Monday, November 26, 2018

Gratitude is a verb

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: joan hocky <>
Date: Monday, November 26, 2018
To: joan hocky <>

Gratitude: The state of being grateful.
The quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.

'Used in a sentence: Let me express my heartfelt gratitude to you.

Gratitude is an idea and ideal that is the central tenet of Thanksgiving and the opportunities the holiday and the days surrounding it provide to reflect on what it means in our lives, to name and list that which we are thankful for, but in everyday life it is not a concept but a verb, something we act on or from.

We often talk about it like it were a probiotic or sunscreen - something we know we should do because it's good for us, and that with some effort and daily reminders we can put into our routine.

Floss, stretch, feel gratitude. Saturday  at Shabbat services we read from a siddur [Jewish prayer book] designed for those with cognitive or developmental disabilities (although I don't think V understands any of it he enjoys the music and although he leaves and walks around the shul a few times in the hour service, he seems to enjoy being there and the familiar rituals of the morning.): I wake up each morning and thank God for another day.  To me that is the essence of gratitude, when it is so ingrained into our daily life that the moment we arise we are flooded with appreciation at being alive.  It makes me think of that Einstein quote that we can live life as if everything were a miracle or nothing is, and the spiritual path is clearly the former.

And yet, while gratitude is powerful and important it's not a panacea or cure all  It doesn't prevent us from feeling anger or sorrow or frustration or any other of a range of difficult emotions that people feel everyday, although some more than others. I don’t like when people tell others to 'just be grateful' as if that had the power to make the rest of our struggles dissipate.  It gives us perspective but not freedom.

I've been grateful when V woke me up at 5 am all weekend, as anytime after 4 seems civilized, and all those thousands of days when he'd be up at 3 or 3:30 felt so isolated and hopeless, like being on a rickety boat trying to wait out the hours until the rest of the world awoke. I've been grateful for Starbucks Italian roast I can make to help my body keep up with my mind  in the early hours - once I wake up that's it; like V I rarely can go back to sleep.  And while he now can spend some time alone there is always the possible  risk that he will get into something and reek havoc so I need if not both eyes then at least one ear listening in case a mattress is flipped, there are 4 am munchies,  it's a little boring after awhile, why not unroll all the toilet paper or empty all your drawers of clothes.  In his world teens are able to have fun the same way young children do, with utter abandon and no thoughts of the aftermath that grown ups will have to contend with.

It sounds like an excuse for not writing, but just having that ear, that 10-20% focused on someone else just in case makes it hard to concentrate and get much writing done these early morning or the rest of the day on holiday weekends when we tend to have little respite . (Why I’m finishing this Monday am)  It is nothing like being alone, or being off duty.  I write little drafts I email myself  or scrawl thoughts into notebooks or look up words, like gratitude.  But I don't have the opportunity to dive in and write, and the fact is that much of my limited creative time this week has gone into hosting Thanksgiving here - a first in all my years in this house. We always go to my brother’s, stay overnight in Philadelphia and spend a little time with some modest Black Friday shopping and walking around the city. 
 It's a longstanding nice routine. My brother and sister in law are wonderful hosts and they are set up for company in a way that we never have been, with a beautifully set table and room to spread out before and after and that large finished basement for V, who doesn't really like most thanksgiving food except for the pie, of course.  Hosting this year  made me aware of how infrequently we have people over and how when we do it involves paper plates and utensils used for outside barbeques or my annual ladies who latkes Chanukah event.  I'd love to have people over more often but not having many friends it's a challenge to get people to come over even though I think we're very hospitable: lots of great food and a warm welcome to all. I know all too well what it's like to not feel welcome so I do all I can to have everyone feel how very grateful I am to have them grace me with their presence, which I mean sincerely, not with the snark with which it is usually said. So having people over for an inside sit-down dinner makes us all too aware that this is not something we get to do, as much as I wish we did.  We order another set of  plates from Target and get some more break-proof glasses (the set of monogrammed wine glasses that were a wedding gift have long been gone, every single one of them broken along with all but one of my set of Fiestaware mugs).  We buy the glasses and wooden folding chairs on sale at World Market, a fun store because it has a fun combination of food and furnishings.  I'm sad that our lives haven't been social in the way I enjoy so much but I'm even more grateful to have the opportunity to be a host.

I am happy to spend every spare moment in the week cooking and cleaning and clearing out clutter that accumulates like leaves in autumn - no sooner do you rake them up than the wind provides another helping.  It is all part of a life I am in equal part grateful for and disheartened by. I am thankful for this Thanksgiving with my family.  For food and shelter and sitting around a table together. I am grateful to wake up each day to my messy challenging life, although I wish it was different at least it is and there's nothing better than being here to experience it.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Old Dog Days

I found and am posting here what is basically Ruby's origin story, in terms of how she came to be our fifth family member.  It was from 9 years ago and one of my favorites posts.

