It’s not dark yet

“There’s not even room enough to be anywhere

Not dark yet,

But it’s gettin’ there…

Well my sense of humanity is going down the drain,

Behind every beautiful thing, there’s been some kind of pain…”  —-Bob Dylan

God, I love that song.  Don’t look up Bob’s version, either.  Look up “Not Dark Yet,” on Youtube, with Alison Moorer and her sister Shelby Lynn.  They are INCREDIBLE.

So, warning: this post is probably not a feel-good one, but if you follow along with me you may recognize many of my blog entries are not always mood-lifters.  I process through my writing, and this is what’s in my hot-flash-addled brain these days.  By the way, menopause and masks are not a good combo, in case you were wondering.

Good morning, friends. Today’s post is brought to you not by beer but by coffee.  It’s happened before, believe it or not.  Although I am now reminded of a bottle of coffee porter our friends dropped off the other day that I won’t hesitate to break open.  I never in my wildest dreams would have thought beer and coffee flavors would go together…but trust me, they do.  Porters are roasty and so is good coffee.  Enough said.  There’s also a dark chocolate bar those same friends gave me that would compliment this menu.  A breakfast of champions, right?  Let me just roll my over-caloried  and alcohol soaked self right out of April, where it’s been Groundhog day every day.  Here’s what I’ve become: Get up.  Coffee and toast.  Maybe shower, maybe not.  Maybe change clothes, maybe not.  Check email, Facebook, and current rants about corona. Deal with animals and check for evidence of poop, puke, and pee throughout the house.  Decide what will be for dinner.  Maybe write.   Think about doing zoom yoga and decide not to.  Walk.  Clean, then bake and eat hordes of butter-laden items.  Walk dog.  Check for pee again.  Make dinner and take pictures of dinner.  Dishes.  Drink.  Watch latest shelter-in-place- show, in between checking social media rants again.  Go to bed.

Sound familiar? Many of you are homeschooling and working, in addition to all of this. It’s hard, and so is the relentless monotony.  Also, I’m not joking about the animal excretions part.  Having two geriatric pets guarantees this clean-up is part of my routine now; as is nature’s miracle, Skout’s honor laundry additive, smelly kidney-helpful cat food, homeopathic drops, an extra litter box, pee pads, and arthritis meds.  Scarily,  this is possibly my future, too.  The other day I looked at the dog’s gray hair and bowlegged gait, and I announced to my husband, “Everyone’s old in this house!”  He didn’t disagree.

Most of you have seen those posts, “Take advantage of this new time!  Be at one with your spouse and your cadre of ever-growing children! Play board games and cook eight course meals! Re-evaluate your life, your inner glow, your neglected goals! Be grateful for family!”  I try, I really do.  I’ll bet you’re trying, too.  And I’m already over it, sorry to say.

Having an “empath” personality, which I do, sounds like hippy guru type stuff.  Very in touch with the universe and all that. Which I guess might be true, but it also means it’s extremely difficult to turn the thoughts off:  “I hate what this virus is doing to divide our country even more”, “I hate not seeing my family and friends, and my live music,” “I hate what’s happening to our small businesses,” “I hate that people are in nursing homes all alone,” “I hate that everyone is paralyzed with fear at the idea of touching another person,””I hate that kids are glued to computers more than ever, can’t see their friends, and might be cooped up with maniacal family members…” It goes on and on in a loop.

Sorry.  I did warn you.

It occurred to me that part of the virus-fueled fear I mentioned above, is closely related to our relationship with death. Maybe that sounds too obvious, but what isn’t obvious to many is how unskilled we are at grasping the reality of death happening.  Everything in our culture is geared toward how to stall and prevent it.  I believe the majority of us get a big fat zero at “being comfortable” at the inevitability.  Of course, with good reason.  We’re wired to fight for survival.  The older you get, though, (theoretically), the more at peace with the afterlife one becomes.

