Thursday, September 05, 2013

Why Dogs Stopped Flying.

Before humans, dogs flew everywhere.
Their wings of silky fur wrapped hollow bones.
Their tails wagged like rudders through wind,
their stomachs bare to the sullen earth.
Out of sorrow for the first humans—
stumbling, crawling, helpless and cold—
dogs folded their great wings into paws
soft enough to walk beside us forever.
They still weep for us, pity our small noses,
our unfortunate eyes, our dull teeth.
They lick our faces clean,
keep us warm at night.
Sometimes they remember flying
and bite our ugly hands.

----Kenneth W. Brewer

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Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Derick Van Milford.

On this day 26 years ago we lost someone truly special. Derick, the world is less without you in it.

When I was 20 years old I moved in with a couple of friends I’d made at a party on Monument Avenue. I’d gone with a friend of mine who was my sister’s boss, and I remember feeling nervous and scared because I didn’t know anyone there. No worries though because everyone at the gathering was friendly, outgoing, and raucously funny. Most of them were gay and all of them were drinking. It was a fabulous time. I started talking with Graham, found out it was his and his boyfriend David's apartment, and they needed a roommate. I jumped at the chance since I’d recently moved back home after a truly awful breakup.

The next week I moved in the few things I owned and explored where I’d be living. I noticed a framed snapshot of David on their mantle and was overjoyed to also recognize a good friend, Derick Van Milford. Derick and I had gone to high school together. He always called himself “Van” Milford but to this day I don’t know if that was his name or an affectation. It suited him though. He was wonderful, totally gregarious, friendly, over the top funny and charming. He was also the star of most of our high school productions, the official ones, as well as the non-official ones he persuaded the school higher-ups to allow him to perform. He was two grades ahead of me and I loved him, not only for his humor and grace but because I envied his courage. He was fearless, loud, and popular. Everything I wanted to be. Holding the photograph and smiling to myself, I casually mentioned to David that I knew Derick and asked about his whereabouts. “He’s a good friend. But he died last year. Car accident.”

I was stunned. I actually remember a sharp pain entering my heart right then like a stab. Imagine the soaring hope of being connected with an old friend you adore followed by the frightening crash of learning you’ll never see him again all in the same moment. I got spots in front of my eyes and felt faint. I couldn’t believe it. I still can’t. That someone so vibrant, vital, and with so much energy and passion for their art would be snatched away like that.

Back in high school I loved theater and movies and wanted more than anything to be an actress. Just one problem. I was painfully shy and suffered from severe social anxiety. Just the thought of speaking aloud in front of a group of people made me want to puke. Or stab myself in the eye. Or puke. We performed the musical Carnival in my sophomore year, and I hid in the chorus as always. It was only when Derick, who was acting as Assistant Director to our Theater teacher Miss Sanchez, announced he needed someone to play a puppet in a key scene with him, that I saw my chance. Here was my opportunity! I could play a major character, an actual speaking role with lines. And those lines could be spoken BEHIND A WALL. I’d never be seen. It was ideal.

Except it wasn’t. In practice I failed time and again. And each time I stumbled I feared replacement. If you’ve ever acted in live theater you know projection to the back of the room is important. Now imagine doing that behind a puppet theater. Now imagine doing it with severe social anxiety. What the hell had I gotten myself into? I was flummoxed. No matter what I did I wasn’t loud enough. I wasn’t boisterous enough. My opera singing wasn’t up to par. The character was supposed to be an opera singer who sings REALLY badly but who thinks she sings great. I was accomplishing neither. Instead of being a cartoon, my character came off as a half-ass robot.

Thankfully Derick possessed major amounts of patience as well as talent. As the other puppet in the scene of course he was flawless. After hours and hours of practice under his direction I began to notice slight changes in my voice. I got louder. My voice got more rounds and edges to it. It got fuller. And under his direction I really learned to let go. I allowed myself to make mistakes in the opera singing and then to amplify them times ten. To let go of the fear of not being perfect that always prevented me from speaking up. To really belt it out and to do it badly. On purpose. To say fuck it and just go for it.

