7/5/18

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

A few mornings ago, I woke up laughing. I think the laughter evolved from a couple of levels – first, I was laughing at the dream I was having. But second – I was dreaming. And remembering it. And reacting to it.

Partway through radiation treatments for breast cancer last year, my dreams disappeared. I’ve always been a vivid, graphic, sharp dreamer, dreaming in color and stereo, and I always remember my dreams. But suddenly, they were gone. In its place was a great black void of beyond-exhaustion that reached up and pulled me in to a sleep that didn’t even feel like sleep. There were times I ran for my bed because I felt it coming on. And there were times when I literally did not remember my head hitting the pillow. This beyond-exhaustion just swallowed me up. And it swallowed my dreams up too.

At the same time, and for the only time in my life, I gave up writing. I couldn’t put words or thoughts together. That, more than anything else, more than the radiation, the surgery, the medication, even the word cancer and the uncertain future it brought with it, scared me. My dreams disappeared. My writing disappeared.

I disappeared.

I didn’t understand it. The radiation was on my right breast and lymph nodes. But somehow, the scrambling it was doing to my body also reached my brain.

The writing was first to come back, slowly but surely. I worked on a novel and, working on the third draft now, I can still see signs of the mess I was in. Stories came too, and poetry. And these weird little essays. I would say that I’m now back to writing at full force. Though there are some afternoons that the black void comes to take me again. When it does, I accept it. And then I write the next day.

But the dreams hadn’t returned.

Until I came here, to Oregon, to the magic little house by the ocean. And suddenly, one night, it was like someone hit a switch and that part of my brain turned back on.

Just like, on my first trip here, the light over the writing desk suddenly turned on by itself in the middle of the night.

I woke up laughing. And I remembered my dream. So what was it?

I was sitting in a writing class and the teacher was handing out little square pieces of glass. She said it was for a creativity exercise. When I received mine, I saw it had little shapes molded into it, shapes very similar to the seashells I’ve found on the beach. I held out my hand and she sprinkled more glass pieces into it, three-dimensional pieces that were glass versions of those same seashells.

“What are we supposed to do?” I asked.

She said, “Fit the correct glass shells into the shapes.”

I looked around. The other students were already hard at work. I sorted through the glass shells in my hand and ping, ping, ping, put them into their spaces. Easy peasy. “This is kind of silly,” I said. “This isn’t a creativity exercise.”

The teacher sat across from me, smoking a cigarette and smiling. She said, “Well, it makes about as much sense as me teaching you how to write.” Then she leaned forward and laughed.

And I laughed too. And woke up.

Today, I sat down for my morning of writing, which typically continues here until I get hungry and then I stop for lunch. But today, when I looked away from my screen, I found it was 3:30 in the afternoon. I’d written through my coffee break, my lunch break, any bathroom breaks. The world fell away from me today and I was fully lost in my story. And I was freaking starving.

I laughed then. And I laughed when I woke up from that dream. I am dreaming in full vivid color again. Not all the dreams are making me laugh. There was one so disturbing, it took me most of the day to shake it. But that’s okay. It goes with the imagination. It goes with the dreaming and writing brain. It goes with me.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Sunset at the little house on the ocean, 7/4/18.
Sometimes, you ask if you’re on the right path. And sometimes, you’re just shown the way.

6/28/18

 

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

This morning, I pulled on a brand new pair of jeans. I can only find these particular jeans when I am here, on retreat on the coast of Oregon. Bizarrely, they are at a Wal-Mart, but my Wisconsin Wal-Mart doesn’t carry them. Because I wasn’t able to come here last summer, due to breast cancer, it’s been two years since I pulled on a new pair of these particular jeans.

I bought two pairs. I might go back and get another.

After I pulled on the jeans, I went for a walk by the ocean. The jeans snugged me in a way that was crisp and new, but familiar. The sun fell on my shoulders. The ocean provided a rhythm my bones recognize and I stepped easily around detritus not found at home – jellyfish, crabs, scads of smoothed stones and broken shells. I watched cormorants and pelicans dive. Seagulls bobbled like popcorn on the waves. A bald eagle winged past. A not-so-lucky seagull became the meal of a vulture on the beach. I turned my face away. The blue of the sky and the blue of the ocean surrounded me with forever and timelessness.