I learned so much about death when I took a hospice volunteer training years ago.  This was before I began losing family members in what felt like a three year plague.  When that plague hit I remembered what Hospice taught about dying.  I remembered that it’s natural, that we should take control of the process as much as we can, to see that it happens peacefully and with minimal suffering.  For ourselves, and our loved ones.  I think that’s what’s so terrifying for the world at this point.  A disease like Covid-19 attacks our choices, our say in how to carry on, and how we might die.  My preferred method sure as hell isn’t laying with a ventilator behind a partition, petrified that I might be infecting the nurses taking care of me.  My personal mini-pandemic a few years back resulted in me clarifying what I DIDN’T want for myself when that time came, and to make sure others were aware too.  So when I think about my end I’m not really afraid, unless it’s that above hospital scenario.  If I knew tomorrow would be my last day on earth, there are two things I would regret: missing out on grandparent-hood, and not finishing my #@$damned book.  No pressure on the kiddos, but I hereby put my writer friend Kris in charge of finishing the manuscript if I don’t.  She’d make a fine author.  I might have to will her a lifetime of coffee porters to see it to the finish.

Here’s the eternal, painful, predicament: the deeper the connection, the harder the loss.  But what else would we do?  Not have the experience?  It’s certainly tempting to take a pass after a pet dies.  Who can stand the thought of going through that over and over?  My son and daughter-in-law are in this anguish as I speak.  Yesterday, their kitty of seven years named Beatrice passed away quite traumatically.  Black and white, docile, chubby, and agreeable Bea, with her rotund belly and disproportionately tiny head.  She enjoyed sitting in boxes too small and lounging on the windowsill, but most of all she liked laps with blankets.  Unlike most cats, she was decidedly ungraceful, making us all laugh with her failed attempts to land jumps.  But also unlike a lot of finicky felines, she was cuddly and loving as could be.  As fate would cruelly have it, one minute she was there, the next she was not, and we are all heartbroken.  I can’t stop crying as I think of her, and my daughter-in-law trying to help her.  Although it’s on another level, this kind of jarring loss is comparable to that of a violent crash.  The unexpected shock, vs. the long, downward decline everyone dreads.  And always, always, the question that haunts: was there something else that could’ve been done?  The answer for people who wonder this is almost always no, but asking it means you loved, and you cared.

It hurts.  Living hurts, I guess, if you do it right.

It all stings deeply, whether its the old, young, animal, human, and if the demise is fast or slow.  I feel the effect is magnified during a time when we’re forbidden from having contact except through a screen.  I’m sad in a myriad of ways due to the last couple of months, and although I may want to drink through it, I won’t make the mistake of clamping down or denying it, and you shouldn’t either.  Why are the tears we shed from an onion chemically different than ones shed from grief?  There’s a reason why God made us in this fashion.  Not to be overly dramatic, but this limbo we are in is like a mourning, and we should treat it as such.  It’s when we wallow endlessly and obsess in our despair that we need a change to take place.

Ready for my one paragraph of positive prose?  I think I detect a pattern in my blog writing.

There is light coming, like shards of sun peeking through the blinds.  Logically, we know this.  Spring is here, and so are the blooms that give us joy.  Babies will be born, kittens and puppies will frolic and be adopted and help heal aching holes, and there are bluebirds nesting in my twenty-something year old box.  Orioles will come to feast on the fruit and grape jelly, dazzling in their orange and black glory.  I have to tell you how much I cherish those birds.  In elementary school, my son Danny brought home a mother’s day card with the word mother in an acronym. The other words for the letters were typical adjectives describing me, clearly suggested by a teacher.  With one exception.  For the E in mother, he wrote, “E is for eager to see oreal birds.”  I was so glad his teacher never corrected his spelling, making it that much dearer.  And never have I been more eager to hear their lovely warbling than I am right now.

Along with nature, in the coming months some shops and pubs will emerge unscathed, while delicious beer will be made, and concerts will be held again.  We will get to kiss and hug without personal protection equipment, and even if so and so says we shouldn’t yet, I will do it anyway.

I’ll be okay.  I’m even going camping this weekend, where 6 feet away friends and a campfire await.  It’s not dark yet.  And that was more than one paragraph of good news.

Cheers, friends. Until we can meet in person, send a little love or good vibes toward the famed rainbow bridge that just welcomed another furbaby, and the two humans who loved her the most.  Rest in peace, sweet Bea.

 

 

 

 

 

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The End Times have arrived

Wow, ya’ll.  (I can say ya’ll legitimately, because my son and daughter in law live in Nashville, and so will I.  Sooner rather than later).  It’s been a long time since my last post, so let it be a warning I’ve got something important to say.  Just kidding.  I don’t, not really, but I wanted to pontificate longer than a facebook forum would allow me.  I should be working on my novel, but lately I can’t seem to string more than a paragraph together in one sitting.  So, here we are.

