The Henna Artist’s bighearted Alka Joshi on saris, plus my wedding henna

“When’s the last time you read something unapologetically pro-choice — & that’s as empowering as it is romantic? Me? Never. Can’t wait for Joshi’s next book! Wish there were more novels that discuss pro-choice issues head-on. Enchanting story set in 1950s India from women’s point of view about the choices we’re given and how much we can make with them. Audiobook narrator Sneha Mathan is marvelous!”

~ My review of The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi for Amazon and Goodreads

I absolutely adore books (after all, I’m writing two)! Whenever I finish reading an exceptional novel, I review it on Goodreads and Amazon. Sure, not all stories resonate with me. As a tender-hearted author, I know too well the blood/sweat/tears that even a crappy book demands, so I don’t review those.

Then I email the novelist to thank them for making my life more thoughtful and maybe even fun. Ditto for any audiobook performer involved. Some thank me back, and on the days my stars are truly aligned, they agree to contribute to Happiness Between Tails.

Anyone who doesn’t read The Henna Artist is missing out. Clearly it’s written by a generous spirit. Just glance through Alka’s website and Youtube channel, where she lauds other authors to the extent that poses with their books! Here she is, holding Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic as she says how grateful she is for it. Btw, I love that book too, so she’s got good taste to her credit as well lol 🙂

Bighearted author Alka Joshi lauds Bighearted author Alka Joshi lauds “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert in a video.

Allow me to digress a moment: Henna, oh, henna, you magical green powder! You enhance my hair, and you make lovely tattoos!…

Photo of da-AL's henna-tattooed hands. The day before I got married, I went to Los Angeles’ Little India for these gorgeous henna tattoos.

They’re far more forgiving than the permanent ink ones, and brides aren’t allowed to do housework until they’ve worn off…

Photo of my henna tattooed hands and feet. I needed just the right sandals to show off my enhanced tootsies!

Dusting off my photos to show you these provided an excuse to reconnect with Chris Miller, the super-talented photographer (check out her Instagram too) who was beyond kind to gift them to my sweetie and me. Back when she shot them, we both worked for the Beach Reporter, a Manhattan Beach community weekly. I reported on Hermosa Beach and, In addition to her work as an event fotog, at the time she was the publication’s photojournalist.

Wedding party photo of Khashayar and da-AL. It seems like yesterday when you’re having fun…

Back to our esteemed guest: Alka was born in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India. At the age of nine, she moved to the U.S. As a Stanford University grad, she’s worked in advertising and PR, and owned a marketing consultancy. On top of all that, she has a Creative Writing MFA from Cal Arts San Francisco. The Henna Artist is her first book. In way less than a year, it’s a huge success! The sequel, The Secret Keeper of Jaipur, is set for July, plus the third book in the trilogy for 2022. And — she’s an executive producer for the novel’s upcoming Miramax TV series!

Read on for her thoughts on women in India. Note that it’s not just India — unfortunately, I’ve met women architects in the U.S. who encounter discrimination here too…

Alka Joshi, author of Alka Joshi, author of “The Henna Artist” and more!…

“The Sari vs. Modern India” by Alka Joshi

In January 2019, the Architecture faculty at Ansal University in Gurgaon, just outside New Delhi, received an email from the registrar to attend a convocation.

Architecture faculty at Ansal University in Gurgaon's news bulletin board. Architecture faculty at Ansal University in Gurgaon’s news bulletin board.

It requested formal dress: “trouser, coat and tie for men” and “saris for women.”

Students wear western clothes. Students wear western clothes.

This sparked a lively, funny, albeit very polite, conversation on WhatsApp among the female faculty, who normally wear trousers, Western blouses/tops, or salwar kameez (long tunics with legging-like bottoms) most days.

“I may not wear a sari…I don’t even own one!”

“I do not even know how to wear a sari.”

“[I’m] not against saris. But at 7:30 in the morning, especially when I’m not used to it is definitely a challenge.”

“Can’t tie one at 7am and drive…and get through the day!”

“No sari. Impossible to wear and report at 7:30 in the morning.”

“Why a sari at all?”

“If the women must wear a sari, wouldn’t a *dhoti be more in sync for the men?”

*(Now mostly worn by village men, a dhoti is a white cloth from five to seven yards in length, wrapped loosely around the legs and tied in a knot at the waist. While dhotis have gone out of fashion, saris are still a mainstay of female couture for weddings, special occasions and family gatherings.)

This Adjunct Prof of Architecture chose to leave her sari (if she has one) at home. This Adjunct Prof of Architecture chose to leave her sari (if she has one) at home.

“We are all sensible enough to know what to wear. Most of us might even have worn saris to the event without being asked. But when you tell us exactly what to wear, we are going to have something to say,” laughs Monisha Sharma, associate professor. “Our Dean, who is female, told us to just look as smart as we do every day, so that’s what we’ll do.”

Associate Professor Monisha Sharma prefers a salwar kameez over a sari when she’s teaching. Associate Professor Monisha Sharma prefers a salwar kameez over a sari when she’s teaching.

In addition to teaching in the Architecture school, these women are working architects. At construction sites they are often greeted with curious expressions: Can women really be architects? Are these women here to tell us what to do?

One professor told me that she had organized a site visit to a factory for her students. When they got to the site, the founder only responded to the junior male faculty who had accompanied her, choosing not to acknowledge her at all. 

Similarly, a female architect who was managing a project for her father’s structural engineering firm was not being consulted by the construction team until her father ordered them to talk only to her. She was, after all, the project manager and the only one who could answer their questions.

Architecture Professor in India. “At 7:30 in the morning, I don’t have time to gather and pleat a sari. It’s a lot of work!”

To someone like me, who’s been raised in the West since the age of nine, it’s surprising that the women’s reaction is not anger (that would have been my response, along with bewilderment and confusion). 

Instead, the Indian women laugh it off. “We have already made our mark in our profession,” they say. “We don’t need to hit them over the head with it.”

At the convocation, the female faculty wore Western trouser suits. Not a sari in sight.

There’s more than one way to make a statement.

Are dress codes unbiased where you work?…

Mythical Greek Inspo for Writers (Made Easy) by Dionysius

Victory of Samothrace ready for liftoff at the top of the Louvre’s entrance. By Lyokoï88 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39152792
Victory of Samothrace ready for liftoff at the top of the Louvre’s entrance. By Lyokoï88 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39152792

Melodrama, romance, intrigue, mystery, mysticism, pragmatism — oh, wait, not the last one… If you’re looking for inspiration for writing or for reading excitement, check out Greek mythology!

Goddesses and gods, mortals, the blending of both — doesn’t that sound like Stan Lee comicbook territory? Surely he sorted through ancient myths to fashion superheroines and superheroes. Star Trek and Star Wars makers must’ve too.

Admittedly the Greek tales of olden times can be challenging. Every poetically written story is jam-packed with enough intrigue to rival a binge-watch of Days of Lives, a still-running daily soap opera that first aired in 1965 and I once upon a time worked as an extra for… but that’s another story.

South Carolina blogger Dionysius has the same monicker as the multi-cultural god/superhero who oversees everything from wine to fertility and ecstasy to madness. Some argue that Dionysus the god is really Jesus. Our guest, Dionysius, created his New Classical blog “to create a new contemporary literature deeply rooted in classic literary traditions… not to repeat old and dead literary traditions, but to rediscover what is living and vibrant in them today.”

Read on for a peek into how Dionysius sees classic literature… 

Bacchus by Charles Lucy (English, 1692 - 1767). Courtesy of Wikipedia. Bacchus by Charles Lucy (English, 1692 – 1767). Courtesy of Wikipedia.

