Wilson, a Cat in Mourning

Three weeks ago my cat of seventeen years, Lucy, died of pancreatic cancer. I’ve missed her terribly, but it has impacted our youngest cat, Wilson, especially hard.

Lucy ebbed away over the weekend in early July but, in the end, she needed a vet’s assistance to pass. All that weekend our other cats, Mrs. Claws (11) and Wilson (6) watched her get weaker and weaker until those last hours, when Lucy could no longer move. At some level I thought when we left the house with Lucy early that Monday morning, the other cats understood that she wasn’t coming back home.

The day after Lucy left us, I was on a plane for New York, happily distracted by a busy writers conference for the rest of the week. Both cats did fine while I was away, but when I returned at the end of the week, Wilson started searching the house. It was almost as if he’d seen Lucy and me leave at the same time, so he concluded that we’d return at the same time, too.

Wilson was Lucy’s buddy. He’d often follow her around the house. And if Lucy meowed with anything like distress, Wilson would be there beside her in seconds, as if to make sure she was okay.

I didn’t realize it, but a routine had developed during the last years of Lucy’s life. At night when the lights when out for sleep, Wilson would go down to the basement, where Lucy liked to spend her evenings, and together they would come up to the main floor.

Now that I was back from New York, Wilson was doing the same thing but now… No Lucy.

Bedtime. The lights go out. There is a quiet moment before sleep. And then it begins: the most pathetic, plaintive mews down from the basement; sad cries that move from one corner of the house to the other, as if Wilson is moving around down there, searching for Lucy in the dark.

Sometimes during the evenings, Wilson sits at the top of the stairs to the basement, watching, occasionally crying out sadly. And when I started my workout routine again (also in the basement), it made my heart crinkle up into a ball to watch him meow forlornly in the storage area, searching the nooks and hidey holes. Lucy always used to watch my workouts. She must be here somewhere, right?

I’ve been making an extra effort to play with Wilson and he’s been making an extra effort to keep me company. We’ll learn to live on without Lucy. Together.

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Brian Mercer is the author of the supernatural YA novel, Aftersight (Astraea Press, 2013). He is also co-author with Robert Bruce of Mastering Astral Projection: 90-Day Guide to Out-of-body (Llewellyn, 2004) and The Mastering Astral Projection CD Companion (Llewellyn, 2007). A board member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association and senior editor at Author Magazine, he lives in Seattle with his wife, Sara, and their three cats.

 URL: www.brianmercerbooks.com

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The Elusive Retina Display

I fell in love when I was in New York.

Her name? iMac. Apple’s 27″ iMac to be more precise.

I used to be a Mac guy back in the days when they were called Macintoshes.  The last time one of those creatures sat on my desk, Apple had just released OS X version 7.2. The big innovation then:  Color built right into the operating system.  It can’t get sweeter than that, can it?

At the time I found myself coveting the newly released Windows 95 machines with all the bells and whistles. Windows 95 had texture. Windows 95 had dimension. Windows 95 seemed to rise out of the monitor, where the Mac OS was flat and lifeless. And then there was all the Windows 95 software that I wanted but couldn’t get for my Mac. And the games!

At the time, Steve Jobs had left Apple to start NeXT and Apple, without him, had dropped the ball.  Six months after Windows 95 came out I made the switch and never looked back. Not until now.

In the intervening years Apple loyalists picked up the name “fan boys.”  I used to see their comments at the bottom of articles, slamming the latest Windows offering as if they were personally offended by them, like a guy with a short man’s complex spoiling for a fight.

Then two things happened. First, Apple got back on its game. The iPhone was born. Then the iPad. The way humankind interactive with technology suddenly changed.

Second, Microsoft developed the cluster f#@% that is Windows 8, with its crappy, awkward design and its flat windows, like the old Apple OS circa 1996. And suddenly I’m finding myself coveting software on the Mac, trying to make my PC more like a Mac, and recoiling at the thought of where Microsoft is trying to take it’s users, kicking and screaming, toward crappy Windows 8 Tablet Land.

It only took about twenty minutes standing in front of that 27″ iMac in Grand Central Station to be convinced. As I played with the software, I felt a little of the old Mac magic from back in the day. It was like saying hello to an old friend.

Now that I know what I want, here’s my question: When do I pull the trigger? The current iMac’s haven’t been refreshed in well over a year. Internet rumors have pegged an iMac refresh for September. I feel like I have to wait for the new Ivy Bridge processor at the very least.

