Category Archives: The Art of Writing

KINDNESS WEARS MANY FACES

The stu­dents hurry toward us as soon as they spot Lucy.  “Did they catch the man who wanted to poi­son all the cats?”  “Did Lucy ever find her mother?”

Their ques­tions spring from con­cern over events in the novel that Lucy Mir­a­cle – the cat – nar­rates.  Cathy Unruh at Academy Prep Center TampaThe events are fic­tional, but these stu­dents have rea­son to believe.  They are liv­ing an extra­or­di­nary story them­selves. They are from low-income, fre­quently frac­tured fam­i­lies in an area where fewer than half the adults hold a high school diploma.  They qual­ify for free or reduced price school meals to ensure they are fed.

But these stu­dents’ bod­ies, minds and souls are being fed through the kind­ness of peo­ple many of them will never meet.  They attend Acad­emy Prep Cen­ter of Tampa, on schol­ar­ships fully funded by dona­tions at no cost to the kids or their fam­i­lies. In an area of the city where sim­ple atten­dance is not expected of many school-age kids, let alone grad­u­a­tion, these mid­dle school stu­dents are at the Acad­emy six days a week, for up to eleven hours a day – and after eighth grade, they are going on to pres­ti­gious high schools and col­leges, men­tored all along the way.  They have no trou­ble relat­ing to Lucy’s mir­a­cle story – and some of the verses they write about it reflect that:

Cathy Unruh Lucy Miracle Academy Prep Center Tampa“Hur­ray!  I’m saved by an angel from above.  My crys­talled eyes shine with joy­ful tears.  I’m glad to know I can trust some­one I love.  I felt like life was worth los­ing, but now, it’s reversed.  Now, I’m so happy it hurts.”

“Curi­ous About Every­thing
Agree­ing About What to Do
Tough And Hard Minded”

“Can I have a cat
Cats are really cool they rock
Now we all want cats.”

Earthly angels may not be too far­fetched a term for some other peo­ple who think cats rock – and IMG_5295prove it with their actions. They give up their nights, their week­ends, time with fam­ily and friends to advo­cate for spay­ing and neu­ter­ing pets, trap­ping and neu­ter­ing free-roaming cats, and adopt­ing out every­one they can.Colony Cats and Dogs Ohio

Colony Cats (& dogs) of Colum­bus, Ohio, runs a bustling cat adop­tion cen­ter where the occa­sional dog also comes through to find a home – like the strong, hand­some deaf one who was there the day I vis­ited.  I’m told that his owner was about to put him to sleep – and then Colony Cats stepped in.  It’s an all-volunteer orga­ni­za­tion, 150 peo­ple strong.  Some come by reg­u­larly to scoop lit­ter boxes and clean. Some spend time giv­ing the cats atten­tion and affec­tion.  Some facil­i­tate the adop­tions.  Some fos­ter ani­mals wait­ing for homes.  Some staff the bou­tique at which sales of upscale sec­ond­hand goods help keep the money com­ing in.  Some orga­nize and run the events that do the same.

As for the cats them­selves – aban­doned, stranded, strangers to each other until they are housedIMG_5290 together at the adop­tion cen­ter – they share food, bowls, lit­ter boxes and sleep­ing spaces ungrudg­ingly. They offer affec­tion to each other and to vis­it­ing humans.

Kind­ness wears many faces:  the aban­doned ani­mal still will­ing to trust and love; the vol­un­teer will­ing to get dirty and tired to bet­ter Academy Prep Center Tampa Lucy Miracle Cathy Unruhthe lives of other species; the bene­fac­tors will­ing to fund edu­ca­tions of kids who oth­er­wise might not be in school; the stu­dents who care about a cat they’ve only read about; the cat who’s will­ing to indulge their atten­tions – even if it’s slightly uncomfortable.

Colony Cats and Dogs volunteer

 

Extend­ing our­selves in kind­ness can be uncom­fort­able – but if we’re will­ing to make the reach, we can also dis­cover that it feels pretty darn cozy.

