The Diabolical Cat vs. the Enthusiastic Dog

Happy dog!

Happy dog!

When I come home on any given day, I know exactly how my cat and my dog will react. As soon as she hears me whistle, my dog, Jessie, will come running to meet me, even if she was sound asleep a moment ago. Her whole body shakes with the excitement of my arrival, and she often carries a toy with her, just in case I am available to play. Nine times out of ten, my cat, Nilah, doesn’t bother to appear. When she does grace me with her presence, it is because she was already on her way through the house, not because she is greeting me.

If you are considering acquiring a pet, get a dog. The lady at the pet store with a dozen kittens in the window may try to convince you otherwise; holding a ball of fluff up to you and divulging the secret that cats take less work than dogs. This may be true, especially while dogs are in the puppy stage, but it should not sway you. The lady at the pet store is withholding information that will return to haunt you in the future. Cats are capable of diabolical acts.

So diabolical.

So diabolical.

With proper training, equipment, and love, dogs will engage in constructive activities only. Fetching newspapers, slippers, and balls, or keeping an eye out for errant children are only a few activities dogs love. Cats are liable to wreak havoc upon your living room at any time, and destroy more than just the furniture. Oh, the lady at the pet store says, declawing is a safe procedure, and if you use this Super-Clean-Fresh-And-Hygienic cat litter, your cat is guaranteed to never pee on the carpet. This is a lie. You may deprive your cat of claws, but it will find other methods of destruction, such as eating the family bird, or overturning a cup of water onto the only copy of your incredibly important business report. You may use the Super-Clean-Fresh-And-Hygienic litter, but your cat will pee on the carpet anyway, and then pee on the couch too, for good measure. Keep in mind the fact that cat urine is a great deal more smelly than dog urine.

A dog will keep you exercising and healthy by asking for a walk every time you sit down, or a round of Frisbee, or a game of tug-of-war. Dogs will stay by your side all day, and are ready for anything. A cat will avoid you most of the day, sleep on the clean laundry and get cat hair all over it, and then stare at you until you make room for them on the couch while you watch TV.

The movie Cats and Dogs accurately depicts the behavior of the two species. Cats are more than capable of plotting the destruction of mankind if it serves their interests, and dogs are the best defender and friend mankind could ask for. Even their physiological nature reflects their personalities: if you are lucky (or unlucky) enough to receive a lick from a cat, you will discover that its tongue is rough and scratchy, and prone to make you squirm. A dog’s tongue is soft and sloppy, and a dog will lavish you with kisses you didn’t know you needed.

There is a Diary floating about on the Internet, from the perspective of both a dog and a cat. The cat sulks its way through the days, plotting the demise of its captors, while the dog greets every new activity with utter joy. “A walk! My favorite thing! Watching TV! My favorite thing!” This is no exaggeration. If your cat weaves about your feet while you descend the stairs, be on the alert. It is an assassination attempt of the vilest sort.

It must be admitted that cats do have loving moments, when the motor starts up and the purr fills the room. They will snuggle in your lap and rub their heads on your hands, perhaps even for more than five minutes. Of course, this is on their schedule only, which generally coincides with the least convenient time for you. A dog will be available any time you want to snuggle, and will gleefully join you on the bed at the end of the day. One important difference between the two is that a dog will sleep with you, but a cat will sleep on you.

If you speak lovingly to a dog, it will get excited and jump around and thrill to the prospect of fetch or food. If you speak lovingly to a cat, it will stare at you, turn its back, and later defecate right outside the litter box. This is because you overstepped your station, in the cat’s mind. Please remember, to a cat, you feed and water and care for it because it is a god. To a dog, you feed and water and care for it because you are a god.

There is the occasional cat that shows doglike qualities over an extended length of time, such as being always loving, playing fetch, and permitting more than ten minutes of cuddling daily. This is because cats are inherently contradictory. It is in their nature to defy your expectations. There is also the occasional dog that ignores you, refuses to cuddle with you, and disobeys every command you give. This is because it has a mental defect.

Dogs do not tend to live as long as cats, with the exceptions being dogs the size of cats, and that is generally because they spend all their time loving and living life to the fullest. After a while, they have given all of themselves, but always manage to give their owners one last kiss before slipping away. Cats tend to live longer, always continuing in their miserly ways. Cats hoard their love and affection and energy, spreading it thin over years and years of life. Even at the end, cats often gift their owners with one last scratch, one last urine stain on the carpet, or one last display of condescension.

Keep in mind the effects of cats and dogs on your personality as well. If you own a dog, your personality will be affected by your continual walks and meeting of other dogs and their owners. If you have a cat, you will be prone to hibernation, only emerging from your house to sleep in the sun. Multiply the animals and the effects will be multiplied.

Those fortunate enough to own both a dog and a cat can testify to all of this. My own cat, Nilah, delights in eating plants and then vomiting in front of bedroom doors. Jessie, my dog, gets upset if she can’t snuggle with me on Sunday mornings, and is thrilled when I bring out the squeaky toy.

If you want to be adored, energized, and inspired, get a dog.

If you want to be ignored, wounded, and offended, get a cat.

It's your choice.

It’s your choice.

(Note: the above essay uses exaggeration for the purpose of humor. I do not actually hate cats, but given a choice, I’ll pick a dog every time.)

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Notes on Epic Fantasy

Poster for the second Hobbit film

Poster for the second Hobbit film

I’m a huge fantasy fan. I love epic fantasy that sweeps me away into a vast tapestry of a different world with dozens of different characters who are so very human, despite their fantastical lives.

Other subgenres of fantasy are great too, but epic fantasy never ceases to capture my imagination. Of course, it does need to be well written with a fully realized, colorful world.

