For those of you who like to tune in to listen (and, I hope, participate) to a discussion of elephants and writing, I’m doing a Zoom presentation through the kind auspices of The Estacada Library in Estacada, OR on Thursday, January 13 from 6:30-7:30, PST. (Contact the library at https://www.cityofestacada.org/library for details.)
I’ve been a fan of Krampus for a long time. I appreciate the balance he brings to the holiday, and I like to think that he and old Santa are quite fond of one another, working in tandem as they do. I’ve watched most of the Krampusnacht videos on YouTube (and if you haven’t, you should), but I never expected to meet him.
Color me startled, but who knew there was a conclave of Krampuses (Krampesi? Krampusei?) (Ah, I just Googled it: di Krampi) in Ohio of all places.
Yeah, I know….no one seems to think anything goes on in Ohio. I hear it all the time from people who discover we’ve moved here. The resounding question is always WHY? And there are those who tell us they’ll NEVER come visit because who, like, goes to Ohio ON PURPOSE?!
Because not only are there venues where to you can meet and greet these lovely folk, but there’s also a polka band that performs with them, and puts on a stellar and thoroughly kick-ass polka version of “The Night Before Christmas.” I kid you not. (And if anyone had told me 13 months ago that I’d be singing the praises of a polka band, I’d have said they were nuts, but I’m here to tell you right now that the Chardon Polka Band is stupendous. (Here you go. I dare you.) The loud hooting you hear is me and my daughter Theresa.
As Theresa put it halfway through the show, “I’m smiling so much, my face hurts.” Me, too, kid.
As Patti LaBelle sings it, “I got a new attitude.” I’m trying anyway, and isn’t that half the battle?
So Happy New Year to all. Don’t know if you partied hearty or kept it low-key like us (fabulous meal cooked by my husband, eaten while watching the National Theatre production of “Romeo and Juliet”), but however you chose to ring out the old/ring in the new (or not), I wish you a coming year of peace, prosperity, health, happiness, and mental equilibrium.
The change in my attitude can partly be blamed on writer John B. Valeri, whose annual year’s end poem hit the mark, as usual. Damned astute guy, our John. He picks up on the universality of feelings. I’d like to share it with you:
Take This Moment, Make This Wish
Do you feel a world apart
When all you want is to be together
Did somebody break your heart
When you thought you had forever
Do you feel miles away
When there’s only time or distance
Did you forget the words to say
When you were met with resistance
If you feel alone this December
It might do you good to remember
We all look up to the same sky
We breath air from the same trees
We all search for reasons why
We can agree to disagree
Take this moment, make this wish
Peace to all, and happiness
The joy comes from within
So that’s where we begin
Do you feel left in doubt
When you used to know your mind
Did you look within, without
When you left it all behind
Do you feel you’ve lost your way
When you used to have direction
Did you somehow go astray
When you reached the intersection
If you feel lost this December
It might do you good to remember
We all sleep under the same stars
We are warmed by the same sun
We all carry our own scars
We can be the change that starts with one
Take this moment, make this wish
Peace to all, and happiness
The joy comes from within
And that’s where we begin
That’s where we begin…. And so I shall.
I also read something recently that talked about the cumulative effect of grief, that as each grievous thing occurs, if you haven’t had time to process it even a little, well, it’s piles up like sludge in a pipe until you’re overwhelmed. I think that’s a lot of what’s been going on with me. Not just exhausted with another year of pretty much keeping to ourselves (for those who care, yes, we’re vaccinated and boosted), but shouldering the loss of so many individuals we know and love.
But if I hope to keep the dark feelings from taking over forever (and I have the good example of certain relatives to know what that looks like when it comes home to roost), the change needs to come from inside me. Wish me luck.
This fellow here is my nephew, Lucas Richard Perkins. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Luke died last November after a 30-year battle with Cystic Fibrosis.
And believe me, he gave the bastard a beating. Cystic Fibrosis, life itself, and that thing we all fall prey to called “bad life choices” had slowly robbed Luke of just about everything he loved. Understandably, it made him resentful and so very, very angry that not many people could reach past that rage. (Although I’m happy to say that I recently learned from his mom that in the days prior to his death, he found a way to set aside the pain and become who he was at heart – a warm, compassionate, loyal, and loving human being.)
