Are All Y’all Okay?

I am obsessed with dogs. I don’t think that’s new information. But I have developed one dog obsessed habit over the years that I haven’t really talked about, which is this: if I see someone walking their dog, I have to turn my head and see the dog, and it has something to do with seeing what kinds of people choose what kinds of dogs. I find that most people are well matched to their dogs, but the more mismatched they are, the more it delights me. Exempli gratia: the biggest gruffest man in the world walking a dog so tiny, white, and puffy that it looks like the puff of a dandelion = my week made.

And so, yesterday, I was driving up the main thoroughfare that leads to my house, and… I saw a man out of my peripheral vision that my brain decided was walking a dog. In retrospect, what my brain registered was a man on the sidewalk with his had at hip level and a line going from his hand to the ground in a very leash like way. However, when I turned my head there was no dog. My eyes followed the line back up to the hands, which were holding a penis. And that’s how I saw a strangers wiener on my street yesterday. And even though I didn’t want any part of that experience, I got a close enough look at the piss stream that the first articulatable thought that went through my mind was, “he seems dehydrated.”

Here’s the crazy part. No, actually… that was the crazy part. But the thing that I keep thinking about is the fact that he was a clean cut silver haired gentleman in a button down shirt and salmon pants. He looked completely not homeless. And he was passing on the sidewalk of a busy street, at 4:30 on a Thursday, very near a secluded parking lot. And yet, he gave no fucks, only urine.

I’m just hung up on the Venm diagram of salmon pants and public urination. I realize, of course, that the percentage of me who would urinate in a public space under certain circumstances is 100%. But when do those circumstances include salmon pants? My instincts tell me there is little overlap there. Obviously my instincts need recalibrating.

Is it the pandemic? Have we all lost our attachments to norms? Has the implied social contract we all hold for one another’s safety and comfort disintegrated so completely in three months?

I’m picturing this salmon pants / street pissing / pandemic Venn diagram, and I see a cartoon rendering of a savage and bug-eyed looking germ each gripping one of those circles. They laughing while pushing them together until they over lap significantly. And in the shaded area of the overlap is a label that reads “the world can go fuck itself.”

My state is starting to open up. My city got the word yesterday that we have gone from “orange” (moderate risk) to “yellow” (low risk). Restaurants are opening patios and people are excited to get out and enjoy the lovely May weather.

I haven’t felt great about it, as our cases of virus as well as the deaths have continued climbing. But now, I have this completely insane data (I realize it is anec-data with a plot point of one, but sometimes that’s all you need) that men, who otherwise would be cast as models in adds for a Vanguard retirement fund, are openly pissing on the sidewalk in broad daylight and that tells me that people are NOT OKAY! And it is NOT SAFE to go out there!

Full disclosure, I’m a total introvert and I’m thoroughly enjoying keeping up with people via Zoom from my basement and if things stayed like this for a while I would probably be just fine. But still. That shit is a bad sign.

PS I know you are wondering and the answer is no: he was not wearing a mask.

Stationary is no Antibody, but Maybe it Helps?

This is definitely not a blog that will tell you how to get through COVID 19 with grace and ease. There are plenty of those and I don’t have anything original to add. I wish I did.

One thing I implemented in my household that has lasted more than a weekend is the revival of hankies. You know the cloth thing your grandpa always had in his pocket? I have a basket of hankies set out like Easter eggs and you can get a new one each day. Matt and I decided that “big blows” go in disposable tissue but occasional wipes can get the pocket hankie. That made it less weird.

You are judging me as totally gross right now but I am impervious because yesterday, for the first time, the new puppy pushed his way through the bathroom door to discover that I actually “do my business” in The House! No judgment you send will match the intensity of those chocolate eyes. I destroyed his innocence, forever!

This is less gross and more gross at the same time… When I do decide a blow is “Kleenex worthy,” I get a tissue but then I put it in my pocket and I later use it as toilet paper. Yeah, there is a risk of getting boogers on my butt hole, but this is an emergency, people! We MUST conserve!

You can judge me all you want but I grew up poor and if you threw a tissue away without having smeared boogers on each quadrant, my mother’s WRATH would have been upon you! Yes, she checked the trash. With her bare hands. Apparently, she was more concerned about waste than germs. It was a simpler time.

So… that was all an example of how I am making this up as I go along and DO NOT HAVE THIS! We are at week… what? 500? I don’t know. I work from home anyway so I was at a disadvantage at noticing the difference between leading a sad solitary life and living in a pandemic from the get-go. Time is like a cesspool of headlines and vague concerns, all blending together in a impressionist painting of HELL. I have kinda been feeling that since 2016. Y’all are just catching up with me.

ANYHOO!

This is the one thing I have been doing for the last six weeks or so that I think is actually helpful and I encourage you all to do the same. I have dug out my collection of stationary. You know, those packs of 12 thank you cards or blank note cards you bought when you only needed three, so they pile up endlessly in that drawer you hate to look in? I discovered a box of cards that (I shit you not) I bought in 1996. They are all portraits of Tibetan people and they are so beautiful that I never parted with a single one. Also, what occasion do those suit, really? Happy bat-mitzvah! Here is a photo of an ancient vegetarian! (Maybe that would be acceptable but it certainly wasn’t the perfect fit.)