Acting with him was something I’ll never ever forget. We played off each other’s lines so well the audience was howling. It was and is the best role I ever had, not just because we made the audience laugh, but because he taught me it’s okay to speak up even if it makes you look like an ass. It’s okay to make mistakes. In fact it’s a good thing. It’s only by biting the bullet and actually TRYING that you find out what works and what doesn’t. In teaching me to be a puppet, he also taught me to find my life’s voice. Now? You can’t shut me up if you tried. And for that I’m grateful.

It’s hard to describe but often now I’ll find myself in a social situation where I’m scared beyond belief, but instead of hiding I’ll just bust out in a really loud, gregarious and hopefully funny comment to mask my fear. Nine times out of 10 it works. And when it doesn’t? Eh, fuck ‘em. Just keep going to the next line in the play. Maybe they’ll catch up. Derick taught me that.

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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Lois in June.

Almost 10 months ago, my dog Lois was diagnosed with colon cancer. Since we think she’s almost 12 years old (a rescue, so we’re not sure) we opted to not have her endure treatment, but to make her “last days” comfortable.

I put last days in quotes because here it is, almost 10 months later, and she’s doing so well she may outlive us all. I’ve learned over the past 10 months to take each day as it comes. I wake up, gauge how she’s feeling, and go from there. Some days she’s bounding out of bed before me, a big grin on her face, tail wagging, giving me body slams to get me up, licking my face. Other days I’m up first and she looks at me forlornly, her chin on the ground, big eyes gazing up as if to say, “Sigh. . . Mommy I sure wish I felt better. I feel like shit today. Why do I feel so bad?” On those days I take it easy with her and stay home if I can, giving her extra pets and love, extra treats if she’ll take them, walking a little more slowly with her around the yard. Hoping that she’ll feel better tomorrow and that this isn’t indeed the beginning of the end.

But seriously, the “bad” days (also in quotes because every day with Miss Lois is a good day) are few and far between. Sometimes I forget she’s sick. Sometimes I look to the sky at whatever god may be there (take your pick) and ask, “Are you granting me a reprieve? May we have her just a little bit longer than we thought? Is this all really just a bad dream or a misdiagnosis?” Then another bad day happens and I’m reminded of how precious every day is, every moment is really. Every second with her that she feels okay I’m eternally grateful for. I’ve learned through her to not just be grateful for the big stuff, a house, a car, a loving husband, but the little stuff. The moments, the seconds, the minutes when she’s lying beside me in the early morning and I can hear her breathing. Every second.

On her bad days I’m reminded of the fluidness of time. Nothing stands still, we’re all moving, changing, flowing, getting older. I’ve noticed little changes in her during this time beyond the diagnosis. She moves slower, has a cloudy blueness to her eyes, has a calmness, a resignation that wasn’t there before. She doesn’t react as psychotically to thunderstorms and fireworks, but resignedly goes to a closet or the shower. “Not again. . . sigh,” she seems to say, her paws padding on the wood floor clicking away from me. “Not again.”

I have days, weeks even where I think it might always be this way. She will always be okay, we’ll always be together, everything will always be fine. Time stands still. Then something happens to remind me that nothing stands still. Everything moves and changes. Her salivary gland blocked up a month ago and I knew this was the end. I prepped myself for it, steeled myself to feel the pain. But after overnight minor surgery? She’s a new dog and again I’m looking at the sky in gratitude.

This past week, my good friend lost her beloved horse to cancer. Blue had been diagnosed almost the same month as my Lois and over the past 10 months my friend and I had consoled each other and talked with one another about our fears and our hopes for our loved ones. In a weird way every time Lois did better I thought maybe Blue was going to do better too. Sometimes this was the case, sometimes not. When he passed suddenly I was reminded like a savage blow to the head that nothing stays. People and pets pass. Time passes. Hope isn’t always enough to keep the ones you love with you for as long as you’d like. The anger and frustration I felt, the sadness I felt for my friend was overwhelming. I felt hopeless to help, was at a loss for words when I called her, just felt damn mad that someone I cared about had to go through this. The hopelessness was a like a tight collar around my neck, choking the hope out of me. It made me hold Lois a little closer every time she walked near, gripping her around the belly in a tight hug, smelling the beautiful doggy smell of the fur on her neck, vainly trying like hell to just hold onto one damn moment of good against all that pain.

