Sundowner with Nandi

Recently I attended another Nandi function at the Reid Park Zoo called “An African Sundowner with Nandi.”  A “Sundowner” in Africa is the custom of enjoying cocktails at the end of the day outside beneath a gorgeous sunset. The zoo provided cocktails — and hors d’oeuvres — while God delivered on the gorgeous sunset.

After the cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, we got to see close-up demonstrations of how the keepers work with the elephants using Mabu, their 12,000 pound bull elephant (and Nandi’s daddy) for one half of us and “Auntie” Lugile for the other half.

I made a beeline for the Mabu demo as soon as the announcement was made. We stood around one half of a little wood-railed enclosure in which the trainer stood, the other half of the enclosure behind her being the protective barrier the trainers use at Reid Park. Mabu waited on the other side of the barrier. (At most he was ten feet away from me, maybe less. I was in awe.)

The barrier itself is a good fifteen to twenty feet tall and made of heavy, rectangular metal bars that form open-air “windows” in a sort of grid pattern, except the rectangles differ in size. Many of them are actually little doors that can be opened so the trainer can do whatever needs done.

It’s treat based training, so our demonstrator had a big bucket of pellets that she used for the treats. She opened a lower window, held out her hand toward Mabu, he extended his trunk through the opening and, widening the open end of it, met her palm, kind of like an elephant’s version of a high-five. The opening of the end of his trunk, however, was bigger than her hand. I think that was  a “get ready” signal and response for she used it between each new task she asked him to do.

After the  introductory exchange, she gave  him some pellets, then another hand signal and he turned and placed his right front foot on the lower edge of the window, bent so that the heavy bottom pad faced her (and us) so she could brush it off and inspect it. When she signaled that she was done, he took his foot out of the window and turned back to collect some more treats. He did this with all four feet. (Feet and tusks, said the keepers, are the areas they have the most trouble with in keeping elephants in captivity. They check the feet every day)

Another signal prompted him to face her, lift his trunk high and in so doing, open his mouth so she could see into it  and make sure all was well. We got to see in it as well. 🙂

He is SO big, so awesome! I wish I had words for the experience of watching him, the impact of his size, the sense of keen intelligence there and of being observed by him in a way that’s different from other animals, and even from the elephants most of the time. You could also sense that he was having fun, and maybe even that he enjoyed being the center of attention.

After that we went to the main yard where the keepers brought out decorated cardboard boxes with “Happy Six Month Birthday, Nandi!” on them. There was also a birthday “cake”: two large flat, rounds of frozen fruit pieces and juice joined by three slender tree branches with bark on them (bark is a tasty treat for elephants). Once all was in place the keepers left the paddock and let the elephants in — or at least Mom, Nandi and her two brothers.

They literally ran in, all excited. Mom made short work of the cake, using her feet to hold down the bottom while pulling at the top with her trunk.  When that didn’t work, she just stepped on the bottom round and crushed it. Meanwhile the others were tearing the boxes apart and eating the hay inside. Well, except for Nandi. She tore her box open, ignored the hay, and continued to dismantle the box piece by piece, accompanied by all sorts of other gyrations that were just fun to watch.

I didn’t bring my camera because it was going to be low light, so I don’t have photos, but I do have this video that was made around Christmas. By then she had progressed quite a bit over the last video I posted where all she did was climb over the log and stand there. In this one she’s playing with the ball, dancing about, and doing funny things with her trunk. In short, it’s just too cute to pass up. (Also, at the very beginning of this, where Semba and Nandi are walking along with the trainer who’s outside the pen with a bucket of pellets, if you watch closely you can see the trainer give Semba a command to lift her trunk and she does so)

Writing Diary: Thwarted Again

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I seem to be moving like a tortoise these days.

Well, things were going well last week. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday I began to move — slowly — through Chapter 14. But then came Friday and my morning appointment with the eye doctor to make sure the shingles I developed in my eye a couple of years ago was still quiescent.

The appointment went normally, the news was good, but when I was driving home — slowly, via back streets — I noticed that everything seemed much brighter and blurrier than in the past. I chalked it up to the fact that it was a clear, bright day, whereas the last time I’d done it, the day had been overcast and I had driven home later in the afternoon.