One year and one day ago, I was in my shower, thinking about how I would word my Facebook status after my doctor called to tell me that the mass found in my right breast was a fluke. That phone call came in while I was still in the shower. I slammed the water off, held a towel to my forehead to keep the shampoo from streaming into my eyes, and answered the phone I’d perched on the toilet, because I knew the call would come when I was in the shower. It had to. That’s when all important phone calls occur.

My doctor’s voice is consistently cheerful, and it remained cheerful when he said the biopsy was positive. I heard cheerful and I heard positive and I thought, well, positive is a good word. It’s good news.

I learned that day that positive is sometimes negative.

When we hung up, I turned the shower back on, and I cranked the faucet to the highest temp possible. And then I slid down to a sit on the floor of the tub and I cried.

What followed was a mass of new things and experiences and words: ultrasounds, MRI’s, partial mastectomy, Stage 1, no, Stage 2, but Grade 1, radiation, maybe chemotherapy, no chemotherapy, but burn, baby, burn in 20 rounds of radiation, skin forever differently colored, an ice cream scoop dollop out of the right breast, and a breast itself that is numb and no longer feels soft, but firm and unforgiving like a soccer ball.

It’s been an adjustment. I learned that positive could mean negative.

But today. One year and one day after the start of all that. I pulled on a new pair of jeans and relished them. Every seam, every pocket, every thread of blue denim. I walked in the new and rejoiced in the old and felt the heat of the sun and the rhythm of a timeless ocean. I soaked in the blue. I soaked in it.

I’m still here. And I’m wearing new blue jeans. After a period of time where I thought the jeans I owned and wore threadbare would be my last.

Not only have I learned that sometimes, a positive can be negative, but also, sometimes, a negative can turn positive.

If I could’ve hugged the ocean today, I would have. If I could’ve hugged the whole world today, I would have.

Instead, my jeans hugged me. And I soaked in the blue. Blue jeans, blue sky, blue ocean.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

The blue and the blue and the blue…

6/21/18

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Being here is so much.

–Rilke

All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.

–Julian of Norwich

 

I arrived yesterday in my favorite place in the world, a little house next to the Pacific Ocean in Waldport, Oregon. But my landing at the airport in Portland wasn’t so gentle. Months ago, I arranged a package deal with Expedia which included a phenomenal rate on a rental car. I thought I’d paid in advance for all of it, but when I got to the rental counter, they told me I hadn’t. We went through round after round, which included the absolutely ridiculous “We can’t accept your business’ credit/debit card because it doesn’t have your personal name on it, and you have to pay with something that has the name of the driver on it,” which ultimately ended with me leaving the counter in tears and heading back to the airport, figuring I’d just have to give up and go home.

A man at a different rental counter saw me crying and asked what was going on. When I told him, we hunkered down together and he figured out where the mistake was and we fixed it. When I called the original rental company and explained, they said my car was “gone”, and “there aren’t any others.” The nice man at the new counter said he had cars and he rented me one. Which was wonderful. But it was also a rent-on-the-day-of price…seven times more expensive than the great deal I thought I had.

I took it. I thanked the nice man profusely and I drove out of there and three hours to the ocean in tears. I’d just used money that was earmarked to pay for our COBRA insurance for the next couple months, until the insurance from Michael’s new job starts up. There was nothing to replace it.

I felt like the most selfish woman, no, human being on the face of the earth. Not only was I on this trip by myself in the first place, but now I used the only money I had saved up for our insurance. Rather than turning around and going home. I chose myself over practicality. But it didn’t make me feel good. I was wracked with guilt and shame.

Things happen to me in Oregon, at this house. I can’t explain them. Some say “the veil” is thin. Maybe it is, if there is a “veil” at all. But when I arrived to my little house, I was ragged and miserable. I dropped everything on the counter and table, ran through the house, threw open the patio doors, and chugged down the dune to the beach. I don’t think I’ve ever moved so fast across sand. And then I stood by the ocean and amazed myself when the first words out of my mouth were, “You told me I was on the right path, but you didn’t tell me that included breast cancer!” I thought I’d cried in the car. I thought I’d cried over the last year. That wasn’t even close to the rip tide that came out of me then.

