21 January 2006

Adventures of discovering the ellemehnopee

He came first once, then twice a week, exactly at 7:30 pm, in a clean torn shirt topped by a gnarled sweater, his smile eager and shy, his hair still wet from the bath. He always came bearing gifts. A box of apples, their skins still covered with the cataract of bloom, a bag of grapefruit smelling like tonic water and stink bugs, some flame-red persimmons, always picked that day.

His ringed notebook was clutched in an armpit, filled with his former and latest assignments. At first I asked him whether he wanted a mug of tea when he arrived, but I soon stopped because it would sit getting cold, and then he would drink it all at once because I had made it.

He knew how to sign his name, but could not read the letters, so we started with the alphabet. Starting with A, B, C. In printed form, both capitals and lower case, in four alphabets. Century Schoolbook because of its nostalgia to me, but the practical reason is that it's a good serif font for reading any of these complicated squiggles and other impertinences that were part of all letters before type artists knocked the little hooks and noodles off to become the simplified, increasingly used, but harder to read sans serif—William's second alphabet to learn. I chose Gill Sans, a late 1920's font originally based on Edward Johnston's alphabet for the London Underground, but which seduces me with its uniquely elegant and legible proportions. Besides the pleasure of looking at it, I chose this second alphabet because of its resemblance to his third alphabet, the one that his hand had to form by printing. The fourth, of course, was cursive, and he was surprisingly eager to master it, the form he picked out to learn being a classic, 45 degree angled copybook style, generously looped, somewhat fancifully capped.

The alphabet, though, presented the first problem. In order to remember the letters and their peculiar order—why, for instance, are not the sounds grouped—I chose to teach it as a mnemonic. There was only one that I know, and I hesitated, then told him honestly that it was the first long song that I memorized, and I still say it in my head to be able to use that book of mystery and magic, the dictionary.

So we sang it together, and to my delight, he felt the delight that I do in this simple learning aid. He thrilled at the plot. The deliberateness as it begins its march, only to stop abruptly at G. I could feel his sense of suspense. Then we set out again, only to stop again poised but breathless after P. Then with the same sure tread as when set off on our expedition, we approached the end of our journey, which always sounded like a thud of a let-down to me, but didn't to him, because I grew up with the reward of rhyme at the Zee, but here in Australia, Zee is Zed, which doesn't work. Not to me, but to him, it worked "a treat", as he would say. Because it meant that he had seen all the letters and remembered them.

I thought that being a song, it would be easier for him to remember each letter, but I was pleased that he also felt additional pleasure from the arrangements of sounds they make, and the relationships of the letters to each other rather than just abstract symbols in sight and sound. I never discussed it with him, but could see from his joy that he also felt something about the exoticness of it, especially when we came to the part of our journey where we meet what I always have thought of as the rare spotted forest-dweller, the ellemehnopee.

Once he learned what the letters were, we began to practice the sounds they make. I could not find any books suitable, but could remember my mother teaching me how to read after school when I was in the first grade. Sight reading was just coming in, and my mother wanted her children to know how to read, so she ordered some books and taught us by herself.

The diphthongs and paired letters were the key to it. And they are what I started with. I made a large card deck—cards with single letters and cards with combinations of two, three, and four letters.

We started out playing cards. CAT. HAT. CH + A + T. That sort of thing. For it wasn't as if we could have started out with ONE, TWO, THREE. Besides, with his rather old-fashioned Australian dialect (in which cockney plays a large part), "one, two, three" comes out as "one, two, free," which meant that both the "th" and the "f" were building blocks that we stumbled on, though not pyramid-sized.

He also had the problem of "d" and "b", "p" and q".

But they were not insurmountable either. Far from it.

Because this man, a very successful farmer, had left school early because the forest was so much more interesting. I only found out about his illiteracy in a slip-of-the-tongue by his wife, saying something about him wishing that he could read so he could enjoy what I so clearly enjoy. So I offered to try, for it would be a joy for both, and so we began our lessons. He knew words in the way that children learn words now in too many places in the English speaking world—as specific words, by sight.

