Member Monday: Just Me and My Dog by Jen Higley

Welcome back to Member Monday!  It’s a delight to feature my long time friend and fellow Writers Forum board member, Jen Higley.  She’s the woman responsible for managing the details of our ever-increasing membership as well as the purveyor of the delicious and healthy treats at our meetings.  Anyone who can make a cookie delicious AND healthy deserves a medal in my book.  Welcome, Jen!

Just Me and My Dog by Jen Higley

What does it mean to grow up?

To finish growing physically?  To take on complete responsibility for your own life and actions?

I am quite responsible, and plenty old, but I needed to grow up—to truly mature, be strong, depend on no one but God for my well-being, body and soul.  Then, I could take on the life that was meant for me.  So I had a thought.  I would head into the wild, by myself, and discover the person I am meant to be.  Many cultures practice rites of passage when their children transition to adulthood.  This would be a rite of passage for me, and if I passed this, I knew I would forever be stronger.  But I didn’t want to die in the process, so I took my dog with me.

We found the trailhead free of cars.  We were alone.  There was one trail to take us to one destination, and it went up.  And up, and up, and up.  Over two miles of up, with no reprieve.  Test number one: be willing to work hard without complaining.  There’d be no one to hear it anyway.  As we hiked, I felt very aware of the potential for wildlife encounters, and though I was looking for solitude, I found myself not minding the thought of someone else hiking in while we were there.  But we came across no one.

We got to the small alpine lake which was our destination, and it was beautiful.  All settled in camp, we turned in early.  We awoke at one in the morning to the sound of loud coughing.  Coughing, loud running, large things running on the rocks above our camp.  I remembered what I had heard about mountain lions, and was pretty sure this was one.  I went rigid, barely even lifting my head.  I glanced at my dog, and he was doing the exact same thing.  Didn’t bark, didn’t whine, didn’t move.  It was as if he was telling me, ‘You don’t move when predators are hunting something else, you just be still.’  In the moment, the thought passed fleetingly through my mind to break camp at the crack of dawn and run screaming down the mountain to my car.  But that would do me no good right now.  Test number two: do not let fear control you.  I prayed, knowing I was safe, and forcing myself to believe it.  We heard no further sounds. An entire hour passed before I again fell asleep, but I did.

My Dog in the Wild

The next day we headed up and over a butte to find the little lakes on the other side of it.  We made good time to the top of the ridge, and following deer trails down the other side we soon arrived at a small lake.  Very small.  I wanted to pump water from a bigger, cleaner source.  I hiked past the little lake, and around it, and above it, at times literally dragging my dog behind me.  There are some things even wolves weren’t built to climb.  I finally told my dog to stay put while I looked for a different water source.  He did stay put, and when I returned ten minutes later, he was exactly where I had left him, in the sun as there was no shade, and unconcerned.  My dog was perfectly calm, waiting alone in the wilderness because I had told him to.  I felt swept clean of the concern for water, and washed over with the joy of being so trusted, and the peace of being trustworthy.  I had spied a larger lake nearby.  ‘Found some more water.  Let’s go.’

Back on top of the ridge, we began the return descent.  At one point, my dog stopped to sniff and failed to notice I had headed down through some trees.  Seeing me below him, and anxious to catch up, he raced to the edge of a sheer ten-foot cliff, convinced I must have gone that way.  ‘No! Stop!’  He paused, inches from the edge, and looked at me expectantly.  I didn’t move, just stood there with my hand in the air like I was keeping him from falling by using “the force.”  I finally commanded, ‘Stay,’ then backtracked, moving the direction I wanted him to move.  When I called ‘come,’ he ran away from the edge and down through the trees, happy to be again at my feet.  Test number three: do not panic. Ever.  You can’t help others, or yourself, when you’re panicking.  We both made it back to camp alive.

