Writing Advice from my Departed Cat

Two weeks ago I received a message from my departed cat, Lucy.

I was interviewing Joan Ranquet for Author Magazine Online. Joan is the Hay House author of Communications with All Life: Revelations of an Animal Communicator. Joan also happened to be in Seattle last June, just a few weeks prior to my seventeen-year-old cat’s passing.

Lucy had been sick for some months with pancreatic cancer. I had been doing my best to make her comfortable and wanted to check in with her while there was still time. Joan stopped by for a session with Lucy and it was satisfying to learn how my care was making Lucy feel better. Lucy died exactly two weeks later.

I heard from Lucy in the days following her passing (chronicled in part in “The Passing of an Old Friend“) and, although she hasn’t been physically hanging around the house, I feel Lucy’s presence often. Two weeks ago, when my interview with Joan drew to a close, I couldn’t resist asking her if we could check in with Lucy.

There was a pause at the other end of the line. Then she said, “If Lucy had arms, she would put them around you. She’s is taking care of you in ways that I know you are already aware of.  She really just wants you to know that everything is fine. And she thinks you’re on the right path.”

All very nice to hear. Lucy thinks I’m on the right path. Very reassuring. But part of me was disappointed at how generic that answer had been. It had been a vanilla message that boiled down to “I love you.” Anyone could have said it.

But then Joan added something that made those few sentence sparkle with meaning. “She thinks there is a second novel – I don’t know what you’re currently writing – she thinks that there something else that’s been shelved that she thinks might happen first and that you may want to look at that.”

Hmmm. This stumped me. I quickly dismissed my first three novels, a science fiction trilogy. Maybe it was Miles the Cat, a children’s story I’d penned a few years back. But it was most likely Oversoul, Inc., a novel I’d finished in 2007 about a spirit guide.  “Interesting. That could be two different things.”

“Okay,” Joan answered, “which one has a bunch of history in it?”

“It’s a book called Oversoul, Inc.,” I started to say, but…  History? It had a parallel narrative, one of which took place in the 1950s. Did that qualify as “a bunch of history”?

Then it occurred to me. I’d started writing a novel about two boys who run away from their home in Cooperstown, New York, to join the Union Army. It was a book I’d put aside to write the current young adult novel that my agent was presently circulating to editors in New York. I started to tell Joan this, when she stumbled over me and we said almost simultaneously something about the Civil War.

“Yeah,” Joan said. “That one. What are you doing with that one?”

“It’s been put on a shelf.”

“Well, she thinks you should at least dust it off and take a look at it next.”

“Okay.”

It occurred to me later that there was no way Joan could have known about that novel. If she’d just been fishing, why hadn’t she just bitten at Oversoul, Inc. when I first mentioned it? It validated Lucy’s entire message.

So, my cat has an opinion on my writing. What a wonderful universe we live in when your cat can offer career advice from the Other Side.

I read an account in Kim Sheridan’s book, Animals in the Afterlife, about a woman who went to a medium to connect with a passed loved one. During the session, the woman’s former cat (who had died some time before) had come through with a message. The cat warned the woman that there was something wrong with the tires on her car and when the woman later had it checked out, the information proved correct. But that’s not the cool part. When the woman later listened to the audio recording of her reading with the medium, she heard the perfectly clear sound of a cat meowing, a sound that hadn’t been present when the session took place.

I suppose if a cat can alert her former owner about possible catastrophic vehicular malfunction from the Other Side, then my cat Lucy can offer writing advice.

Please listen to my full interview with Joan on Author Magazine’s website.

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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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P90X2 – A Review

If you’re like me, you’ve probably seen those weekend infomercials for P90X.  P90X is short of “Power 90 Extreme,” a workout program put out by Beach Body that will get you in shape in ninety days with a simple weight lifting and cardio routine combined with a specialized nutrition program.

Like hundreds of thousands of people across the country, I took the P90X challenge back in 2006 and found that it transformed my body. I’d never been in such good shape as when I finished that thirteen-week program. So, when Beach Body came out with a sequel — P90X2 — I knew I’d have to try it.

Like P90X, P90X2 requires a set of dumbbells, a pull-up bar and a yoga mat, with optional push-up stands. Additionally, P90X2 necessitates procuring a few extra items: a stability ball, two to four medicine balls, and something called a foam roller. (More on that in a minute.) It also doesn’t hurt to have some resistance bands. They aren’t absolutely necessary, but help with some special stretching moves and with one of the optional workout videos.