Point being: I dug out those cards and whenever I feel a longing for connection, I sit down and – here is the important part – before I can over think it, I write to someone and I send it. Who doesn’t love a hand written card? Who isn’t craving connection right now?

I’ve sucked Ethan into it also. Each week he gets a vague assignment from his second grade teachers that says “write X many sentences about whatever you want.” I have converted that into “write to a grandparent using a card from my stash!” He has two bio parents and two step parents, so there are plenty of grandfolks to choose from! And God Almighty, do they need that right now!

I’m not trying to give myself any credit here; it is a simple thing. But if you are reading this, I implore you: make a list of people in your life that you could lift up with a card (or note on scratch paper! It doesn’t need to be a fancy card!), and make that happen this week/weekend. It’s small but it makes a difference.

PS If you are wondering who received the precious Tibetan portraits from the mid nineties, I’m sad to say that I haven’t sent any of those. Apparently, my inner hoarder wants to be buried with those. My inner hoarder is strong willed, so I better start saving up for a super sized casket.

Crafters vs COVID

I really didn’t want to write about COVID19. I know it’s impossible to escape right now.   But honestly, it is all I think about. Maybe in another week or two this will just be my new life and I’ll be back to worrying about things other than how quickly my household is going through toilet paper.

Because I am lucky enough to have a job, my health, and family, this is an example of how the virus is affecting me:

Last week, I got an email from work which, at first glance, appeared to indicate that I had made a large mistake. Before I could register what I was reading or go back and look into the matter, Matt called to me from the other room in a panic. He needed help tuning Ethan’s violin before his online lesson started in three minutes. I do not know how to tune a violin, but I was needed so I shot off an email to my coworkers, apologizing profusely for being an idiot, and dashed off to learn about tuning pegs. Between Matt and I, we made the violin much worse. But once Ethan’s lesson started, his instructor was able to talk us through it and most of his lesson wasn’t wasted. I returned to my computer, re-read the email and opened up a few files to see what had happened. Turned out that everything was fine. There was no mistake in action on my part, only a small mistake in communication on someone else’s part, and I had leaped onto my sword in my apology email for no reason.

I’m not sure, but I think my blood-pressure broke a record high in that 15 minute interval.

This is what I am going through, because as I said, I am very lucky. My sisters and most of my friends have full time jobs and multiple children to home school, also full time. And I don’t know anyone who is sick! I can’t even imagine what those folks are going through.

I’m just trying to keep on top of things at work and home, but it is tricky. I feel like a big part of living with this pandemic is like playing a multi week long scavenger hunt. I’m finding out what I need to collect just a little too late, however. First it was toilet paper, then paper towels, eggs, flour, then paper towels again. Then, a few days ago, we got the “order” (a gentle request from our Republican governor with zero consequences for ignoring it) to wear homemade masks while in stores.

The homemade part is important because they want to save all the medical supplies for health care workers. I have heard just how important this is multiple times on NPR. And that matters NPR is the closest thing that I have to a religion now. It used to be the second closest but brunch has been cancelled until further notice.

I set about making masks and again, I am very lucky here. I have a sewing machine. I can sew. Not well, but I can. It occurred to me that I was being called to use my least favorite crafting skill for my country and I was a little irritated by this fact. If this were a knitting crisis, I would be kicking ass. I would be the equivalent of the mom in the Incredibles at knitting the country back together. But no. It had to be sewing.

I have plenty of fabric laying around, so that wasn’t a problem. This is when I realized I missed out on another important item from the scavenger hunt list: elastic. I saw people online using hair elastics but I was concerned about making that work if the mask was either a little too big or a little too small. I decided to go to Joann’s Fabric and see what I could find. The only elastic they had was for waistbands, which was much too wide. I found a lot of ribbon though, so I decided to use that and just tie the damn thing.

As I was poking around looking at ribbon and thread, I noticed that everyone else in the store was already wearing a homemade mask, and they were all perfectly executed. Hang on! I said in my mind. I’m working on it! 

I heard on NPR that it takes about five minutes to sew one of these masks. I knew that it would take me longer, but it took about one hour and forty five minutes longer. I found a free pattern online and immediately had to start improvising with it because it was so large it would have covered my entire face. You remember that kid from So I Married an Axe Murderer? The one that has a head “like an orange on a toothpick”?  I have the opposite problem. I am more of the pin on a tangerine shaped human.

I messed with it and messed with it. I had to add several more pleats than the pattern called for. It did not look like the perfect masks on the ladies of Joann’s. For one thing, it was still too big. But I got it done.

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The next time I braved the grocery store, I put on my mask with some pride. I made this for my country! I thought. It’s like a tiny victory garden, right on my face!

But the grocery store patrons were quite different from the serious crafters of Joann’s. First, I was one of the only people wearing a mask, (as I said, it wasn’t required) and second, the other masked people were all wearing the medical looking ones that we weren’t supposed to buy. The feeling that I got at Joann’s was something like shame that I hadn’t done this already. The feeling I got in the deli aisle was something like embarrassment for being the goody-two shoes who listens to NPR and our governor’s gentle suggestions. Both felt like high school, all over again.

