Knowing and Realizing

Related words, but not the same thing. In one final tribute to the departed Sterling, a rumination on the difference.


There’s knowing, and then there’s realizing.

Just as the difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug, the difference between knowing and realizing is on that level. Supposedly Mark Twain was the first to make that observation regarding words. Maybe he did. Maybe he didn’t. He usually gets the blame either way. It’s not fair, but then life isn’t fair, so I’ll blame him too.

I have to blame someone right now. For something. Doesn’t much matter what.

Knowing is the easy part. It’s all right in front of you. Your cat is sick; you know that. Your cat has an inoperable tumor, and you know that too. The steroids worked for a while, made his breathing easier, made him more comfortable, but wouldn’t fix the problem, and you knew that as well. There would come a point when the pills wouldn’t work anymore, and that a certain day would come. And it did.

Off to the vet because you’re out of options. The cat is suffering. You know it’s the right thing to do. Not easy, not pleasant, but right.

The cat has a name, by the way, and it’s Sterling. He’s gray with a little bit of white, like his brother. We named them Sterling and Sheffield because their coats reminded us of bands of steel. Together they were “Da Boyz.” Mighty hunters, even though Sheffield has delicate teeth and Sterling a congenital enlarged heart. Or maybe just a big heart. He was a sweetie.

We met them at the Mississippi Animal Rescue League. We hadn’t bonded with any of the other cats on display, and the lady said they had a pair of brothers that came in together. About ten months old, they reckoned. One or both climbed immediately into Carol’s lap. I think they may have drooled a little, and they both came home with us.

We knew then as we know now that cats have a certain range of lifespan, and that’s it. May be shorter, may be longer. But not forever, but you don’t think about that, you don’t realize that. It’s just one of those knowing things.

Like the hard decisions you know you’ll have to make. Sooner or later, it’s coming. And then it does, and you go to the vet, and you pet him one last time and you do not leave him, even for the needle. You say he’s a good boy and a brave boy and you’re telling yourself those things, because he doesn’t know, but you do.

Then you bring him home, and you bury him. And you know he’s gone because you dug the hole yourself and put him in it because it was the very last thing you could do for him.

Then it’s later. Sometime later. A day, a week, doesn’t matter how long. You’re doing dishes, mind wandering as it’s prone to do. You wash one kitty bowl, and then you automatically look for the other because they’re brothers, and there’s always two…

And then you realize.

In Praise of: Katherine Briggs

Yes, I’m late. Between a doctor’s appointment and errands on Monday, I didn’t get started on a blog post until late yesterday…where I promptly fell asleep at the keyboard. If I was putting myself to sleep I can only imagine what I would be doing to anyone else. So today is a fresh day, fresh start, and I am here, not to do a book review as such, but rather  to sing the praises of  Katherine Briggs, D. Litt from Oxford.  Specifically, her work An Encyclopedia of Fairies, Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogies, and Other Supernatural Creatures. (the first edition title was a little easier to handle: A Dictionary of Fairies) I have the later 1978 edition, long out of print but still available here and there. Probably $35+ minimum, and well worth it to the right people to track down.

The reason in my case is pretty simple. One of my favorite things to write has always been new riffs on old folklore, taking a basic theme or seed, if you will, from older stories and running with it. Doing the old “what if” and Asking the Next Question, as Theodore Sturgeon used to say. Or Looking at it “slantwise,” to paraphrase Mark Twain. Regardless, they were both talking about process, but everything has to start somewhere. An image, a character, a situation, whatever triggers the process, and that varies from day to day and story to story. Everyone uses references of one sort or another because everything you know, love, or follow is a reference, and which ones are going to vary depending on the person’s own interests and resonating themes. I’ve spoken about the references I used for the Yamada series here before, and more than once. This time I’m concentrating on what led to some of my favorite short stories, and this book by a past president of the British Folklore Society has to be near the top of the list. It’s not alone, surely, and there are others: A Field Guide to Demons, Fairies, Fallen Angels, and Other Subversive Spirits by Carol K. Mack and Dinah Mack is a jewel, as is A Field Guide to the Little People by Nancy Arrowsmith and George Moorse. Or In Search of the Supernatural by Kenneth DeWoskin and J.I. Crump, Jr. (translation of the Sou-Shen Chi, also known as The Account of Seeking Spirits, 4th C CE by Kan Pao). Yet it is the Briggs I keep coming back to time and again.

For instance, as appropriate to something that started life as a dictionary of sorts, all entries are in alphabetical order. One day I was browsing and came across the entry for Fairy Funerals, an event said to be witnessed by mortals on more than one occasion. Which had me thinking. “Given that fairies are immortal, why would they need funerals?” One theory was that they were doing it to imitate or mock mortal customs, but that didn’t  satisfy me. So what could the real reason be? Out of that came “The Beauty of Things Unseen,” first published in Quantum SF and later collected in The Ogre’s Wife: Fairy Tales for Grownups .

Then there was “My Lord Teaser,” triggered by an article on teaser stallions plus accounts of the Wild Hunt found in Briggs. The two notions combined to make another favorite. Or “Death, the Devil, and the Lady in White” (White Ladies and no, not that kind) or “Conversation in the Tomb of an Unknown King” (Tomb Wights).

Then there was…well, you get the idea. The book has paid for itself many times over, and is currently helping me on a new novel project. Every time I’ve moved house, this book has come with me. When I’m gone, it’ll likely still be here. Maybe someone with sense will be at the estate sale to grab it.