The next day we rested, and the following morning, I packed up and we headed home.  I had been reflecting on all we had experienced, and what I had learned, when my dog stopped behind me, sniffing toward the nearby creek.  I scanned for movement, but saw none.  We continued, but ten seconds later he stopped again, sniffing the air.  I looked toward the creek again.  Mama Bear and I saw each other at the same moment, and we both froze.  She and her beautiful cub glowed black against the forest growth, and I was both terrified and thrilled by the sight.  What was it people say about bears?  That they run away from you, unless they feel the need to protect their cubs.  ‘God, what do I do?’  Then she was off.  Within three seconds, she had huffed and grunted away from us as fast as she could while not one, but two little cubs scaled two enormous pine trees near us.  I grabbed my dog, who hadn’t moved, and proceeded at a steady pace down the trail, determined to look neither threat nor prey to the no doubt not-far-off mama.  Test number two again: do not let fear control you.  That’s an important one, which I got the opportunity to pass twice.  I knew she was not coming after us.  I knew we would be a safe distance away by the time she came back for her cubs.  That knowledge did not stop me from inadvertently sending my dog the signal that we flee for our lives when we see bears.  After a good half mile, I stopped, calmed myself, and told him out loud that we are not afraid of bears, we are not running for our lives, and stop tripping me trying to blaze past me down the mountain.  It worked.  We were both calm again.  Calmish.

Our rite of passage now felt complete.  We had passed the tests, and we emerged from the wilderness stronger, unafraid, grown up.

Sunrise on the Last Morning

A Note from the Webmaster: Writers Forum has the author’s permission to publish this work. The author retains full copyright ownership and protection. This work may not be reproduced or used in any way without the permission of the author.  If  you’re a member in good standing, please consider submitting a piece of your work to share.  Essays, poems, songs, articles and any other stand alone pieces are welcome.  To submit your piece, please e-mail it to webmaster, Alicia McCauley, at writersforumwebmaster@gmail.com.   Members featured here are guests in our Writers Forum house.  Treat them as such in the comments section and enjoy this beautiful thing we call writing.

Member Monday: Home Alone by Jim Barrett

Welcome to Member Monday!  It’s a pleasure to feature Writers Forum member Jim Barrett.

Jim Barrett

Author’s Biography:  Jim is a retired captain with the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department in California after nearly 31 years of service. During that time, Jim spent years in detectives, investigating all matter of crime from burglaries to murder. Jim is the author of three other published books, one optioned screen play and a collection of short stories which is soon to be published. He makes his home in Northern California and Idaho. Jim’s website is www.maduncanbook.com.

Home Alone

by Jim Barrett

I rode saddle broncs for about eight years. Almost made it to the National Finals – that is til I met a horse called Buck-for-Luck in Red Bluff, California. That som-bitch planted me bad – broke me up so’s the doctor told me my riding days were done. Said I could climb back on, but expect to spend the rest of my life shittin’ in a diaper. Man got my attention, so I went lookin’ for other work. That’s entirely how I ended up working on the dude string. I mean, I wanted to work in the horse biz, sorta have a love of them big animals and there are just not that many opportunities out there.

Running Q Ranch hired me on. It’s up out of Ojai, in the Las Padres Forest. Nice country – but not the big tree country like Northern California but Chaparral brush, with some pines and of course the Sespe River. “The Q” as we called it was a different sorta dude ranch. Because the people who rode up there were actual deeded owners, we sent them out by themselves. Most were out of Los Angeles, and didn’t know squat about horses. But, I gotta admit, they were game to try. Of course, we gave them a short test before we put ‘em aboard. I mean real short—like if you’re lookin’ over their ears you’re probably sittin’ facin’ the right direction.

The ranch had a string of nice horses. Most were cooperative, suffered quietly through the indignities of gunsels on their back jerkin’ on their faces. But not all.

I met Bully on the second day I worked there. He was a big red half-thorough bred Gelding, stood near seventeen hands. Like I said, a big boy. Had a nice kind eye, just wanted to get along in the world best way he knew how. Now most of the folks who come out to ride are just as nice as can be. But ever so often, you get a jerk. I mean, ain’t that sorta like life. Assholes are out there. On this day, a guy shows up in a cloud of dust, driving too fast and jumps out of his BMW and wants to ride, like right now. I look him over real quick, smile to myself as I check out his shoe—penny loafers. He’s real obnoxious like, pushy—can’t wait for others who’ve been waiting before him to ride. Like I said, just being a jerk.  Pete, the other wrangler who has worked at The Q forever, nods at the man and heads into the barn. Out comes Bully, walking quietly on the lead line. Pete saddles the big horse, and says, “Have a nice ride,” as he hands him the reins.