A brief summary and analysis of Euripedes’s “The Bacchae” by Dionysius

Summary

Prior to the events of The Bacchae, Dionysus is born from the love affair of Zeus and the mortal Semele. When he is born, his mortal family denies that he is the son of Zeus and refuses to give him worship. Dionysus then leaves Thebes and journeys to the east, where he gathers his cult of female worshippers, the maenads. The Bacchae opens when he returns to Thebes with his maenads to take vengeance on his family. He starts by luring the Theban women, including his aunts, into the forest around Mt. Cithaeron, where they join the maenads. This angers Pentheus, the king and Agave’s (Semele’s sister) son. After Pentheus fails to arrest and subdue Dionysus and the maenads, he is lured into the forest by Dionysus’s offer to look at them. In order to watch the maenads without being noticed, Dionysus tells him that he must dress as a woman. Pentheus complies and imitates the image and mannerisms of the maenads. When he arrives, his body is torn apart by them and by his own mother. Under the spell of Dionysus, she carries his head through Thebes, parading it, thinking that it is the head of a lion she caught during a hunt. When she is made aware of what she has done and whose head she’s been carrying, she falls into grief. The drama ends with Dionysus casting her and the royal family out of Thebes.

Maenads – The Mystery of Woman

Pentheus being torn by maenads. Roman fresco from the northern wall of the triclinium in the Casa dei Vettii (VI 15,1) in Pompeii. Courtesy of Wiki: Marisa Ranieri Panetta (ed.): Pompeji. Geschichte, Kunst und Leben in der versunkenen Stadt. Belser, Stuttgart 2005, ISBN 3-7630-2266-X, p. 366 Pentheus being torn by maenads. Roman fresco from the northern wall of the triclinium in the Casa dei Vettii (VI 15,1) in Pompeii. Courtesy of Wiki: Marisa Ranieri Panetta (ed.): Pompeji. Geschichte, Kunst und Leben in der versunkenen Stadt. Belser, Stuttgart 2005, ISBN 3-7630-2266-X, p. 366

The Bacchae revolves around the mystery of difference. Particularly sexual difference and cultural difference. This is seen clearly by the depiction of Dionysus’s maenads. That they are a cult of women and that Dionysus gathered them in the east is of significance here. In The Bacchae, the feminine, or the idea of Woman, takes on the form of the unknown. Like a woman behind a veil, there is mystery, temptation, and fear associated with the maenads. This is portrayed most clearly by the way Pentheus relates to them. At first, it is with fear, responding to the maenads with force and violence. Then, when it proves that the feminine is impossible to control or subdue, when the captured maenads escape his prison and most definingly when Dionysus(posing as a young mortal priest) himself escapes, Pentheus gives in to temptation at Dionysus’s first request to take him to look at the maenads. He goes as far as to dress as a woman and imitate their dances and appearances.

The temptation that is displayed here is twofold. It is the temptation not only to satiate his desires by seeing the bodies of the women, but also and more fundamentally, to be one of the maenads and experience their enjoyment. While the first temptation fits into a traditional male standpoint of desire, what is significant about the second temptation is that he is not merely taking the maenads as an object of desire, rather his desire is to assume the subjective position of the maenads, of “Woman” and their feminine enjoyment. What is revealed here is that his anger at the maenads was all along based in his own envy of their enjoyment.

Pentheus never understood what the condition for this enjoyment was.

The very condition for the sublime bliss that Pentheus sought after is a primordial unity of being. An overflow of life and nature. It is because the maenads abandon their individual identities and place in the Theban social order, that they can participate in this primordial unity. Their individuality is suspended for the tribal enjoyment of dance, ritual, hunt, and fertility. They participate seamlessly with nature and become a part of the overflowing development of life. Beyond the enjoyment that Pentheus sought, the “[…] Sweet streams of honey dripping,” this condition, is also at the same time the condition for an inhuman terror. This is displayed most clearly when he is torn apart by his own mother and the other maenads.

Unseen Essence

Four Caryatids at Erechtheum Acropolis, Athens: Wikimedia Commons Four Caryatids at Erechtheum Acropolis, Athens: Wikimedia Commons

What must be remembered is that what appears as purely negative in tragedy also has a positive dimension. This is the pinnacle of Greek tragic wisdom. Why does Woman present itself as the apocalypse of man in this tragedy? It is because of an original betrayal of the feminine reality committed by the mortal family of Dionysus. By his entire family when they initially rejected him, and by Pentheus when he returned. This is what causes the breakdown of the Theban social order and the revenge of Woman.

In the same way that Woman is a constitutive element of the reality of sex, including the reality of man. The Dionysian rituals that the maenads take part in, that return to a primordial being and oneness, are constitutive of the Theban social order. It is even the root of the Theban social order. The unconscious reality of Thebes exists as the basis for its conscious and institutional realities.

It is precisely because the rituals of Dionysus exist outside of Thebes, in the rituals of the maenads on Mt. Cithaeron, that it is the base of Theban society. It is precisely because the maenads are all women whose rituals are constitutive of the male Theban social order. And it is precisely because the maenads come from the east that they constitute the western social order of Thebes. Dionysus and his cult are the external essences of Theban society. Essence, unlike appearance, is always unseen.

Dionysus of the Night

Bacchus and Ariadne by Carlo Maratta: Wikimedia Commons Bacchus and Ariadne by Carlo Maratta: Wikimedia Commons

The place that Dionysus dwells in is the contradiction between appearance and essence.

Dionysus embodies this contradiction. He is returning from the east, and yet he was born in the west. He leads a cult of women, and yet he is a man. He is divine, and yet his mother is mortal. This contradiction is like the black of night, where one thousand stars shine. The failure of his mortal family to respect it, and to respect their own essence, is what leads to the breakdown of Thebes.

Visit Dionysius at his New Classical blog, his Twitter page, and his Facebook page.

I’ve always wanted to put on a cape, stretch out my arms, take a running jump, and whoosh! — feel the wind in my face, inhale the fragrance of treetops as I soar high into the clouds. Picture me Super-da-AL or Winged Victory of Samothrace ready for liftoff at the top of the Louver’s entrance.

What superpower would you want?

Got Inner Critic(s)? Meet Annie’s and mine

Charles Schultz, the creator of “Peanuts,” did other stuff besides that comic strip. It’s said he battled his own gang of gremlins. Lucy, the psychiatrist from hell, for one…
Charles Schultz, the creator of “Peanuts,” made other work besides that comic strip. It’s said he battled his own gang of gremlins. Lucy, the psychiatrist from hell, for one. (Peanuts image courtesy of pixy.org)

My inner jerks specialize in novel writing. Inner criticizing is just the beginning — they’re outer and everywhere.

A tongue-twisting ditty to be sung to whatever tune strikes your fancy:

“Here a critic… There a critic… Everywhere a crit, critty, critical critic…”

Moreover, mine barge in with droves of friends.

Have you got any? If not, how the heck do you pull that off?

I could list mine for days and days: Why you takin’ so long with them books you keep talkin’ ‘bout? Ya really gotta do that instead of this or those things or them stuff right now? Lookie here, there’s this to do that’s way more pressing and tons more fun! You’re wasting your time, so scrap that durned project already, just quit it. What in tarnation gave you the notion you could write anything of interest to anyone but you? People are just being polite when they compliment your work, don’t you know that? Who in their right mind will want to read your novels, much less spend hard-earned cash-ola on them? Seriously, if they do, they won’t finish them. And if they finish them, they won’t talk about them. For sure, if they talk about them, they won’t say anything nice. And promotion — you gotta be kidding me! — what do you know about that?

Some days, those are the nicer things I tell myself.

Read on, and you’ll see how Annie, a blogger from the United States east coast, makes perfect sense when she encourages us to name our inner critics.

Like my own name of da-AL, mine has a hyphenated moniker. “Them” goes by “A-Holes.”

How about you? What’s your inner demon(s) named? Maybe yours and mine could meet for drinks, get really plastered together, and meantime leave us alone for a spell?

More about today’s guest: Annie is a writer of many things, including poetry. In the past, she has even earned some real money from her writing! Here’s her advice — and a question for which I have no answer but send her lots of good wishes in solving it — for all of us. She blogs about whatever she pleases, including stuff that makes her and maybe us laugh…

Annie, a blogger and professional writer, gives her inner critic the one-two punch!
Annie, a blogger and professional writer, knows how to give her inner critic the one-two punch!