Tonight’s consumption is fueled by local brewery Haymarket: an IPA named Aleister.  Crisp, with just a hint of hops.  Not too grape-fruity, which is the standard by which I rate all but black IPA’s. And a couple days ago I made hubby go out and buy it, because they were featuring a six pack for six dollar special. That, my friend, is cheap in the craft beer world, but like every single brewery and restaurant in the United States right this minute, they are scrambling.  Scrambling to figure out what in the hell they need to do to balance the bills, their employees’ needs, and the safety of the public.  And still make the good stuff in there somewhere.  All in the meager and unforgiving timespan of a week.  The Michigan beer industry generates MILLIONS of dollars into our state.  Am I selfishly wishing to preserve it?  Yes, but not just for me.  There’s all the infrastructure affected, of course, from the suppliers, to the brewers, servers, kids to feed, mortgages..I could go on and on.  It’s the same story all over.  I’m aware we need healthy people to drink the beer.  We also need an economy in which to live.  Can’t have one without the other.

What is causing this unprecedented state of affairs?  Well, unless you just woke up from a coma or crawled out from under a rock, the world is in the grip of a pandemic caused by a dangerous disease called coronavirus. What we don’t know about it far outweights what we do, which is that it’s highly infectious, kills old people, people with deficient lungs, people with underlying and immune-compromised conditions, and…then there’s this.  We are also told it doesn’t kill most people, but that it will cause utter chaos in hospitals.  And you could carry it unbeknownst to you, and kill your grandma and grandpa or somebody else’s, because there’s a horrifically long incubation period.  There.  That’s my thumbnail sketch, if I ever look back.  Kindly do not message me with whatever aspect I left out.  I’m already aware my memory is precarious, and within twelve-ish days, everyone is already on operation covid overload.

Basically everywhere on the developed planet, schools and colleges are closed, businesses shuttered, people are to avoid contact with anyone not in their household, and nobody is to go anywhere unless they have to.  All in an attempt to slow the progression and not overwhelm medical facilities.  This makes sense to me in theory.  It doesn’t mean I like the new rules, but then again, only the weirdos claiming they’ve waited all their lives for this moment do.  Make no mistake, they’re out there.  I’ve seen their memes and posts celebrating “permission” to hibernate.

Here’s some of what I hate about the current situation.  I might add there’s nothing particularly unique about my rantings, nor is it a comprehensive list.

Then, later, if I’m feeling charitable, I might give a plug for the positives.

I’ve bitched before about kids and teens being chained to their phones and technology.  They substitute and over-use media platforms instead of face-to-face contact, and have been doing so long before this outbreak.  Now, it’s all they’ve got.  God knows how much sexting is happening now, how many genital pictures exchanged.  At least, I think to myself, they can’t get pregnant.  There is a chance, however minute, that after this nightmare is over they will be so lonely for a friend’s physical presence, that the almighty screens could diminish in appeal.  Phone sex has to be a poor substitute.  I’m guessing.

How about the complete disappearance of all live music?  I feel like in this house, we’ve been cut off at the knees.  This isn’t an exaggeration.  For a myriad of reasons live music is our lifeblood, and after awhile you-tube gets old.  So with all concerts and gigs cancelled, musicians are trying to keep their livelihood going with livestream appearances.  For a minute there seemed to be a glimmer of hope.  Alas, it was quickly snuffed out, as our experiences thus far have been fraught with technical difficulties.  Due to all the buffering it was like watching those Asian Godzilla b-movies, when the actor’s mouth wasn’t moving the same time as the dialogue. Whose mouth WAS moving was my husband’s, bellowing profanity at the computer and tv screens.  Not only that, but the performers looked and acted disappointingly like…us.  Wearing pajamas, un-showered, no make-up, half drunk in their messy living areas or bedrooms.  One female singer literally smoked a joint in between songs and sat cross legged and made no sense from that point on.  Another guy I am fairly sure was recording from his mom’s badly lit basement.  It wasn’t pretty.