Anyway, a few weeks (maybe months) after Luke died, I felt compelled to write a poem about him. “Compelled” is too soft a word to describe the experience; basically something out there in the ether grabbed me by the brain and hand, shoved my ass into a chair, and disgorged five or six stanzas unlike anything I’d ever written. It took a couple more days to bring it to a finish, and when it was done I felt like I’d been possessed. Luke was something of a writer himself, although never had a chance to explore where it might have taken him, and I like to think he took advantage of the writer in the family to let us know he’s okay. There’s plenty of folks out there who’ll say that’s bullshit, but their opinions don’t matter. I know what I know. And even if I don’t know what I know, if it brings me, and Luke’s other family and loved ones, a measure of peace, where’s the harm?
I posted the poem to his Facebook page because I couldn’t think of where else to put it. As you might guess from the picture, motorcycles figured prominently in Luke’s life, but I couldn’t imagine any motorcycle magazine printing poetry. Ray Agnew, a long-ago friend from high school and an accomplished musician, read the poem and asked if he might set it to music. I was understandably thrilled by the offer and of course said yes. Ray took the project and ran with it, bringing in other talented musicians including his son Zane.
I’m proud to announce the song “Heaven’s Highway” (words and music by Melissa Crandall and Ray Agnew; music by Ray Agnew) is now available for purchase (a bank-breaking 99-cents) on Amazon music. You can also hear it on Youtube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IDU2Alr-a2w. ALL PROCEEDS are donated to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation in hopes of vanquishing this awful disease that has affected too damn many of my family.
Thank you, and happy listening.
…is often how it goes in this game of writing, or at least that’s my experience of it. Famine, feast, famine. It’s an oft-used example, but it really is a lot like one loose pebble on a hillside. Once it begins to roll, you can either end up with a landslide or it’ll get lodged against something else, halfway down the slope.
I gratefully take the work of progress as it comes. And it is work, make no mistake.
So I’m happy to announce the next little progression in the life of ELEPHANT SPEAK: A Devoted Keeper’s Life Among the Herd. It’s very early days yet, but on January 13, 2022, from 6:30pm to 7:30 pm, I will be guest of honor on Zoom courtesy of the Estacada Library in Estacada, OR (https://www.cityofestacada.org/library). The thing I love about these online meetings is that people from all over the globe can tune in, so please pass the word along to those you know who have an interest in elephants. I plan on showing pictures from the life of elephant keeper Roger Henneous, telling a bit about him, and maybe sharing a story or two that didn’t make it into the book. I hope you’ll join us.
“What a year” has become so cliché that no one is saying it much anymore; we merely give one another that look and move on. We all know where we’ve been, at least to some degree. No need to belabor the point.
Like many creative sorts I’ve spoken to over these many months, I’ve run into a rough patch. I’m envious as hell of those who’ve experienced little negative impact on their work, or who’ve actually increased their output. Well done, you! But that’s not me.
This fallowness, for want of a better word, began well before the onset of COVID, back around the time I sent in the final final manuscript for ELEPHANT SPEAK. I chalked it up to exhaustion. I’d been working steadily on the book for almost six years without a break: writing, researching, crafting, editing, more researching, and many wonderful telephone calls with Roger Henneous. Once the book was in the hands of Ooligan Press (all hail Ooligan Press!), it’s no wonder I felt the desire–nay, the need–to kick back and relax a bit, let the old creative batteries recharge. I’d been writing (and lucidly dreaming) of nothing but elephants for so long, it seemed impossible that state of affairs wasn’t going to continue. But, of course, it didn’t. The book was done, the elephants celebrated, Roger introduced to the world. Then COVID hit, and not quite a year later, Roger was gone.
After a couple of weeks, I felt eager and ready to begin my next project. And that’s when the trouble started. Kurt Vonnegut said one should write from one’s areas of deepest passion. I agree. The problem was, I felt passionate about nothing. Old snippets and ideas of stories lay before me like seeds dead in the ground. I couldn’t seem to jump-start anything.