Then there’s talk of a retina display iMac in 2013.  Rumors, of course. But what if they’re true?  It seems inconceivable now to wait another year+ for a retina display that might never happen. Yet I’d also hate to buy one and drool next year should they suddenly appear.

I think the current display is stunning, but I did notice a little pixilation around the text.  Who knew that a few months with the retina display iPad would make me such a snob? But it seems like a 27″ retina display would likely be hugely expensive. And the processing power to update such a huge display…  It would have to be monstrous. Try playing games on such a beast. Forgetta ’bout it!

So, I’m thinking September, if the iMac is refreshed with new hardware. But I’m still wavering. Does anyone have any thoughts or advice? I’d love to hear it.

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Brian Mercer is the author of the supernatural YA novel, Aftersight (Astraea Press, 2013). He is also co-author with Robert Bruce of Mastering Astral Projection: 90-Day Guide to Out-of-body (Llewellyn, 2004) and The Mastering Astral Projection CD Companion (Llewellyn, 2007). A board member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association and senior editor at Author Magazine, he lives in Seattle with his wife, Sara, and their three cats.

 URL: www.brianmercerbooks.com

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My 7th PNWA Writers Conference

Okay, so, I wanted a cookie.

Every year around three o’clock at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association’s annual writers conference, cookies appear.  Those big, nice looking ones. And every year I’m busily engaged with something else. But not this year. This year, I decided, I was going to get one of those cookies.

I was volunteering near the power pitching area, where conference attendees were pitching novel and book proposal ideas to literary agents from New York and points beyond. That’s when I spotted the first cookie. A big, soft-looking chocolate chip cookie.

So I made my move, rushing toward the conference center where the daily presentations were taking place. The hallway before the open ballroom doors was crowded with conference attendees all sporting cookies the size of teacup saucers. I spotted the first dessert table, but it was completely picked over.  Only empty trays and crumbs.

I moved on to the second dessert area and it, too, was eviscerated. The rogues! This wasn’t going well.

The third and final dessert table loomed in the distance and I could see now, yes, cookies. Not many. Perhaps a half a tray remaining.  But with the crowd surrounding it, there wasn’t much time left.

As I closed in, Pam Binder, president of the PNWA, gently tugged my arm. “Brian, can I talk to you a minute?”

But I was on a mission now.  It was like that scene in Terminator where you can see everything from the terminator’s point of view. At the top of my head’s up display blinked “COOKIE, COOKIE, COOKIE,” and a little menu along the side was spooling, “Oat Meal Raisin, White Chocolate Macadamia, Sugar,” finally settling on “Chocolate Chip.”

I became trapped behind a woman in her nineties thinking out loud. “Now, which kind of cookie would I like?” She paused thoughtfully, surveying the emptying plate as around her other conference attendees picked off the cookies one by one. Finally, I managed to snake my arm in the fray and extract a cookie.  It was an overcooked, dry peanut butter cookie, but a cookie nonetheless.

“I’m sorry, Pam,” I said, wondering back over to her, “I was just…” I was going to explain why I hadn’t stopped to talk to her but by now she had figured out why and was laughing at me. She and the woman next to her.

“That’s okay, Brian. I just wanted to introduce you to Debbie Macomber.” Ms. Macomber, the laughing woman standing next to Pam, was of course the Debbie Macomber, the stratospherically best-selling novelist and, as it happened, our guest keynote speaker for that night’s dinner.

Busted for the cookie fiend that I had become.

This was just one of several “peak moment” events that took place at this year’s PNWA writers conference. This year’s highlights included meeting my agent for the first time face to face; serving on a panel discussion with her, an editor from Penguin, and another agent and author; and introducing Donald Maass at Thursday’s keynote evening dessert party.

It makes me think of my first PNWA writers conference six years ago and how utterly intimidated I had been. The big deal then was a pitch I had honed for weeks to be delivered to Karen Elizabeth Carr, a NEW YORK AGENT who I had queried three times over the years. But now I would be meeting her IN PERSON. Everyone I knew (and some I didn’t) had heard me practice my pitch over the preceding weeks and by the time I recited it in front of  her at that ten minute private meeting, I was a quivering mess.

Fast forward six years. I’m sitting on the PNWA board, webmaster for and contributor to Author Magazine, and honored to count dozens of literary agents as friends. But if someone told me at that first writers conference that in six years I’d be introducing Donald Maass — high-powered New York literary agent and best-selling author — in front of a crowd of five hundred people, I would have had a fart attack on the spot.

