Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Jhoti's penance

          Hello!  I'm Jhoti and I'm writing Mom's blog today.  She says she's too darn tired because I wake her up every morning at 4:30 to feed me.  Oh, I'm full of shenanigans -- and have been since I was a kitten.  Truly!  At one time I thought my name was "Jhoti NO!"  Then I thought it was, "Jhoti STOP IT!"  Then Mom pulled out a water gun because I was chewing her plants (What can I say?  I was hungry!)  and said just "Jhoti" before she shot my hindquarters.  By then I figured out I only had one name and that's all. 
          I do all kinds of fun stuff that gets me into trouble.  Like opening cupboard doors.  And nibbling on the fichus tree leaves after they hit the floor.  And knocking the pinecones out of the baskets near the fireplace.  And banging on the picture window whenever I see another cat come into the yard.  Once I screamed so loud at that big Tom, I barfed on the window sill.  Seriously.  Ick.
          Lately Mom's had me on a diet because I'm a bit on the chubby side.  I'm Rubenesque but can still dart like a shot after my toys; however, there's my ongoing health to consider.  Mom says she's had one diabetic cat and that's enough for anyone.  So now I'm on a strict feeding schedule.  Every six hours she plunks a measly pile of kibble into my bowl and locks me in the bedroom so Aditi and Forest don't steal my special and very expensive diet food.  If she leaves me in there for too long I call for her.  I've learned how to speak English and can say, "Hello, MOM!" with such clarity, she immediately obeys me. 
          Mom thinks I should sleep until sunrise, but I can do the math.  I gobble up a bedtime snack at 10:00 PM, so by rights I'm bound by the laws of my hunger to wake up and eat at 4:00 AM.  I always throw in the extra half hour as a gift because I know how tired Mom has been this month.
          But this morning, it wasn't my fault.  I swear.
          My little sister, Aditi, did it.
          Still, I did teach her how to chew electric cords to get Mom's attention.  If we gnaw long enough, she'll eventually get out of bed...although lately she just kicks us out of the bedroom and shuts the door.  I may be stalled at bit, but I'm not beaten.  I holler "HELLO, MOM!" and my little brother, Forest, bangs on the wooden frame and Aditi tries to rattle the doorknob and voila - she's up and at 'em.
          We get to eat and she even opens the front curtains so I can watch the sunrise and the Squirrel and Bunny Show in our front yard.  That keeps me busy for about half an hour, then I'm back to bed where I curl up on Mom's feet and go to sleep.  Usually she's already zonked out, too, but lately, she sighs and tosses and turns and disrupts me just as I'm heading off to dreamland. 
          I hear her tell her yoga friends she only sleeps through the night about once every three weeks.  But I can vouch for the fact that she takes a nap when she can (and I lay on her feet or her hip to keep her warm).  She complains that I'm bossy and sassy and demanding, but I know she loves me, too.
         
          You see, I'm not just a naughty cat.  I have other fine qualities you might not recognize.  I'm a great watch cat and keep our yard free of annoying felines who want nothing more than to pee on the bushes and taunt my siblings and me with their unabashed freedom.  I'll play with Aditi in the afternoon when Mom needs to work and in the evenings when she's teaching yoga.  Speaking of which, I love to assist her with her students, weaving my way between their legs, head-butting them and otherwise making myself a pleasant nuisance.  I figure I'm helping them learn to stay balanced when life brings unexpected surprises.
          I often circle the students and can figure out which one is really stressed out and needs a little TLC.  I sit on their mat, purring in their ear while they relax.  I can even style hair and if you ask Mom's friend, Cheri, she'll say I'm pretty good -- if not a little aggressive with the scalp massage.  And speaking of massage, I always know when Mom has a migraine and will curl up behind her so I can knead her sore neck and head.  She loves that...and I do, too.
          So all in all, it's a pretty good trade, don't you think? 

          This morning after yoga class, Mom fed me an early lunch and sequestered me here in her office.  "Since you can talk, you can figure out how to write," she said, handing me a pen.  "Write 'I will sleep through the night' ten times, please."
          I lifted a whisker and rolled my eyes.  I've heard the story of how her first grade teacher caught her talking to Billy Klatt and made both of them stay in for recess and write, "I will not talk in class" ten times.  She was mortified to get into trouble, but I doubt it kept her from being excessively verbal.  After all, where do you think I  learned how to be so chatty?
          When she was a teacher, Mom never made kids write for penance.  She says she didn't want any child to connect writing with punishment.  I guess I don't count 'cause I'm just a cat.  Even so, the other day I was sitting in her rocker and reached over to grab something from the end table.  Mom took a picture because she thought I was reaching for the pen. 
          "You're a real writer's cat, Jhoti," she beamed.
          Yeah, I am since I've sat behind her in this chair for the better part of six years.  I know how to turn the computer on (and off when I want Mom's attention pronto).  I know where the letters are on the keyboard and of course I love to play with the mouse.  I've listened to Mom read out loud, so I know where to put the commas and the periods and all that stuff.  Sure, I can write as well as any cat I know.
         Still, Mom should have known I was going for the remote not the pen.  If I can only figure out how to turn on the TV, then I can entertain myself while I listen to my growling tummy and wait for the sun to rise.  I figure come springtime, I'll have it all figured out. 
          But by then I'll be as svelte as Cat Woman, so why bother?
         