“My Attempts to Play Nice With My Inner Critic” by Annie

Whether or not you practice mindfulness meditation, as I have for several years, you are probably familiar with the voice known as the Inner Critic. It’s that part of us that says: “I’m such a dope!” “I’ll never be what I hope to be.” “How could I have done that?” “I just don’t measure up!” “My father/mother was right/wrong about me.” “Sure, I’m doing fine, but that’s because people really don’t know that I’m winging it.” “I’m not bright enough, attractive enough, witty enough, kind enough, tall enough, thin enough, tough enough, strong enough, sensitive enough, thoughtful enough…”

You get the picture. That negative voice has long been with us, often from childhood, from societal messages, maybe from a single cruel teacher, and on and on. I was raised by two loving parents. My mother felt I could do no wrong, but I still recall my father casting a questioning eye on my report card and asking: “What’s this A-minus?” 

The origins of the Inner Critic form a complex topic that I’m barely touching on here. But I know that I’m still the A student who goes nuts when autocorrect incorrectly changes “well” to “we’ll”—and I fail to catch it! Is that worth an iota of energy or distress? Of course not.

The Inner Critic certainly interferes with the goal of mindfulness coined by Jon Kabat-Zinn: “the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.” Nonjudgmentally, indeed!

Several years ago, I wrote an article about mindfulness for an online women’s magazine. One of my interviewees was Sharon Salzberg, a renowned mindfulness educator and author who cofounded the highly regarded Insight Meditation Society at Barre, Massachusetts with two other giants in the field.

Salzberg’s special area of interest is lovingkindness, which begins with one’s self and then extends outward in ever larger circles to loved ones, friends, acquaintances, and the entire world.

Salzberg, who has written that her childhood troubles started her on a path that led to Buddhism in India decades ago, said she is constantly aware of her Inner Critic. How to deal with this negativity? She suggests giving your Inner Critic a name.

She named hers Lucy, after the famous Charles Schulz comic character who tells her hapless friend: “The problem with you, Charlie Brown, is that you’re you.” I asked her if I could adopt Lucy, and she agreed.

But I soon realized that borrowing someone else’s inner critic doesn’t work. I needed my own. I named her “Flibberty,” which is short for “flibbertigibbet.” That’s a Middle English term for a flighty, excessively talkative person, a gossip.

One of the reasons I’m happy with Flibberty is that although she’s a pain in the gut (that’s where I experience stress), her name includes the word “liberty.” I know I must free myself from the heavy burdens that Flibberty sometimes bestows upon me. 

Mindfulness practitioners learn that you never try to fight with these negative forces; doing so simply enlarges their impact. Rather, you seek peaceful coexistence. When Flibberty rears her officious head, I say, “Oh, there you are, Flibberty. How ya doing?” That’s generally enough to move my mind into a better place.

Lately, however, perhaps because I’m essentially housebound due to COVID-19, Flibberty has been flitting about in my vicinity quite a bit. I’d call her a “FlitBit” who’s gauging my absence of activity, rather than the reverse, but then I’d be exposing my propensity for bad puns. I’d never want to do that!

Flibberty covets my desk. She tells me I’m being ridiculous, working in such a messy space. She laughs knowingly when my TV remote won’t work because the old New Yorker magazines are piled so high on the table in front of my couch that they block the signal.

Now here’s the tricky part, and I welcome your suggestions. I often write blog posts that require research, and I type them on my computer before cutting and pasting them into my blog. I then add the printouts of my collected newspaper and magazine articles—and my printed out computer entries—to the piles of previous papers that surround me.

The piles are increasing in both numbers and height. Some are approaching the tottering stage. 

Have you heard of the Collyer brothers, who hoarded books, newspapers, and other items to such an extent that when their bodies were found, they were surrounded by 140 tons of stuff? 

I haven’t reached that level, but I do wonder whether my Inner Critic’s reminders about what I’m failing to do with my papers might actually be positive after all. So I say, “OK, Flibberty, let’s attack this pile.”

I pick up a bunch of papers, look through them, wonder what to do with them, and set them aside. And then I tell Flibberty that I appreciate her concern, I really do, and I will get to them in good time.

I feel so much better. Flibberty is quiet.

But the piles are flourishing—testimony to my diligent work. And still…

If we weren’t in the middle of a pandemic, I might hire an organizer to help me through this mini-crisis. If I were bolder, I could just throw all the papers into the shredder and move on. (Never mind, Flibberty; forget what I said about being bolder.) 

And thereby hangs my dilemma. Can you, kind readers, presumably some of whom are better organized than I, provide some common-sense suggestions concerning what I do and do not need to keep for posterity? I want to ensure that the contents of my blog are intact as a legacy for my family.

Or will you encourage me to just say, “Screw it, Flibberty. We’re doing fine. We can both relax.”

In other words, am I using Flibberty as a balm—or an excuse?

Flibberty and disorder notwithstanding, my wish is that you, we, and the entire world be filled with lovingkindness…

Annie

How about you? Got an inner critic to comment on below?…

Gandhi, Hitler, a Book, & Dog/God by da-AL plus Cheryl Batavia’s poem

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” — supposedly Mahatma Gandhi said that. (Isn’t this picture of him great? He’s drafting a document at Birla House, Mumbai, August 1942. My novel-writer side can’t help but wonder if he knew that writing longhand enhances creativity — and I bet intelligence!) First off, he didn’t….

Gandhi drafting a document at Birla House, Mumbai, August 1942.
By Kanu Gandhi – gandhiserve.org, Public Domain.

Second off, if anyone said it, is it true? I love animals and have followed a vegetarian diet for years. All the same, I’m definitely nowhere near a saint, particularly given my now-and-again deviations into the hypocracy of eating fish. My father was wicked to his family, yet tears rolled down his cheeks when he heard that local geese were slaughtered. Hitler and was a vegetarian for the last part of his life. And he adored his dog, Blondi

Photo of Hitler with a dog.
Hitler & dog. Photo by Bundesarchiv, B 145 Bild-F051673-0059 / CC-BY-SA, CC BY-SA 3.0 de

What I know for sure is that when I see someone acting kindly toward an animal, it makes me feel like there’s a soul somewhere within their despicableness…

Scratch the last paragraph — that was just my lazy brain leaning on clichés to please you with niceties, gentle reader. It was my typing falling into well-worn grooves of platitudes. Really, if someone is mean and shows neither remorse nor interest in reforming themselves, if people around them erect the scaffolding to sustain their meanness… well… Delving into morality is too lengthy to weave into this post.Cover of "Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey," by Kathleen Rooney

Here, look! My fingers have switched gears to copy this for you: a paragraph from wise and poetic Kathleen Rooney’s latest novel. She was a Happiness Between Tails guest to tell about her amazing Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, and then to tell us about her newest tale, Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey. Her Cher Ami book is written in the style of first-person characterizations of various humans and Cher Ami, a true-life heroic pigeon who saved many World War I soldiers’ lives.

The most dazzling chapters are those through Cher Ami’s eyes. I’m about halfway through the book and am most recently awed by this bit of feathered philosophizing. Cher Ami thinks this about the soldiers:

“Sometimes they renamed animals as different animals. They called the canned corned beef in their rations “monkey meat” and referred to their body lice as “shirt rabbis.” They’d pick the insects off one another, comparing themselves to apes grooming in some great gray zoo. I could tell that many of the men felt terribly lonely, helpless and estranged from their fellow soldiers, but they were never alone and never powerless thanks to all the life that depended on them, the lice and the rats and the mice. Each man was the miserable monarch of a kingdom that squirmed with vermin, one that consisted of the dirt and the bit of sky each one could see from the dirt of their feet in their boots, of their boots in the mud — a kingdom all but indistinguishable from a grave.” An excerpt from Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey, by Kathleen Rooney, who also wrote marvelous Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk.

About dogs…

So okay, I’m not one to dwell on whether ”God,” the kind with a capital “G,” exists. But the fact that Dog spells God backwards in English — isn’t that an interesting metaphor for how even the worst dirtbags among us can experience the love of a dog? (Here’s a post where I dip another toe into that conversation.)

