or that other thing), but I was really kind of hoping that this contest would kick off some extra interaction around here, and not fizzle like an under-attended Youth Group event, so can you do me a favour and pass on the word? People don’t have to know me to play along. And if you’re holding back the ideas you don’t intend to write yourself because you don’t want to do my work for me? Well, I get that, actually. But I still have to write 50,000 words about it. That’s not nothing.

The great thing about this contest (in my opinion) is that you can air out all your half-baked ideas as well as any serious ones, and watch someone else try to wrestle it into a story. What’s not to love? Try it. You may find that, like one contestant who posted on the That’s a Jenn Story facebook page, “This is fun :)”.

NaNoWriMore

A couple of years ago, I tried NaNoWriMo for the first time. For those of you who don’t know, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month which, when I first heard about it years before trying it, was only just starting to become A Thing. Now it is most definitely A Thing, with all sorts of spin-offs and versions, but the one I’m talking about is the original Thing, which is that you write a previously unstarted novel of 50,000 words or more, in its unedited entirety, in the month of November.

I discovered the existence of this mass project in 2003, but could never quite imagine how I would ever have time for something like that until 2009, at which point I decided I was going to just do it, as they say. Well, I got up to 50,000 words, but it certainly couldn’t qualify as a novel, nor really as writing–certainly not good writing–although I did have some interesting theological insights through the process, which I still think are sort of cool so maybe I’ll reblog them from my old blog here sometime. Or you can go on a treasure hunt yourself and try to find them.

Anyway, just like in 2009, I still have two stalled novels (one of which I almost forgot about, the other of which is Favored One which keeps getting regularly turned down by literary agents everywhere) and no new novel ideas. I mean, none. But the regular round of guilt at being a basically non-practicing Writer has hit again, and, just like in 2009, I’m going to be taking grad school courses in January but am not doing so now, so guess what? I just signed up to write a 50,000 word novel once again.

I probably should’ve discussed this with my Paul, first, but maybe this will be a good way to get us in the habit of my disappearing for a few hours every evening with homework, since that’s going to be our life starting in January anyway. Or maybe I’ll just write this downstairs next to him on the futon, with Spooks on in the background. That might make for interesting results.

Anyway, this doesn’t negate the fact that I still haven’t a clue what to write about. I’m certainly not going to revisit the horrible story idea of the last attempt. However, I happen to know I’ve got a creative Readership, so here it is:

That’s a Jenn Story’s first! ever! giveaway contest!

In the comments, please give me a story idea, prompt, suggestion. I promise I will use one of The Readership’s suggestions, not one of my own (since I don’t have any) though I of course reserve the right to develop that idea in any way I see fit. The instigator of the suggestion I choose will win a free (even postage paid) copy of my already-in-existence novel, Trees in the Pavement. You have from now until October 31st to chime in, and you may post more than once, but ideas should be sent in separate comments.

Ready? Set? Go!

YoothNooz

After my last two word-rant posts were soundly (and correctly) corrected by astute and intrepid members of The Readership (to whom I am honestly grateful) I began to take stock of my linguistic snobbery and have decided that it’s just safer to stop pointing out other people’s errors because I invariably make my own in the process of pointing out the others. This has happened in private, too–I recently noted a consistent error to a blogging friend of mine and in the email in which I did this, I made two or three ridiculous and glaring typos.

I don’t think there were any hard feelings, this person being quite gracious, and I certainly would prefer to have my errors pointed out so I don’t make them again, but I have to say I’m pretty sure Jesus wasn’t kidding when He said not to judge or we’d be judged in the same way as we judged. I’ve found this to be true in other judgey areas of my life. I must have thought there was some sort of pass for grammar snarks. Oh well.

Anyway, under the influence of this new resolution, it occurred to me that I could still, in public, make fun of my own word usage. With that in mind, I show you a copy of the kind of weekly update nonsense I send to the poor unsuspecting (well–they probably have a pretty good idea of what they’re in for at this point) teenagers of Now Church’s Youth Group. As of, like, September, I call these updates YoothNooz. Because bad spelling is acceptable if it’s intentional and especially if I’m the one committing it, of course. (If I could figure out how to make an umlaut on my computer, I’d probably call it YuthNuz, with umlauts over the u‘s.) That’s bad enough. But wait. It gets worse:

So . . . the Renaissance Faire was rainy. And closed early. But we were enthusiastic, so whatever. Here’s a picture.
photo by random Ren Faire lady 2012