But even when I got home, everything was so bright I had to close most of the blinds. And I could hardly even look at the computer screen, much less work on it.  Focusing on the small printed words of my hard-copy drafts was difficult as well, and I began to think my sight had degenerated much more than I feared (even though tests at the eye doctor’s had said otherwise). I could not work on the book at all:  couldn’t look at the computer screen, couldn’t stand to read the print on typed pages, was getting a headache just trying… so I worked on cards. And even that was a strain.

Finally, increasingly frustrated with my inability to see clearly I went into the bathroom to check on my pupil, thinking it was only the left eye that had been dilated, which was the usual procedure. Instead I finally discovered the problem: the tech had dilated both my eyes, by mistake, I think, since the doctor never looked in my right eye, only the left. In any case, there they were, these huge black pupils staring back at me. Even though it had been hours since the appointment, they still looked huge — which brings up another drawback to seeing the eye doctor in the morning rather than the afternoon: I have blue eyes and from what I’ve read,  dilation takes longer to recede in blue eyes than it does in brown eyes.  Indeed, it wasn’t until well into the evening before they were back to normal… and so, once again my intentions to keep consistent in writing this book were thwarted.

The next day, Saturday, I could see again, but now I had all the errands I might have done Friday but couldn’t, to attend to: dog food to pick up, dog bran to buy, a car gas tank on empty to fill up… administrative duties, etc. So no work then, either.

Today was our local assembly’s monthly communion and pot luck, longer than usual because we had a visit from some evangelist friends who minister in Pakistan. It was great to see and visit with them… but when I got home I was wiped out and so… yet another day where I didn’t get to the book…

Still I did manage to this post written!  So I shall feel good about that, at least…  I set all this down, as example of all the weird things that keep happening to interrupt the flow, consume time I’d hoped to devote to writing, and even get me off kilter. I keep asking myself, “Was it always like this? How did I get those other books written, anyway?”

Nevertheless, I do know that everything comes to me through my Lord’s permission, and for my blessing, even if it doesn’t seem like much of a blessing. He’s definitely teaching me patience. Or maybe I should say He’s giving me lots of lessons designed to develop it. I am just a very slow learner…

Repost: Unmerited Grace

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A couple of weeks ago, in the course of a really bad day when it came to making any progress on my WIP, and as I was lamenting yet again the fact that I had pitched the writing journals I’d kept during the creation of Return of the Guardian King, it occurred to me that maybe I had posted some entries regarding it when I first started blogging back in 2006 on Blogger. It would have been about the right time. And it like this blog was subtitled “The Writing Diary of Novelist Karen Hancock,” so it seemed reasonable to think that I might have actually posted something from my journals. Or barring that, at least something about my journey in writing that book.

Why did I pitch those journals? Well, “they’re all the same” I’d told myself. “I’ve been writing for over — ahem — forty years and kept diaries for most of those years. Why would I need to keep more?”

Well, because Return of the Guardian King was the first book I’d done in a long time that started basically from scratch. The Light of Eidon, The Shadow Within and Shadow Over Kiriath had all been completely or partially drafted before I had to work on them within the Bethany House deadline structure. RotGK was the only one for which I had little more than the most general of ideas where I was going when I began. Since that’s a lot of what I’m experiencing now with The Other Side of the Sky, it would have been really helpful for me now, had I kept those particular diaries.

So I went looking and happily, I found some entries. Since they reflect or at least speak to a lot of what I’m going through currently, I thought I’d repost a few of them now and then.

Today’s entry, originally posted to Blogger on February 18, 2006, is one such post: it not only described what I’ve been going through lately but offered helpful counsel:

Recently I came across this thought from Annie Dillard in her book The Writing Life,

“At best the sensation of writing is that of unmerited grace. It is handed to you, but only if you look for it. You search, you break your heart, your back, your brain, and then — and only then — it is handed to you.”