Oh well. I made it and I’m wearing it. I may take crack at sewing a new one. I still have a ton of fabric and I found a pattern that might fit on my face (and stay on my nose!) much better. If I’m too busy with work or violin triage, however, then I’ll make do with this.

In that same address, our governor asked everyone to try to help local businesses by getting take-out three times a week. This was the best news I received since this whole thing started. Get take out for my country? Hell yes! I’m suddenly patriotic AF!

If there is a knitting need that arises, by all means let me know. I’m ready to help! Meanwhile, I’ve got some noodles and tacos to attend to. U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

 

Improvising

If everything had gone according to plan, I would be in southern Utah tonight with all my boys, celebrating Wensley’ fifteenth birthday. But Wensley’s kidneys gave out in February. I kept the trip on the books because I’ve been so sad without him and I thought it would be good to get away. Then last week I experienced both my first pandemic and my first earthquake. It was like a biathlon of terror.

After Wensley died, I had been saying that maybe we would get another dog for Christmas, after a good long grieving break. Then school was canceled and Matt, Ethan, and I have been stuck at home getting on each other’s nerves all day. Then I said that if school was canceled for more than the two weeks they originally announced, we would get a dog for Easter. Something to distract us. Then I woke up to a 5.7 earthquake and stumbled through hours of aftershocks as I tried unsuccessfully to focus on work. I went for a walk to calm my nerves and found myself tempted to steal every dog I saw.

So, yeah. We got a puppy on Friday. Nothing is going according to plan right now so I said “fuck it.”

Meet Murphy, the 10 week old Goldendoodle that I found through a friend. He’s a sweetheart and a good monster and sometimes he makes me cry because I still miss my dog terribly and I feel like an unfaithful A hole for getting a new dog less than six weeks after I lost my Wensleydale.

I told my therapist about it yesterday. He was kind and said he was surprised I lasted this long. Then we talked about Murphy as a new chapter, and not a replacement. That reminded me of something I read in a David Sedalia essay once, about the way the lifespan of our pets put a tidy parentheses around eras in our lives. It’s so true. I like thinking of it that way.

This morning I was sad because I realized that today is Wensley’s birthday. Murphy was being adorable and I was resisting his charm, feeling a longing that is unfair to him but articulated itself as a rebuke that said “you aren’t my dog.”

Then he did something that Wensley used to do that I had completely forgotten about. He ran over to his food bowl which I had just filled, took one bit of kibble in his mouth, then ran back to the carpeted area of the room and ate it there. Then he did it again, and again. I don’t know how common that is with puppies, but I always thought it was hilarious when Wensley did it. “Does it taste better when your paws are cushioned?” I used to ask him.

Wensley was my dog. But Murphy is our dog. This new era is off to a weird and wonky start, but it has begun. And Murphy is not a replacement. He’s a new member of the family that belongs in this era. But if he helps remember some joy from the last era, that’s fine too. It wasn’t the plan, but as I’m learning… nothing goes according to plan.

Incompetent Stepmother

This is from last week.

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Today is Friday the 13th and we are now also out of rice, pasta and name-brand frozen pizza. Next week doesn’t have the time change or the other stuff, but I’m not looking forward to it. This COVID19 panic is getting all real n’ shit.

We have been trying not to talk about it around Ethan because he can get a bit anxious and we don’t want him to worry. He knows the basics but he honestly doesn’t seem that interested. He’s seven. He has other things to think about.

This morning, I was trying to rush him out to the car so I could take him to school when he suddenly started dashing around looking for something. “Where’s my coat?” he asked.

I picked it up of the wall hanger and said, “it’s right here!”

“No, not that one. Mom bought me a new one. I KNOW I took it to school yesterday!”

“Oh,” I said. Handing him the one that is suddenly no longer “the new one.” I searched through my memory bank of images from the day before. “You weren’t wearing a coat when you got out of your dad’s car, I remember that. Was it IN the car?”

“Maybe.”

We got belted in and started toward school. The radio was reporting on The Virus so I quickly turned it off and put on some music. My car is a 2007 Toyota and plays CDs, which Ethan finds a bit fascinating. He was asking me about it and wanted to know how many CDs it held. I told him it holds six. “What is the most a CD player can hold? Like, six hundred?”

“If it had six hundred CDs there wouldn’t be room for the engine!” I said, and he laughed.

We got to school and I noticed right away that there wasn’t the usual throng of people and cars. I’ve heard that a lot of people are keeping their kids home so I didn’t think much about it. I parked and hopped out of the car. Ethan is at that age where he still likes being walked in to class and I like to take advantage while that lasts. I will be the totally uncool stepmom before I know it. “And another thing,” I can almost hear his tweenaged voice telling his future friends. “She still listens to CDs!”

We walked into the school and again I noticed just how empty it was. One of Ethan’s teachers called out to him and said something to that might have been just to him or to both of us, but he was across the corridor and I couldn’t make it out, so we just waved. We walked to the vestibule where the they keep the lost and found items. It was overflowing with coats. It usually is full, but now that the spring weather is cool in the mornings but warm in the afternoons, kids have apparently been forgetting coats left and right. He looked and looked but didn’t find it. Ethan gave me a side hug and started to walk off to class but I decided to walk him all the way to the door so I could check his locker.