When the man rides away, all quiet like at the walk, Pete just shakes his head and smiles to himself.  We both go back to saddling more of the string horses.

About an hour later, ole Bully comes meandering into the barn which is no big deal ‘cept there’s no rider. Pete catches him up and takes him into the barn and unsaddles him, brushes him quickly and puts the horse away in his stall. Since it’s only my second day, I’m a little concerned about this horse showing up without its passenger, so I walk in to talk to Pete.

“Ah, Pete—do we have to do something here?” I ask, all nervous like.

“Whatcha mean?”

“With Bully or the guy riding him.”

“I all ready took care of the horse,” he leaned against Bully’s stall door.

“What about…”

“The dude. Well if he don’t show up we’ll go take a look.”

I sighed, decided that if Pete, who’d worked at The Q forever, or did I already say that—wasn’t worried then I guess I shouldn’t. Still…

“Bully do that before?” I asked, now just making conversation.

“Bully? I don’t call this horse Bully. He’s known, sorta unofficially around here as Home Alone. We save him for certain folks. You’ll figure out who they are after you’ve worked here awhile.”

“Ah, I got it,” I said, turning and walking out of the barn to help a lady mount a horse.

A Note from the Webmaster: Writers Forum has the author’s permission to publish this work. The author retains full copyright ownership and protection. This work may not be reproduced or used in any way without the permission of the author.  If  you’re a member in good standing, please consider submitting a piece of your work to share.  Essays, poems, songs, articles and any other stand alone pieces are welcome.  To submit your piece, please e-mail it to webmaster, Alicia McCauley, at writersforumwebmaster@gmail.com.   Members featured here are guests in our Writers Forum house.  Treat them as such in the comments section and enjoy this beautiful thing we call writing.

Proposed Bylaw Amendment for Membership Dues

Today’s post about a proposed Writers Forum bylaw amendment comes from the desk of our illustrious president Larry Watters.

Proposed Amendment to Bylaws

Currently:
8.1 Annual dues of $20 are due on January 1 and become delinquent on March 1 of the same year. Dues are payable in full for all, or any part of the current fiscal year at the time of payment.

Exceptions: High school students and college students shall be required to pay ten dollars ($10) annual dues. Initiation fees are waived. These members shall be entitled to receive the newsletter, attend and vote at meetings, and participate in all activities connected with the organization.

Amend to:
8.1 Annual dues of $20 are due on anniversary of joining, and become delinquent two (2) months later.

Exceptions: High school and college students shall be required to pay ten dollars ($10) dues. These members shall be entitled to receive the newsletter, attend and vote at meetings, and participate in all activities connected with the organization.

Note: Upon amending, all members that joined after January shall be accorded renewal dates of the month they joined.

Advantages:
1. Members joining later in the year will get a full year’s worth of privileges.
2. The potential loss of prospective members, who opt to not join because it is late in the year and to join later and forget or lose interest, will be avoided.
Disadvantages:
1. Minor increase in workload of Membership Director.

September Writers Forum Meeting: Knowing What to Take Away and What to Add with Kimberly Carlson

author Kimberly Carlson

We had a full house at our September Writers Forum meeting.  Welcome to all of our new members and welcome back to all of our regular and returning members.  It was great to see you again.

Kimberly Carlson wowed us with readings from her new book, Out of the Shadows.  She also walked us through her personal philosophy of revision.  The line that keeps resonating with me is, “I revise not to make perfect; but to make full, passionate, enjoyable, uncomfortable and truthful-all things human.”

Can I get an amen?

I’ll leave you with this last thought from Kimberly, “Art can motivate humans to move, to react to change.”

Kimberly signed and sold copies of her latest book Out of Shadows. Click the photo to purchase your own copy.

We’re looking forward to seeing you at our October meeting!