I did have a bit of reprieve last fall/winter. From October 2020 to this past spring I had a steady run of poems pouring out the ends of my fingers. Some of them were even good (although most weren’t). Then even those passed and I was left with…well, pick your metaphor: the sound of sand blowing across an open courtyard; silence that echoes loud as a cathedral bell; the open vistas of a dead planet.
Really, it kinda sucks.
I’ve even tried to make the words come, although that’s patently ridiculous. So I’ve now given myself permission to back away from the computer and all those old ideas. Maybe if I clear the way of ancient stuff, something new and wonderful will appear. (If the universe is listening, I’d love to do another elephant book, maybe one about the elephants in captivity, before they’re gone and we no longer know their stories, a coffee table book with lovely pictures.)
That’s not to say wonderful things haven’t happened. To whit:
I just returned from a short visit back to Connecticut during which I connected with some much-loved and much-missed friends, and presented a talk on ELEPHANT SPEAK hosted by the wonderful Bill Library in Ledyard, CT:
And I’ve recently been contacted by the folks at the Estacada Library in Estacada, Oregon to do a Zoom presentation for their Adult Winter Reading Program in which they “offer the most engaging programming.” I’m honored to be asked, to have accepted, and I look forward to working with them.
Last year, just after Thanksgiving, my nephew Lucas Perkins lost his battle with Cystic Fibrosis. In the weeks that followed, a poem emerged which I subsequently posted to Facebook. (I say emerged, but it was more like the work was generated through me by the hands of another, maybe Luke himself.) Singer/Songwriter Ray Agnew read it and asked if he could put it to music. The result of our collaboration, “Heaven’s Highway” will be available for purchase on Ray’s website, http://www.rayagnewsongs.com/, beginning November 1. (You can also find out about it on his Facebook page, Ray Agnew – Singer/Songwriter.)
Thanks for being there.
Last year, at the end of August, my new-found friend Doug Groves was killed by a wild African elephant.
Doug, a well-regarded conservationist, had dedicated his life to working with elephants. His career spanned 48 years and included not only his work in Africa (since 1987), but stints at the Washington Park Zoo/Oregon Zoo with Roger Henneous, and with animal importer/trainer Morgan Berry, among others.
With his wife Sandi, Doug created the nonprofit Living with Elephants Foundation which provided African elephants with a safe home in Botswana’s Okavango Delta. For nearly 30 years, they worked together to save orphaned elephants, many of them rescued from culling operations in the area. Since Doug’s death, Sandi and a core group have strived to continue the work of caring for Jabu and Morula, the two elephants presently in the program.
This morning I learned that Jabu has died. Sandi stresses that he was not poached. When found, he’d been dead a few days and hyenas had been at work on his body, but it’s believed he suffered a mortal wound from a wild bull.
Please join me in sending Sandi all the love and support we can at this awful time. If you’re of a mind (and able to) please consider a donation at the website above to help her continue her work. Thank you.
There aren’t words enough to thank writer/book reviewer John Valeri for his interest in, and continued support of, my career. In Episode 2 of his podcast, Central Booking, we delve into the story behind my book ELEPHANT SPEAK: A Devoted Keeper’s Life Among the Herd. Click here to see the episode on Youtube.
When I began this website many, many moons ago, blogging had just become the latest hot thing. Someone said I should do it. My natural response was “Why?”
“Because,” they somewhat impatiently replied, like it was so obvious I must be a total dunce to not understand, “everyone’s doing it.”
Really? I thought. Everyone? What could everyone possibly have to say? And if everyone was writing blogs, who was reading them? (It certainly wasn’t me.)
“What would I write about?”
<A somewhat insulting eyeroll> “About writing!”
Now there was a terrifying thought. I knew just how much I didn’t know about the business of writing, so no way was I going to put myself out into the world like some font of wisdom. (There’s too many of those sorts of jackasses already.) As for being a writer, well, even after nearly thirty years as a professional, I’m still so wrapped up in the PFM (pure fucking magic) of writing that I’m reluctant to talk about it except with a select few. Magic should be handled lightly, and with respect, and one must be careful in choosing the members of one’s Fellowship.