I will say, the one upside to the gigs playing to an unseen audience, is that you don’t have the annoying side-talkers there, ruining the show.  Oh, and I could watch in MY sweats.  So, I guess that’s two upsides.  I joined Patreon to help support one particularly favorite musician, but it’s a mere raindrop compared to the hordes left out to dry.  As if hoofing around the country trying to make a buck with your guitar and heartfelt lyrics wasn’t hard enough in the first place.  Not to mention, trying to get young people off the couch and out of their bubbles. They’ll be so neck deep in their snapchat and Instagram after this I wonder if they’ll ever resurface.  They did make it to Florida for spring break, though, which I found mildly amusing, as well as feeling a tinge of envy.  People clucked and fussed, but are we that surprised?  People in their twenties think they’re invincible and as a general rule, aren’t exactly known for their selflessness.  And, they want to party.  Hell, I want to party.  Now apparently some of them have tested covid positive.  Possibly a lesson was learned.  Possibly not.

The we have the politics.  Before and during this unsettling time, Pete Buttigieg and Tulsi Gabbard were thrown under the bus, (the only two Dems I would’ve voted for), and this was a bummer.  Meanwhile, Trump is digging his own grave every time he opens his mouth (which you may or may not be rooting for), and Senators have been outed for insider trading as the rest of us watch our own stocks wither and die.  Is it any wonder Americans have been so frustrated with those in office?  Accusations as to how the virus coulda shoulda been or be handled fly faster than an intern trying to get away from Joe Biden’s massaging fingers.  Don’t even get me started on him.  It’s sad, actually, to see the clips of him looking confused and inept.  I don’t get it.  Is his family really on board with him as President?

If we thought party lines might be softened now in an effort to achieve solidarity, we are sorely mistaken.  With these new restrictions in place our freak flags are flying.  There’s the extreme ends of the spectrum, of course.  Marky Marxist is screaming about sheeple caving to a Communist regime, Socialist know-it-all Sally is shouting at shoppers to staythefuckhome, and Militant a-holes Mac and Morgan are stocking up and decimating store shelves of water, Gatorade, instant rice, and you-know-what.  Then there are the moderates (like me), in the middle somewhere, complaining about salons closing, trying to feed everyone and deliver toilet paper like an underground railroad.

When it comes down to it, most of us are probably a mix of all of these components.  We’re attempting to do the right thing in scary, unknown territory.  And stumbling.  I joined a couple of Facebook help/aid groups specific to our area. Unfortunately…even THAT turns into a shitshow of opinions.  The good soul moderators have a fulltime job just closing threads off to the mudslinging.  One of the sites showcases which restaurants are still offering curbside service, etcetera.  More than a few chimed in on this “Buy/support Local” group with wagging fingers at the ready.  “All these drive-through, take-out options don’t sound like social distancing to me.  All those hands touching the food!”  (As if being at the store is that different).  When an EMT driver commented he’d have a hard time if drive thru-s closed, he was told he should “make his own lunch.” Jesus, Mary and Joseph.  This is the kind of nitpicking nonsense we do not need right now.

Like many states, Michigan has the “essential businesses and services only” order in effect.  It took less than a day for the arguing and debating to begin about what/who is deemed “essential.”  One area laundromat posted they were open and following appropriate sanitation and protocols, and Joe Schmo had to skewer them to the wall.

“There should be ONE laundromat for our whole area!  This is why this virus is spreading!”

Says the guy as he loads his lovely, operable Whirlpool unit in his home, blissfully unaware that with 1,600 square miles in Berrien County to encase (yes, some of it is water, but still), one laundromat would be a mob scene.  And a throbbing petri-dish.  Let’s not forget to ask, who would decide WHICH lucky laundromat gets the grand prize?  It’s enough to un-join the groups, and I don’t want to do that, because I want to help.  I want to help as I read the posts of the frantic parents thrown into homeschooling with about one hour’s notice, where these situations carry the same ends of the behavior spectrum.  You’ve got over-the-top mom Annie, spending every free minute making color-coded schedule posters that would put Sherwin Williams’ paint chart to shame. There was a father I could only assume was near tears on one site.  He said, “I’ve organized everything I can think of.  I’ve asked my kids how they want to learn, what subjects they always wanted to know more about, and they just stare at me dead-eyed!”  A long-time homeschooling mom gently referred to this period as “unschooling,” where kids used to having every minute regimented are at a loss.  It takes time, she assured him.  Someone hand that well-meaning mama and dad some weed.  Soon.

Passed out at the other end is loosey-goosey Lori, chugging a bottle of wine while throwing pinterest-generated worksheets at her brood of house-destroying monsters.  She’s given up after a week and a half.  It’s enough for me to want to dive into my old Parents-as-Teachers bins, which are loaded with activities, and offer to come by and have fun again.  But, there’s that damned six feet mandate.  Don’t tell me to take to the internet with it, either.  Some things cannot be translated to the screen.

