The new book: Whisker

Watercolor by Andrea Penovac

Watercolor and Ink by Endre Penovac

My writing life has been taking a back seat to my gardening life for awhile but it’s still alive. The final edit for Leona the Part-Time Fairy is complete–the story re-read and last edits made to hard copy. Those edits are now being incorporated into a final Scrivener word document. I do believe Leona will FiNALLY be on-line by May.

But editing isn’t exactly a writing life, is it? It’s an important part of writing, but it isn’t the part that goes exploring in the cave that is the mind: the most important part. Only interior exploration keeps new words and new thoughts coming to life, alchemizing them into new characters and new stories. Early mornings I’ve turned my mind to writing a little book about a small cat. I’m calling the book WHISKER.

Whisker will be illustrated, I think, although it’s not exactly a picture book. It will be too long for that–about 10K. It’s about a kitten who doesn’t have an easy start in life. Here is Chapter One.

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WHISKER – by M L S Baisch © 2016

CHAPTER ONE

At the end of a long narrow alley, boxed in on both sides by very tall brick buildings towering so high above that when you finally saw the sky it was only as big as an envelope you might find in your mailbox, behind a garbage can sitting close by a green door, there was a kitten. It was huddled close to the ground trying to stay dry, as it was pouring rain. The wind raced down the alley in a hurry until it hit the brick wall, ricocheted off it, and was redirected back again—but not before it found its way behind the garbage can where the kitten crouched. It was a very small, and very gray kitten. And it was shivering, probably because it was frightened as well as because it was cold. The day was very gray and the cold was very harsh, and the shivering kitten was in a very bad place. This was no neighborhood for a small kitten, even on a good day, and so far this hadn’t been a good day at all.

Yesterday, was a better day. In fact it was a delightful day full of good things like a warm bed with the warm bodies of his brothers and sisters snuggled close, and warm milk, and sunshine coming in through the window, and his mother’s warm tongue washing his ears. Then, this morning, while the brothers and sisters still slept, his mother hissed quietly that he was to follow her. One thing led to another until here he was abandoned in this terrible circumstance.

“I’m sorry,” Mama had said, “but you are an embarrassment. You don’t fit in to the family. I’ve waited, hoping that you would change. But you are two months old now and still just as strange as the day you were born.”

Hearing that didn’t make the kitten feel very good. In fact, he hung his head feeling terrible. His mother was ashamed of him. He didn’t really understand why, and so he asked her, “But, what have I done? What’s wrong with me? Why don’t I fit in?”

“Done?” she repeated. “I don’t imagine you’ve done anything at all, son. It’s just what you are. I don’t suppose you can help it.”

“If I can’t help it, how can it be so terrible?”

“It just is, that’s all,” Mama said. “And I can’t have it. When you’re older and can’t be kept out of sight, people will laugh at you, and they will make fun of you, and it will be very hard for your brothers and sisters.”

“I can see that it will be hard for me,” the kitten said, “but why will it be hard for my brothers and sisters?”

“And me,” said Mama.

“You, too?”

“Yes. Me too.”

“I don’t want anyone to have a problem because of me, but I don’t understand why they would. Why you would.”

“Have you looked in a mirror, my son?”

Well, the kitten didn’t have any idea what mirrors were, and he hadn’t looked into one. If he had, perhaps he would have understood what his mother was talking about. After all, he knew what his brothers and sisters looked like, and his mother. If he had seen his own face, he would have noticed. He had only one whisker. It was rather high on his right cheek, closer to his ear than his nose. He knew it was there: how could he not know? In fact, he liked to stroke it, especially when he was going to sleep. But he had no idea that it was strange to have just one whisker or that anyone would be ashamed to know him because of it. Now that he did know it, he was feeling very low. All he could think of to say, once he understood the problem, was, “Oh.”

Mama cat wasn’t feeling very happy either, but she had to do what she felt was in the best interest of the family. Still, she didn’t want to leave her strange son without a few words of comfort and advice.

“You will be fine if you just don’t draw a lot of attention to yourself. Cats like the nighttime, anyway. In the dark, no one will see that you only have one whisker. It would be a good idea for you to stay out of sight in the daytime.”

“I think I will be lonely,” the kitten said. “I’m already lonely. I like to play with my brothers and sisters. And I like warm milk and the sunshine coming through the window.”

Not wanting her son to be completely demoralized, Mama said, “I’m sure you will find a nice life and many comforts. It will just take some time.”

The kitten felt a little better hearing those words.

“Now, I have to be going. It’s starting to rain.”

It was starting to rain, but Mama gave her little son one last fond lick and told him to be a good kitten.

“Wait!” the kitten called as Mama turned tail to go. “Who am I?”

“What do you mean? You are a kitten.”

“But what is my name?”