Soon after William and I began our hopeful experiment, I began tutoring an 11-year-old boy who was unhappy that he couldn't read. I saw his plea in the local paper, and in my naïve enthusiasm, I was eager to help. He had passed every grade, indeed, got average grades at school. When he came for his first lesson, I gave him a children's book about lizards, so I could hear where he had problems. He looked at it and me. He did not know the alphabet. He was not able to read Cat in the Hat. His parents wanted to help but didn't know how this could have happened. I asked to see his report card, and he brought it to me. It explained the problem. Such a good boy. No trouble at all, So quiet. His reading was "good". The comments were written in a semi-literate hand, and the spelling would not have passed any test, except a school system's like this one. I visited the local schools' office and asked what their policy was. Pass everyone. Failing makes children feel bad.

Because Luke had such immediate problems, we scheduled several sessions a week. Easy for him because the teachers have so many days off for preparation, and then there are so many days that the children are out of the classroom doing some sort of visit somewhere, like the park in town or somewhere baby-sitting-on-the-move from the attitude of the teachers; and then there are so many breaks for holidays, he always seemed to be on holiday. His parents said that it didn't matter if he went to school or not. He didn't learn anything. He did know some words. He'd say, "I know that word. We learned that word." But it was like a drizzle of memorized hieroglyphs, with no logic to connect them.

I tried to make it as much fun as possible, and he tried to concentrate as well as he could for a normal boy of eleven with so many fun animals outdoors, and the sun on the paddocks. Sometimes we adjourned to the outdoors and did lessons there, with him spelling out loud and building words in his head, and saying them out loud. He especially took to rhyme, which suited me down to the ground.

Luke was a charming boy, not at all dim-witted as his parents and he were wondering about. We would have gotten somewhere beyond, yes, the mastery of Cat and the Hat, except for natural inclination and pity and laziness. His mother felt sorry for him, and didn't believe me when I said that he had to do the homework I made for him each lesson and settle down for an hour every night, or it would never sink in. The bicycle came out as soon as he came home, and then, at each lesson, we would almost have to start all over again. It reminded me of taking Rosie to her school once a week, and us both rolling our eyes at the other people who were still saying "Sit. Sit. Seeyiiit!" month after month forever.

Finally, I told the parents that if he did not do the homework during the week, I could not put in the enormous effort it was to craft these lessons specially for his interests. His homework, by the way, was with the deck of cards I made for him, in which you got points for making the words and building from them to make new ones, like in Scrabble, so more than one could play. They also now had Junior Scrabble itself, and there were simple rhyming and sentence construction exercises in addition. But the bike was more fun, the mother not wanting to be hard on her child, the father at work, trying hard not to be laid off because of an ailing back. So Mrs. ended the lessons by telling Luke that I "didn't like him any more." I only found this out later, after the family split up. What Luke is doing now, I don't know. But he has been cheated in life, for what boy does want to work, especially when he's come home from school, in those crucial years that he is cooped up in "school" and the school gives him an education not worth a splat of birdshit?

William was different. He was exhausting. He did two hours at night every night, minimum, for the pleasure of it. Because he had never known how to read, and always had to hide it, he remembered EVERYTHING. He didn't need silly mnemonics because he had never had the luxury of anyone teaching him elegant little sayings to help him remember. His memory was built from sheer willpower, then the ability that comes from the practice of flexing the muscle of memory. By the time he came to me, he was a truly exceptional man, with no knowledge of his exceptionality, other than that of being an illiterate—and painfully shy and insecure because of it. He soaked up my lessons, both written and spoken, so well that I had to become extremely pedantic in making absolutely sure of every tiny point that was said to him. I had to LEARN like crazy. He forced me to think, and then to think again, such as no teacher had ever forced me before. His mind picked up exceptions to rules like rose thorns find tender skin.