This struck me very strongly, because we’ve just been reviewing in Bible class how it is to search for God. He only reveals Himself to us if we search for Him diligently, as if we were hunting for treasure. Treasure hunters do not sit back and wait for the treasure to come to them. They go out and search for a likely spot and then they dig, and lug dirt and dig and lug. It’s not easy. When they get tired, they keep digging. When nothing turns up for all their digging, they do not quit, they go on. They try a new place. And finally, maybe three years later, they find that for which they’ve been searching. It is, in a way, handed to them.

So it is with the search for the story, for the perfect, right arrangement that will resonate, for the answers to the questions of who these people are, and what they will become, what is it I really care about, and what am I really trying to say? How can any of that be easy to find? If God Himself is not easy and simple, how can writing about what I know of Him and my life in Him be easy and simple? Spiritually now I’m beginning to grasp things I can’t even articulate. I cannot explain them with words. How can writing about them be easy?

It can’t. It won’t be. Some days I’ll find the silver and the gold. Other days it will feel like endless digging and lugging of dirt. The key is to keep going. To keep on learning about who God is through His word. To keep on writing. To trust that He is guiding me and that in the end I will not be ashamed. That in time it will all come together. If my motivation is correct, and the power system in which I operate is correct, it will be rewarded.

“If you seek her (wisdom) as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will discern the fear of the Lord, and discover the knowledge of God…I, wisdom, love those who love me; And those who diligently seek me will find me. ” Proverbs 2:4,5; 8:17

Catching up on Nandi

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With the holiday season I haven’t had as much time as much time as I’d like to visit Nandi the baby elephant at Tucson’s Reid Park Zoo.

My last trip was in December on a  Thursday morning before grocery shopping. Got there just as the gates were opened. She was jumping and hopping, taunting her brother Sundzu frequently, doing all kinds of crazy things with her trunk:  flinging it about, putting hay in her mouth, only to spit is out, mimicking the adults as they flung dust or mud on their sides (though she doesn’t fling anything — I don’t think she has a clue what they’re doing…) It’s all fascinating and as always I loved it all.

This 30 second video was made back in October 2014. Nandi was just starting her thing for climbing over the logs in her enclosure. (Oh, and at the end, where she and another elephant are sharing caresses with their trunks — that’s Mabu, her dad, with her. I didn’t realize it the first few times I watched it. Until I noticed his tusk.)

Where Did January Go?

Actually, I’m now starting to wonder where the first three weeks of February have gone. I used to think weeks lasted a long time. Now they seem to pass in a breath.

In December we traveled to California to visit my stepmother and our son, daughter-in-law and grandkids for Christmas. This year we saw my stepmother first, so we wouldn’t have to worry about being sick and having to leave before we planned so as not to infect her. Which was what happened last year.

At 94, her age was severely restricting her social activities: she was no longer able to negotiate stairs, was increasingly subject to falls, and spent most of her day sitting in a chair looking out the window on the quiet street where she lived. That or watching television. Midday was her one active, alert time, so that’s when we scheduled our meeting. We shared lunch, a photo album featuring her great-grand-daughter, then played dominoes. She beat us both. We had a wonderful time. The next day we headed down to San Diego to be with the kids over Christmas, and returned home a couple days after.

On New Year’s Day, she suffered a stroke that left her unable to talk and paralyzed on one side. Two weeks after that, she went home to be with the Lord. When my cousin called to tell me, I was… not surprised, and really not even sad. In fact, my first reaction was elation. She’d been set free and I felt it in a very real way. No longer shackled to the body that had been steadily breaking down, allowing her less and less memory, comfort, mobility, use…

She has a new body now and she is with my Dad, her own parents, all the brothers, sister, in-laws and friends that had preceded her in death, and she’s in a place of no more sorrow, no more pain, no more tears, face to face with her precious Lord. How can I feel anything but joy that she has been finally and wholly set free?

About a week after she passed, I got another call. My aunt, the younger sister of my dad and center of his large family (there were seven of them) had unexpectedly died of pneumonia. Because a large number of my cousins were already planning to come to my step mom’s funeral they arranged things so that both services were held the same day in the same cemetery. My aunt’s graveside service was held at 10am and my stepmother’s at 1pm on a Saturday, the last day of January.