Did I mention that yesterday was the one-year anniversary of the day my routine mammogram became not routine at all?

(By the way – if you don’t know the story of the sand dollar and how I was told I was on the right path, it was in the original Today’s Moment blog series. It will be included in the book when it’s released in September.)

When I got my voice back, I just said, “Help me. Help me. Help me.” Over and over. The ocean, a distance from me, rolled in then, and stopped just at my feet.

I don’t ask for help. I do things myself. It’s the best way to get things done.

By the time I went to bed, I was still frazzled. A much-loved student emailed to let me know he was sending something to help me with the unexpected car bill and that I needed to stay in Oregon to rest and heal. I also received my final bill from the place where I hold the studio’s retreat. In it was a note that they were giving me a discount because of issues with the wifi there. I barely noted these things and then I fell into bed. I slept for 13 hours. The ocean is a lullaby. It’s a mantra.

It wasn’t until the morning that the math rose up in my brain. Are you ready for this?

I cried to the ocean, “Help me. Help me. Help me.”

The amount that the student is sending me and the amount of the discount received from the retreat place, added together, comes to within two dollars of what I had to spend on the rental car. Two dollars…to the better.

I walked out to the ocean this morning. I didn’t wait for her to come to me, but I walked out to where the waves curled in and then stopped at my toes. “Thank you,” I said. And then I repeated it with every step of my morning walk.

I am not a person of faith. Nor do I subscribe to any religion.

But the veil is thin here. My shoulders loosen and I breathe better. At home and in the studio, I am the penultimate caretaker…but here, I am taken care of. I am heard.

All will be well and all will be well. Thank you.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

This place. I so love this place.

6/14/18

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

One morning, as I finished up with a coaching client, we fell to chatting. “Kathie, tell me,” she said, “about you and coffee.”

Me and coffee.

I get asked a lot of things, by students, clients, readers. Most common is the question about my writing process. Next in line is the question about how I get so much done. But I was never asked before about me and coffee. It is a love affair. Coffee drives my heartbeat, flows through my veins, is the first to say good morning to me every day. We are soulmates. Attached at the lips.

Coffee and I met when I was in the second or third grade. I lived in way northern Minnesota and I walked to school, so my mother wanted me to have something hot at breakfast. There was already a percolator of coffee, so it was an easy thing to give me a cup. I took one sip and then reached for the sugar bowl. Five heaping teaspoons later, I had coffee so thick and sweet, I had to stir it between every sip. And I was hooked.

Coffee and I became constant companions. I discovered coffee-flavored candy and coffee-flavored ice cream. My father came from Connecticut and we spent some time out there every summer, always lugging home a carton or two of coffee-flavored syrup that was made on the east coast. We put it in milk and over ice cream. It was my favorite part of our trip.

Interestingly, that syrup showed up in one of Wally Lamb’s books. Reminded of it, I looked for it on Amazon, found it, ordered it, tried it…and hated it. It tasted like chemicals, which it likely was.

I started drinking gas station lattes and cappuccinos somewhere in my mid to late thirties. You know, the kind made by a machine that coughs out a dusty powder and adds hot water. But no more, except in an emergency. Because eventually, I answered that caffeinated siren song.

Starbucks.

Yes, I know. Big corporation. Support the little guy. But I do. I have my favorite drink in every little coffee shop around town. But Starbucks has my drink-to-end-all-drinks. The grande cinnamon dolce latte with only two pumps of syrup please. Extra hot when it’s cold out. Iced when it’s hot. Delicious all the time. I don’t even need to order anymore. I just call into the speaker, “Hey, it’s Kathie.”

Last July, on the day I had my partial mastectomy, my son drove to Starbucks for me, post-op. He called out my order, written down for him so he’d get it right, into the speaker. There was a pause, and then the speaker-voice said, “Is this for Kathie?” My son said yes. My cinnamon dolce, extra hot, just two pumps of syrup, arrived with well-wishes written all over the cup. And it was on the house.

Best cinnamon dolce ever.

