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 ☺.