I mention this because my cousin who was arranging my stepmother’s funeral pressed very hard to get that day, which was only two weeks after her death. Why? Because every important date in the history of my dad and my stepmom’s relationship is in January. They were both born in January, they were married in January and both of them died in January. So it seemed right the funeral should be in January…

We drove to California on the Friday before (with Quigley!) and came home on Sunday.  Our son came up from San Diego with our granddaughter, and it was great to have the chance to see them, and also to reconnect with cousins I hadn’t seen for years. I felt a little nervous about it all beforehand, but it turned out to be a wonderful, beautiful day.

And the minister who officiated at my stepmother’s funeral got the Gospel in loud and clear, both at the chapel and even more clearly and directly at the graveside service. I was quite pleased by that and I know my stepmother would have been as well.

 

 

 

 

So What Happened to the Writing Class?

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Well, in three words… It’s on hold.

I progressed through three weeks of it, and really enjoyed it, learned a lot of things, was reminded of even more things, read some interesting short stories I never would have otherwise read, that I hated at first, and then came to see were quite compelling in their way. I still remember some of the images they conjured up, and the fascinating techniques that were employed. And I even think I may have the start of several short pieces of my own. So I definitely plan to get back to it once I have a little more of The Other Side of the Sky under my belt… like perhaps a first draft!

So why did I stop?

Well, for Lesson three we were to go somewhere and observe someone and make detailed notes in our writing notebook. I went to Starbucks, got my latte and blueberry scone and a table to go with them where I sat and observed a young girl on the other side of the glass, seated slightly facing away from me as she focused on her smart phone.

It was fascinating. I took lots of notes. Then I came home and looked through the accompanying class sheets designed to aid us in developing a character and realized that I had already done all that when I was developing my characters for Sky. I have a huge notebook with all the notes… I didn’t need another character!

Also, by that time I’d begun doing the writing exercises from the standpoint of my WIP, and the lights began to come on again with respect to the book, so that I started working regularly on it…

But then came an emergency trip to California in October, followed by visits from our son and his family for Thanksgiving, followed by the all-too-soon advent of Christmas and another trip to CA, and my writing work took a back seat to all of that. I’ve picked it up again these last couple of weeks and…dare I say it? …things are going well. Which is to say, I’m moving through chapter 13, rather than staring out the window blankly..

None of which is to say that I’ve abandoned the class, because I haven’t. Sky just happens to be the writing project with the (sort of)  deadline, while the class is self-regulated. I can stop now and take it up again as I choose. In fact, I’m looking forward to doing that when I have the time…

Back to the Writing Diary

 

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Back in February of 2006, when I began my first blog  (Writing from the Edge over on Blogger), I started out by saying that since I’d been keeping a writing diary for almost as long as I had been writing, it shouldn’t be too much of a stretch to start one online.

Thus the tagline for that blog became “The Writing Diary of Novelist Karen Hancock” and that was the fallback formula for the posts that I aimed to publish there. If nothing else, I could always put up a writing diary entry.

So, in view of my lengthy/erratic absence from the world of blogging, I’ve decided that maybe… just maybe… I can resurrect the spark by simply going back to that earlier format. For one thing, even though I haven’t been blogging, I have been keeping a writing diary.

Today’s entry began this morning at 10:19am…

I could’ve come in (to the office) at 9:30am, but my (retired) hubby came home and discovered the hawk has gotten another pigeon — my favorite pink/red one. 🙁  I believe it was female. It got her inside the broken down pigeon coop. And there’s an egg on the nest.  So that’s disturbing.  😥

Then I called our computer fix-it guy right after that about my computer issue (last week IE-11 refused to open in the desktop and was repaired; this week it refuses to open in the live tiles, but works fine in the desktop, which is really okay, because I can do everything I need to do through the desktop and furthermore I am declaring a moratorium on reading blog and news sites, but still… it bugs me that the program is not working properly). Alas, the computer guy had never even heard of that issue. I spent last week doing all manner of things trying to resolve the issue, including running the Apps troubleshooter, which gave me some error messages, which the computer guy asked me to email to him, so I did.