A lot can happen in six years.

What will the next six bring?

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Brian Mercer is the author of the supernatural YA novel, Aftersight (Astraea Press, 2013). He is also co-author with Robert Bruce of Mastering Astral Projection: 90-Day Guide to Out-of-body (Llewellyn, 2004) and The Mastering Astral Projection CD Companion (Llewellyn, 2007). A board member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association and senior editor at Author Magazine, he lives in Seattle with his wife, Sara, and their three cats.

 URL: www.brianmercerbooks.com

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The Passing of an Old Friend

My much beloved cat, Lucy, passed away last week.

We adopted her seventeen years ago, right after we moved into our house. We had a special bond, Lucy and I. All I needed to do was sit next to her to coax her into an enthusiastic purr and it was tough — is tough — to see her go. It would be even tougher if she hadn’t paid me a visit a few days after she died.

Coincidentally, last fall I’d purchased several iBooks on animal communications and spirituality. On some level I must have known Lucy didn’t have much time left, but I was nonetheless devastated two months ago to learn she had a rare form of pancreatic cancer. I was hoping Lucy would be one of those cats that you hear about that live into their twenties, but that was not meant to be.

It turns out that this sort of cancer is untreatable and that cats that have it don’t live very long. Thus the pain meds, steroid shots, and nightly subcutaneous liquid feedings began, all in an effort to make her last weeks more comfortable. The vet gave her two to four months to live.

I spent my spare time near the bedroom window where Lucy liked to sit in the sunlight. There I’d read or write or just be in the moment with her. I started reading some of those iBooks on animals and spirituality that I bought all those months ago. I started with a few chapters of Animals in Spirit by Penelope Smith, before moving on to the highly recommended Animals and the Afterlife by Kim Sheridan. Lucy loved all the attention (if not the nightly subcutaneous feedings) and I had a chance to enjoy her presence as her life drew to a close.  I even had a chance to do an animal communication session with Joan Ranquet, a Hay House author and the animal communications teacher whose class I’d taken a year ago for a novel I was researching.

As June turned to July, I started to get uneasy. I was scheduled to attend a writers conference in New York, one which I had already paid a lot of money to attend. If Lucy was still around, I’d have to leave her, not knowing if I’d ever see her again.

The weekend before I was to leave, Lucy grew weaker. I sense the life ebbing from her. She didn’t seem to be in pain, but her limbs grew stiff. Cold. The process began Saturday and continued through the night. By Sunday morning, she could barely move. I spent the morning letting her know I was there, but she lingered, and by Monday morning it became clear that she would need assistance in passing. During a peaceful visit to the animal hospital, she died in my arms.

The sense of loss was complete. For seventeen years, Lucy had been a part of that house and now it seemed utterly empty. Her timing had been uncanny. Within twenty-four hours, I was on a flight to New York where I could distance myself from that emptiness and get lost in the bustle of a busy writers conference.

On the second night in New York, I returned to the hotel and opened iBooks with the intention of looking up some of the books I’d been hearing about at the conference. Strangely, a book I hadn’t read for two months came up: Animals in Spirit by Penelope Smith. It was impossible, because I’d read a half-dozen books since I’d last read it, yet it come up automatically, as if I’d just been perusing it.  It was Chapter 7: Guilt and Grieving:

“When animals enter our life, we start on a journey filled with adventure, learning, and love. The animals reach deep into us and change us in ways that can hardly  be described. We grow in love. And upon their leaving, we are lost, devastated. Over time, we explore the story and see the meaning, and stand in awe of these remarkable beings. What an honor they give us when they walk a part of our lives with us.”

The chapter went on to describe the death and dying process from the animal’s point of view and suggested exercises for coping with and letting go of the experience. It was just what I needed to hear, almost as if Lucy was trying to send me a message and help my grieving process from wherever she was.

A few nights later, when I was in that state between dreaming and waking, she really did return to give me messages, this time more direct.  I’m always with you, she said again and again. I love you. I love you. I love you.

But perhaps the most stirring was this: I’ll be back.

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Brian Mercer is the author of the supernatural YA novel, Aftersight (Astraea Press, 2013). He is also co-author with Robert Bruce of Mastering Astral Projection: 90-Day Guide to Out-of-body (Llewellyn, 2004) and The Mastering Astral Projection CD Companion (Llewellyn, 2007). A board member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association and senior editor at Author Magazine, he lives in Seattle with his wife, Sara, and their three cats.

 URL: www.brianmercerbooks.com

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