He adored diphthongs. He thrilled to their different personalities. He was awed by the concept of silent letters. He was amazed by the illogic, or secret codeness of having a word with a whole lot of silent letters huddled together in it.

He loved watching the action of the ink coming out on the paper. And he used black ink. Pencils were below him. He would write a whole page perfectly, and if it had a mistake, he would write it all again, correctly. When we got to sentences, he felt masterful at being able to punctuate them exactly, to put the comma in where it belongs. To indent for a new paragraph. To think about what constitutes a sentence, a phrase, a paragraph, an argument itself. The logic of thought unfolded in his mind as he played with the building blocks of language itself. It wasn't as if he could not think before. But seeing words on paper and knowing what they meant opened up a feeling that then he could explore new thoughts, whole books, something that he had always wanted to do.

We began to use the dictionary, and he found intense joy in first, figuring out how to find the word, and then, seeing the definition. We even went through the symbols for pronunciation, because he hated not knowing what they meant, and when he knew, he always liked to pronounce the word as the suggestions said, sometimes surprising suggestions.

He bought his own dictionary, and told me that he enjoyed spending an evening with it, reading.

We read out loud, and with his mild dyslexia, and his eagerness to please, he had a tendency to run ahead of himself. I had to say, "Slow down. Read that again . . . See. Now you are reading it right. It says 'Not to be used within sixty days.' Not 'To be used within sixty days.' " Because, of course, we were not reading Dick and Jane play with Spot. We were reading poison pamphlets.

For "graduation" he wrote a letter (his handwriting, his composition) to the Mayor, about something that needed to be done in the region. The mayor wrote back immediately, saying that he had been unaware about this issue till this very informative letter, and so the Council had been directed to fix the problem immediately. And the Mayor was telling the truth. He did get onto it immediately and pulled his weight to make sure the Council workers did, too. To my gobstopped surprise, that was the quickest and most successful political request and action taken that I have ever seen. William just thought that that was the treatment us letter-writers are used to.

As for William, another family, another culture. Less beautiful nature outside the jail-of-a-schoolhouse doors, and who knows? Thinking of today's many-lettered elite, William, with his innate abilities, would have had no problems being their peer. But as for them being his peer, I would rate them to him as a red delicious apple is to an honest, crisp, flattened ball of an apple, netted with the rusty veins that only those in the know, mean the mark of the truly delicious: the russetting. The mark that makes your average person throw the apple away.


At fifty-five, this farmer, grizzle-haired
with eyes pale soup from too many skies
met and discovered the alphabet
and it wrapped its letters around his head
the H and P and O and T
and all the others in their riotous abandon.

Wild they were with their own associations
and he gawped upon, uncovered at last
the marriage of the G and H and the quick
divorce with no hard words, then new
flirtations with other lovers for just a moment
G and U and H and T and then, more fluid
matings! Couplings airy in their flightiness
amoral in their joyousness. Laconic in their
messageness. The bible and a poison pamphlet
same U and G and H and T and just as many
liaisons, even though the one says thee.

His filmy eyes, with their magnifying specs
watched and learned, and memorized the varied
combinations, till he smiled when he saw the T and H
together, and the O and U meant that G and H could make
a foursome, and the nonconformist letters and the noncon-
formist words? Stolid dogma helped him to remember,
like a prayer and a marriage and the shapes that made
his name, the name of fifteen letters, that at fifty-six
he learned.

And now he's fifty-eight and so
his story ends as pear trees grow
when left alone —
without an end.
For him, the letters, to the scarcely seen,
are not cold tools, or means to read
that book. Communication only? No!
Yes: living, leaping, singing, naked friends.

His thinking, ex-espaliered, spreads now
branching, budding, blooming to the yet unread
of lichen-covered borer-riven dogmas down below
as he, the farmer, reaches to prune his fruit trees,
diphthongs, word song buzzing in his head.