Anyway, then I hung out the laundry, and now I’m in here. Just read Sarah Selecky’s letter for today, What I’ve learned so far about how to write a novel.”  Amusing and familiar and comforting. Also comforting is the fact that I’ve written 6 novels and am working on number 7 and I actually know more about it all than she does! (Seeing as she has yet to complete her first one)

It’s hard. It’s messy and confusing — in fact, she talks about confusing herself with all her notes written in little notebooks, and says next time she’ll use index cards. Ha! I confuse myself with my notes all the time and cards don’t help. (But it’s comforting to know other people get confused by their notes, too!)  I use business-sized cards to keep notes on…

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…notes about possible plot events, incidents, character bits, world bits, questions… The advantage (or disadvantage) is that you can spread out MORE of the little cards than you can the index cards, which ends up being even MORE confusing! Especially when I suggest on one card that Talmas should do “A” and on the other “Opposite-A.” Which I do. A Lot…

Sarah says she “can’t work with an outline and can’t work without one.” Yes, indeed. That is SO true. At least in the beginning anyway. You can only use a general outline then… because, as another writer put it,

“How can I know what I want to write until I see what I’ve written?”

For me everything kind of goes together — plot, character, backstory, events, incidents, the climax, the spiritual analogy — and so it must emerge together. Whenever I try to get hard-nosed about any of it, I end up running into walls.

Anyway, yesterday I worked on chapter 13, which at the start was 25 pages of confusing mishmash. I’m going slowly through it this week, editing, trying to find and fix what A/Not-A conflicts I could. In fact, discovering that I had portrayed one character as being of two different opinions in the same scene because I couldn’t decide which I wanted and just put them both in, very broadly, I decided today to just write it one way very clearly. That immediately showed me I didn’t want it that way, but the other way, so I went back and wrote it that way.

I’d forgotten that trick to deciding between two options when you can’t seem to do so: just pick one and “decide” to do it that way. Somehow going through the deciding and writing shows me just how committed I am to that option.  Coin flips work, too. Should this secondary character’s hair be blond or black? Can’t decide? Flip the coin and it comes up in favor of blond. Okay, he’ll be blond then. So off you go to write it thus and immediately you realize that no, he’s not blond at all, he has black hair…

Yes, I know. Writers are weird.

Anyway, I worked through about 7 pages today, adding two additional pages of material as I did so, leaving the rough chapter at 27 pages. So far.

Back to School

So what have I been doing besides viewing cute baby elephant videos, going to the zoo breakfasts in support/celebration of said baby elephant, and then making multiple return trips to the zoo to see her? Well, one thing is that I went back to “school.” In fact, I even wrote a blog post about my decision and how it was all going when I was about a week into it.

That post, written August 3, 2014 but never proofed, has languished as a mere draft in my posts folder for these last four months as I worked through part of the class, then stopped to switch back to Sky. And, lest you get the wrong idea, I didn’t stop because of deficiencies in the class, but rather because it worked!

This week I decided to go back and the post ready to share, so here it is:

Back to School

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Yes, it’s true. I’ve gone back to school, but I’ve done so without leaving my office. Actually I started a week ago, when I signed up for an online writing course taught by award-winning Canadian short story writer Sarah Selecky, who also happens to be a writing instructor.

It all started when I was considering going on a retreat — anything to get myself past the rather extreme blocking I’ve been experiencing with Sky. I thought maybe if I could just get away from all the distractions and focus, that it would help. There’s a place here in Tucson that I could go to, but all I’d have is a room with a bed. No desk. They’d provide meals, but with our 100+ degree temps it would be too hot to walk about the grounds, so I’d be stuck in the little room and I just didn’t know how helpful that would be.

Well, in the course of going online to research other retreats, retreats away, retreats at home, mini retreats, I stumbled upon a report by a woman who was on retreat — house sitting for friends in a beautiful place in the country for two months — in hopes of making some progress on her current book. Alas, she spent nearly the entire time NOT writing. Instead she watched DVD’s of a TV series, knitted a cap and scarf, went canoeing alone, watched woodpeckers at the feeder and generally just rested. (You can read it here.)