I asked for coffee after the births of all four of my children. At the reception of my first wedding, my silver engraved wine goblet held coffee. I’ve held coffee in my hands as I’ve gazed at the ocean, at sunsets, at the rare (for me) sunrise. When I launch books, teach classes, present workshops, I usually have a mug of coffee in my hand. If a moment is important…there’s coffee. Times of elation, times of sadness, times of frustration…coffee.

But the best part?

Meeting someone in a coffee shop. Student, friend, family, lover. Looking at that person over the rim of my mug. Dreams mixed in the steam and someone else’s eyes. Wrapping my hands around the mug, soaking in the heat. Sometimes, someone’s hands wrapping over mine, so I am encased in warmth. Good conversation. Good coffee.

“Coffee makes me happy,” I said to my client that morning.

It does.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Happy at work.

6/7/18

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

I’ve never been a mani/pedi sort of woman. In my lifetime, I’ve had one pedicure and two manicures, all gifts from well-meaning students. Way too many years ago, when I was in grad school, a friend pulled me aside and painted my toenails. I didn’t know why then, and I don’t know why now. But from that point on, I painted my toenails during sandal seasons because I felt like it was something I was expected to do, something I’d made a grievous social mistake by not doing, With the arrival of the robin and sixty-degree temps, a simple color sprouted on my toes. And when winter came, I shoved my feet into socks and shoes and forgot about them.

A few days ago, when it finally began to get warm, I chucked my jeans and my socks and my sneakers and pulled on capris and sandals. Then I looked down. And cried.

The medication I have to take for breast cancer recovery for the next five years causes severe joint pain. It also takes conditions like fibromyalgia or arthritis and puts them into overdrive. I have fibro. My body has become the 3-D definition of pain. I’ve lost a lot of my flexibility and in particular, my hips have grown tight. On this day, I looked down, and realized there was no way in hell I was going to be able to flex enough through the pain to paint my toenails, let alone trim them.

Prior to this, I’d asked for help from those in my home and let’s just say the response wasn’t enthusiastic. On this day, when I dried my tears, I called a local salon and asked if they could fit me in for a pedicure. No time slots were open. So I hung up the phone and cried again.

And then I grimly got out my nail clippers and my polish. I moved around the house and shrieked my way through a bajillion bodily contortions. When I was done, I wiped the sweat from my face and the new tears from my cheeks and looked at my toes.

I did an absolutely horrific job. It looked like I attacked my toes with a machete.

Tears again. I threw off the capris and kicked my sandals into the closet. The jeans came back on, and so did the socks and shoes. It was going to be a sneaker summer, I decided. And cried some more.

Later, of course, when I undressed for bed, I discovered that the polish wasn’t quite dry yet when I changed into socks and now my nails sported stuck-on white fuzzies and threads.

Sigh.

Today, it was warm again. And instead of tears, I got angry. It was spring. I needed to paint my toes or commit some kind of social sin I didn’t understand. Why do women have the need to decorate their toenails and fingernails? Why was this tying me in knots? I marched over to Walgreens in my sneakered feet and bought nail polish remover.

At home, I tore off the shoes and socks and then looked around for ways to apply ingenuity. I have a footstool that breaks from top to bottom into three equal pieces. I sat down and separated these and placed two so that my legs would jut out at my body from an angle. No more leaning straight over my legs. Instead, I would lean forward into the gap between my angled legs and then turn at my waist. Carefully, I scrubbed each digit with smelly polish remover. I scrubbed until my own naturally pink nails came back, clean of gummed-up botched polish and white fuzzy sock detritus.

I sat back and breathed a sigh of relief. But then I saw my abandoned polish out of the corner of my eye. I’d found a way to remove the polish without killing myself. So…maybe…

But why? Why the need to change what was perfectly fine, au naturale?

I thought back to my friend painting my nails in grad school. And I thought of how I’d done it ever since. Every summer. It was a normal life thing.

More than anything, I want to return to my normal life. Cancer-free.

Painted nails in sandal season.

Spreadeagled, I propped my feet back up at angles and I set to work. It was harder than removing the offending polish. But I moved slowly and carefully and when it hurt, I sat back and gave myself a breather before leaning forward again.

The end result? Not bad. Not perfect. But no machete in sight.