2012 Authors Fair Update

Applications continue to arrive for the 2012 Authors Fair on November 10 at the Mt. Shasta Mall. To reserve your table or half-table, use this link to download the registration application.

We are quite excited about this year’s fair. If you are not an author, be sure to drop by from 10 to 4 to chat with authors, and of course, buy their wares and get their books signed. We’d love your help working at the Writers Forum table and/or relieving the authors as needed.  Leave a comment with your name and phone number if you’re interested in helping out for an hour or so.  This will be a great gift buying opportunity before the holidays.

See ya’ there!

Member Monday: Dark and Stormy Night, with Apologies to Snoopy by Larry Watters

Welcome back to Member Monday!  It’s a pleasure to feature Larry Watters, President of Writers Forum.

Dark and Stormy Night, with Apologies to Snoopy

by: Larry Watters

“It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”

So starts the first of a long line of stories that use variations of the phrase “dark and stormy night.”

Of clichéd openings, this is one of the most well-known. However, most attribute it to Snoopy in the Peanuts strips by Charles Schultz. The first time Snoopy typed the phrase was July 12, 1965. Its cousin, “He was a dark and stormy knight,” has also been used by Schultz; I imagine when he thought the readers couldn’t stand one more night.

But it actually belongs to Edward George Bulwer-Lytton from the novel Paul Clifford way back in 1830. Bulwer-Lytton, a Victorian novelist, poet, playwright, and politician, lived from 1803 to 1873.

It spawned the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, a tongue-in-cheek contest that takes place annually and is sponsored by the English Department of San José State. Entrants are invited “to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels” — that is, deliberately bad. A prize of $250 is awarded.

If you are a beginning writer, and are stuck for an opening for your mystery thriller, there are ways to not have it recognized as a cliché if you use a thesaurus.

First look at the word dark (when used as an adjective).

The built-in Thesaurus for Microsoft Word has, sinister, gloomy, and, surprisingly, brunette. Merriam-Webster Online has added, among others, darksome, dusky, murky, obscure, and somber.  Thesaurus.com starts out a little weird with aphotic, atramentous, then gets common with black, and then weird again with caliginous, Cimmerian. Imagine; all these for dark.

The word stormy (as a weather adjective) is far less complicated.

Your built-in Word Thesaurus lists tempestuous and wild. MW Online follows up with pouring, blustery, brutal, harsh, unsettled, and windswept. Thesuarus.com suggests blustery, boisterous, coming down, foul, howling, raining cats and dogs, and rip-roaring.

As a noun, night is quite limited. In fact, it is hard to think of nouns as having synonyms, but the Word program has nighttime, Webster has dark and darkness, and Thesaurus.com rocks on with after hours, bedtime, before dawn, dead of night, nightfall, and witching hour.

With these in mind, it is hard not to come up with: “It was an inky and rip-roaring dark.”

But the sentence itself is redundant to begin with; nights are dark! So it all boils down to a simple “It’s a stormy night” or, if you will, “It’s a raining cats and dog bedtime.”

A Note from the Webmaster: Writers Forum has the author’s permission to publish this work. The author retains full copyright ownership and protection. This work may not be reproduced or used in any way without the permission of the author.  If you’re a member in good standing, please consider submitting a piece of your work to share.  Essays, poems, songs, articles and any other stand alone pieces are welcome.  To submit your piece, please e-mail it to webmaster, Alicia McCauley, at writersforumwebmaster@gmail.com.   Members featured here are guests in our Writers Forum house.  Treat them as such in the comments section and enjoy this beautiful thing we call writing.

Member Monday: Something of Hope by Linda Boyden

Hooray for Member Monday!  It’s my pleasure to share a beautiful piece by the multi-talented Linda Boyden.