Dogs… their lives are far far too short!!!! They get better and better with age, more perceptive of our needs, more adoring of us, and ready to kiss us for our slightest kindness. Just the other night, my husband mistakenly called our current dear doggie by the name of one of our two dogs who passed away — when? yesterday? two years ago? — either feels not much different at times (a bit about that here and more on it here). My heart goes out to a good friend who sweet Bambi-faced furry girl passed away recently… In these times of the COVID pandemic especially, our pets do so much for us. It’s no wonder that more folks are adopting furry family lately.

Now here’s Cheryl Batavia, a.k.a. The Gulf Coast Poet, to put smiles on our faces. A nature-lover, she blogs from Florida and has published books for all ages. She can also be reached via email.

Photo of Cheryl Batavia at Manasota Beach, FL, Gulf of Mexico, by Stephanie Snow Photography.
Photo of Cheryl Batavia at Manasota Beach, FL, Gulf of Mexico, by Stephanie Snow Photography.

Tribute to a Family Dog; In loving memory of Clifford, 2001-2015

Copyright© 2020 by Cheryl Batavia, a.k.a. The Gulf Coast Poet

Enthusiasm

Your spirit is enthusiasm!

When you wag your tail,

your entire body shimmies.

You leap high into the air

to catch popcorn in your mouth,

drool at the dairy drive-thru,

anticipating your ice cream cone.

You swim far out into the lake,

to fetch a stick…

and swim back to fetch again.

You run alongside a wheelchair

that travels eight miles an hour,

keep pace with kids

on rollerblades and bicycles.

When I come home from work,

you greet me at the door,

all four feet in the air!

Clifford at age fourteen. Photo by Cheryl Batavia.
Clifford at age fourteen. Photo by Cheryl Batavia.

Friendliness

Friendliness is your persona!

You show open-hearted affection

for family, friends, neighbors…

and kindly strangers.

Grandmothers are your favorites…

The feeling is mutual!

The vet, when you are boarded,

locates you in a run where you can

greet all those who come and go…

You are overjoyed!

Katey Batavia and Clifford at Miami Beach, FL. Photo by Cheryl Batavia.
Katey Batavia and Clifford at Miami Beach, FL. Photo by Cheryl Batavia.

Love

Your aura is love!

Love radiates from your eyes,

shimmers from your wagging tail.

Love is you resting near us,

ignoring the sassy new cat,

not snatching the Thanksgiving

turkey cooling on the countertop.

Somehow, you know we’ll share.

Love is barking at things

that go “bump” in the night.

Love is wet kisses, warm cuddles,

and sharing group hugs.

Joe and Katey Batavia joined Clifford in his crate. Photo by Cheryl Batavia.
Joe and Katey Batavia joined Clifford in his crate. Photo by Cheryl Batavia.

Empathy

Empathy is in your soul!

You have a silly smile,

know family members by name,

understand most of what we say.

You talk to us with

unintelligible vocalizations…

We try really hard to understand!

You are happy when we are happy.

You comfort us when we are sad.

When we are injured,

you lick our wounds.

Petted and praised,

you know you are loved!

Tell us — what are your thoughts about the bonds between humans and the rest of the creature world? Or about anything else you want to discuss?…

Astrology in Novels: Nina Romano’s Inspo

In high school, a classmate who was as passionate about reading as I was sat near me. Best friendship was in our stars!

The carvings with Chinese Zodiac on the ceiling of the gate to Kushida Shrine in Fukuoka (mirror image, to have animals in the correct order). Photo By Jakub Hałun - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=64844306 The carvings with Chinese Zodiac on the ceiling of the gate to Kushida Shrine in Fukuoka (mirror image, to have animals in the correct order). Photo By Jakub Hałun – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Her preferred reading was historical fiction, the ancient sort with mythology and astrology mixed in. Thanks to her, I read a bunch by Mary Renault, an English author who lived much of her life in South Africa. Those books depicted lots of buff gay guys from olden days. Ironically, a) in South Africa Renault could live more peacefully than in the U.K. with her life partner who was also a woman, b) she often portrayed women harshly, and c) she criticized the gay rights movement.

My friend also introduced me to “Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs.” (Here’s a rare video interview with Goodman.) For me, Goodman was worthy of extra esteem as she was Aries, the same as me. When it came to Aries, all compliments were correct and unflattering attributes were incorrect. Until, that is, at some point in my so-called maturity when I tossed astrology into the same bundle as my Catholic upbringing. Both harbored too many confounding and disturbing aspects, so best not to fret about either.

Not so much later, though, a new friend entered who was into astrology. Charts, she explained, are how astrology becomes scientific. She introduced me to Angela Louise Gallo, a master at charting the stars. Gallo read and taught from her home in Van Nuys, which is just above Hollywood, hence she garnered a sizable entertainment biz crowd of followers.

Gallo’s monthly talks culminated with “hororary” readings, as in “hour-related” since those forecasts tied her psychic powers to the time of night when she would take questions. From slips of paper handed to her, she’d give quickie predictions. I’d parted ways with my parents as soon as I graduated high school with no plan other than survival. By the time I met Gallo those few years later, I’d collected myself enough to realize that I needed to do better. I asked Gallo whether I should sign up for college. She answered, “Wait a couple of semesters. Soon you’ll be taking a long trip.”

That month my grandmother sent me an airplane-paid invitation to visit her in Argentina! During childhood, my grandmothers and I exchanged many letters. They were fantastic in all the ways that mattered to me: they didn’t sugar-coat life, they wanted the best for me, and they helped foster the writer in me who will eventually publish Flamenco & the Sitting Cat and Tango & the Sitting Cat. I loved them dearly, sight unseen. The one in Spain I first met when I was nine. It wasn’t until my early twenties that I got to hug my Abuela in Buenos Aires.

After that trip, I hired Gallo to do a detailed chart, yet I can’t remember anything about it, including what happened to it. These days, I’d rather not presuppose anyone based on their birthday, and I prefer to bumble along as best I can when it comes to my future.

Yet I still adore stories about astrology!

In this admittedly roundabout way, I present to you, dear reader, today’s poet/novelist guest, Nina Romano, who writes from Florida and Utah. Originally from New York, she’s a world traveler who’s earned degrees and writing awards galore, plus she’s published a slew of books.

Here she generously recounts the way that Chinese astrology figured into her The Secret Language of Women, the first of her Wayfarer Trilogy. Read to the end for an excerpt from it in addition to links for Nina and her writings.

Writer Nina Romano. Writer Nina Romano.

How Chinese Horoscopes Helped Me Develop a Realistic Protagonist by Nina Romano

For The Secret Language of Women, the first book of my Wayfarer Trilogy, I decided my main character Lian’s horoscope would be the Year of the Dog. Knowing her horoscope facilitated my understanding of the protagonist’s psyche for this novel. Since the book is set in China, I used Lian’s Chinese Zodiac sign to learn about her qualities and personality traits intimately so that she appeared genuine yet flawed. She is a warm and caring being, a healer, courageous and intelligent. When a person born under this sign falls in love, they do not ever change.

Loyalty and honesty are two of this horoscope sign’s characteristics. Lian falls in love with Giacomo, an Italian sailor, and remains faithful to that love, despite the fact that she is forced into a loveless marriage. Her quest is a difficult one, but she chooses to follow her path despite menaces, oppositions, troubles, risks, and dangers. She is fierce in her love and faithful to everything she believes concerning it.

Having visited China several times afforded me unique experiences that enabled me to see in person Hong Kong, Beijing, and its fabulous Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, and Lian’s enchanting city of Guilin. I was able to envision Lian’s travels and travails in war-torn China, an era suffused in superstition, intrigue, culture, and history. I incorporated the themes and things I care about, such as love, family, food and recipes, art, dragons and horses. Why? Simply because it’s straightforward to write what I know and have feelings for, and all of these ideas translated well even to a novel set in China during the Boxer Rebellion. My own horoscope is the Year of the Horse, so I made sure I had an important role for a horse in this novel, and I’m positive that my horoscope had an incredible influence on my stars being aligned because I signed a contract for a three-book deal for my Wayfarer Trilogy with Turner Publishing during the Year of the Horse.