As we walked past Ethan’s old first grade classroom, his Spanish teacher from last year said something to us with a somewhat exasperated expression. I couldn’t make it out. I actually wasn’t sure if she had spoken in English or Spanish. I asked Ethan, “what did she say?” He just shrugged. As we walked past I smiled and said, “Hola!”

We were almost to the lockers when Ethan’s current teacher walked toward me and said, “We are asking parents not to enter the school because of the new restrictions. You should just drop him off outside.”

I stopped and looked around again. Yes, that was what was different! I was the only parent in the building! Suddenly I noticed all these little eyes staring at me. Ethan’s school is majority minority and Ethan is one of the whitest students, even though he is one quarter Korean. One little girl in particular was glaring at me and I felt like I could read the thought bubbles above her little head. “There goes one of those white ladies who thinks the rules don’t apply to her!”

“I’m so sorry!” I said, clutching my Kate Spade bag closer to my chest. “I didn’t know…”

“It’s okay,” Ethan’s teacher told me, but she was pointing at the door and it didn’t feel okay.

I bounced so quickly I forgot to ask her about the coat. (Dammit!) I felt like yelling over my shoulder as I left, my germ cloud trailing behind me, “Steps don’t get the emails; it isn’t my fault.”

The worst part is: right before I was stopped by the teacher, I asked Ethan, “what does the coat even looked like?”

“White camo,” he said. What? What even is that? I can’t picture it, but am still certain that if rednecks had a flag (a new flag, I know they have the stars and bars), it would be made of white camouflage.

I’m actually relieved to think that they will probably close the school soon so I won’t have to show my face there in the near future. My white white face with the bright red cheeks. I will be keeping all of those (and my germs) at home.

 

 

Wicked Stepmother

Ethan (seven) has been having a little trouble at school. He’s bright and motivated and his teachers love him. He has lots of friends. AND (I’m deliberately not saying “but”) he has really big feelings. He gets frustrated when something happens out of the usual order and he doesn’t feel prepared, for instance. We (both our family unit and the family unit of his mother’s and stepfather’s house) have always made sure he knows that it is okay to cry. We set the example; we show our emotions and encourage him to check in with and express his own. Unfortunately, some of his fellow classmates (you couldn’t hear it but I just sneezed and it sounded just like ‘dumb boys.’ It was weird) have started calling him “cry baby.”

We talked about it a lot over the weekend. His school is supposed to have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to bullying, which seems nice. When I was in school in the 80s, bullying was a perfectly acceptable hobby for a lot of kids, encouraged by parents and gym teachers alike. But really there’s zero-tolerance for bullying that happens directly in front of an un-distracted authority figure, which typically isn’t the setting the these little butt holes choose. So we discussed some strategies that he could try, such as going to a teacher if the issue persists, and gave him some reassurance that he’s fine, just the way he is.

I hate this stuff because it brings up my own childhood crap. But also because I HATE the way school breaks our kids. I see it with my nieces and nephews and my friend’s children. Everyone starts out confident and quirky and excited about school and then they get dumped into the sausage machine and the shitty little kids who need everyone to be the same will appoint themselves the gatekeepers of what is allowed and beat the quirks to a pulp. It makes me so sad.

In response, I did something bad. I knew it was bad, and I did it anyway. I was driving Ethan to school so it was just the two of us and I brought up the situation. I waited so that I could get him to myself and not have his Dad hear me and have to correct me for my terrible advice.

“You know,” I said, stopping at a traffic light. “I was thinking of something you could say to [Kid’s Name].”

“What?” Ethan asked.

“Next time he calls you a crybaby, say ‘yeah, but I can stop crying and you will still be ugly.”

“Oh, Rachel!” Ethan said, his eyes bright with a smile, but shaking his splayed hands in front of him, as if refusing another slice of cake. “I would get in so much trouble!”

This is the problem with zero-tolerance policies. The kids who don’t care about following the rules won’t be dissuaded, but the kids who just want to do the right thing won’t even defend themselves.

“You could tell your teacher that I told you to say it,” I said. “I will take the blame!”

“Actually, I thought of something else I could say,” he said.

“What is that?”

“I’m just going to say, ‘how would you feel if someone said that to you?’ And then they will realize it isn’t nice.”

I made myself say, “Yeah… that’s good… too.” I checked the rear-view mirror. “But you could still think about my response. It might make you laugh.”

I got a good smile and a little chuckle then. “Yeah,” he said. “It is funny.”

We don’t get him again until the weekend so I won’t get to check in with him for a few days. I feel so much pressure to enjoy him now, while he is cute and sweet and small. And as purely him as he will be again. Every day those shitty little dumb-asses change him a little more. This is the price we pay for being social animals, I guess. Now I understand why people choose to home-school. I wouldn’t go that far, however. At the risk of offending someone, I’ve met home-schooled kids and some of them could stand having some weirdness smoothed down in the sausage machine.