         

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Unbrandable

          I've been doing a lot of contemplating lately.  There's been time and opportunity, believe me.  For the past two weeks my heart's been beating too fast and incessantly throbbing in my chest loud enough to get my attention.  Four years ago it was the same story, only back then I thought I was having a heart attack.
          This time, I know better.
          My heart's been speaking loud and clear ever since my birthday last month, but up until now I've been too busy to listen.  In October my life in the garden is winding down.  I'm no longer knitting or teaching children.  So in-between yoga classes, I've spent countless hours on the couch where I sweat out my racing heart and endured the migraines that are often par for the course in the aftermath.  I'm no masochist and I'd rather be working on my novel, but there's something to be said for times when I'm at my lowest point.  When I can do little more than lie as still as possible and wait for healing to come.
          And it always does in ways I least expect.

          During my last bout of tachycardia, I was enduring post traumatic stress syndrome after living through five years of intense life experiences.  We've all been there and it was my turn on the wheel to endure a series of stressful events that culminated in my choice to make some serious changes in my life.  And of course, there were more choices to be made that were completely out of my hands.
          This year has been similar to 2010, albeit the transitions were more subtle and less dramatic.  Since April I've experienced losses in many areas of my life and am not really comfortable floating in the hollow spaces left behind.  Yet through it all I've once again cycled around to the question I always ask when my life is in flux and I'm not sure what to do or where to turn:  "What kind of woman do I want to be now?"
          In the process of discovering the answer, I've read articles on financially successful writers, on what readers crave in an ever-changing culture, on what's popular and how to make myself stand out enough to garner new literary representation.  The word "branding" has come up again and again, not only in terms of writing style, but in business savvy as well. To be slick and have a hook is paramount, and it seems formula fiction is all the rage these days. 
          While I'm reticent to admit I fit into any one category, I'm clear that I'm developing a style that's ever evolving.  When my former agent was pitching my work to publishing houses, Chelsea labeled me as a commercial fiction writer, explaining that my novels would appeal to a wide variety of tastes and interests.  It sounded good to me, but I still scratched my head when she sent my work to a popular romance book publisher.  And then I thanked the gods they rejected me...twice.
          Six months later, Chelsea changed gears and shifted my work into the literary fiction category.  There was some serious interest from a couple of houses, but in the end they all passed.  So last April, after three years of rewriting and editing, of trial and error, of hopeful anticipation followed by rejection, I made the difficult choice to end my contract.  In less than six months, I self-published a memoir and two novels.  Then I returned A Tapestry of Truth to its original premise and changed the ending to Common Threads to more clearly articulate the main character's story arc.
          Over the summer I sketched out plans for a children's book based on the darling fairy garden I created in my front yard.  I honed and edited three yoga books for kids and sifted through my notes for a non-fiction book I'll be writing in 2017 called Growing the Lotus which will illustrate the long and lovely journey I've been taking with my yoga students since 2011.  This fall I've been researching and outlining a novel that is unlike anything I've written before and it's been a daunting process.  But not without its gifts of grace.  
          Last week I was lamenting to my friend that, after twenty years of working toward greater awareness, I thought the process would get easier.
          Tyler shook his head.  "It only gets deeper."
          Which is the cardinal reason why my heart is once again calling for my attention. 

          I've lost count of how many agents I've queried over the past twenty-three years.  How many rejections I've received.  How many times I've cried tears of frustration while watching poorly written and barely edited books quickly climb the bestseller lists.  How many times I've said, "I won't quit until I find my own success."         
          Well...my heart is now guiding me elsewhere. 
          In the back of my mind, I've always known I'm unbrandable.  I can't be the kind of writer who figures out what the public wants and then carves out my niche in the genre.  I can't pretend to like the latest pulp fiction just because it's popular with book clubs and the latest celebrity.  I can't spend any more time being angry or frustrated that I've not been rewarded with a publishing contract after all the time and energy I've spent trying to become a better writer.
          This morning I woke up with the realization that I need to write for myself.  For the stories that want to be born through my imagination.  For the characters who weave their way through the creative process and always reveal inherent lessons that have been slumbering in my subconscious.  Only then will I find the success of having written from the heart of who I am, not a facsimile of what others demand or desire.
          Perhaps all these long years have been about unwinding my own expectations around what I've hoped to achieve as a writer.  As a woman.  As a human being.  In this unbrandable state of being I am embarking on a new journey, one that is more authentic and grounded because it doesn't rely on what I want to receive at the end of each blog, each novel, each book.
          Like anything that grows, I will simply become more of who I am meant to be.  What comes next is unknowable, yet ultimately freeing.  And in that open space, my heart can finally be at peace.