“You want to have a name?” Mama cat had to stop and think about that. Names were given to kittens by people, not by mother cats. She didn’t have the heart to tell her little son that he didn’t have a name. His life was going to be hard enough. She said, “Why your name, of course, is Whisker.”

2016 © M L S Baisch
This book will be published by shooflyranchpress

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I have no graphics for WHISKER yet. But I love this series of watercolor and ink cats by Endre Penovac. There are more of them than I’m including here. These Penovac cats prove how effective simple can be. To achieve simplicity is actually very difficult.

Watercolor by Andrea Penovac

Watercolor and Ink by Endre Penovac

andreaPenovac-cat9 andreaPenovac-cat12

A sense of connection . . .

Oliver Sacks

Oliver Sacks

“I have been able to see my life as from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape, and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts,” Oliver Sacks – the “poet laureate of contemporary medicine”

 
Whatever else we are, we are our thoughts; and it is our thoughts that take us from one place to another–whether the place is an actual place, an emotional place, a metaphorical place, a place conjured up from memory, or a place divined to be in the future . . . there are many places, and they all reside within us. We go where we choose to go. And we do it so often, so thoughtlessly, so effortlessly most of the time that it escapes awareness: we forget that we are choosing.
 
Eventually, for some at least, the time comes when the internal life becomes at least as important as the external life, and that internal landscape takes on a life of it’s own. The past shapes itself into patterns, into countries; rivers run through it, and highways tend to lead one on to familiar places and back again: it is, indeed, a landscape with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts.
When, if, that time comes, there is no need to be ‘on the go’ all the time. The going becomes an internal event at least as interesting as any place one could possibly travel to in reality. The good earth becomes smaller–the garden is as interesting as foreign lands. The good life is counted in cats and chickens, beetles and frogs more than in Cadillacs and mansions, six-figure jobs and exotic vacations.
 
On the other hand, when that time comes, it’s not a bad thing to have had a fancy car or an exotic vacation. There is no experience, no possession, no relationship that is not precious; that can not be alchemized into something more than it was.
 
M L S Baisch

Salinger in the context of a writing life.

SALINGER28-600x910I’ve been re-reading J D Salinger–9 Stories and Franny and Zooey. Why? First, because I’ve read to the end of all the books I have in my possession, so far, in the Master’s of Rome series (Colleen McCullough). Second, because . . . ooooo me, there are so many reasons why to re-read Salinger! Did you know that he was in intelligence in WWII (not C.I.A.)? He was in Paris mopping up (detaining Nazi sympathizers) after the war–where he met with Hemingway.  Did you know Hemingway was his friend/mentor? Mostly people know that he was an inveterate recluse, later in his life, who, it was said, had ‘strange’ ideas about religion/God.

We, the reading public, don’t pay so much attention to the part about HE WROTE ALL THE TIME–in hotel rooms, in foxholes; but we writers should. Salinger was a writer. He wrote. He rewrote. He submitted and was published early on–in Story, The New Yorker. He mostly wrote short stories. Even his longer work was derived from his short stories. Franny and Zooey was rejected by publishers because ‘they didn’t get it.’ So, what am I getting at? Did he care? He was a writer–he cared! Did he change his story, edit out the Salinger in it? What do you think?

Why should it matter to know that Salinger wrote in foxholes. The point is that he WAS IN the foxhole. It’s important that writers have something to write about. If you read Franny and Zooey you may not think you’re reading about foxholes, but you are. The sum total of the writer comes through to the writing, and for that reason it’s important to live–and to write at the same time.

The real question is why do we writers write. I imagine most of the men you found writing in foxholes in WWII were writing letters home; they weren’t writing short stories. I imagine if someone was writing a short story in a foxhole, he wasn’t particularly concerned about whether or not the story was going to be published; he was writing because he had a story to tell. For me, that answers the question: why do we writers write. And isn’t it interesting the Salinger’s foxhole stories didn’t seem to be about soldiers in foxholes? Not any that I’ve read. The imagination refines the material of the storyteller into gold: alchemy!

The real question is why do we writers write. I imagine most of the men you found writing in foxholes in WWII were writing letters home; they weren’t writing short stories. I imagine if someone was writing a short story in a foxhole, he wasn’t particularly concerned about whether or not the story was going to be published; he was writing because he had a story to tell. For me, that answers the question: why do we writers write. And isn’t it interesting the Salinger’s foxhole stories didn’t seem to be about soldiers in foxholes? Not any that I’ve read. The imagination refines the material of the storyteller into gold: alchemy!

Salinger lived to be 91 years old, he died in 2010. It’s said that he continued to write, although nothing was published after 1950, that I can find, except a collection of stories in 1965. It’s said that nothing will be published until 50 years after his death. I should live so long.

M L S Baisch