Normal. Normal life. Some days, you’re just grateful you can paint your nails.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Not bad. Not perfect. Not naked. Normal.

 

5/31/18

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Early this week, I was stopped at a stoplight as I went to pick up Olivia from school. There were happy shrieks coming from a playground, so I took a look. Running from the swings to the slide and playhouse and back again were two girls. I watched as they ran and shrieked and played with abandon. They weren’t in Oshkosh B’Gosh overalls, but oh-so-today ripped jeans and crop tops. Their hair was flying, but it was a controlled fly, held with perfectly placed headbands and clips. They were at least middle school age, maybe high school.

But they played. As the light turned green and I pulled away, I fell headlong into a memory.

One week before my first wedding, back in June of 1981, when I was a month shy of my twenty-first birthday, I had a sense of sinking, not elation. I was going to be married. I wasn’t even out of college yet. I hadn’t yet worked a full-time job. I hadn’t had the responsibility of bills and paying rent on apartments and utilities and owning a car. Yet I was getting married. And no, I wasn’t pregnant. I was so overwhelmed with potential adultness, adultness that I felt I had to face if I was going to take those steps down the aisle and take that man as my husband in front of my friends, my family (especially my parents, who said that my choice of husband was the only thing I’d ever done right in my life – hence the wedding that I wasn’t really ready for, but I was bound and determined to finally earn that approval), the priest, and ultimately, God. I was frozen with fear and worry and trepidation.

Then, out on a date one week before the wedding with the couple who were to be our best man and maid of honor, Bob, the best man, pulled over by a city park. “Let’s get out here,” he said.

Here? We were by a playground.

He grabbed me by the hand and pulled me out of the car. As we walked toward the swings, my soon-to-be husband followed, as did Bob’s fiancé. I started out slow. I bounced a little on the bouncy horse, my knees up to my chin. I let my fiancé spin me on the merry-go-round. I began to laugh when we sat on the see-saw and at its height, our feet still touched the ground.

And then I got on a swing. I flew. As my toes pointed toward the sky, I was six years old again, and I was hopeful and dreamy and the world was possible and I was possible and I could do absolutely anything.

Even walk down the center aisle of a church and get married, when I was oh so uncertain.

When we returned to the car, sweaty, dirty, giggling, Bob said, “You better now?”

“Yes,” I said.

And I wondered about the young man who picked up on my mood and my needs more than the man I was marrying. But it didn’t stop me. A week later, I was married.

It didn’t last, really. Well, it did, for seventeen years and three beloved children. But then I finally acknowledged the mistake I made and I left. You could say I pointed my toes toward the sky again that day.

On this day, at soon-to-be 58 years old, I soared again at the memory. My spirits lifted, like my toes did, thirty-eight years ago. I didn’t stop to play on the playground because I had a child to pick up, and because with my luck, I would likely get dizzy and fall off the swing, breaking a hip, a leg, an arm. But not my heart.

“You better now?” Back then, when I was almost 21, playing on a playground reminded me of potential, of play, of life, of profound joy. And now, at almost 58, the memory provided me the same thing.

When my daughter and I took off for our next stop, her job at a grocery store, she snarled about being old (she’s 17) and having to work and not being ready to be a grown-up. Later that night, my husband walked in and said, “I’m tired of adulting.”

I thought of those swings, my toes and the sky. I see a playground in our near future.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Olivia on the swings at the Wisconsin State Fair, years ago. Photo by Michael Giorgio – and what a good one!

5/24/18

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

In April of 2012, I adopted a genetic anomaly. There were extra toes. There was a right-pointing kink in his tail. And his head was too small for the rest of his long, then lanky body. He lacked a cat’s natural grace and ability to leap. This cat missed and crashed, or if he succeeded, he fell off within a few steps.

The humane society called him Trillium – the Muse of Grammar, which I thought was appropriate, but god, what an ugly name. Trillium is now Edgar Allen Paw.

Six years later, his body is still long, his toes are still extra, his tail still kinks to the side …and his head now appears even smaller because he’s not so lanky. Edgar has become a big orange furry bowling ball. I don’t know his exact weight, but I’m sure he’s pushing twenty pounds.