Down the Drain

I survived Dry January. Full disclosure: I cheated twice. The first time was a glass of Prosecco at a wake for a family friend. That was a no brainer. Then I went to a writing conference and ended up taking the weekend off of the wagon. I can’t really justify that one except to say writers+social time+a successful agent pitch which resulted in a request for my full manuscript=celebration ÷ wine³. I regret nothing.

But then…

The first Sunday of February Matt invited some friends over for the Superbowl. I do not care about football but I was celebrating the end of January (both dry January and January as a broad concept). I was feeling awkward and under pressure, as I always do when people I don’t know well are in my house. I was settling in but then I managed to embarrass myself. It was one of those Superbowl commercials where they get as many famous football players they can on camera and they throw the ball around and create mayhem, and Matt and his friends were excitedly shouting out the names of the people they recognized. They were having a great time. Then, suddenly, I saw someone I thought I recognized and before I could stop myself I said, “Ooh, ohh! That’s Idris Elba!”

Everyone stopped and looked over at me with that expression people give you when they need to tell you that you are an asshole but they don’t actually want to. “No,” Matt said, gently. “That’s [yet another football star I’ve never heard of].”

At first I was still certain I was right. “He looks just like him!” I said.

Then one of Matt’s friends said, “Yeah, he does. Like… he looks like a black man in an expensive suit…”

And I realized I did it again. I was accidentally racist. Goddammit. I hear people (cough, Republicans) on TV and podcasts and such insisting that there is no such thing as “implicit bias” (Richard Lowry, I’m looking at you) and that they DEFINITELY aren’t racist (despite supporting Trump “because of economic reasons; I disagree with him on many things!” [PS: fuck you]). Meanwhile, I genuinely do NOT want to be a racist and I’m accidentally racist ALL THE TIME! It’s the fucking WORST!

Matt was worried that I wouldn’t know what to do with myself during the game, so he sweetly set me up with a puzzle of a kitten that I could work on while everyone else watched sportsball. But after my gaffe, I couldn’t sit still and do my adorable puzzle. I was embarrassed and racist and stupid and I needed to DO something. So I went upstairs to work on the dishes. The bad part of that plan was that upstairs was where the booze was. And not just the can of wine that I bought to enjoy for my return to drinking (1 can = two drinks. 1 bottle = five). There were many bottles of whiskey that Matt’s friends brought to sample. And also a large bottle of home-made cider, that Matt’s friends so kindly brought, just for me!

I was cleaning and drinking and had, what seemed in the moment, a very funny thought. “My basement is full of people watching football, but I’m upstairs cleaning. I’m like a real Mormon!” Nothing like whiskey to make one feel hilarious. I shared this thought on Facebook and a former co-worker (also an ex-Mormon) chimed in with a dig at the Mo’s.  “Donate your money to a very rich multi-national corporation that doesn’t help the poor and your transformation will be complete!” I realize that if you aren’t Mormon or Mormon adjacent, this will sound like (sorry to mix sportsball metaphors) inside baseball. But suffice it to say, it’s funny. I replied to say as much.

As I was cleaning, however, my phone started sending chimes in rapid succession that said something to the effect of:

[Chime] That super Mormon uncle you never talk to and forgot you were friends with on Facebook as replied to your former coworker.

[Another chime] Your coworker is responding to you your uncle.

[Another chime] Your mother is joining in.

[Another chime] Your coworker has broken into a sweat.

[Another chime] Your uncle has more to say.

[Another chime] Your coworker has sent you an IM asking for some cover fire.

[Another chime] This is the only thing that your Mormon relatives are talking about, other than the half-naked half-time show.

[Internal Monologue] Fuuuuuuuck. (Pours more whiskey.)

Scene.

Everyone left after the game and Matt was not pleased that I drank as much as I did. It started out well! I had my can of wine and a puzzle and lots of good intentions! But I didn’t stick the landing hopping out of the wagon. I whiffed it into the mud on the side of the road and got multiple pints of sludge on my face.

So… taking a break for Dry January was good but not a cure for anxiety and/or binge drinking tendencies. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. I wish I could say that I have a plan for what happens next, but I’m still figuring it out. I’m avoiding Facebook. And Mormons. And people in general. Maybe that will help.

Meanwhile, can we talk about when they will come out with the next season of Luther? It’s been too long. The accidentally racist winos want more Luther! At least, this one does. I’ll be waiting in the basement. Checking my phone for updates.

 

 

 

Animal Encounters

Wensleydale has had a rough time this winter. His arthritis is acting up. He had some teeth pulled. And once the snow came he started peeing in a corner of the kitchen rather than asking to go out in the cold.

He’ll be 16 years old in March, which for Yorkshire terriers (the internet tells me), is the equivalent of 80 human years. The site only went up to 17 which made my heart stutter. I had to google “oldest Yorkie” to get some sense of what I could hope for. I found this article about a 26 year old Yorkie who died in a dog attack, which was helpful but distressing at the same time. 26 years is a lot, even for a natural death. I decided to focus on that fact and not the grizzly details of his demise.

