Thursday, August 18, 2011

Rather an Extraordinary Girl

Pip has been gone for ten days, and it's been hard for all of us to face the possibility that he will never come home. The kids listen for the jingle of his bell, and the neighbors are on high alert. We spent two days walking the woods in pursuit of a false lead and have reluctantly begun to mourn his loss.

Pip charmed his way into our home. He followed me around Robie Farms, rolled over on his back and looked over his shoulder with a come-hither invitation to fall for him. He bestowed his affection on me and I was grateful, so when he withdrew his love, I felt jilted. Dumped.

In the meantime, our dependable house cat, Clementine, remains constant. We adopted her five years ago from the Upper Valley Humane Society despite her overbite, toothlessness, and bow legs. Her appreciation is tangible. Every night, she meows plaintively at the top of the stairs with impatience, then moves to the end of the bed nearest the door as I conduct my evening routine, and finally takes up her position on my pillow when I slide into bed. She's restless at first, frustrated with my book for monopolizing the prime real estate in front of my face, but when I finally get rid of the extra reading pillow, she settles in. She stalks purposefully up on to the pillow, then lies down in the shape of a comma, her back against my ear. I fall asleep to her soft down and the soothing purr of her contentment. Like a puppy soothed by the tick tock of a blanket-wrapped clock, she has become my white noise machine.

In the thrall of Pip's sexy and alluring newness, we stopped seeing Clem. I have grown so accustomed and dependent on her presence that she became part of the set dressing of my life. The irony is that without Clem, I would be lost. In order to sleep, I need my bed, my husband, and Clem. If she left...well, the wounds would be deep.

Which brings me back around to the novel Great Expectations. It's the first text I teach in the fall, so it's been on my mind a lot as I plan the coming academic year. I have stuck with this book year after year because my students love it. They connect to the characters, and as most teachers know, that's half the battle in teaching literature. The boys tend to see themselves in Pip, a the main character, who falls in love with Estella, an untouchable, beautiful and cruel first love. The girls, however, are divided. Some girls, the ones who have discovered the social power of emotional manipulation, see themselves in Estella. Others, the girls who have been manipulated, taken for granted, overlooked, see themselves in Biddy, Pip's childhood friend. Estella and Biddy act as foils in the novel - Estella is all regal, refined beauty, while Biddy is plain, understated comfort.

Pip's journey from poor orphan to educated gentleman is punctuated by his love for these two women. Biddy was there at the beginning, a fixture in the life he abandons for a brighter future. Along the way, he's blinded by his yearning for Estella's affections, and wrecked by her cruel disdain. But in the end, Biddy is the constant, the home he returns to when he realizes he's strayed from his true path. His realization comes too late, however, for Biddy has moved on and married a man who appreciates her for her understated yet and comforting embrace. Pip realized a little late that the thrall of a cruel woman may be heady and exciting, but happiness more often lies in the comfort of a reliable, uncomplicated love.

This morning, I received an call from a neighbor who was sure he'd trapped Pip in his house. I raced out the door, jumped in the car and sped up Pout Pond Lane, almost out of my head with excitement. I closed my eyes as I reached the second floor landing, too anxious to look.

The moment I opened my eyes, I knew. This was not Pip. It looked a lot like him, but this cat had five pounds on Pip and a birthmark on the tip of his nose. There was no recognition in his eyes, no bald patch on the back of his neck, no come hither glance over his shoulder as he rolls over for a belly rub.

I couldn't contain my disappointment as I made small talk with my neighbor. He was disappointed, too, and as we watched the cat head out into his territory in the general direction of his house and family, I teared up a little.

But when I got home, Clementine was sitting on the dining room table, watching the door for my return. Her bowed front legs splayed out at odd angles, and there was a drop of drool on her chin, but she was waiting for me to come home. And tonight, when it's time for bed, I will fall asleep to her comforting softness, grateful for her constancy.

Addendum: I took the photo of Clem (below) and realized she was not acting like herself. She was grumpy (see photo) and making frequent, yet unproductive, trips to the litter box. I watched her for a while and when it became clear that she was insanely uncomfortable, I took her down the road to the vet. Our town vet diagnosed a UTI, and sent her home with antibiotics. She'll probably be fine in a couple of days. Tim thinks there are darker forces at work, however. His theory is that our newly neutered Pip, who still had plenty of testosterone roiling in his blood, took advantage of our poor Clem, gave her a UTI and the took off, in true tomcat style.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Debriefing: Kill Your Darlings and Absence of Pip

As I lay in bed last night, thinking about how on earth a deadline can come down to the last couple of hours, I calculated - estimated, actually - how many words, how many sentences I write for every one that ends up in the final draft. I actually think my ratio is high; I think I keep in more of my darlings than I kill, but lordy, there's a lot of time spent writing stuff that ends up on the cutting room floor.

Is this normal? I think it is. According to all those books I read, all those interviews, all those advice blogs, I have to write shitty first drafts and put in the hours, and write when it hurts, and write when it's crap. And I do that. I do - and I can't think of any other endeavor where there's so much time and attention put into stuff that ends up in the virtual trash can.

My favorite writing program, Scrivener, won't LET me throw stuff away permanently. Those people, they know writers. They know that we get pissed off and throw stuff away and regret it later. They know that sometimes I write with a purging hand, that sometimes I write with a 5-lucques olive martini by my side, that sometimes my cat accidentally deletes things...the Scrivener people, they are wise. I urge you to check them out.

In the meantime, it's actually really nice for my words to be in my agent's hands, to have time away from them while I prepare for the new school year. I am heading in today to make my classroom look great for the first day of school. I have an old, trashy copy of The Odyssey that I will take apart and use for the background of the main bulletin board, then put images from an old copy of a gorgeous mythology book over the top. I'm going all Martha Stewart on that converted-trailer classroom. There will be laminating. There will be decorative borders.

I also have some sad - no, not sad yet - news. Pip has been missing for about five days. I know he's probably fine, and I have not given up hope yet, but I think the neighbors are getting a little sick of my "Heeeeeere kitty kitty kitty" each morning and evening all up and down the street. I will go exploring in his territory today in case he's trapped somewhere. Keep the faith. He's wily and, as a barn cat, I remain hopeful that he's out there somewhere foraging and courting all the female cats in the area.

More news when I hear from said agent, or if - when - Pip shows up.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Day After

Well, I made my deadline, but I think I have brain damage. Very early this morning, I scanned for errant red or green squiggly lines, checked the formatting one last time, and hit 'send.' I thought I'd feel relief when I hauled myself into bed, but for the next two hours, all of my grammatical, syntactical, and continuity errors showed themselves in my mind's eye.

All I have to do today is help set up for our town's library book sale and take a riding lesson with my son Ben, but I am hoping to do a coherent blog post later on today.

Time for coffee.

Did I mention I made pickles earlier this week? It was therapeutic and the sight of those jars all lined up in the cellar stirs a Little House in the Big Woods sort of contentment in me.