Edgar’s nature is beyond affectionate. He has his own spots in the house that he loves; no one sits in the one easy chair in my living room now because it’s Edgar’s chair. In six years, he has never been hurt. He has never been out in the cold. He has never found himself alone on the side of a busy highway, as he was when he was picked up by animal control. He has never missed a meal.

Try to tell Edgar that. He has not yet accepted that there will never again be a day when he is left hungry. So he eats.

Our condo has no basement. When it was built, we were in a conundrum over where to put the litterbox. Litterboxes, to dogs, are buffets. It had to go someplace where the then-dog-later-dogs-now-dog-again could not get it. I asked the builder to install a small pet door into the door of our large closet where the washer and dryer and water heater are. It’s worked; the closet has become the laundry room/kitty haven. Until Edgar started getting stuck as he tried to squeeze through.

Our cat is on a diet. And he is not happy.

He has diet cat food, only a half cup a day. He gets a quarter of a can of canned cat food once a day. Muse, our other cat, a lightweight at only five pounds, has her own bowl of regular cat food filled to the brim up on a counter that Edgar can’t reach. I swear she waits until he’s looking and then she jumps up and crunches as loudly as she can.

The diet has been going on for three weeks. Edgar has taught us all what the word caterwaul means. Holy cow. During the day. Middle of the night. I think the most common phrase heard around the house right now is, “Edgar, please shut UP!”

He’s not happy. We aren’t either. We tell ourselves it’s for his own good. He has to fit in the kitty door to get to the food dishes and the litterbox.

The other night, it was just Edgar and me in the late-night living room. Michael was out doing the final walk with our dog, Ursula. Muse was somewhere. Olivia was sleeping. Edgar, having just munched on his half-cup allotment of diet food, was on his chair. His extra-toed paws hung over the edge. His tail, flat and straight, was quiet, except for the right hand kink that flickered.

“Eddie,” I said. “Eddie, we love you. There will always be more food. I promise. With all my heart.”

Do you know that cats can smile? Their eyes turn into angled slits. Their mouths curve. Edgar did just that. And then he started the other part of his genetic anomaly: he purrs like a broken train. He is the Train That Could Maybe Do It.

He smiled. And he chugga-chugga-pause-chugged.

I looked left. And I looked right. The downstairs door had not yet opened, letting in Michael and Ursula. Muse was still nowhere to be found.

I got up and snagged five pieces of the regular cat food, so out of Edgar-reach on the counter. And I fed them, one by one, to Eddie. He chugga-chugga-pause-chugged. And chewed.

Yes, I helped my cat cheat on his diet. I don’t regret it. I so want him to know that he’s home.

I’m going to research bigger kitty doors.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Edgar on his first day home back in 2012. Too shy to come out of the kitty closet.
Edgar’s smile. (He no longer fits on my bookshelf.)
Big boy Edgar and teeny tiny Muse.

5/17/18

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

On Monday, I was tired and grumpy, deep into the I-have-too-much-to-do blues. I grumped my way through morning clients and through Monday business errands. Then I grumped my way toward home.

On a busy street, I saw a little squirrel take off from the curb to my left. He had to get across oncoming traffic, and then my lane to reach the other side. I slowed to let him go. And then I shrieked when an oncoming truck hit the gas. The little squirrel dodged like a soldier under gunfire, made it before the truck caught up to him and then crossed in front of my stopped car.

I got a glimpse of the truck driver as he roared past me. He was laughing.

What makes people do such things? Why would plowing a multiple-ton truck over a tiny squirrel give someone a jolt of power? Why would it make anyone happy?

I don’t like squirrels. They give me the willies, and I see them as bushy-tailed rats, which I don’t like either. But I slowed my car. I stopped it entirely when it became clear the squirrel was charging out of sheer terror and might not see me. I would never want to kill it, and I would have felt bad if I had. Yet this guy was laughing.

Way back when I was fifteen years old, I witnessed a boy a few years younger than I was, playing in a field with his dog, a German shepherd. Except this play wasn’t play. He kept lighting a tennis ball on fire and throwing it for the dog who obediently tried to fetch it. He picked it up, dropped it, picked it up, dropped it. The boy, like the truck driver who tried to kill the squirrel, was laughing. Loud. Boisterously.