We spent the holidays in California with Matt’s family. It worked out that a friend needed a house and pet sitter for our exact days, and they agreed to give us the keys in exchange for keeping their three-legged chihuahua with broken ribs and nerve damage alive. They also have a parakeet-like bird (technically, he is a green cheeked conure) and a half-dozen chickens.

We drove from Utah to California (a 12 hour drive) with Wensley in tow. He’s usually a pretty good traveler, but this time he struggled. Here he is resting comfortably early on in the trip.

Later in the day, he seemed like he couldn’t stay still for mor that a minute or two. He was on my lap as we traversed Donner’s Pass (location of the infamous Donner Party disaster) when Wensley emptied the contents of his bladder directly into my crotch. He peed on me several more times before we reached our destination outside Sacramento. Once I got him inside and he peed on the light tiled floor (and not on my dark jeans) I saw that he was peeing blood. I got him back in the car and rushed him to a 24 hour pet hospital, making an already long day insanely longer.

Wensley had a mild urinary tract infection and the veterinarian gave us antibiotics, but it was well after midnight when we finally went to bed. I changed clothes and went to sleep, leaving the pee soaked laundry in a pile for later.

I stayed behind the next morning when Matt and Ethan joined up with the fam for holiday bonding. I started the washer, gave Wensley a bath, and tried to get the chihuahua to eat something without success. I put the clothes in the drier and turned my attention to the bird, who was shrieking for attention.

I was told I could let him out of his cage and, while he couldn’t fly, he could climb to the top of the cage and see what the people were up to. I decided to try that and it did quiet him. Then I thought I might befriend him with food, even if it didn’t work on the chihuahua who seemed to hate me with an unnatural fire. I cut up a pear and offered a small bite to the little green bird, but instead of taking it, he hopped on my hand, ran up my arm and disappeared in my freshly washed hair. I reached up to move him back to his perch, but every time my fingers got close to him he bit me. Hard.

I took a selfie and sent it to Matt, explaining what happened. “I can’t get him off so I guess he lives here now.”

Not sure what else to do, I sat on the couch and waited for the drier to buzz. I pulled up a podcast and tried to forget that I had allowed my body to become a bird house and tree combo. Once I settled on the couch, however, the bird decided to explore my branches.

He ran back and forth across my clavicle a few times. Then he stepped down onto my right breast and, after a cautious few steps, began to bounce on it, like it was a double mattress at a Motel 6. I reached up to make him stop and he bit me and ran back into my hair.

“Asshole,” I said. “I just got #metooed by a goddamn parrot. Worst. Christmas. Ever!”

The clothes finished and Matt came back to rescue me. Together we got the mean little bird back in his cage and I was free. The rest of the pet sitting part of the trip was uneventful. I gave the animals their space and they gave me mine. Wensley didn’t befriend anyone, either. But he has completely recovered from his UTI.

That’s really the end of the story, but just for fun here are some photos I took from a separate animal encounter, back in Utah, shortly after New Year’s. It was Owl Day at the Bear River Bird Refuge and I got to meet these two cuties.

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Then we took a drive around the refuge and I took pictures of hawks. These two turned out the best.

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I have always loved raptors and have a fantasy of getting into falconry some day, maybe when I’m retired. I’m sure having a bird of prey would be completely different than having a flightless conure or parakeet, but this one experience has left me less excited about my fantasy. After all, if a red tail hawk decided to trampoline my tits, I might bleed to death!

Might be best to invest in a longer lens and stick with photography. That way I can stay in my car, where it is safe.

Yoga Poser

We were standing in Warrior II (never one of my favorite poses as it forces me to look at my body in the studio mirror at an unflattering side angle), posed with our back legs straight, our front legs bent at a 90° angle, and arms outstretched in both directions, one over each leg.

“What is the significance of looking forward over your bent leg in this pose?” Judd asked the class as he walked down a row of rubber mats, correcting postures as he went.  Someone said something in response, but I didn’t catch it over the music. But Judd did.

“Yes!” he said. “We are reaching back into our past and forward into the future, but our our Drishti – our gaze – is focused on the future. On what comes next.” He gave another direction moving us into the next pose and picked up the thought. “Remember, this doesn’t mean that we are alluding our pasts. We have one arm in that, as well. Your past has brought you to where you are today. We embrace all that is there, and we take it with us into the future.”

I suppose that most people would hear this and it would sound like basic and banal yogi-banter. I didn’t hear it that way, though. It lodged in my throat like a hot stone and its heat radiated up toward my eyes, threatening to convert its heat to tears. I managed to keep my composure until Shavasana (the end of the class where you lay on your back, which I use to catch my breath), when I allowed the tears to slip from my eyes and into my ears. But that’s the great thing about hot yoga; tears look just like sweat and no one notices.

My entire adult life, I have struggled with my relationship to my own past. I once joked to a therapist that when I look back on my life, it looks to me like a long chain of choices, and at every decision point it is clear in retrospect that there were only two possibilities: a) the correct choice and b) the choice I made.

This is completely false, of course. There are rarely only two choices, for one thing. And for the most part, there are no correct or incorrect choices.  You do your best (you choose a college, a major, a partner, a job…) and you live with the consequences, good and bad. It’s possible that another choice may have yielded fewer negative consequences, but probably not. At any rate, you’ll never know.