Not too sound too “guru” or anything, but because I’ve been meditating a year now, in a weird, strange way I’ve been able to relay all of this shit into my practice, which has been struggling as of late. Since Lois’s diagnosis my distraction has reached new levels of hilarity, getting so bad that I was actually reaching for my phone to check email during my 20-minute sessions. It was weeks before it dawned on me that maybe this wasn’t the way to go about things. I put the phone on a high shelf, backed my minutes up to 5, and started again.

Now I’m up to 12 minutes as of today and am slowly building up to where it was before Lois got sick. It’s okay I did that, obviously I needed to. No beating up of the self allowed. And it’s okay I get frustrated I can’t hold onto anything. Everyone does. You’re not supposed to be able to hold onto anything in this life. And you’re supposed to go through frustration after frustration until it hits you like a Tyson blow that maybe this is the point. There is no holding on. You have to let go. Of everything. Every minute. Every minute of life is a free fall. Loosen that gut you’re holding in during meditation. Loosen the grip on your doggie’s neck. Loosen your breathing. Loosen your thinking. Breathe. Loosen the criticism in your head about how you can’t help your friend. Let go of it all. Every minute. Every second. Instead of holding onto the moments with your beloved doggie daughter, practice just BEING in the moment with her. Lightly. And when it’s time (and yes, in my head I’m thinking, please don’t let it be time anytime soon), breathe. Then let her go.

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Monday, May 06, 2013

Grateful 5/6/13.

Tonight the gratitude is hard to find through the worry and anxiety. My girl had surgery today for a salivary mucocele and has to spend the night at the vet. I'm SICK to heart because I want to hold her and hug her and tell her it will all be better soon. She hates the rain and it's raining hard right now and it's dark. Sending my love and light to her with every fiber of my being. And I'm grateful that:

She came through surgery okay. She's old, and I was worried the anesthesia would be hard on her heart. But she's a strong girl. We wouldn't have even done the surgery except it's been bothering her a lot, she's having trouble breathing and sometimes swallowing. If we can get through this, my gut tells me she'll be much better.

I have Lois in my life. She's my best friend, my confidante, the one I tell all my troubles too when the demons come and I doubt myself and my choices and my abilities.

I was able to write today. As emotionally sick as I feel, at least I was able to write.

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Sunday, May 05, 2013

Grateful 5/5/13.

Today I'm grateful that:

I sat and composed a list in Spotify of my Top 100 songs. My essentials. The shit that gets me uplifted when I'm sagging. The ones I sing loudly to in the car, car dancing the entire way. The ones I lean on in troubling times. Like right now. These are the songs that make up who I am. At this moment in my life at least. Subject to change at any moment of course...

My lilacs finally bloomed after 3 years of waiting. The smell, light, airy, sweet, like Springtime flower petals dropping onto flagstones dappled in sunlight. Or something like that ;)

An afternoon nap on the couch with the window open. My first of the year.

Sweeping the deck and listening to Taj Mahal's 21st Century Gypsy Singing Lovin' Man and getting a clear image of my mother dancing. She loved the blues. She loved Taj Mahal. And my grandmother's loved gardening. In one moment it felt like 3 generations of women were living through me. It was lovely.

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Friday, May 03, 2013

Grateful 5/3/13.

I've been feeling like shit lately and remembered that sometimes this makes me feel better. So here I'm grateful that:

Even though I'm scared to death Lois has to have surgery Monday, I was able to have several peaceful, happy moments with her today. Napping in the dappled sunlight, her soft breathing and the cawing of crows the only sounds. Her smile as she ventures forth to dig in the dirt and chew grass. Her soft snore as I rub her belly in the evening.

I'm able to grasp nanosecond moments of peace in between all my "feel like shit"-eyness. Noticing the Spring, the colors, the breeze, how the azaleas are fuller this year. Feeling grateful for that.

I can realize that this feeling won't last forever, even though sometimes it sure feels like it. I will feel good again someday. Maybe even someday soon.

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