Reposting it because first, it's her anniversary the week before Thanksgiving. And she just became very sick, suddenly off balance and unable to walk without falling over or to hold anything down, which is rare for a hound dog that has enhanced smell and thus an interest in all things food. At the emergency room the day after the snow storm, when roads were clear to get her there, we receive the diagnosis of canine vestibular disease, which is like miniere's disease/vertigo (also known as old dog disease : (   The other possibility is a brain tumor, but we are not going there until after we first pursue the more curable  option.

The treatment is pretty straightforward: Dramamine - what I remember taking on my first flights abroad (I recall wonderful long windows of sleep on trips to Beunos Aires and Rio, which are fantastic places to visit because they are among the world's most beautiful cities with the added bonus of no jet lag). And time. Two days after her hospital stay she is definitely still off her feet but seems to be making some progress. She's eating, which is a good sign. She wants to be outside sniffing, which is an essential activity for a hound dog. But she still has to be carried up and down the stairs, gets wobbly after walking half a block, and tilts her head sideways due to being so off balance.

Going out for a walk sans my girlfiend feels weird. So much in 9 years that she has helped us through, a grown-up therapy dog bringing unconditional love and endless reasons to laugh at her idiosyncrasies, which tend to be less chaotic or labor intensive than her brother's. And in those 9 years 2 boys have grown up.  For Ruby, as for the rest of us, growing older is tinged with anxiety for the future. Her eyes are getting cataracts and she has trouble going up and down the stairs and her breathing seems heavier. Yet for both of us I try not to dwell too much on the slowing or weakening of systems, always grateful for aging given the alternative...

Most of my difficulty with looking over the past 9 years is how different this time has been than I ever could have imagined: far more spent on the nouns and jobs I haven't been able to quit:  constant caregiver, unpaid project manager, barely adequate housekeeper (our motto: presentable, not perfection) and not enough on the verbs, the doing: writing, performing, facilitating, community building, cooking, connecting... I'm in my late 50s in a culture that constantly talks about nurturing fresh young voices and it pisses me off that there's no interest in nurturing all the voices that have been put on hiatus or downsized due to extenuating circumstances when we have so much to say and teach.  And why do old dogs need to learn new tricks? What if they're really good at what they do, and they're doing just fine?  Ruby is just as loving and fun and endearing as the first day I met her.. Age is nothing to fear or disdain,  we still want and need the same things. Fresh air and good food and other beings who care about us, a sense of purpose even if it's just to sniff and explore, solving unseen mysteries.

I'm rooting for Ruby, one old gal to another.  For now, she still is carried up and down the stairs to go out and pee and equally importantly, to smell the grass and trees and the leaves sprawled over the ground mingling with the remnants of snow, the lingering scent of many animals before her. Those still young and scurrying by, those like us just starting to struggle, to show our age in ways completely natural in the cycle of life.  I sit by her side and tell her we love her no matter what, as she's told us the same thing thousands of times.  What a good girl.  Here's hoping she's going to be fine. But no matter what we're there for her.

Friday, November 9, 2018

a riddle wrapped in 5 sheets, inside an enigma...and why voting matters

The post I've spent all week writing vanished, just like that.  Not a very user-friendly blog, as those of you who have tried to post comments have found. (the best advice I can give is to go on the full site, and post there. And thanks for trying.)  Very frustrating since I spent so many hours on it and finally it was all done and I pressed publish, which always feels good, and then it disappeared.  So I am going to do a  rewrite which may not be nearly as good but I want to get it out as it was so timely and time keeps passing very quickly, or maybe it's just change that is happening and time is its usual slow dance.

This past week I got caught up in pre-Election Day anxiety and obsession, what I used to describe to B as Mom's World Series - the thrill of cheering on your team and favorite players, the knots in the stomach as the score changes, the vast disappointment when star players are taken off the field, especially, like in Georgia, where the state team plays dirty.  Even this midterm election, or maybe especially the midterms, which have been touted as "the most important election of our lives."  Maybe a bit of hyperbole but it did send millions of new or formerly jaded or disinterested voters out in force. And it did end in the Democrats taking the house and a number of states, with  many players you rarely see on the field: so many women, and Native Americans and lesbians and a gay Governor, people who should have been out there long ago in force but the fact that they finally are, well, it's thrilling and hopeful and it's something to feel good about, so maybe it was the most important election in terms of better representation and a middle finger to our unstable mendacious leader.

I've had a few discussions with one of V's home therapists who thinks voting is a waste of time and energy because it's all about the money, and there's so much corruption, and candidates make promises they won't keep, and racism  underlies the defeat of those two really strong gubernatorial candidates I was so invested in, and yes yes yes yes I  agree with her on all of that and yet. Voting matters. I  have ingrained in me since birth what a civic duty it is, from my mom who worked the polls every year, and her father who said he celebrated the day he came to this country but not his birthday because anyone could be born but how many people have the courage or chance to leave their home country and everything they know for this new land of freedom?  Voting is a hard earned privilege, we often forget, we who have lived with its certainty our entire lives.