But I gave it a shot. I wrote a few pieces about my particular writing process, and things I’d observed or experienced for myself and with other writers, and I bored my socks off. I felt like such an imposter. I was still learning (God willing, I’ll always be learning the craft, right up until they pry the keyboard from my cold, dead fingers), and I guess hearing from someone who is learning can be beneficial, but it didn’t feel that way to me. Instead if felt like ridiculous posturing. So I stopped.
Then I was told to pick a subject–any subject–and make my blog about that, so readers would know what to expect from post to post, and know they can come to me for that one thing. Now “that one thing” can be pretty diverse within itself, but I have one of those jackrabbit brains that leap all over the place. That’s not to imply lack of discipline (you don’t write books or stories or articles with lack of discipline), but I wanted to engage with myself as much as I wanted to engage with my (hoped for) readers. And I wanted to give the readers some credit. They’re not mindless bovine feeding on silage (okay, well, yeah, maybe some of them are…), but I hoped to connect with those whose interests are as wide-ranging as my own, those who might reach out with opinions and engage in dialogue.
So I couldn’t stick with one topic. Oh, I go on stints of one topic. Animals are a big part of my life and they show up frequently (especially elephants over the past six years), as do human relationships and my own difficulties with managing same….or good books I’ve read….or something I witnessed….or…..
Maybe I am undisciplined, at least in this respect, but it seems to me that if I’m going to take time from my “real” writing (whatever form that may presently take), I need to enjoy it and find some intrinsic worth in the words I put here. So if you choose to visit now and then, be forewarned that I’ll continue to write what calls to me.
I read an interview with Neil Gaiman some time ago, and in it he mentioned (not by name) a science fiction writer he knew who’d written a fantastic western, but couldn’t get it published because he was “a science fiction writer” in the eyes of those with power, and couldn’t possibly be anything else. Ursula LeGuin wrote about being asked what sorts of books she wrote and she replied that left to her own devices, she’d called them novels. Not fantasy, not science fiction, just novels. How freeing!
I deplore labels. Don’t call me a writer of <blank>, just call me a writer. If you’re compelled to write one sort of thing (poetry, science fiction, fantasy, romance, western, you name it), good for you! I celebrate you! But if, like me, you’re bound to a capricious Muse who grins with wicked delight every time she drops an idea into my brain and whispers, “What about this?” then you ought to have the freedom to play in whatever sandbox you choose. And if the powers that be won’t let you, build your own sandbox.
And make it BIG.
A year ago today, my husband and I were in the air headed to Portland, Oregon to meet up with one of my dearest friends for the launch of my book ELEPHANT SPEAK: A Devoted Keeper’s Life Among the Herd, a memoir of the life of Roger Henneous.
A lot has happened (to all of us) in the year that’s passed. Looking back, I’m overwhelmed by how lucky we were (myself and Ooligan Press*). Powell’s Books, the largest independent bookstore in the world, agreed to host the launch event, and (bless them) didn’t cancel at the last minute because of the emergence of COVID. Likewise, Sunriver Books & Music and Roundabout Books (both located in Bend, Oregon) welcomed us with open arms and enthusiastic crowds. We enjoyed good times, good friends, new friends, and made it safely home before the bottom fell out a week later and we were all quarantined.
All of the east coast venues I’d arranged promptly cancelled. The Newburyport Literary Festival was able to host a Zoom event with the authors slated to speak, so that was wonderful. Sadly, though, arranging for the other events to occur at a much later date has not proved as fruitful. However, I persevere and hope the time will come when I can meet readers in person or online. (And for those of you involved in book clubs, if your club chooses to read ELEPHANT SPEAK, I would love to Zoom or Skype or FaceTime with you and be part of the discussion.)
Like many of you, we’ve had our losses this year and we’re all coping as best we can. My hope is to gradually put the sadness behind me and move forward. I hope you’re able to do the same.