20 January 2006

Thy will be done

Death came

A dear friend wrote to me about Rosie's dying:
I do hope that Rosie's not in pain as well as glad to be with you, for I have to admit the word "euthanasia" entered my mind when I read your last description of her condition. (The Supreme Court just allowed Oregon to have legal "assisted suicides" as a state's right, and I was partly thinking of that.) Please don't think I'm criticizing you at a time when you're so unhappy! I just wondered if it would be an option, or whether you're totally opposed to that sort of thing.
My friend is more tolerant by far than I, or is perhaps more diplomatic than I would be capable of, if I thought that a dear friend called what can only be cruelty: "compassion". We all deserve our dignity respected in life and in death, no matter how many feet we have.

But especially, the animals we bring into the world deserve this.

Rosie died yesterday morning, held by four hands, being talked to by those she knew loved her, all her life. She was ready to die then, but not sooner.

We knew that death was days away just before Christmas. I rang our vet, who is a model of what doctors should be. He came once, barefoot when we had an emergency, arriving so fast that I know that he risked a whopping speeding fine. He's our family doctor, the kind who never talks down and never lies. He's one who can handle dealing with a family in which the ones who can speak English have read, examined, and know intimately, both what symptoms mean and what manifestations are, with each family member he's had call to care for.

We spoke about exactly what was happening with Rosie, arranging that he would come if need be, but he thought he wouldn't be called by us because she wouldn't be distressed or in pain. He predicted that she would die in her actual sleep or that dreamy state that comes on from the self-starvation that is a natural part of this process.

He was right, but there was something else that happened that I'll have to talk to him about.

Rosie did understand something in those final days, something that she should not have been able to, as she truly didn't suffer.

I don't know what she understood. She knew death, of course. She'd seen it. But to see her own mortality? What a risible concept, for a dog!

Then you tell me why she wanted to play games she'd stopped playing years ago, why she leapt for sticks that she wanted thrown, forgetting that she has arthritis. She forgot all about her arthritis, in fact, and seemed looser all over, her beautiful pace an ironic movement when there were no longer her "wonder thighs" as we called them, bouncing with each step. She wanted to go on a certain 500 metre walk around our place, 2, 3, 5 times a day. She looked into our eyes with what one could only call, a fierce desire to live. A will to savour every minute she had left. It was our duty and our joy to give her everything we could, except that thing we desperately wanted for her, to the very end.

The last three days she shat blood, as we knew she would. She grew weaker and weaker, and yet she still continued to want to live.

She wanted to climb up and run down stairs even when she was clearly too weak, We picked her up and carried her, though wished for her sake that she still could do this safely. For she never lost her dignity.

The night before she died she asked to go out for what we thought surely must be her last time. We'd been thinking this for days, being fooled by her love of life and her tenacity hour after hour, day after remarkable day. But this was her last time. She was so very weak at this point. She squatted and had a pee, stood up, squatted again, and voided a large amount of blood, and then collapsed. It hit me then how much more dignity she had than so many humans. It was her sense, not ours, that made her act the way she did. And it was consistent with her life.

We owed her everything possible; to put our "normal" lives on hold, to make her feel clean and comfortable all the time, to be loved and watched to see what she wanted; and never never left alone. To have our eyes to look into whenever she wanted, our arms lifting her, caring for her, throwing sticks for her, accompanying her on her joyful last walks, those walks that we asked each other if we'd even contemplate if we were at her stage, and said "No." But she did. And so she got them, walking as much as she liked, rubbing her back in some mysterious smell in the clean green grass. Smelling the blossoms in the air and looking at her other family members. Drinking from puddles and outdoor tubs, and ultimately and finally, from our cupped hands, the only way she wanted liquid, just as the only way she wanted her last food was from the hands that loved her, all her life.