The few, the proud

This week is the CROP WALK! Don’t forget to raise some money and then come out and walk, to support people who can’t get 3 regular meals a day.
The week after that is the Bake Sale! That timing seems a little weird. Still, we need to raise money for our mission trips, too. Please come on out that Sunday after both services (9-10 and 11-12), and help sell baked goods. It would also be cool if you brought some to sell. The Bake Sale is all we are doing for youth group that week; however, if anyone feels like grabbing lunch together at Panera afterwards, I’m in.
I’ve attached a new and improved version of the schedule for the year. There is only one day left that we need to think of an activity for: January 13th. Send me your best ideas. The winner gets custody of our new group mascot, a little bear named Dale. He’s green. You say you haven’t met him yet? You should probably come to youth group. ‘Cause you know …yoothnooz, you lose! 😀
Seriously. Would you send your child to a Youth Group with someone like that in charge? It’s painful. Yet I consider myself hilarious. Which probably makes it worse–such self-deception! And I was so proud when this happened: At the above mentioned Renaissance Faire (about which you will be hearing more in another post, probably), the Sidekick and I were looking at some birds of prey and she said something apparently true, because I responded, with something of a mumble, “For real.” She looked at me sideways and said, “Don’t you mean feather real?” This poor girl has been attending Youth Group under my leadership for four and a half years. I guess she really doesn’t have a chance.
It’s always nice to know one is making a difference.

Thank You, Pavlov

This summer, Oscar became a problem child. It wasn’t the first time.

If you’ve known me (or Oscar) since before I started this blog and before I met my Paul, you’ll know that, while he’s always been lovable, he’s also always been quirky (there’s a shocker–my dog? quirky?) and sometimes downright difficult. I think it’s safe to surmise that he spent his first three years in a crate, and that in none of those three years did anyone bother to try to house train him. Or play with him. Or just generally let him be a dog. Which, I guess–well, why would you, if you’re never going to let your dog out of his crate except to make more dogs? (I do know that about him, little ladies’ man that he is.)

Having done some research recently, I have learned that dogs are in need of pretty set schedules, but I think Oscar is in a little more need of them than most. Like Tock, the Watch Dog in the children’s classic, The Phantom Tollbooth, he seems to have a clock built right into the middle of him–although Oscar’s is invisible. Anyway, sometime at the beginning of the summer, the schedule of the two usual humans in the house changed to incorporate pontoon rides at supper time, and right around the same time, Oscar seems finally to have realised that the Cottage is our home now and we aren’t going anywhere and what’s more he doesn’t get to sleep on my bed anymore because my Paul sleeps there now.

This conjunction of events resulted in behaviours which we first took to be passive aggressive.

photo by Jennwith2ns 2012

You aren’t going to let me out in the middle of the night? Fine. I’ll pee on the carpet.
You didn’t get up right at 5.30 a.m.? That’s okay. I’ll pee on the carpet.
I have to wait to eat until after your boat ride? Sure, but just so you know, I’m gonna pee on the carpet.

This impression was compounded by the fact that sometimes we’d let him out before doing whatever we were going to do that was cutting into his perception of The Schedule, and he’d still find some way to pee on the carpet. Copious internet research and episodes of The Dog Whisperer have assured us, however, that dogs don’t get passive aggressive. What they do get is anxious.

Well, that wasn’t a stretch. Oscar is much better than he was when I first got him, but he is an anxious little fellow, easily intimidated, put off, spooked, cowed. (Feel free to add other synonyms. They’ll fit.) In fact, the knowledge that some dogs “soil” when they’re worried fit right in with some of his earlier behaviour shortly after I adopted him. So we decided to take steps to make our lives, his life, and the condition of our house a little more satisfactory.

The first step included reinstituting the crate. Don’t think we’re monsters for re-crating a dog who was never uncrated in his earliest years. I used to crate him regularly but for limited periods of time when I lived on my own, and, barring a couple of occasions, he always seemed quite content in there. It was a safe, small, dark, quiet place, and he likes those places. Lacking a crate, he’ll seek them out for himself. Like the coat closet, for instance. So we put his crate in the coat closet and decided that at night, that was where he’d sleep.

Only by this time, he wasn’t used to sleeping in the crate. Although he had almost always slept through the night before we became a “pack” with my Paul and Shemp, by now he was used to getting up and going outside when Paul or I would get up at around two in the morning. When we didn’t let him out at two in the morning and he was in his crate, he became very concerned. He began a little concerned dance in the crate, rocking it back and forth and clicking his nails on the plastic bottom. He did this for a very. long. time. You wouldn’t have thought concern could be quite so energetic, but his was.