Then, about five days before she was to return home, she finally turned to the book she’d meant to work on. I loved her descriptions, and her observations about writing and resting really resonated. Of course it was Sarah Selecky, and one thing led to another. The next thing you know I’d found her writing instruction site, and signed up for both her twice-a-month email “letters” on some aspect of writing fiction, and her daily writing prompts sent straight to my inbox. I immediately began using the latter as a warm up for my daily stint of work on Sky.

The letters all linked back to other letters at the main webpage where I compulsively read one after the other, printing up the ones I found most helpful.  Before I knew it, I had a notebook full of printouts, which were underlined and starred and had been read repeatedly. Some titles are  “Six ways to look at an abandoned story,” “White Space,” “Don’t try to make it symbolic,” “Is it good or bad?” “Be Grateful for your crazy, active mind,” “Deliberate Practice: What it is and Why you need it,” and quite a few more.

She said so many things that helped, that reassured, that clarified, that pointed me back in the right direction! I kept expecting the next letter to disappoint, but it never did. Eventually, of course I had to check out the info on her class, Story is a State of Mind. And right at the beginning some of the things she said about what the course would do spoke exactly to where I was:

“Do you resist writing? You can train yourself to write anyway…(SSM) is a different kind of writing course. It trains you to work with uncertainty… learn to work with your creative mind, not against it…”

It sounded wonderful. But… she’s a literary short story writer. I have written short stories, but I consider myself more of a novelist. I have never really cared for the literary genre. Plus, I’ve been writing for 40+ years… so it doesn’t seem like I should need a class… but that last bit is just arrogance speaking. Maybe I have been writing for 40 years, but I’m not doing much of a job at it now. Maybe taking a class and getting a new perspective would be just the thing.

So I prayed, and printed up everything on the classes, and read all the reviews, which are many, and glowing, and again spoke to the very areas I am/was struggling with.  I prayed some more, and agonized a bit, because though reasonably priced, it’s not free… and what if it turned out to be a disappointment? And all that stuff we tell ourselves when we’re afraid to try something new…

So I prayed some more and then God had an evangelist friend, Scott Grande of Christ Saves Ministries, send out a newsletter in a timing that was absolutely impeccable. I opened it and here were some of the phrases that leapt off the page:

“Stepping out of the Box”

“If you are stuck in your spiritual routine and maybe rigid in your application of Bible doctrine, maybe you need to step out by faith; and if you err, err on the side of grace. God has your back, so long as your motivation is good”.

“Are you stunting an avenue God wants you to take? Do you think the Spirit works in only methodical and predictable ways, where we get to stay “in control”?”

“Many hold to certain things because they don’t want to step out of their comfort zone, even though the Spirit is leading them there! … Be open to what the Spirit is showing you. It is most likely not what you thought it would be.”

That was so precise, so tailored to answer precisely the things I’d been thinking, the objections I’d been marshaling that I knew it was the Lord. And shortly after that I signed up.

A week later, I can say I have NOT been disappointed! It’s been exactly what I’ve needed to get back on track.

December 7, 2014  I put the class on hold about a month later, but despite my early and temporary “abandonment,” I fully intend to get back to the class when I’ve gotten a bit more work done on Sky, and the holidays are over. That’s one of the beauties of it: it’s completely self-directed, and in fact downloadable, so I have all the videos and materials on my computer, waiting for me to get back them when the time is right…  

Keep a Quiet Heart

Keep a Quiet Heart is the name of one of my favorite Elisabeth Elliot books. The title comes from a piece written by a woman named Annie Keary who lived during the 19th century, a piece which is also used as the frontispiece for Elliot’s book. It is something I have kept coming back to repeatedly for the last almost twenty or so years. And lately it’s been more helpful than ever.  So I thought I’d share it here:Do Not Rush 001

 “I think I find most help in trying to look on all the interruptions and hindrances to work that one has planned out for oneself as discipline, trials sent by God to help one against getting selfish over one’s work. Then one can feel that perhaps one’s true work — one’s work for God — consists in doing some trifling, haphazard thing that has been thrown into one’s day. It is not a waste of time, as one is tempted to think, it is the most important part of the work of the day — the part one can best offer to God. After such a hindrance, do not rush after the planned work; trust that the time to finish it will be given sometime, and keep a quiet heart about it.”   

Annie Keary 1825-1879