And so she had a dying and a death that both had dignity, the only proper way to live and die for any person, whether Rosie or some saint-to-be who preached the value of pain and suffering, in its place, which didn't include her body.

Rosie lived and died naturally because she clearly wanted it so. Her eyes didn't dull. Her spirit didn't lag. She didn't want to die. But if she had, if she lost loving life, wanting to be alive, if she had suffered at all, of course she would have been (as we so easily euphemise when it's only "animals") put to sleep. People with two legs should have the same choice.

This blog was not meant to be autobiographical, and I don't want to turn it so, but here I must interject yet more me-ness, to give clout to my condemnation of those who seek to deny the choice of life and death, and the judgement of life's quality to those whose choice it should be. Ourselves.

It is easy to say that there's enough pain cures to solve the "depression" opponents cite as a reason for wanting euthanasia, and thus a reason to condemn the choice.
I can say from experience that when one is living with intolerable pain, there isn't an accompanying angels-playing-soccer joy tingling in the brain. There is, on the other hand, a selfish takeover by Pain itself, of everything that constitutes a person's personality. I can say from experience that that state of being can be something that is not caused by a life-threatening illness, but instead, by a simple design fault in the glorious body corporeal.

I can say from experience that if that state ever happens to me again, I do not want to live. I know what is fixable and what is beyond the pale for medicine. I don't ever again want to live in a state of loss of me-ness with no real road back to the faulty but able-to-enjoy-life me.

Those who preach that life, no matter how lived, is precious without having lived a life that is 110% physical pain, should have that pain transferred to them. I choose mouth and back for the sites of purity. Pure nerve pain. That'd do me fine. Give them all the pain management that exists, and of course, your efficacious prayers.

Then laugh along with them, or just watch the beauty of pure suffering, and glory in its purpose.

Which reminds me of one of the best horror stories I've ever read: "Do Not Resuscitate" by Lia Matera. It is in a wonderful though modest-looking little paperback called Crimes of the Heart, Berkley Publishing, New York, 1995.
The book is worth finding for this story, and the utterly delightful "Valentine's Night" by Nancy Pickard.

15 January 2006

Death coming

The noblest person I've ever known is dying. We dug her grave a few days ago, days blurring into 'when was that'. She's stopped eating now, and although our walks in the forest and on the beach are over, she now wants to walk around our home fields and forest and go to all the places she's known around here all her life. She is now visiting mentally her favourite games through life, her favourite places. She's picked up sticks and made new ones, and roused herself to leap, puppylike. She has dropped, watched, crept up like she would if I were a sheep. She has licked my back after a massage for the last time. She has carried her last note, waiting for it to be written, then waiting for the reply and carrying it back, dropping it into waiting hands. She doesn't know what is happening to her, but the eeyores do. She smells different. Her smells are leaving her, smells I've loved her whole life. Her head had five different regions of smell, all wild. Each paw a different smell. Each ear different. She smells like fresh air now, some purposeness hiding her smells from the coming. Her spine sticks up now above the great boat of her ribs. Inside, she is fat with cancer. Her fur covers all this, oblivious of the destruction inside.

What is art? She is art. Movement and form, and life.

Many many hours I've spent staring at her, awed by the beauty of her. The curve of muscular thighs, the asymmetry of ears, the long stretch of nose, its fine whorls and the change of colours from outside to in-, the clean curve of her forehead and skull. Beautiful honest brown eyes, liable to grow huge from excitement, but also able to stare with intensity for impossibly long periods of time, even for a monk. She can wait, still, endlessly with the patience of her heritage, actually enjoying anticipation.

But she is an individual.

She taught me the meaning of fun. She invented games. She is loved by all who've met her, but reserved and particular in her love. She taught children obedience and grace. Honesty, trueness, and forgiveness. All the guilt I feel about things I could have done better for her, I can look at and think, "But Rosie forgave you for that." Could I have, to another? Honestly, I have to say I'm less.