The Art of Writing

The sec­ond sen­tence holds hands with the first and reaches out to the third.”

And the first, nat­u­rally enough, must start with a word. So sit down and write one! Sage advice offered by renowned author Tom Rob­bins at the WordSmit­ten Writ­ing Work­shop, at which I was hon­ored to sit on the same panel. Another Rob­bins nugget: “Lan­guage is not the frost­ing, it’s the cake.”

Tom Rob­bins

Is there any­thing like a writ­ers’ work­shop to inspire writ­ers to plunk down and get some more words on the com­puter screen – or paper? Rob­bins, by the way, still writes long­hand on a legal pad, with his dog curled up next to him. So what­ever works for you! (As I write this, my cat Lucy Mir­a­cle is purring on my left thigh. I don’t get writer’s block, I get writer’s cramps from try­ing to accom­mo­date the var­i­ous crit­ters who want to cud­dle.) But I digress…

WordSmit­ten Media, like all of us, is scram­bling to keep up with the rapidly chang­ing method­ol­ogy of pub­lish­ing and deliv­er­ing con­tent. Kate Sul­li­van, the dynamo in charge, has a bedrock phi­los­o­phy that does not shift with the land­scape. It is that “we have the one sus­tain­able idea that will endure. The Story. We believe in sto­ries. We believe in the writ­ten word. We are WordSmitten.”

I share that phi­los­o­phy. We will always need con­tent, no mat­ter the for­mat or deliv­ery sys­tem. Those of us who cre­ate fic­tional con­tent might take heart from some of the wis­dom offered at the work­shop by Peter Dekom, an enter­tain­ment attor­ney in Bev­erly Hills. He posits that the folks who make movies are more drawn to books than they are to scripts these days. “Great nov­els are voyeurism and who wants to sneak a peek?” Dekom says show the reader some­thing they don’t usu­ally get to see, and who knows: Hol­ly­wood just might take notice.

Oh sure, lots of writ­ers say. Not likely, with all the com­pe­ti­tion out here. Heck, how many of us can even score an agent, let alone an edi­tor, let alone a pub­lish­ing house…so goes the think­ing and the ques­tion­ing when a bunch of aspir­ing authors get together. Nat­u­rally enough; it is a crowded, com­pet­i­tive field but if the joy of writ­ing is enough to keep you moti­vated, then you’re already mak­ing cake.

One of the writ­ers I most admire uses his con­sid­er­able language

Jonathan Balcombe and Cathy Unruh

Jonathan Bal­combe and Cathy Unruh

skills to show us things we don’t usu­ally get to see – and he’s not mak­ing them up. Jonathan Bal­combe takes us inside the hearts, minds and worlds of non-human ani­mals in books such as The Exul­tant Ark and Sec­ond Nature. Sci­ence lines up along­side vivid obser­va­tion to show us that all ani­mals expe­ri­ence plea­sure and pain and, as Jonathan would say, “have biogra­phies.” In other words, each and every ani­mal has a story. The life of each and every ani­mal means some­thing to that animal.

I was priv­i­leged to appear with Bal­combe at the Florida Voices for Ani­mals annual Have a Heart din­ner and what a joy­ful evening it was! To watch slides of ani­mals at work and play in their habi­tats, hear their sto­ries and come to under­stand their sen­tience more deeply. To sit with a room­ful of peo­ple who devote much of their lives to bet­ter­ing the fates of non-human ani­mals on the planet we share. To enjoy entirely vegan food from soup to salad to heap­ing plate­ful of entrees to dessert. (Thank you, Trang Viet Cui­sine – it was fab­u­lous!) If only every­one knew how deli­cious vegan food can be, I think many more of the planet’s ani­mals could live in peace and not die to fill plates.

Here’s to com­pas­sion and cre­ativ­ity. Hey, how about a cre­atively com­pas­sion­ate lifestyle? Now that’s some­thing I could write about ☺.