There are those parents in the middle, too, shuffling along and waiting for April 13th in vain.  All joking aside, though, it’s the ones dealing with true addiction, food scarcity and other dysfunctional lifestyles that are worrisome.  Trust me, I saw this firsthand.  It’s bad when the world is spinning as it should.  When it’s in turmoil, I can’t even think about what those kids’ lives might be like.  There were times when I knew my coming to visit a family was the only thing they looked forward to that week.  This isn’t a humblebrag.  I know it because they openly told me.  I’m sure it’s the same for the elderly, mentally ill, or fragile folks who might have certain services suspended now.  These are the populations who are desperate risk due to enforced isolation.

So, let’s get to the good, before I get too snarly or end up crying in my beer for real.

Isn’t it wonderful how we’re checking on our friends and neighbors?  And the fact there’s going to be a baby boom in November and December?  We’re also re-discovering nature, going to parks and preserves we didn’t make or have time for before.  We’ve created networks providing vital connections regarding unemployment and area resources, ones I believe will flourish long after corona has departed.  We are appreciating teachers, healthcare professionals, and our families more.  We’ve cast a grateful eye on convenience store clerks, janitors, child care workers, maintenance crews, fast-food workers.  Maybe you won’t dismiss the employee working in a grocery store so casually after this.  Or a truck driver, or a construction worker.  Where would Nashville and surrounding areas be without them right now, as many of their facilities lay in ruin?  Every sector I mentioned is truly the backbone of our country, and I wish to God this would be reflected permanently.  Not just in pay, but in status and lasting respect.  It’s sad it takes national hysteria to unearth the hidden gems right under our eyes.  We need to pay attention to those “essentials” every day.

It could be that this craziness will result in a major mind-shift not only in our nation, but in the world.  On many fronts.  We can only hope.

Be well, friends.  There’s gonna be so much celebrating when this is over.  Until then, check on your middle-aged female pals.  We are not coping well with our shaggy gray roots, our unkempt nails, and rapidly expanding waistlines.

Cheers!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My Own Worst Enemy

…”I’m the sound of money washing down the drain,

I’m the pack of lies, baby, that keeps you sane,

I am your one true love that sleeps with someone else,

I am your Nemesis,

Baby I’m life, sweet life, itself…”

….Nemesis, by David Gray

Good afternoon, friends. Today’s post is accompanied by a delicious brew called “Michigan Stout,” put out by the delicious brewery Tapistry. Every ingredient has been culled from Michigan in some form, a concept you foodies out there go orgasmic for. Me, I don’t really care if the vine the hops come from is from Alaska as long as it tastes good. But I guess the Michigan ingredient thing IS kinda cool, and the bottle itself is way cool. Let me assure you this stout is very, very good, and it’s also fortunate that I don’t think twice about drinking something that looks like motor oil ( thanks for that description, Kristin K.). Plus, it’s a bomber! And I’m alone! Which means I can drink twenty two ounces all to myself. I know what you’re thinking. Uh-oh…drinking alone, isn’t that a warning sign? Well, I’d share if you were here with me. Which you kind of are, if you’re reading this. And anyway, I’m having….one of those days.

The lyrics above are from one of my favorite songs and songwriters, David Gray. And when I went for my daily trek with my pain-in-the-ass dog, I kept listening, because it hit so close to home. How many different ways do you feel overwhelmed by your every effort? More importantly, because of what you tell yourself?

This post is really dedicated to we “creative types”, but honestly, it doesn’t matter. I think every one of us has been gripped by the demons of self-doubt at one time or another. Well, except for my husband. How I have envied him for his lack of second guessing and his seemingly effortless confidence in his abilities and decisions. He just charges forward and doesn’t look back, and yet he is the least arrogant person I know. That, my friends, must be a gift from above, because I am sure the forces that fill one’s mind with uncertainty are from below.