This was well before cell phones. I ran to the corner where there was a phone booth and I called the police. They were there in minutes. While I know the dog was taken to help and safety, the image of that dog trying to do as his boy wanted him to do has haunted me for years. But so has the sight of that same boy, leaning against a police officer and crying when his dog was taken away.

Those images came roaring back on Monday morning, as I saw the squirrel leap the curb, then run up a tree, and as I watched the man drive by me, laughing.

This morning, during a meeting with a client, she told me that she stopped her car the other day because there was a turtle in the road. She got out of her car, checked to make sure it wasn’t a snapper, which would have been dangerous to touch, then she picked it up and moved it to the other side of the road. “I think it hissed at me,” she said. But she moved it anyway. And then she drove home.

The turtle, though it hissed, is safe, thanks to kindness. That little squirrel, though terrified, is safe, despite cruelty, but thanks to my kindness at stopping my car to create a clear path in the midst of panic. The German shepherd is long gone by now, hopefully peacefully and gently. His boy would be a man, somewhere in his mid-fifties. Maybe driving a truck. Maybe laughing as he attempts to run over small animals.

But maybe not. I hold on to the hope that those tears transformed. That they led to a healing from whatever it was that caused him to harm his own dog. A dog who was willing to do anything for his boy.

The laughing man has haunted me this week. And so has the memory of that crying boy. I’ve realized that, despite the fact that I work hard at empathy, at understanding the best in people and the worst, I am just not capable of ever understanding how someone can go out of their way to harm an animal.

And my moment of happiness? I’m grateful that I’m capable of not understanding. And I’m happy for that German shepherd, that squirrel, and that turtle.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Olivia with our rescued pets. On the left, the orange cat is Edgar Allen Paw. On the right, the cat is Muse. And in Olivia’s lap is Ursula Lou, our new dog.

5/10/18

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Last March, when it was stupid-cold and several feet of snow obliterated my third floor deck (my second favorite “room” in our home), I was wantonly seduced by a Wayfair ad. While their catchy theme song caressed me with the words, “Wayfair, you have just what I need…”, I watched as a woman immersed in springtime grasped the back of what looked like a plain wooden bench and pulled it with one hand. Sproing! The bench became a picnic table capable of seating a family.

Ohmygod. They DID have just what I needed! And I didn’t know it, because I didn’t know something like this existed! So I ordered it (on sale! because it’s March and it’s a freaking picnic bench!) and for a couple months, this huge gigantic box sat at the bottom of our stairs, just inside the front door. Every day, as I went in and out, trudging through snow, and ice, and slush, and wearing a winter jacket and gloves, I stroked the box and sighed.

The seduction continued. I saw the commercial again and again and knew springtime waited in my entryway, hiding in a brown cardboard box, taller than I was.

So last weekend was our first really warm, really sunny weekend. My son hauled the huge gigantic box up to the third floor and my husband went out on the deck and prepared to build spring for me. He was joined by our grandbaby, Maya Mae, all of five years old.

Soon, the air was filled with the sounds of springtime. Birds tweeted their mating songs. New leaves rustled in the gentle breeze. Motorcycles, freed from garages. Music drifted out of open car windows. And there was ratcheting as bolts were put in place. Not to mention the choked-off, guttural swearing of a grandfather who wanted to swear, but knew he shouldn’t in front of the grandchild (but Grandma, however…).

And what a grandchild. Without being told, she threw herself into helping. She fetched tiny plastic bags of parts, even when the instructions were, “Can you hand me the bag of those little shiny circle things?” She picked up loose parts that scattered and nearly got away. She ran after the directions when the wind tried to steal them. She picked up the garbage, including all the little Styrofoam pieces that threatened to make my deck look like crunchy snowfall again. And she did it while she sang and chattered and told us stories of little boys who gave her flowers (a dandelion, I learned later) and her best friend who gave her a marijuana sticker (WHAT? I shrieked. And then found out it was a sticker for the Disney movie, Moana, pronounced, apparently, Mo-wa-na, or like a five-year old’s pronunciation of marijuana.