She thought it her responsibility to protect me and look after me and never let me get lost. She taught me the importance of word order, and she was the best waitress I've ever known.

She was never a smarmy companion. Once when she was little I watched a dog watching a woman and the dog had liquid eyes of love. And then I saw the liver in the woman's hand.

Rosie, true, honest, my love, my child, is here with me, as always. As always as can be.

Memory is such a tattered piece of lace, but the feel of her, the smells of her, the nobility of her soul are knots that only the beetles that eat me, will ever devour.

07 January 2006

The color of credibility

The first time I got this I dumped it, but since he's sent it to me again, I'm sharing it with you.


Visit our web site at http://www.StuTaylor.com and click on radio.

My name is Stu Taylor. I provide a unique service for publishers and authors. I am the host of two nationally syndicated radio shows, both entitled “Equity Strategies”. I am currently on sixty radio stations as well as on the world wide internet. My weekday morning, drive time show, “Stu Taylor on Business” , is on a 40,000 watt Boston business station, WBIX 1060, with a powerful reach into 6 New England states.

For a fee, I will serve as a host and interview authors to provide exposure and promote their books. Clients tell THEIR STORY. The interview is not conducted in infomercial form, and therefore maintains listener interest and credibility. Clients often request return interviews.

For more details, either e-mail me at office@stutaylor.net or call at 781- 60-9548.


Taylor Associates, Inc. 136 East St, Lexington, Ma 02420

Now, though (advertisement) my books are brilliant, and are guaranteed to change your life forever or your money wasted, I never thought of them in the same light as, say, this:

Feel the Freedom of Total Wealth
Protect your assets and grow your wealth with The Sovereign Society Offshore A-Letter, a free online newsletter specializing in elite global investments, asset protection and financial privacy. Edited by former U.S. Congressman, Robert E. Bauman.

which conveniently appeared in the registration section of the LA Times while I was trying to access columnist Tom Petrunio's January 1st piece that said,

In hindsight, many investors now know what they should have done a year ago. . . the pros don't see disaster looming. But of course, they almost never do. Wall Street is by nature an optimistic place — or at least, it's optimistic that you will stay optimistic and thus willing to invest your money.

Now that is an unusually honest assessment of the advice industry, and one that you're unlikely to hear from wealth-information peddlers, "free" or otherwise.

As for product placement, this is so baldly done now that a recent critical story in the Economist is turned into an ad itself for the industry.

And what is the industry? This is from Seven Answers on Product Placement

How has the product placement industry grown?
In 2004, the value of product placement grew 30.5 percent to $3.46 billion. The greatest growth occurred on television - up 46.4 percent to $1.88 billion. From 1999 to 2004, the annual growth rate averaged 16.3 percent. For 2005, it could grow again by 22.7 percent to $4.24 billion.
Dan Voelpel: 253-597-8785 dan.voelpel@thenewstribune.com
But why should I care if the public is diddled and columnists and commentators and newspeople and officials paid to work for the public interest change the meaning of credibility, and we don't seize the word.

Why should I care if you listen to advice that's a hidden ad, or your representatives and public servants are proving themselves worthy of accessing the revolving door, a door installed in "democracies" all over the world. The Nation complains, Do the Crime, Do No Time, but that is a pretty prissy way to view reality. And for a completely unreal take on morality, you've got to see The Center for Public Integrity.

Why care about advertising disguised as news, the new business of digital insertion and what that can lead to, or make any distinctions at all about what "news" is inserted into news or left out for a year and just who media serves. Why ask what a radio program host actually is, or what you can expect to get from a program that is called Equity Strategies and touts get-rich books, anyway. Why care about chumps, anyone who doesn't stop to think of the personal wealth-making strategy of someone selling you a way to riches.