Similar to P90X, P90X2 has a nutrition program. This one is more flexible than P90X’s and includes options for vegetarians and people with wheat allergies. P90X was released when the Atkins Diet was all the rage and its accompanying nutrition program reflected an avoidance of carbs. This isn’t so much the case with the P90X2 nutrition program. (Thank God. I got’s to have me carbs.)

P90X worked with something called “muscle confusion.” The idea is that your muscles eventually adapt to the stress you’re putting them under with exercise, slowing progress. P90X combats this by changing up the routine, so your development won’t plateau.  Like P90X, P90X2 is separated into three parts each lasting three or four weeks, with a “rest” week at the end of each. (By “rest” week, I don’t mean you take the week off. The routine just switches to cardio, stretching, and core training.)

While P90X followed a pretty regimented timeline, Beach Body recommends that you take as many weeks as needed to complete each part in P90X2. This is a good thing if, like me, you’re not particularly coordinated. The moves in P90X2 require a certain mastery of balance (and with it core strength), so it pays to spend a little extra time, especially on Part 1.

I repeated P90X before starting P90X2, which turned out to be a good idea. Since doing P90X in 2006, I’d had maybe a few too many Super Bowl nachos and one or two Cheesecake Factory lunches. While you certainly can dive right into P90X2, unless you’re in great shape, I’d strongly consider making a pass through P90X to make the transition to P90X2 easier.

If you’ve seen any of the videos for P90X2, you might have been a little freaked out by Tony Horton – your coach for the P90X and P90X2 experience – doing crazy things, like pushups with feet and hands on medicine balls; tricep exercises on stability balls; and crazy acrobatic jumps. It least, I was a little freaked out by this.

When I started the program, I was pleased to see that not much had changed from P90X. The set looked pretty much the same, although maybe a little more colorful. Tony hasn’t appeared to age a day, leading to speculation that somewhere in his home there is an oil painting of him greying and looking decrepit. With the exception of cameos by Bobby Stevenson and Dreya Webber, Tony’s workout partners are all new. A few of them lost a hundred pounds or more doing P90X and it was inspiring to see them actually starring in a P90X2 video.

I am perhaps in the minority camp in that I wasn’t bothered in P90X by Tony’s lame jokes or hyper-enthusiastic exuberance.  Tony’s energy often got me through the tougher workouts. There is more of the same in P90X2, with one thing added: Tony does a little impromptu singing. I could have done without that.

Part 1 focuses on core strength and balance. I spent six weeks on this part, with a “rest week” after Week 3. Part 2, which focuses on weight lifting with balance components added, felt much like P90X. I splurged and purchased the two extra P90X2 workout videos, which I’d recommend, as it helps to add to the “muscle confusion” that make these program so effective. Like Part 1, Part 2 took me six weeks.

If you’re doing the math, you’ll notice that, with rest weeks added in, at this point I’d already gone through my ninety days. Still, I pressed on with Part 3, which mostly features two workouts: P.A.P. Upper and P.A.P. Lower.

P.A.P. stands for Post-Activation Potentiation and is designed to strengthen the tiny muscles and connective tissues that work with the major muscles groups. These workouts include some strength training with jumping and cardio moves added. They were easy enough for me to accomplish by the time I got to them.

In some ways P90X2 was a little easier than P90X. The hardest workouts in P90X – Ab Ripper X and Yoga X – are dialed back a little in their P90X2 equivalents. Rather than having six workouts a week, like in P90X, P90X2 only has five workouts. They are supplemented with a Recovery and Mobility video, which features the foam roller I told you about earlier. If you’ve never used a foam roller, you’re going to love it. It’s used to apply pressure on muscle knots and problem areas and does wonders for getting your body ready for the next series of workouts.

The bottom line: I’d highly recommend P90X2. Don’t be intimidated by the crazy looking acrobatic moves in the preview videos. If you were able to complete P90X, you will be able to complete P90X2. Some aspects might even be a little bit easier. If you survived the transition from no exercise to accomplishing P90X, then you can certainly make the transition from P90X to P90X2. (I’d highly recommend doing P90X before doing P90X2, though, unless you’re in pretty good shape.) If you’re in pretty good shape and want to take your performance to the next level, or have completed P90X and are looking for the logical next step, P90X2 is for you.

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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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