So. I’m sort of in the throes of a head-banging thing with my writing. Most of you know I have embarked on a novel, and everyone close to me is very supportive. “That’s so great! You’re so talented! Good for you for going for it!” All comments appreciated and duly noted. But in the meantime, I’ve been hacking away at this monster (I’m calling it that today), for over a year. I’m more than halfway through a first draft, but have revised it a million different ways already, which you’re not supposed to do. You are advised by writing pros to just write, write, write, and get to the end. Then, go back and revise. Well, I can’t. I must have enough OCD in me that if something is off to me, I’m like a shark with a piece of a surfer in its mouth. I won’t let it go. So it’s back to my notebook and my computer to delete and move and re-do and obsess over scenes, ad-nauseum. And I feel such a lack of progress as a result.

This isn’t atypical, mind you. I belong to enough writer groups to know this is par for the course, and so is what I am feeling right now. Which is, namely, thinking I’m f$&$ing crazy for thinking I can do this. That spending hours sweating over paragraphs and dialogue is the most colossal waste of time known to Man, while wondering who in the f%#k is EVER going to read this other than my four friends and family, let alone find an agent, a publisher, a way to market it, etc. The negativity catapults if I find myself blocked, too. I start thinking, “you can’t do this because you’re too stupid. Only SMART people can put plots together that are engaging best sellers. You can’t even remember what you had for breakfast today, let alone get characters and story lines straight. You’re an imposter and an idiot all in one.”

I know, boo-hoo. Writers and artists in general are notorious for their insecurity, their narcissistic whining, weirdness, and inability to produce genius works without being soused or high, or heartbroken. Like all stereotypes, there is probably a grain of truth in there somewhere. I keep thinking I’m like the guy on TV…” I don’t ALWAYS drink when I write, but when I do, it’s…craft beer.” Now, c’mon. Don’t get all worried. If I drank whenever I wrote, I’d be half in the bag by ten AM. And back in bed.

I don’t know. I think the appeal of substances lies in their ability to kick out inhibitions and let inspiration in. Because artists are desperate for inspiration, wherever we can find it. And we are desperate to beat down the beast known as Resistance. Yes, there is a term for the self-induced head-banging I described above. Through one of my writer’s groups I discovered the author Steven Pressman, who wrote a book called, “The War of Art.” It’s a quick read, a fascinating book and I highly recommend it. Not just for artists, but for anyone who struggles with believing in themselves and their endeavors. So he coined the term,”Resistance,” as an evil force that has the strength to bury us, if we let it.  It is “the enemy within,” whose aim is to prevent us from doing our work. He doesn’t call it satanic, but he comes close.

In the book, the author refers to Hitler. Did you know that he wanted to be an artist? Neither  did I. He apparently had an inheritance and moved to Vienna, applying to the Academy of Fine Arts and went…nowhere. Pressman says, “Resistance beat him. It was easier to start World War two, than it was for him to face a blank canvas.”

Wow, I think. That must be some powerful thing, I think. And it is.

Resistance comes in the form of believing I am delusional for this undertaking, that I should just chuck this whole damned manuscript and go bartend and learn how to pole dance or something.  It comes in the form of dismissing any accolades, such as getting published in an anthology, and dismissing any positive reinforcements. In my defense, I will say this much: it’s not in my makeup to enjoy attention or praise, and I fear I have passed this down to my adorable sons. They don’t care for it, either. Perhaps there is a nirvana where humility meets assertiveness. Let us hope.

In any case I can’t let this Resistance force consume me, and if you have similar issues, you shouldn’t either. So I will use one of my weapons against this, which is prayer, to soldier on. I also believe in the power of my current story more than anything I’ve ever done, even as I get an ache from the head bang. I truly think it’s bigger than any of my little petty complaints, because its coming from a source that I can’t comprehend. And so maybe this belief will be my salvation. For I sit down day after day and not only am I trying to tune out Resistance, but the constant distractions of animals, Facebook and email. The good news is I have at least gotten myself disciplined to looking at electronic items twice a day only, so that’s a start.

I am at the end of my pint now,  and so it signals the end of my post. I ask for your prayers, if that’s your thing, to give me strength to continue on this journey. And if not, send some good karma my way.  May your heart be bigger than the thoughts that threaten to defeat you, my friends. A healthy bomber is a hell of a good defense, by the way.

Cheers!

 

 

 

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Running to the Rainbow Bridge

Good Morning, friends. As some of you know I’ve eased off the pints the last couple of months, in an apparently fruitless attempt to feel better and/or lose some lbs. The only thing that seems to have changed from trying to eliminate gluten and sugar is that everything tastes awful now. Too sweet, too this, too that. Maybe I did have Covid and never knew? In any event, not sure how long this shindig will last, since I’d give my eyeteeth for a crunchy piece of toast right now, and I don’t want to change my blog name because of some diet whim.