I shouldn't care. But I'll let you in on a little secret. If you buy both of my books and you copy the first words on the top of page 67 of each, and add that to the numbers that the letters in both titles add up to, and then reverse the letters of my name, ON A FULL MOON (to be continued in my exclusive newsletter, which, hey, I better get cracking on. Have I got plans for you!)

02 January 2006

The colour of a parrot's tongue

Yesterday fire was predicted and though not a whiff of smoke stung our nostrils, the air was so hot, the parrots sat in the shade looking like old-fashioned generals, shoulders out, wings drooped slack. They panted so much that they gave me another epiphany: parrot tongues come in different colours, just as cattle tongues do. Some of the king parrots' tongues were pink as a Barbie doll's skin, and others a charcoal the colour of these burnt trees.

They reminded me of so many epiphanies, and then they reminded me of a time when I wrote a diatribe to an editor of a magazine that is one of those coffee-table caring for the earth types. She had just rejected a story of mine ("The Eel") because, though she said they liked it, the story was "about animals". She invited me to send them something else. Of course I would never send a diatribe to an editor, nor would I ever whinge to someone about an editor. But I wasn't wise enough to not have written this just for myself, and to share this with you now. Shhhh. It's for your eyes only, darlings.

A walk in the forest

"people and nature . . . nurturing body, mind and spirit . . . no animal stories."
- genre-typical guidelines

We were stopped momentarily, somewhere on the long spine of Central America, and he dragged me out of the train though it could have taken off any second. We ran down the rocky slope till we were close enough for me to see.

"It is a cow," I admitted. And then and only then, we ran up the hill, literally catching the train and swinging on.

It was a foolish thing to do, jumping out like that, but only moments before, I had said, "Look at that bull," and he had said, "That's a cow," and I had said, "Only bulls have horns," and then insisted on that fact.

But the pretty cow on the cheese packages, and all the cows of every picture book and cartoon from my earliest memories, are hornless. Only bulls have horns, until that day.

Another hemisphere, another continent. Visitors from Sydney, to our own little valley. "Why don't you mow the grass," one of the two pre-teen girls asks.

"The cows do. That's what they eat," I tell her.

"Them? Ah Gawwwd, it's having a shi—don't step there, Hailey!"

"How disGUSTing!"

My dog sidles up to Hailey for a cuddle, and she runs away screaming, "It touched me!" and her mother says, "I was just the same."

My dog looks confused, and comes to me to lean her body up against my leg. By this time, the fear performance has been enacted so many times that I am pissed off.

"It's not an it. Her name is Rosie, and you've hurt her feelings."

But by now, this is as inappropriate a submission as a purple prose romance, because it is probably going to be about animals, and I shouldn't do that because it fits nowhere. Now, a piece about ecology, i.e., our relationships with nature—if I wrote about needing to experience nature in a sensitively built environment, to center myself after a long week of being basted with respect, but somehow still needing this centering, that would be in the box, but if I wax on about the surprise of discovering a perfume that rivals Hermes in sexy muskiness: the smell left in your hands after handling a glossy male dung beetle, where's the return postage . . .

This may sound churlish—that I can't take rejection or not fitting in—yet rejection is just air to a writer, and if a writer chokes on it, then that writer should get out of that atmosphere altogether. It is rejection of the topic that offends me, and pains me, as in walking through the "genre" (does a genre kill discovery, or is it simply the funeral for the death?) it is impossible not to concuss in the forest of perpendicular pronouns.

There is much writing to be found in the animal spirit / shamanism categories, as much interested in the animals as cartoonists who draw toothy cows. As interested and observant as the local wild animal carers' society that told us that our local wombat population could not be moved, though it had undermined our creekbank to the point that huge trees fell into the creek and land washed away in house-plot-size chunks—that the "community" of wombats (a hilarious joke to the very uncommunal wombats) would be disturbed if moved, as they would not get along with other societies. As observant as the writer of the government-funded bible of wildlife in Australia, which states that wombats don't dig in creek banks. Fantasy-spinners, comfortable in their non-observer status, passers of fantasies-as-truth onto the unwary; but the norm nowadays that regards the quiet, persistent observer and recorder as a sentimental archaism.