There’s lots of authors who try to write epic fantasy, but not many who pull it off well. Of those who do, even they sometimes struggle with the complexity of their world and the (often) hundreds of characters. Character arcs, continuity, pacing–these all cause problems for authors, especially those with visions that encompass entire worlds and fictional eras.

I’ve read a lot of fantasy and read a lot of critiques and tips about the genre. I think that there is no writing rule that cannot be broken successfully, but I’ve found that the most successful authors have similar patterns for their epic fantasy. This is not a formula or exhaustive list, but here are three traits of good epic fantasy.

1. A Slow Start

Good authors of any genre do not typically drop their readers into a complex situation at the start of the novel, but this is especially important for authors of epic fantasy. The reader knows that a big cast and plot are on the way, but if he or she is overwhelmed with details and names and world rules, it’s not likely the reader will go on to the next chapter.

A book that introduces me to a world slowly, character by character, feeding me information as I need it, is a book that will likely hold my attention into the wee hours of the morning. Many authors accomplish this with a main character who is exposed to much of the wider fantasy world with the reader. A farmboy whose world is overturned and who is forced to journey into the world beyond his farm. A street rat who finds herself kidnapped away from the tiny street world she knows and transported to a city she never dreamed of seeing. This technique tends to lead to another trait as well.

2. An Everyman Character Forced into Greatness

I’ve rarely read good fantasy that does not offer a character that the readers can connect on the basis of being completely ordinary. If a character is well drawn, readers can connect with almost anyone, but there’s something about that ordinary character propelled into the center of world shaping conflicts that draws us in every time.

Sometimes that character is chosen by dint of bloodline or magical ability. Sometimes it’s just chance that takes him or her into the spotlight.

Sometimes it ends well. Sometimes it ends very, very badly.

But I think that, secretly, all of us want to be special in some extraordinary way. That’s why heroes like Harry Potter and Percy Jackson appeal so strongly to so many people. Luke Skywalker. Rand Al’Thor.

There’s a reason the farmboy turned chosen one is a cliche.

3. A Cast of Hundreds with Hundreds of Lives

Obviously, epic fantasy needs a lot of characters just for the plot to function. But there’s a big difference between characters who exist just to fill a purpose and characters who fill a purpose while existing. The former are created when the author needs a government official or an evil minion. The latter might start out that way, but they take on a life of their own, with their own motivations and backstory.

The cast of thousands is filled with secondary and minor characters with lives and thoughts and stories that wander in and out of the main characters’ narrative. There’s a character to appeal to everyone, no matter how minor a part they play. Each character has people they care about, goals they want to reach, and disappointments they face.

I’m no bestselling author, but my goal is to someday take these observations and weave them into my own epic fantasy series. That might be a ways out, though. First I need to learn to juggle my subplots…

Generation of Play

generation-y-employees-workforce

cbri.com

We’re the generation of the future. Generation Y. The millenials. The kids who know how to work all the technology and don’t remember a life before the Internet.

Our generation has mountains of student debt and a difficult economy to navigate as we search for jobs, but we also have great expectations about our future. Most of us have grown up as children of the baby boomers, who have provided a luxurious life for us. Luxurious compared to what most of the world has experienced throughout history, anyway, even if our parents couldn’t afford a new car on our sixteenth birthday. So we expect that same lifestyle promptly upon graduation from college.

We don’t believe in work the same way our grandparents do. For them, work was what you did to pay the bills and provide for your family, and you worked anywhere and everywhere in order to do that. Our parents are the first generation to have a different viewpoint of work, because they are the generation growing up with prosperity and technology that never existed before. But their perspective is tempered with what they learned from their parents. It’s only when you get to our generation that our viewpoint changes entirely.

Generation Y believes, whether we realize it or not, that a person’s default state is play, not work. We’re always looking ahead to the next vacation, the next day off, the weekend plans. Our jobs are the necessary evil we attend to in order to keep playing. If you can find a fulfilling career, that’s the best way to go. It’s even better if it is well paying.

It’s a mindset, an attitude, and it’s not necessarily a healthy one.

For centuries, work has been humanity’s default state. It had to be for people to survive. There were no vacations for the average person. Sunday became a day of rest for most of the Western world, but it was the exception, a welcome break in the daily grind from which there was no escape. People worked from dawn to dusk, day in and day out, for most of their lives until they were physically unable. Retirement is a modern concept.

Modern technology has given us the ability to work less than ever before in history. Nothing about that is wrong or unhealthy. But how many of us are willing to pour our lives into work because that’s what it takes to achieve our expectations? And it’s not just our jobs that we see as work. Achieving our goals and dreams and keeping up with the realities of life is often too much work for us because we got off at 5 P.M. and should be able to come home and turn on the TV.

I’m as guilty of this as the rest of my generation. There are plenty of exceptions to this generalization, but I’m not one of them. Recognizing that in myself has been a learning process. Graduation is coming in only a few months, and I’ve had to ask myself: Am I ready to work hard? I have student debt to pay off, a career to establish, and I want to be a published writer. All of this will take more work than I’ve ever done in my life, but I find myself reluctant to commit to working as much as possible after graduation because that won’t leave much time to play.

That attitude won’t get me far, I can tell.

I won’t change overnight. I’m going to struggle with many, many days where I’d rather spend my time lazing around the house instead of searching for another job or writing another draft of a story. But I want to grow and become a hard worker. I doubt I’ll ever have to work as hard as my grandparents, who owned a farm for most of their lives and spent every day engaged in hard labor. Yes, even Christmas. Holidays mean nothing to cows.

But I can become a person ready to take on a job even if it means less time with my books or my horse, and by the grace of God, I will get there.