Now he wasn’t peeing on the carpet, but though it got closer to 4 a.m. than 2 a.m., every morning he would do his little worried dance. Sometimes he would sing along with yips. Oscar doesn’t yip. Nighttime was becoming miserable. Nobody was getting any sleep. It was like having an infant with no hope of its growing up. I was afraid my Paul was going to say we had to take him to a shelter, because although technically both our dogs are both our dogs, let’s face it–we each do and probably always will prefer the dog we started out with. My Paul was getting growly and I was getting anxious like my problem doggie, and I was wracking my brain trying to think of how to help Oscar not to be anxious, and not to think that he was the pack leader, and how not to encourage his bad behaviour.

One or two nights when he started making noise, I went downstairs and slept on the couch, and every time he even moved, I’d tch at him like the Dog Whisperer. That worked, except it occurred to me that for him at this point, that was probably the equivalent of his sleeping on my bed, and meanwhile, I wasn’t sleeping on my bed or with my husband, and I didn’t want Oscar to get used to that. Then my parents gave us some scraps of carpet and I put that in there. I’m sure it’s much more comfortable for him that way, but, as I was pretty sure he would, he figured out a way to shove or fold the carpet so he still had enough plastic to tap his nails on.

And then I remembered Pavlov. I don’t remember what he was trying to prove or establish, but I do remember that he rang a bell and dogs associated it with food and salivated. I also remembered that earlier this year I would set the alarm on my cell phone and when it went off in the morning, the dogs would wake up and shake and jingle their collars. I hadn’t been using my alarm in a while. I discussed this with Paul and we agreed I’d set one alarm for 6.30 a.m. so the dogs would know when it was time to get up, and another one (so they wouldn’t think they got fed immediately upon waking) at 7.00 for their breakfast.

And you know what? It totally didn’t work.

At first.

Now, occasionally, Oscar will wake 15 minutes early and start rattling his cage, but most of the time he’s quiet until the alarm. And although this morning both dogs were raring to get breakfast, most of the time, although eager, they both sit in the living room and wait quietly until the second alarm goes off. Clever dogs. And clever Pavlov. I’m so glad I didn’t totally have to come up with that by myself.

Linguis-Tics

photo credit CafePress

That is true. Only sometimes it isn’t silent.

It’s no secret that I have kind of a word and language-usage obsession. Someone else wrote in another blog, “As a grammatically conscientious person who frequents internet forums and YouTube, I have found it necessary to develop a few coping mechanisms.” Sadly, I don’t seem to have developed any such mechanisms, and so I still twitch and rant at inappropriate moments, and my Paul has to tell me not to correct the waitress’ pronunciation of Smithwick’s, for example.

It’s just . . . not so much my wanting to be right, as my wanting everyone else to be as right as I am. And I love words and word usage. I just love them . . .

My Paul and I had a kind of lazy rainy Saturday, and at one point that afternoon, he was online on his laptop, and I was reading someone’s self-published novel. After a little back-and-forth between us, my Paul concluded, “I get disgusted about skyrocketing national debt. You get disgusted with misspellings. We have different thresholds for outrage.”

He’s right. But seriously. In just one chapter the author of this book wrote “Pi whole” when he meant “pie hole” and “nube” for “newbie”–many times on the last one. Do you have any idea how annoying it is to read “noob” when it’s supposed to be “newbie”–and “newbie” even looks like what it means? I mean, it does, right? It’s not like some other aspects of the English language that are actually confusing . . . The story, a YA “cyber-fiction” novel, is quite entertaining so far, but I have to say the whole grammar/spelling thing has put me off self-publishing. It’s pretty clear everybody needs another pair of (knowledgeable) eyes to proofread his or her work.

On the other hand . . . I do like messing with words and meanings. Like–recently I’ve been playing this game in my head where I misplace syllable emphases and divisions. I think I first started doing this when one of my parents made some quip about someone putting “the emPHAsis on the wrong sylLAble.” I no longer have any idea what the context of that joke was–it was quite some time ago–but even still I sometimes like to take multisyllabic words and rough them up a little. Then I like to make up new definitions for the mispronunciations.

My favourite one is Acetaminophen. If you pronounce it like, “AHset-AHmen-OHphen,” it sounds like the name of an ancient Egyptian pharaoh. Or, if you take the word linguistics and divide it differently than I did above–say, “LINGui-stics”–well, this summer my Paul and I went into a coffee shop where, instead of the usual earth-friendly-ish wooden coffee stirrers, they had raw linguine with which to stir one’s coffee. I know. The emphasised syllable in linguine is the same as in linguistics, but for some reason “LINGui-stics makes me think of those pasta coffee stirrers.

Okay–now you go. Rough up a word. Then tell us what it means.