Last night, I was steps away from yet another lion at that so-familiar waterhole, and only when I walked away and slammed the door on the droning commentator, could I listen for the drag, hop, drag, of a kangaroo just outdoors, hear frogs bonging in the billabong, notice the owl as it hunted silently against the lit window. Too precious-cutesy, too yawnable? What about the story that is also true, about wandering on a tropical island just building its paradise, and coming across a crowd of young guys, laughingly taking a break from building. They were holding a pangolin, all scales and fantasy, and one young man was pinging the pangolin's head with a ballpeen hammer. Just like a cartoon, the pangolin's eyes were crossed, then rolling. That isn't uplifting, I know, or hopeful, but it is about people, modern people who are as far away from animals as most of us. Some of us collect snakes and shove them into jars like so many forgotten rubber bands (my most lasting memory of my time in a famous natural history museum), some of us use nature to bring us back into ourselves, but the setting has to be as juust right as an English garden, as good as Victorian children. As predictable as what we know so we can use it as a frame. And then we can all be Thoreaus. We are so limitedly observant. We are so limited period, so why limit ourselves to replaying our own emotional dramas, and not exploring the worlds of others?

Nature without animals is like cooking without food. Or cookbooks centering around chefs, but come to think of it—that is the modern cookbook. Ecology without animals is like a forest of Environmental Impact Statements written by pale, computer-fed wonks. And mind-body-spirit in the context of ourselves is the modern universe spinning round the earth.

Why are animals persona non grata? Is it the worry that, in speaking about animals, there will be a treacleish heartwarming, a verbal velvet painting with big eyes? That there will be a flooding of "my remarkable pet " (as opposed to "my fascinating me") stories? Or is there a WC Fields level of worry about humans sharing the stage? It surely cannot be that we know, when we are at such primitive levels of knowing that there are still scientists arguing about whether we are the only species to have complex emotions.

I would prefer the haiku approach to nature writing. Leaving as much as possible, the 'I', the human, out of it. Observing, recording, experiencing. But not centering the revelation in the revelation of the revelation. Too many revelations lie undiscovered because we already know.

I am lobbying here shamelessly and rudely because so many of my epiphanies have come from those unspeakables—the animals. Birds I can't see, they are so high in the trees, tell me what eucalypts are flowering, as they drop the blossoms they have chewed. Before a fire, the bush cockroaches run in a particular way.

preoccupied —
my hand fills
with dog nose

The observations that other species make enhance our own, if we notice to notice what they notice. A lyrebird living near us added the sound of a fence-builder to her song, the clear ring of hammer against metal reverberating amongst her collection of other birds' voices.

The epiphany that made a shiver run down my back with the exhilaration of it was when a cow was so sick that I hand-fed her, literally putting the grass in her mouth. I reached in and her upper palate felt like a beach, the kind where the sand lies in ridges. But she had no upper teeth. I had always known cows have upper teeth, because they do in cartoons when they smile.

But these are just mullings that don't fit anywhere, because we know animals don't fit. If we talk about animals, we might get into those tricky discussions of whether they think, feel, communicate. All that anthropomorphic stuff.

Let's just get back to the positive stuff of interacting well with the spirit of the environment, the flora and the fauna, keeping 'the' there, in its proper place.

This is all out of place, I know. There is no excuse. I suppose I am not centered when it comes to leaving "animals" out. And I never want to be.

At least I can end this on a people note, and with uplifting hope. Those two girls—they're animal-crazy now. And they are learning about other species up close and mucky, only about twenty years earlier than I ever started to know the difference between reality and cartoons.

" The only real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes" - Marcel Proust, quoted by the same Institute whose guidelines for submission included the quote prefacing this diatribe.