While writing this novel, I pictured what happens during the Chinese New Year: careful cleaning of the house, the distributing of red envelopes, Lian cooking on a wok, and serving rice to her beloved.

Since this story takes place in China where live fish, most especially carp, are good Fengshui, which according to Wikipedia, is a “philosophical system of harmonizing everyone with the surrounding environment.” For this reason, I describe a pool with carp in the Summer Palace in Chapter 1, where Lian meets the love of her life. Do I believe in the influence of horoscopes and how they can help round out a character? Of that, there is little doubt.

Cover of

Excerpt from The Secret Language of Women by Nina Romano

The things that test you and are vanquished bring everlasting joy. The differences between traditional written Chinese and Nüshu, the secret language of women, made it difficult for me to learn it. My mother and grandmother could not write Chinese and learned Nüshu when they were young and wanted me to grasp it too. I cannot say they harped on me or were tyrannical, but I will say they were insistent, and for this I am eternally indebted.

My mother said it challenged me because I wrote like a man and didn’t have to rely solely on Nüshu, the way they did to communicate with other women. The ideograms of Chinese correspond to a word or part of one, whereas each of the seven hundred characters of Nüshu represent a syllable— women’s language is phonetic, in Chéngguān dialect 城关土话, adaptable and pliant for singing, poetry and writing with such delicate strokes they appear as lines of feathers.

Though learning was problematical, I mastered it, like I do all things I set my mind to

conquer. At the time, I resented the study of it, yet I knew innately one day I would be grateful to possess the knowledge and skill of this secret language, which would offer me strength and solace for a lifetime. And although I was writing in Nüshu, for some reason, I signed with flourish in Chinese: Wǒ Lián. I am Lian. 

Amazon Author — hardcover, softcover print, and Kindle: The Secret Language of Women & Lemon Blossoms & In America — softcover print and Kindle: The Girl Who Loved Cayo Bradley.

Goodreads & Twitter & @ninsthewriter & Facebook & BookBub

Has astrology helped you with storytelling and anything else?

 

5 Writing Inspos by Rachel Tindall w Video: 2 Hot 4 Lizzy

Liz the lizard sunning herself on my windowsill. Liz the lizard sunning herself on my windowsill.

Today is too darned hot to write–neither a full-blown blog post nor the novels I’m writing. Instead, I’ve made you this refreshing video. If you want another, there’s this one too.

When it’s this muggy, I can barely sleep. I got out of bed early to find a new friend on my window sill, enjoying the heat. Watch to the end and let me know if you think it was too warm, even for my extra skinny pal Liz…

For you scribes with air-conditioners, Indiana writer Rachel Tindall offers inspiring tips. She and her blog, Capturing Your Confidence, are devoted to bringing out the best in writers…

Rachel looks cool with her black cocker spaniel, Maxwell (aka Max), and Charlie, a white Toxirn (a cross between a terrier and a chihuahua). Rachel looks cool with her black cocker spaniel, Maxwell (aka Max), and Charlie, a white Toxirn (a cross between a terrier and a chihuahua).

5 Critical Self-Talk Strategies for Writers by Rachel Tindall of Capturing Your Confidence blog

I’m guessing if you’re reading this, you want to be a writer. Or you are a writer, but maybe you’re stuck. Or you think of yourself as a writer but haven’t yet gotten up the courage to announce it to the world.

Wherever you are, it’s okay! Life is an adventure, and your experience as a writer is an ever-evolving journey.

But how do you take that next step? You know the one: where you tell the world you’re a writer and share your words.

The first step is to have a conversation with yourself about being a writer. That’s right, I want you to actually talk to yourself about being a writer.

Before you resist (I know it sounds kind of crazy), let’s talk about it.

What is Self-Talk? 

Have you heard the term self-talk before? When I started writing again as an adult (after a years-long hiatus), I started hearing all this stuff about self-talk, and I didn’t quite know what to make of it.

Essentially, self-talk is the little voice in our head that’s always giving us advice and considering what’s going on in everyday life. Part of self-talk is the inner critic, which is a whole other conversation, but the majority of self-talk is just our regular thoughts.

It includes things we know we’re thinking, like how good that BBQ restaurant smells when we drive past, and also unconscious things like the belief that if you get food from the BBQ restaurant, you will gain weight.

Self-talk can be good and bad. Overall, it mostly serves to help us figure out what’s going on around us and what we believe about those events.

Self-Talk & Self-Exploration

Self-talk creates an inner dialogue. I don’t know about you, but my self-talk can get kind of noisy – my brain is quite a talker! And I’ll tell you, not all of what she’s saying is important or useful.

One of the best things about self-talk, though, is that it allows us to explore what’s really going on inside our brain. If we take time to listen to our self-talk, it can be incredibly enlightening. We often get so bogged down by external distractions that we either ignore it or pass over it without really listening.

What happens when we listen?

We can do some GREAT self-exploration. We can find out so much about ourselves by simply listening! If/when we don’t listen, we run the risk of thinking we know ourselves (I mean, we’re in our body all the time, how could we not, right?) but really knowing an out-of-date version of ourselves. Doing self-exploration and listening to the dialogue in our mind is kind of like when you empty the Recycle Bin on your computer – it makes everything run more efficiently.

Occasionally we need to spend time cleaning out that old junk and negative self-talk to make way for the future and our great new ideas. We need to explore and listen to make sure we are pursuing what we actually want instead of what we wanted a few years ago, or when we were a kid. While we might have similar dreams, it’s worth double-checking with some good self-exploration.

Why is Knowing Yourself Important to Successful Writing? 

So what does self-exploration have to do with writing?

Well, besides clearing out the junk (if you’re like me, it might kind of be in precarious stacks just waiting to fall over and make a mess all over my current projects), you can also learn a TON from exploring the inner workings of your mind.

You’ll find out information like:

  • Interests – What do you actually like to do? What do you want to do? What piques your curiosity?
  • Passions – What’s most meaningful to you? What sets your soul on fire? What makes you excited to get up in the morning?
  • Habits – What do you do on a regular basis? What regular habits are helpful? What needs to change?
  • Desires – What do you want from your interests and passions? Do you have a new habit you want to try (or one that you want to get rid of)? What would make you excited to work on?
  • Goals – What do you want to achieve from your desires? Where do you want to be as a writer, or even just as a person a year from now? 5 years from now? How will you get there?

There will always be more you can learn from yourself, but you have to be willing to do the work and listen first.

Talk To Yourself in These 5 Ways

I’m hoping that talking to yourself is sounding a little less crazy. Just in case you like to skim to the “good” stuff in articles (me too!), I don’t mean to have a normal “How was your day?” out loud conversation with yourself. I mean the deep, self-exploring, figuring out you conversations.

Here are 5 critical ways to yourself that will help you become (or continue to become) the writer you want to be:

1: Self-Assessment 

First and foremost, take some time and do a self-assessment. Ask yourself the questions above (about your interests, passions, habits, desires, and goals) and thoughtfully take an inventory of what you find. It will be helpful to write this down as you think it through.

You might surprise yourself and realize that your passions and interests have changed over the years. Or that your goals have shifted as you’ve gotten older. Whatever you find, be kind to yourself! Assessing yourself isn’t about judging, it’s about figuring out what you’re all about. It’s hard to make changes or form new habits when you aren’t up to date with what you actually want, you know?

2: Speak About Yourself as a Writer 

When you’ve done your self-assessment and confirmed that you do want to be a writer, the next step is to speak about yourself as a writer. This can be hard when you first start because you might feel doubts like you’re not qualified, or you don’t really know if you’re a writer. Imposter syndrome is a real problem, even for those of us who have been writers for a long time.

This, too, is okay – and common! I was scared when I first started acknowledging myself as a writer, too. Take it slow. Tell yourself first. Write it down, say it to yourself in the mirror, whatever it takes for you to begin to believe. Practice until you feel the truth of it down to your core.