But she helped. And helped and helped and helped.

Now this little girl wants to be a princess. She wears hairbands and calls them crowns. She wears dresses, by choice (though she did inform me that she was SICK of PINK, and so I bought her a green and black dress, which she loved). She loves the Disney princesses. She plays with dolls and dollhouses. She also plays with Legos and building blocks and trucks. And at no time during this entire afternoon did we marvel that a girl was helping with building a bench/picnic table. Not once. It was just…everyday.

How cool is that.

When she and my husband were done, we took a little video of what that table can do. It sproinged into spring on my own deck. Michael was a great Vanna White. And Maya Mae, when it was her turn, raised her hand high in triumph.

She did it!

A few days later, she was at my house again. The first thing she did was come upstairs and look out my open deck door. She perched both hands on her hips, thrust out her chest and said, “WOW!”

Indeed. Maya Mae built that, with her grandfather. Maya Mae built that without being told, without wondering if she should, and she did it without complaining. And Maya Mae built that without once questioning if this was an appropriate thing for a girl to do. Or if it was an amazing thing for a girl to do. It was just something that she did. Everyday. Because she wanted to. And the smile, the stance, the tossed-back hair and the superstar elbows just shouted her accomplishment. And it wasn’t because she was a girl. It was just because she did it.

I have to echo her. WOW!

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Grandpa and Maya have just what I need.

5/3/18

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Twice in the last week, I’ve been enchanted by visions along the side of the road. It’s probably safer to be focused on the road in front of you than what’s along the side, but, well, I notice. Once, my side-of-the-road-watching earned me a poem, a haiku, called, appropriately, “On The Side Of The Road”:

Woman walking black

flowing skirt leopard backpack

fashion plate of sass

She was SUCH attitude, in her mid-20’s, I bet, stalking, stomping, arms swinging, hands fisted, skirt flapping, backpack bouncing above her hips. That was a woman to be reckoned with, and I bet she’s stomping in success somewhere now. She made me smile for the rest of my day.

And so this week, two visions. First, I was pulling up to one of the more obnoxious intersections in Waukesha, at Barstow and St. Paul. It was our rush hour and it’s a time of tempers and horns that honk before the red turns fully to green because you are supposed to GO, DAMMIT! I was the first in line to turn left from St. Paul to Barstow, and I was edgy, waiting to be honked at.

Across the street, sitting on a patch of grass, a man with a scraggly beard and scragglier hair sat cross-legged and smiled over a sketchpad. His hand moved so fast, as fast as the car behind me would want me to go, and he kept looking up and then straight down Barstow, his smile widening into an open-mouthed laugh.

I see this intersection at least once a day and I couldn’t imagine what was bringing him such joy. Joy to the point of wanting to sit right down, right there, sketch it and keep it forever. So at the risk of missing the moment the red turned to green, I turned my head so I could look in that direction. I saw what I always saw. A car wash on the left, our out-of-business Hardees on the right, the bridge that crosses the Fox River, the road leading toward downtown.

But this man sketched with open-mouthed joy the view I see every day. And his joy was contagious. By the time the light switched and the inevitable honk came, I was beaming too. I don’t think I’ll ever see that street the same way again.

Then, a few days later, I was heading home and at another light, I saw a man standing at a bus stop. He was on the sidewalk, not leaning against the post or a tree, but standing upright. He wasn’t staring down the street, grasping for that first sign of the bus, tapping his foot. He didn’t even have his face in a screen. No watch, no phone, no tablet.

He was holding a book. A book-book. A REAL book. And he was immersed. I think the bus could have come and gone and he would have never noticed.

I know that focus. That sucked-into-a-story-to-hell-with-the-rest-of-the-world concentration. That just getting lost in a book feeling. And as someone who tries to write so that others can get lost, let me tell you, that was such a gratifying sight. There are so many articles and studies out there that claim we aren’t reading. But this man was. Not only that, he was READING. Reading with ferocity, reading was his LIFE, in that particular moment. And I bet, when he closed his eyes to sleep that night, he still saw those words behind his eyelids.

I drove home happy and looking at the streets before me like artwork. Like books I haven’t yet read or written. I drove home happy.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

I might be watching you….