I guess I seem to only do posts here when I’m irritable or sad, but writing is my outlet and more effective than jumping in front of a car at a Trump road rally and waving a middle finger. (Which really did happen not far from me, but I won’t get into politics today). No, today is devoted to the story of my fourteen-year-old-dog Guinness, a mixed breed rescue whose bloodline was unknown. Judging from his fur and herding behavior it was safe to assume he was border collie, with possibly lab and setter or spaniel thrown in.

A couple of years after our golden-retriever-lab Allie passed, I decided it was time for another family dog (as it turned out, he wasn’t a family dog. He was unequivocally mine, though this wasn’t by my design). An internet search pointed us to a shelter an hour and a half away in North Judson, Indiana, a rural area with a population of not quite two thousand. The place was called Starke County Animal Control, and to say it was stark is putting it mildly. The facility was about as ramshackle as it gets; understaffed, peeling paint, smelly, with adoptable dogs tethered outside on concrete. The guy in charge literally looked like what you’d envision a meth addict would. Rail thin, bad teeth, crooked glasses, straw for hair. Every shaky step he took looked like it might be his last. I’m not exaggerating, either. The kids are my witness, and so would my mother in law be if she were alive. It was the definition of grim. No doubt everyone we dealt with that day were good people trying to do their best with a bareboned budget, and this is what I told everyone in the car later as they twittered about the walking dead manager.

The kids had their eye on a couple of dogs, but the one I kept coming back to was this sleek, handsome black and white guy yelping nonstop at me. They all were, of course, which if you’ve been to a shelter you know it’s deafening and sad. The reality of these animals watching you go away without them is horrible. So we took “Skunk” home (yes, that was his very redneck sounding name, and being Irish, well, Guinness seemed a good fit for a re-christening), and guess what? Within twenty-four hours he was ill. Not just garden variety sick, but the hospitalizing, IV-giving, house-payment-equivalent kind of sick, in which he had to be monitored for days.

He was diagnosed with parvo. I was utterly flummoxed, but I knew, amongst arguments and debate as to whether to take him back to Starke County (which they would have), I knew I could not do it. I knew they’d put him down the minute I came through the door, because they didn’t have the resources to care for him. And I did.

He recovered quickly, once home and showered with TLC, and his true nature burst forth. Boy, was I ever schooled. The vet guessed he was between six and nine months old, and he had every undesirable puppy trait you can imagine. Peeing on rugs? Check. High pitched yiping? Check. Annoying jumping? Check. Destructive? Well, let’s see. Gloves, shoes, rare caps from Ireland that couldn’t be replaced, a tent, pencils, pens, a DS player, Star Wars figures, and AT LEAST fifteen different types of dog beds. All shredded over a two to three year span and maybe even longer with the beds. I’m sure there are more valuables I’m forgetting.

We were informed that a tired pup is a good pup, that he did these things out of boredom, and he had working dog traits and we needed to provide substitutes for that and we should enroll him in classes. So I dutifully walked him and walked him and walked him, and our oldest son helped me the most with this. I even tried running with him (and trust me, I am NOT a runner), but all he wanted to do was sprint and then jerk to a stop to sniff every blade of grass in between. I was told all of this could be trained out of him. It was all training, training and more training. Eager to do whatever I could, Danny and I took him to obedience classes, and that, too, was a complete fail. He leaped around constantly, anxious at the other dogs and the incessant barking/whining around us. The instructor told us we were too soft, our voices weren’t firm enough, that we needed to be the ones in charge, and on and on. We became official doggy school dropouts.

I had dreams of whatever dog I adopted becoming a therapy dog. Needless to say, this vision was put to rest in record time. Not only did he not have the temperament, but HE should’ve had one for himself. And one for me, too, now that I think of it.

Aside from the chewing and typical young dog stuff though, he was sweet, whip-smart, and he kept me active, which, as much as I might have groaned at all the rain, wind and snow storms I walked through with him, was good for me. I was at a point in my life where my kids sadly didn’t need me much anymore, and he filled that gap and then some. He depended on me, worshipped me, loved me in the way we humans can’t, and that goes a long. long, way when you’re feeling invisible.