3: Name Yourself as a Writer 

When you’re confident in yourself, it’s time to take a little leap and start telling others. At first, this might just be your parents or your significant other. It might be your best friend. Someone who won’t judge you. Weave it into conversation and keep saying it in the presence of others.

Eventually, you’ll get the courage to share it with others outside of your immediate friends and family. For some of us, this takes a long time, and for others, it’s a quick progression. You might even want to put it on social media or your own website! As a writer, you will see your name out there with your words, so it’s important to get used to naming yourself as a writer.

4: Write Yourself a Reminder 

Not every day is a good one, and some days will be hard to think of yourself as a writer. There will be days where you don’t want to read words, let alone write them. Days where you feel like you’ll never finish your project or get published or be able to write full time (if that’s what you want).

It’s because of these days that it’s critical to write yourself a reminder you know you will see. I have a rainy day note, which is a letter I wrote to myself to remember why what I’m doing is incredibly exciting and worth it. Your reminder doesn’t have to be fancy, though. Even “I am a writer” will do. Whatever you choose to write should remind you that you are a creator, and a bad day doesn’t invalidate your creativity or your writing. Put this reminder where you will see it multiple times and take a breath. As my mom always says, this too shall pass.

5: Actually Write 

The thing about being a writer is that you do actually need to write. This probably sounds simple or cheesy, but you won’t feel like a writer if you don’t do the work of writing. This is because writing is what we writers do. It’s our bread and butter. You can’t be a writer without the hard work of writing.

This doesn’t mean you have to have a new magnum opus project you’re working on at all times, but you do have to write something. What works for me is writing in a journal every morning. I do 3 pages and let my mind go wherever it wants, be it complaints, plans, or excitement, and then go about my normal day. Sometimes even just this 15-20 minutes is enough to kick off my creativity throughout the day.

Photo of Rachel Tindall. She blogs at CapturingYourConfidence.com Photo of Rachel Tindall. She blogs at CapturingYourConfidence.com

What do you think? Can you try these strategies?

You don’t have to answer, but I wanted to congratulate you on wanting to be a writer! It’s hard work, but it is by far the thing I find most satisfying and exciting to do. I would encourage you one last time to talk to yourself. Do some self-exploration to find out what’s really going on in your brain. What you really want – what makes you excited.

Do your self-assessment talk – which doesn’t have to be painful! – and answer the questions on a piece of paper and review them once in a while. Once you’ve figured out what you’re all about, you’ll want to start speaking about yourself as a writer. Start small and make sure you feel comfortable with yourself (at least a little) before you name yourself as a writer to other people. Jot down a quick reminder for the bad days, and then get to writing.

That’s really it!

Writing is a skill, and as long as you are willing to learn and put in the effort, you can be a writer.

Tell us—how are you staying cool?

What’s a writer? Plus Kathryn Bashaar’s Thoughts on “Grace”

We novelists are an eclectic bunch, but you already know that. The best ones are avid readers, and they know that rewriting is when writing magic is truly unloosed.

Many authors I’ve encountered have great respect for their kind. Also, writers can be pretty darned modest when it comes to discussing their own work. Goodness knows that I’m not the greatest about discussing my books in progress, Flamenco & the Sitting Cat, and Tango & the Sitting Cat. Some scribes I know will go so far as to refuse to call themselves writers, yet everyone around them knows that they definitely are.

Kathryn Bashaar, a historical fiction author who operates her blog from Pittsburgh, knows she’s a writer. In addition, she’s a retired bank vice-president, a dancer, a traveler, and a grandmother. Her first novel is The Saint’s Mistress and her upcoming novel is tentatively titled Righteous.

Here are her thoughts on a book she really likes. What did I tell you about writers liking writers?…

Historical fiction author Kathryn Bashaar.
Historical fiction author Kathryn Bashaar. Photo by Techniques Photography, Bethel Park, PA.

Kathryn Bashaar’s thoughts on Grace by Paul Lynch

I’m in love with historical fiction. I am a writer of historical fiction and an avid reader of the genre. The lessons of the past speak most clearly to me in the form of fiction. I’d like to recommend to da-AL’s readers the wonderful book Grace by Paul Lynch. It’s about the Irish Potato Famine in the 1840s, but, more deeply, it’s the story of everybody’s life.Cover of Grace, by Paul Lynch.

14-year-old Grace is wakened by her mother in the wee hours one morning. Mam cuts off Grace’s hair, dresses her in boy’s clothes, and sends her out on the road to fend for herself. Mam can no longer manage to feed all of her children, and she doesn’t like the way Grace’s step-father has started looking at her.

The horrors that Grace endures, and her stubborn spirit, make for a story that is hard to put down. Just as the fields have been corrupted by the potato rot, Grace is corrupted by her experiences. The Irish people as a community are also corrupted, as the veneer of civilized behavior is worn away by privation and an every-man-for-himself ethos prevails.

Grace’s salvation comes at the hands of a very flawed group of human beings. Giving a clever double meaning to the book’s title, Grace is the beneficiary of grace, in an unexpected way.

It occurred to me, as I neared the end of the book, that Grace’s basic story is everybody’s life story.

Everyone is ruined in some way. This life is a beautiful miracle, but it can also be brutal–in big, tragic ways or in slow, small ways that accumulate like a weight on your back. Some of us had addicted parents or other traumatic childhood experiences. Your heart is broken by someone you loved. A career setback proves to be unrecoverable. Someone you love dies far too young. You are disabled or stricken with a chronic illness, raped or mugged, or your house burns down. And then there are the everyday injuries of having to make a living: tedious work for 40 years, unreasonable bosses, back-stabbing co-workers, long, miserable commutes, the sheer weariness of getting up at 6 a.m. day after day after day. “Life has a way of breaking everyone,” Hemingway said. We are all broken. Most of us are more tired than we like to admit.

And, like Grace, we are saved by other imperfect human beings. I’m a Christian, so I believe that our salvation is in Jesus–ultimately. But, day by living, breathing day, our salvation is in each other. You are ill or disabled, but your spouse sticks around and takes care of you. Your work is tedious, but your co-workers make you laugh. You are hungry and think you are alone, and a local church group delivers food to your door. A friend betrays you, and the next day a neighbor you barely know shovels your walk, and you invite him in for coffee. That is what happens to my main character, Leona, in my novel The Saint’s Mistress. Leona suffers an unbearable loss and is only healed when an old friend re-enters her life and gives her a glimpse of grace and a reason to go on. In a hard world, we are granted the grace of each other.

Every single person you meet is broken in some way. This week, be the grace in someone’s life.

Do you feel comfortable calling yourself a writer? Do you write?

16 Reasons Pigeons Need Celebrating n Kathleen Rooney’s New Novel!

Doves get loads of love.

Pigeons get nada. Make that less than nothing.

Why?

As an animal lover since birth, the kind who was severely bitten by a dog when I was six yet who still never feared them, pigeon haters have always mystified me.

Hmmm…

Doves: white

Pigeons: colored

Hmmm…

Doves: a little trimmer

Pigeons: a little stouter

Hmmm…

DO NOT TAKE A LOOK AT THIS LINK that elaborates on what I’m getting at if you’re offended by ribald humor with liberal use of the f-word. FOR EVERYONE, THERE’S THIS LINK.

What do a penguin and a pigeon have in common? Sure, they’re both birds, and one might consider what I mentioned about doves vs. pigeons. In their case, however, that’s not what I’m getting to.

Marvelously, Penguin Books is publishing Kathleen Rooney’s most recent novel, Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey, about a heroic pigeon!

Kathleen’s Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, sent me into such complete nirvana that I invited her to guest post on Happiness Between Tails—and she did!!—in this prior post.

Today she’s back to tell us about the inspiration behind Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey and 16 reasons pigeons need to be celebrated.

This is a link to buy Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey from your own favorite local bookstore.

Kathleen Rooney and a friend unbox her latest novel, Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey.
Kathleen Rooney and a friend unbox her latest novel, Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey.