I used to imagine there was an alternative version of me in some parallel universe who made all the “right” decisions and was living a better and more productive, healthier, more fulfilling life. She was also taller, for some reason. Probably because she ate all of her vegetables as a child.

If I wasn’t imagining Better Rachel, I was pining for a blank slate, free of marks and chalk dust. I desperately wanted a do-over life on a pristine white page without all those cross outs and scribbles and misspelled words. “Could I just rewrite the whole thing, knowing what I know now? Is that so unreasonable?”

Maybe not, but it was impossible. So I made peace with my past in the only way I knew how, growing up Mormon in Utah: as passive-aggressively as fuck. Don’t think about it. Don’t talk about it. Don’t look at old pictures, and definitely don’t go back and listen to 90s music! That will bring up memories and totally suck me into a mire of sadness. I can’t listen to any music I have owned for more than a few years, in fact. There is just something about music that can take me back to different chapters of my life, like a time machine to one of my former selves. I can’t do it. Something inside me jumps up and says, “We gotta get out of here! I don’t want to visit this person! Back to the future! Run for the DeLorean!”

Side note: I recently rewatched that movie. It wasn’t quite as cute as I remembered. It’s actually kind of rapey. Just sayin’.

After my Dry January post last week, I got a message from a friend. (I heard from several of you; thank you all for that.) She told me not to miss last week’s My Favorite Murder, one of our favorite podcasts. “Georgia is also doing Dry January!” I downloaded it and listened. I have to say, I was not expecting her to be as positive as she was about her break from drinking. She is often drinking cans of wine while she records the podcast and I thought she would say something about it being hard to take a long break. But then she said something to the effect of, “I just like waking up and not feeling all of the guilt!” but it would have had the f-word in it. Georgia can’t say a whole sentence without at least two f bombs. But whatever she said, I was nodding.

I’m seventeen days into Dry January now and I feel good. I’m sleeping well. My head feels clear. I’m not feeling as positive as Georgia sounded because I still miss wine. Life is really damn long and just a lot to take in general. Wine helps with that. But I’m not feeling guilty about drinking at that is really nice.

How often have I been feeling bad about something I did so I drank, and then I felt bad about that, so I ate a casserole of comfort food and then I felt bad about that… and on and on it stacks into a multilayered mess. Like a deep dish lasagna made of shame and cottage cheese. Why cottage cheese? Because that is how my mother made it when I was a kid, either because we couldn’t afford Ricotta or because you couldn’t get it in suburban Utah in the 80s, or possibly both. And it was gross.

Georgia was saying that she feels great and might give up drinking all together. I’m not there, I have to be honest. But I don’t want to feel all that guilt any more. If only I could actually fully embrace my past and let that shit go, instead of just pretending it was a past life that didn’t have all that much to do with me, maybe it wouldn’t feel so heavy a burden to carry sometimes. And in that vein, maybe if I could accept my decisions as me doing my best, then the next morning I won’t wake up feeling like cold cottage cheese lasagna. (If I keep pushing it, this metaphor will work! I can feel it!)

I got a new planner for 2020 to keep track of appointments and to-do lists. Yes, I have a smartphone, but I am also a Luddite. I opened it up and the first page had a space for a personal mission statement for the year of 2020. My first response was “yuck! I’m not doing that!” But as I’ve been working through all of these thoughts about where I am in life right now, I ended up taking a stab at it. It’s a little clunky, but it gets the point across. It says, “In 2020, as part of my continued efforts to live a full and well examined life, I will focus of self-acceptance (especially where my physical self and my career goals are concerned) and letting go of guilt and regret.”

I’m also going to do more yoga. And it just so happens that I was looking through storage for some stationary and I stumbled over Everything But the Girl’s album Amplified Heart on CD, which I think I purchased in 1996. I pulled it out and I’m going to listen to it this weekend. But I’m not going to drink while I listen to it. Maybe in a couple of weeks, I’ll have some wine. Not because my inner wine gremlin wants some. But if I choose to, then I’ll have some. And then I will let that shit go.

 

 

Dry January

Oh, January. You suck so much. You are like a cold wet dirty grey blanket left in the gutter, frozen at the corners, and covered in the needles of a discarded Christmas tree. Every year, I make plans for you – such grand plans – you wouldn’t believe. And every year, somehow you get me. You end up around my shoulders, weighing me down with your dirt and ice, and I can’t throw you off. It’s mean. And I don’t like it.

I have the Januwearies. In my last post, I was planning to spend January reading novels in a cozy corner while drinking loose leaf tea. I was also going to exercise along with a Jillian Michaels DVD, and then write for an hour, every day. I haven’t done those things. I have mourned the end of the holidays and I have sat on my butt eating leftover candy and feeling like a giant sack of “meh.”

My one promise kept, however, is that in the last eight days, I have not had a drink.

This is something that I don’t like to write about, because it is hard and not funny. But here is the thing: I struggle with binge drinking. Most of the time, I can have a single drink of wine at dinner and not need any more and I’m fine. I can go on for months like that. But sooner or later, I’ll “need” a binge and I’ll drink and drink until I blackout. God, that’s hard to write, but there it is.