It went a long way to help make up for the other behaviors that soon were unearthed, that’s for sure. When he reached dog “adolescence”, his protectiveness kicked in. He began acting unpredictably around strangers coming to the house and strange dogs. If he didn’t like what he smelled or saw, he’d nip or snap with a lip curled and the hackles raised. I became an expert at interpreting his signals, but it was exhausting and embarrassing. And, I was worried it would spiral and lead to something really bad.

My mom was in the hospital, dying, when hubs and I took him to another trainer for a consultation. It did not go well. He was his usual anxious, non-listening, whining-at-being-restrained self, and she wasn’t impressed. She snapped her fingers at him, yelled “SIT DOWN”, and he did, to his credit, but not for long. She looked at me and said, “this dog is incredibly rude. He needs appropriate manners.” Of course, that meant enrolling in her classes. I said I would think about it, fled to the car and promptly burst into tears. I had tried so, so, hard, and with one dismissive wave of her hand and my mom slipping further and further away, I felt complete defeat.

Perhaps we just were not the right fit for him, I thought. Even with our endless hikes, every single day he eyeballed the front door for an elusive crack in which he could pry open, the tiniest opportunity to slip through and bound out like a reindeer into the freedom of the waiting forest. He’d be gone for hours, even in the bitterest cold, trailing after the thousands of animal scents and chasing God knows what. I’d wake up every couple of hours, calling him, getting in the car sometimes to drive our circle and try to entice him to the car. Frustratingly he would run up to me or one of the family, head to toe in creek filth and slime, and leap off the second we got close to catching him. If you have dogs, I don’t need to tell you the rage that bubbles up at this “nah-nah-nah-nah-nah” cat and mouse crap. And yet, what do the “experts” recommend when your animal decides to saunter home? “Greet them joyfully, do not scold them, or they will be afraid to return.” I actually managed to achieve this, MOST of the time, because damn it, he knew. He’d slink in apologetically and sleep off his jaunt for hours. Until the next time, again and again.

All these things combusted to make me wonder if I shouldn’t try to find a loving farm home for him. He probably would chase off all the undesirables and whatever else is needed in an outside dog, and he’d get to do his favorite thing. Run. Constantly. In the end I decided I would make the best of it. The idea of another adjustment, of him sleeping lonely in a cold barn at night, and his strong attachment to me, won out. And I’m so glad it did.

Like many of us, Guinness mellowed as he grew older. He became gentler, more accepting of other animals and people, and more enjoyable to walk. He always, always, attracted comments for his beautiful coat and form. “Such a handsome fellow,” folks would say. Kids naturally gravitated to him, wanting to pet him, and for all his tendencies, he never, ever, showed aggression toward children. That would’ve been and is a deal breaker for me. He loved camping and laying in the sun and breeze, and he truly was easier as time went by. Someone I knew once said, “That’s the thing about dogs. You put up with their bullshit for years, they become the perfect dog, and then they die.”

Yes. They do. They lose their hearing, their teeth get bad, their hips and hearts fail, or they might get crankier or more anxious. Sounds like a day in my life. And just like the human dying I’ve witnessed, what felt especially cruel to me is the way in which Guinness met his end. The fastest, most agile and light-footed dog I had ever seen, falling victim to a weird and evil syndrome, attacking his balance and ability to even stand. Of course, death in any form is never pretty, but this. This was on a level that knocked us both to our knees, with the worst part being I couldn’t explain to him, “Look, dude, this is what’s going on.” All I could do was lay next to him, stroke him, tell him I was sorry, and make the dreaded call. I hope he knew.

We wonder what is wrong with us that we keep signing up for this heart-wrenching gig over and over, knowing the end is likely the same. Sort of like when you give birth to a baby and you think, “that’s it. Never again.” Some people don’t, so scarred by the loss, or life circumstances, but most cave in at some point for one reason or another. As for me, we shall see. I’m in love with my granddog Grace, the BEST, BEST, BEST, dog ever, and that’s enough for now.

First, I gotta get used to the vacant rug, beds, dog dish, leash, and the heartbreakingly empty space next to me as I walk our beautiful Michigan trails. But even with all that, there’s the hardest absence, that thing we humans haven’t conquered, which is absolute, total adoration and unconditional acceptance of the ones we love. That was his gift to me, effortless on his part, and I thank him for that lesson and the many others he taught me.

Cheers, friends. We’ve got work to do.

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