On the Under-Appreciated Marvelousness of Pigeons by Kathleen Rooney

My novel Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey—a World War I story narrated in the first-person alternately by a homing pigeon and an American military officer, both of them real-life heroes—has just been released by Penguin. The fact that the publisher for this book is named after a bird delights me because penguins and pigeons seem like an auspicious pairing.

Of course, the story of World War I has been told often but never from the perspective of the courageous messenger pigeon who saved the Lost Battalion and helped to determine the war’s outcome. Cher Ami was so famous in her day that when she died as an indirect result of the injuries she sustained in the conflict, they had her taxidermied and put on display in the Smithsonian. You can still visit her there today in their Price of Freedom exhibit, where she sits in her glass case among other important communication equipment. My hope is that if you love pigeons and decide to give this book a read, then you’re in for a treat, and if you don’t, then you’re about to change your mind.

Cher Ami, WWI heroine, at the Smithsonian.
Cher Ami, WWI heroine, at the Smithsonian.

Penguin understands that not everyone shares my admiration for pigeons, so as part of their marketing campaign, they asked me to come up with a set of pigeon facts designed to endear the birds to other people as much as pigeons have endeared themselves to me. Thinking fondly of the pigeon couple, Coo d’Etat and Walter Pigeon (as my spouse and I named them) who moved in under the eaves while I was writing my book, I set to work compiling those facts.

Pigeon couple, Coo d’Etat and Walter Pigeon.
Pigeon couple, Coo d’Etat and Walter Pigeon.

Coo and Walter and their babies Feather Locklear and Molly Wingwald have long since moved on with their lives, but the pigeon facts remain, and I hope they’ll inspire you to look more closely at these remarkable birds and also to give my novel a read.

Coo and Walter's babies, Feather Locklear and Molly Wingwald.
Coo and Walter’s babies, Feather Locklear and Molly Wingwald.
  1. The word “pigeon” is a French translation of the English word “dove.” There’s no scientific difference between the two; they’re the same.
  2. The common city pigeon (Columba livia) is a descendant of the rock dove and is one of the first birds ever domesticated by humans, probably dating back to about 4,500 BCE in Mesopotamia.
  3. Humans and pigeons have lived closely together for millennia, thanks in part to the birds’ phenomenal homing skills, which allow them to return to their nests from up to 1,300 miles away.
  4. In addition to being good navigators, pigeons are extremely strong with high endurance and have been known to fly as far as 1,500 miles on a single trip. They can fly as high as 6,000 feet and average a speed of almost 77 miles per hour, with top speeds of almost 93 miles per hour having been attained by some birds.
  5. Because of pigeons’ homing talent, humans have called upon pigeons to carry the news throughout history, ranging from messages on flood levels up and down the Nile in ancient Egypt, to the results of the Olympic Games in Greece in the 8th century. As early as 500 BCE, the emperor of China used pigeons to receive messages in Beijing from outer provinces because a bird could travel in as many hours as it took a horse and rider days. Hannibal used pigeons during his siege of Rome, and Julius Caesar sent them to relay messages from his military campaigns in Gaul. Genghis Khan and his grandson Kublai Khan created a pigeon post that spanned a sixth of the world. Besieged Parisians relied on pigeon post in the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, and, of course, pigeons served as messengers in both WWI and WWII.During World War I, over 100,000 pigeons were used on the battlefield.
  6. Pigeons are included in the Animals in War Memorial in Hyde Park London in honor—as the dedication says—of “all the animals that served and died alongside British and allied forces in wars and campaigns throughout time.” It was unveiled in 2004 on the 90th anniversary of the start of World War I.
  7. People didn’t start calling pigeons “rats with wings” until this false idea was popularized in the 1980 movie Stardust Memories; pigeons are actually quite clean and not at all disease-ridden.
  8. Pigeons do not migrate, but rather adapt to one environment and remain there year-round—a lot like humans.
  9. Pigeons are one of a relatively small number of species who pass the mirror test for self-recognition.
  10. Pigeons can distinguish different humans in photographs.
  11. According to a 2016 study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, pigeons can be trained to recognize dozens of words, with the most accomplished pigeon being able to learn as many as 60.
  12. According to a 1994 study published in The Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, pigeons can successfully learn to discriminate between paintings by Monet and Picasso.
  13. When pigeons mate, they mate for life.
  14. Male and female pigeons share equal responsibility in raising their chicks. Both take turns sitting on the eggs and both feed the babies pigeon milk—a secretion that both male and female birds produce in their crops.
  15. Pigeons are still kept as pets, bred, and raced around the world; in 2019, a Belgian racing pigeon named Armando sold for $1.4 million. The auction house said that Armando’s athleticism made him, in soccer terms, the Lionel Messi of the avian world.
  16. The brilliant inventor Nikola Tesla fell in love with a white pigeon who visited him at the window of his room in the Hotel St. Regis in New York City: “I loved that pigeon as a man loves a woman and she loved me. As long as I had her, there was purpose to my life,” he wrote.

About Kathleen Rooney: she’s a founding editor of Rose Metal Press, a nonprofit publisher of literary work in hybrid genres, as well as a founding member of Poems While You Wait, a collective of poets and their typewriters who compose commissioned poems on demand. Her most recent books include the novel Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk and The Listening Room: A Novel of Georgette and Loulou Magritte. Her reviews and criticism appear in the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and Chicago magazine, and her World War I novel Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey is available now from Penguin.

Do you like pigeons? (It’s ok if you didn’t before this post.)

Novel Writing, Furious Creative Kolkata, and Tagore by da-AL

Tagore (c. 1925), by unknown author, State Archive, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47866012
Tagore (c. 1925), by unknown author, State Archive, Public Domain

How’s your novel coming along? If you’re writing one, did you outline it first? Or is it evolving?

“I have spent many days stringing and unstringing my instrument while the song I came to sing remains unsung.” Rabindranath Tagore

In the case of the two books I’m working on, “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat” and “Tango & the Sitting Cat,” I outlined it, wrote a bunch, thought I was about done — and then a new character introduced himself!

“Reach high, for stars lie hidden in you. Dream deep, for every dream precedes the goal.” Tagore

Blogging has brought me the unexpected joy of meeting many new online friends from India, thereby stoking my curiosity about the country. It was only natural that my books include someone at least partly from there.

“Depth of friendship does not depend on length of acquaintance.” Tagore

Niks is a minor player. It’s the year of 2002. He lives in Southern California, the best place to surf and earn a living as a model and actor. He’s a gay man in his 40s. His parents were studying business when they met at UC Berkeley’s International House, a social club intended to help foreign students feel less alone. Pasta is the dish he makes best because his Italian mom taught him how to cook. His love of great Indian literature is thanks to his dad, who grew up in Kolkata.

“A mind all logic is like a knife all blade. It makes the hand bleed that uses it.” Tagore

Are you from India? If so, feel free to correct me and/or add to what’s here…

“The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough.” Tagore

Kolkata has been called the “City of Furious, Creative Energy” as well as the “cultural [or literary] capital of India.”

“If I can’t make it through one door, I’ll go through another door — or I’ll make a door. Something terrific will come no matter how dark the present.” Tagore

Tagore performing the title role inValmiki Pratibha (1881) with his niece Indira Devi as the goddess Lakshmi, by unknown author - Indira Devi Chowdhurani. Rabindra Smriti — Kolkata: Visva-Bharati, 1974., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16150280
Tagore performing the title role in Valmiki Pratibha (1881) with his niece Indira Devi as the goddess Lakshmi, by unknown author – Indira Devi Chowdhurani. Rabindra Smriti — Kolkata: Visva-Bharati, 1974., Public Domain

Did you know that the world’s largest non-trade annual book fair takes place in Kolkata?

“Death is not extinguishing the light; it is only putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.” Tagore

The region is home to India’s major publishers. So are many great thinkers, such as Rabindranath Tagore (May 7, 1861 – August 7, 1941), India’s equivalent to Shakespeare.