Authors Note: In 2001, my husband and I lived on Maui, Hawai’i. We had just begun renovations to the master bathroom when the 9/11 tragedy stopped our country in its tracks. I was far removed from NYC and D.C. but still it was hard to concentrate on anything else. Life returned to normal slowly, but as I watched the men tearing down our large tub, seeing the piles of concrete debris reminded me everyday of what was happening to the Twin Towers. Remarkably, in the rubble in our house, I discovered a hidden treasure and I had to write about it. -Linda Boyden

Something of Hope

Like most Hawaiians, the news came to my house at 5 a.m. on the morning of September 11, 2001. The phone rang and my neighbor’s voice said, “New York City has been attacked. Turn on the TV.”Incredulous, my husband and I watched as the scenes replayed themselves in a Mobius strip of horror: New York City, Washington, D.C., and the crash of Flight 93 in rural Pennsylvania. We spent the next few days numb, as empty as the blue skies over Maui.Perfect and clear as ever, but devoid of jets and helicopters, the skies whispered a bleak message: not only were the tourists stranded, we residents were, too. Isolated from the mayhem, yes, but alone in the wide blue sea.By the end of the first week, leaders and experts told us to return to normal. As if it were a place, I thought, say Normal, Oklahoma. Or Normal, Nevada, or maybe a hamlet in Idaho, but certainly nowhere back East, where we both were born, where many of our relatives and friends still lived, where I was sure nothing would be normal for a long, long time.

With the air ban lifted, my husband and his crew returned to their work on Kaho’olawe Island.

I tried. Since I worked from home as a writer, the first step toward normal was to turn off the television and get back to my writing project. Yet, I couldn’t write. My thoughts refused to be threaded into anything coherent.

Worse, I couldn’t read, my lifeline to sanity since first grade. Amid divorce, financial woes, and the years of being held “captive” by a houseful of teens, a good book had always anchored me, served as a beacon through any trouble, but not that first week.

Sure, I read a sentence here, a paragraph there, but not a whole page. So I resorted to manual labor.

A few days before the attack, we had begun a home improvement project. Our master bathroom had boasted a six foot long, three foot deep, red tile bathtub––a virtual koi pond of a tub, but without jets and heater, and therefore utterly useless.

As soon as it filled with water––tons of water by the way––the temperature was tepid at best and then turned frigid, even on a tropical island! The contractor showed us the reason: beneath its lovely exterior, the tub was solid concrete.

The workers demolished it within an hour, their heavy artillery, jackhammers rat-a-tat-tatting through concrete.

The resulting rubble resembled a miniature of the scenes portrayed on the news. A hill of debris stood in lieu of the tub, my beautiful bathroom, like the City, a far cry from its former self.

I donned work gloves and began to shovel the mess into a wheelbarrow to be loaded into the pickup for an eventual dump run.

As I shoveled, my thoughts drifted to the NYC rescue workers. The dust, even from so little concrete, infiltrated as far away as the living room at the opposite end of our sprawling house. In the work area, it stung eyes, nose and throat. I wheezed and consumed gallons of water.

Beyond those discomforts was the actual physical labor, the slow, back-breaking effort of lifting shovelful after shovelful of heavy material. I had designed my entire life avoiding things like Algebra and manual work, but in that mid September, it actually did me good. Good to use my body. Good to let my mind rest.

Then I discovered it.

In the next shovelful, one red tile, unscathed…four precise corners and four unchinked sides hidden in the wreckage. I held it to the light, swiped it on my shirt: how had it survived jackhammer, sledgehammer and workmen’s boots?

I had no use for it, a single red tile, but I put it aside anyway because…? Because something pretty had survived.

By the end of the day, I miraculously found twelve such tiles, each as unexpected as a violet blooming in the snow.

I told myself then and tell myself now, when difficult years wind down and the approaching New Year waits uncertain: dig through the sorrow, find a piece of joy and rekindle something of hope.

To learn more about Linda Boyden or purchase her books, please visit her website.

Linda showcases her books at the 2011 Author’s Fair.

A Note from the Webmaster: Writers Forum has the author’s permission to publish this work. The author retains full copyright ownership and protection. This work may not be reproduced or used in any way without the permission of the author.  If you’re a member in good standing, please consider submitting a piece of your work to share.  Essays, poems, songs, articles and any other stand alone pieces are welcome.  To submit your piece, please e-mail it to webmaster, Alicia McCauley, at writersforumwebmaster@gmail.com.   Members featured here are guests in our Writers Forum house.  Treat them as such in the comments section and enjoy this beautiful thing we call writing.