I heard about the “Dry January” trend, where people take a month off from drinking to reset and detox a bit. I thought, “Yeah. That’s a good idea.” I wasn’t really thinking I needed to, because I’ve been in a pretty good place with the drinking lately. I was actually thinking it might help me loose a few pounds and/or inches.

However, once I decided (back before the holidays) I was going to do this, my inner addict, or as I unaffectionately like to call her, The Wine Gremlin, started to freak the fuck out. It’s like that voice that tells you that you need to eat an entire bag of Cheetos the day before you start a diet. Or is that only me? My binging isn’t limited to drinking, I should concede.

We traveled to California to visit my boyfriend Matt’s family. His brother and sister-in-law have a toddler and a new baby, so it made sense to bring Christmas to them. I struggle with social anxiety and being with people I don’t know well is hard for me. Also, I associate Christmas with drinking. But I was doing well… until the day after Christmas (or Boxing Day, as I like to call it, because I’ve been willing myself to be British for as long as I can remember).

There was most of a bottle of wine in the fridge left over from Christmas dinner, and it was calling my name. It was mine after all; I bought it. The day after Christmas was dull and deflated. The men folk went off to have a nerf gun fight in the park. Matt’s sister-in-law had gone out for lunch with her parents. It was just me and Matt’s mom at the house, and she was on the phone. I was waiting for the boys to come back so we could have our annual sword fight with the spent rolls of wrapping paper (I hauled them from Utah to California, I was so determined to make this happen). “May as well have some wine while I wait,” I decided. I finished the bottle by the end of the night, before we went back to our AirB&B to sleep. I snuck a little bit and then a little bit more. Finally, after dinner, I emptied the rest into a glass and drank it in the open while I did the dishes.

Then, before we left, Matt’s sister in law suggested we leave the kids with the grandparents and go check out some wine tasting bars in town, because California. We were leaving first thing in the morning and we had over 12 hours to drive, so we said, “Sorry, but we’ll do that next time we are in town!” I didn’t add, “I can’t take your drinking because I’m drunk!”

Her face sunk and I realized she had been planning this for a while. It was her chance to escape the new baby for an hour and have some adult talk. If I hadn’t been sneaking drinks all day, I could have taken her out and maybe had some bonding time just the two of us, helping me get over the anxiety I feel around her because she’s amazing and I want her to like me, but that didn’t happen. Worst of all, I knew after we left there was a possibility she would go to the fridge for a glass of what was a nearly full bottle of wine and it would be gone. God, It’s so embarrassing!

Just in case you are doing the math and thinking, “It was only four glasses of wine, stop giving yourself such a hard time!” I need to do some more confessing. There was also a matter of the mini-bottles of very cheap wine that I picked up at the grocery store in town earlier that day when picking up some snacks for our road trip home. I squirreled them away in the bottom of my purse and was nipping off of those, also. So, it wasn’t four drinks. It was more like nine. And Matt saw the mini bottles and I totally got caught.

The drive the next day was fairly miserable. It was 12 hours through blah Nevada countryside with a mild hangover, made worse by Matt’s quiet disapproval from the driver’s seat.

Fast forward to now, a week into this Dry January experiment. It’s going well. I do feel lighter, both physically and mentally. That said, it hasn’t been perfect. I saw my family last Friday for our regular family dinner. My sister offered me a glass of wine and didn’t react when I told her I was back on the wagon. Again. The evening was fine… fun even.  But I did notice a few things.

I don’t get drunk with my family (at least, not with my parents), but I do usually have a glass or two of wine on these evenings. Rachel a few glasses of wine in her is chatty and laughs loudly. Rachel with no wine is quiet. She’ll participate in a conversation, but she won’t start one. That was fine – no one seemed to notice. But the other thing is that Two Drink Rachel is uninhibited enough to show emotion. Sober Rachel doesn’t really do that. I was reminded of this when, on two separate occasions that night, two members of my family did two separate and very nice things for me. Thoughtful, effortful, genuinely nice things. And I said thank you. A distant part of me thought about moving in for a hug, but I didn’t. I felt like my mute button was on. Maybe it wasn’t real, but I feel like I saw disappointment or confusion on their faces, not getting the reaction that they were expecting from me.

At the risk of sounding like a cliché drunk feeling sorry for herself, I’m feeling a bit sorry for myself. I feel like I’m doomed to fail no matter what I do. I’m feeling guilty for not leaving some wine for my boyfriend’s sister-in-law and I’m feeling guilty for screwing up these moments with my family. I can’t win. Boo hoo. Might as well drink a barrel of wine, right?

No… not right. I’m not going there. I committed to a month and I’m doing the month. Even though Matt is going out of town in a few weeks and I’ll have the house to myself and I could spend that time binging on wine, Netflix, and Cheetos, I’m not going to do it. I’m going to see this through. And then, at the end, I’ll do some serious evaluation of the pros and cons. Meanwhile I’m going to give myself a little slack. If I don’t read and write and sweat and kick-ass every day this month, that’s okay. I’m giving my body a break from alcohol, and that’s enough. It’s got to be.