“The most important lesson that man can learn from life, is not that there is pain in this world, but that it is possible for him to transmute it into joy.” Rabindranath Tagore

Rabindranath with Einstein in 1930, vy UNESCO - UNESCO Gallery, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27489646
Rabindranath with Einstein in 1930, by UNESCO – UNESCO Gallery, Public Domain

To my mind, Tagore as much a sort of Leonardo da Vinci. He was a revolutionary politically and artistically. At eight years old, he was already a poet and went on to be a musician, artist, Ayurveda researcher, actor, playwright, and more.

“Love’s gift cannot be given, it waits to be accepted.” Tagore

Quite the globe-trotter, he introduced the world to India’s creative treasures.

“Love is an endless mystery, because there is no reasonable cause that could explain it.” Tagore

In 1913, he became the first non-European Nobel-prize laureate.

Rabindranath Tagore Cherishsantosh / WikiCommons
Rabindranath Tagore Cherishsantosh / WikiCommons

More quotes by Tagore…

“If you cry because the sun has gone out of your life, your tears will prevent you from seeing the stars.”

“A lamp can only light another lamp when it continues to burn in its own flame.”

“Love gives beauty to everything it touches.”

“Dark clouds become heaven’s flowers when kissed by light.

“Music fills the infinite between two souls.”

What’s your creative writing style?

How do you define a great novel? plus writer Ian Craine’s 6 picks

Is a great novel the one you had the most fun reading? One that transported you to a whole new situation, a new land, a new time? Or did that story unlock new insights? How about one that allowed you to feel understood and less alone? What about the books of childhood, which stripped away all the anguish of being small and vulnerable? Is your favorite one that’s compelled you to read it more than once?

The desire to read

I was born ready, jumping out of my diapers with eagerness to comprehend how written language worked.

My reading list from the start

All printed words that came my way. Food wrappers, cereal boxes, and street signs were intermingled with picture books.

School days

Fourth-grade outings with my best friend were bike rides to the library. There I would tick off readings from the Newberry Medal list (the highest esteemed American children’s books). Kids’ magazines with fiction, grown-up mags that featured stories, books lying about the house, I was starved for reading no matter how much I learned. That included Playboy Magazines, The Godfather, Marquis de Sade. That last one fascinated eleven-year-old me not for the sex (it went over my head), but for how sadomasochism mirrored the day-to-day I saw. Later in high school, Shakespeare taught me how stories can tap numerous levels beyond surface and deep.

Lately

My idea of “best” has more to do with whatever I’ve recently read that left an impression. Since embarking upon novel-writing, much of my fiction is via audiobooks. Minutes spent sitting is time I could be writing. The books I select are for enjoyment as well as for learning. Since the books I’m writing, “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat” and “Tango & the Sitting Cat,” are epistolary (correspondence or diary), I’m apt to download books of that style. That includes the historically latent “Frankenstein” and “Dracula,” the contemporary “Queenie,” the fizzy “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” and “The Roxy Letters.” Non-epistolary includes anything by authors like Anne Patchett, and Anne Tyler, who’s endings are complex. Elizabeth Gilbert’s recent protagonist encourages us to never regret losing our virginity. Now I’m dizzy with memories of beautiful reads, too many to note here but irresistible to type: “Little,” “A Tale for the Time Being,” “Kindred”… I can’t wait to read Kathleen Rooney’s latest (she was so very kind to be a Happiness Between Tails guest here).

Ian Craine, writer Ian Craine, writer

With that, dear readers, let’s meet Ian Craine — he often blogs on his wife’s site (Roberta Franklin is a writer of romantic fiction). He’s a Brit currently living in London who hopes to move to Wales and has worked as a lawyer, a book indexer, and a writer. He enjoys history, books, writing, walking, travel, horse racing, cinema, and music.

About writing, he notes, “…to write, one first of all, has to be able to read. Our life experiences, as Borges once said, include both the things we have done and the books we have read. Reading needs to be a balance between fiction and non-fiction, both from the reader’s and the writer’s point of view.”

Ian has written screenplays in various genres, novellas, stage plays, articles, short stories, flash and poetry. As for novels, he says, “…I confess I have always signally failed there. Somehow I just cannot write that many words. Perhaps I just haven’t got enough to say. But I admire anybody who can from Miguel Cervantes to my own wife.”

A lover of good novels, here are the ones he regards as the best six…

Six Great Novels: Ian Craine’s picks (in chronological order)

Painting of Don Quixote and Sancho Pansa by Honore DaumierDon Quixote and Sancho Pansa by Honore Daumier
  1. Don Quixote” by Miguel Cervantes: This is where the novel began, this is the template. It may never have been bettered since. It’s wonderfully layered, whose story are we hearing? This is a world that contains all worlds- those of dream, of memory and of imagination, of bawdy and elegy, the fantastical and the prosaic. This satire of romance now bears its own warm romantic glow. It has inspired many of the world’s greatest writers — Diderot, Mark Twain, Borges, Graham Greene, Nabokov, Carlos Fuentes — as it was inspired by Homer’s majestic Odyssey.
  2. The Black Arrow” by Robert Louis Stevenson: Stevenson was a man for all seasons from the early spring of childhood with tales like Treasure Island to winter’s disillusionment of old age in South Seas Island novellas such as Ebb Tide. My choice is in the earlier category, a stirring tale of derring-do from “The Wars of the Roses.” I am sure it was as fun to write as it is to read.
  3. The Alexandrian Quartet” by Laurence Durrell: These are four linked tales, the first three told contemporaneously but from different points of view; the fourth is subsequent to the earlier events. To me, nobody has combined a sense of place with a sense of the human condition as perfectly as Durrell. Alexandria is described on every page as the essential witness to all the characters do — their affairs, relationships, journeys, and desires. Beautiful descriptive writing effortlessly merges with a keen post-Freudian feel for humanity. It’s an object lesson too, in the primacy of the novel in describing human behaviour. This is rich beyond anything Freud himself ever wrote.
  4. Downriver” by Iain Sinclair: As Durrell wrote of a city, so Sinclair wrote of a river. The river is the Thames. The starting point is Thatcher’s London, the “revival” of the dockland with bijou apartments for bracered brokers, and it takes place largely downriver of the City, where such folk “earned” their commissions. The book, told in ten chapters, brings us an incredibly rich mix of deeply eccentric characters and allusions to episodes in London’s history over the centuries. Sinclair was a walker (till age put paid to his excursions) with a sharp eye for the topography and architecture of London, and the effects of crushing change on those left behind by the sudden hysteria orchestrated by “The Widow.”
  5. “The Blind Man’s Garden” by Nadeem Aslam: It’s 2001 and 9/11 has come and gone. But this is not about its effect on the West. This is what happened afterwards in Afghanistan. A beautifully evoked Pakistani family, each with their problems and preoccupations, are torn apart when the son decides to go to Afghanistan as a medic. An adopted “cousin” goes along for the ride. But they are too naive (perhaps a modern version of our old friends, the Quixote and Sancho Panza) and those they think are helping are out for their own cut- they are sold to the Taliban. Now they have to tread with care amidst their new “owners” while the other enemy, the Americans, fill their skies with terror and destruction. But like all serious novels about conflict, this is about trying to find common ground, mutual respect and reconciliation amid the chaos. Only “Sancho” survives because only he would have been equipped to survive. And this tremendous book, beautifully written, a tale of redemption amid horror, is his Odyssey. New ways of telling old tales.
  6. “The Professor and the Bird” by Roberta Franklin: This is a beautiful story, again with a strong sense of place, and like The Quartet set in the Mediterranean by a writer deeply conversant with the rhythms of life of Greeks and Turks and the Levant generally. She tells a lovely tale of May and November. A sparky young Irish girl on a motorbike meets an ageing Greek archaeologist. They would appear to have little in common at first, but a love of history, the sort buried deep beneath the sands and sea of the Med, begins to bring them together. She is friendly and open, he kind but academic and diffident. Their burgeoning relationship is told with warmth and humour, and the supporting crew on the dig all have their own stories to tell.