And voting matters in a way that we often fail to see, as our representatives approve and allocate funds for tunnels and bridges and train tracks and schools and farms and every other type of infrastructure or way we take care of people or land or municipalities. Even government-hating conservative seniors happily collect their Social Security and thank the stars for their Medicare. 
And the home therapist I argue with, and all of the rest of V's team - the teachers and aides and case manager and OT and speech therapist and job training coach at school - every single member is brought to us courtesy of state, federal and local agencies

For those of us with loved ones who need extra supports and services in order to live and thrive, we see firsthand every day how voting matters, that the quality of their lives and ours in turn is deeply connected to the people we elect to represent us and their interpretation of what government is for.  In better times, when people believed in the social compact - that we are bound to help each other, not as charity or a hand out but because by no fault of their own people have a range of conditions and challenges that require extra help and it is our duty, a contract we have with each other, to make sure that everyone has a safe place to live and the medical care they require and the social services to turn their lives around. At some point we will all be in need.  This is something we have had the good fortune, if you can call it that, to recognize since V's diagnosis exactly 15 years ago this week.

At our most recent meeting on the eve of  Election Day (before I spent the night glued to the screen like it was the Superbowl and World Cup combined) V's school and home team all got together to discuss the latest "riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma" (a quote about Russia by Winston Churchill, who was kind of the anti-Trump when it came to eloquence) of taking the fitted sheets off his bed every night, grabbing comforters and flat sheets whenever he could get into the linen shelf  and wrapping himself in them like a burrito, and then putting on layers and layers of clothes every morning. a few t shirts topped with a hoodie and fleece and jacket, occasionally two pair of jeans, as much clothes as he could fit on his lanky frame.

I've taken to hiding all our outerwear in a locked closet so he isn't tempted.  I think of the story of the man who got kicked of a British Airways flight earlier this year because he was wearing 10 layers of clothes and think if we ever get V back on a plane he can wear a week's work of outfits and save us a baggage fee too (they'd be less likely to notice on a skinny hyperactive guy like V,  as most strangers fixate on his offbeat behavior more than anything else, like his good looks and charm and humor.)

The team discuss the possible causes for this layering. Is it sensory-seeking, and needing deep pressure? Is it his way of expressing his independence and agency? With so many people telling him what to do all the time, here's a way to assert himself. Or is it a matter of perseverating (repeating something insistently) - of still developing executive functioning skills that make it difficult to stop once he starts putting on clothes?  A really interesting conversation and I'm grateful to have us all in the same room, but it doesn't make it any easier to live with. Because at the end of the hour they'll all go home and we are left trying to solve these mysteries. alone with our struggles and the consequent social isolation when he gets so entrenched in behaviors that our interventions are ineffectual and so we stay inside with our layers and mysteries, feeding our exhaustion with coffee and toast and homemade soup and television and reading endless stories about  violence and vitriol in the news.

The stress of a mother raising a teen or young adult with autism is equal to that of a combat soldier. I know I've quoted this research before, but it becomes more evident with every year.  Mothers of teens with autism spend more than two hours more a day on caregiving, are interrupted at work three times as often, are more apt to be exhausted (as opposed to just tired), are far more likely to have financial stress and physical and mental strain, all of which is lessened or compounded based on how much needed help is available.  For those of us who care for someone with constant complex needs - a parent or partner or other loved one as well as a child -  it is absurd and outrageous that anyone would consider government assistance as a hand out that would make us lazy or complacent. In fact the threat that pre-existing conditions might at some point not be covered by insurance puts us even more on edge.  Those of us relying on Medicaid or Medicare or other supports to supplement our expenses cross party lines and attitudes. We are Republicans and Democrats; black, brown and white; low income and middle class; cynical or indifferent or deeply invested in voting.  Regardless of our differences, who we elect to represent us matters to us all. 

Yesterday we went out for a walk, V in four layers on top, only one pair of pants thankfully, although they were on inside out (that tends to happen now that he dresses himself). No one knew what it took to get him out the door, but then, we don't know what challenges anyone else faces, how difficult or grueling it might be just to get out of bed, let alone get dressed and eat.  You don't know what anyone else faces in the course of a day. But you can vote to support them no matter what. It could happen to you. It probably will.  Let's help each other out: out of the house, out into the world, out where we can feel the sun and find some happiness wherever and however we can.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

the washed and well-groomed masses

"The unwashed masses" is a phrase originating in Victorian England but we found much use for it here, especially in New York City in the same era. By 1894 the unemployment rate for all of New York State was 35 percent. In the city there were more than 20,000 homeless people. This period became known as the Great Depression in New York.

Yet one year later, in 1895, the main branch of the public library at Bryant Park was built. 

It was the best and worst of times - the 1890's saw the construction of many of NY's great institutions, the enormous prosperity and philanthropy and public works of the wealthiest in the midst of some of the worst poverty in the country's history.  Their design spoke to that disparity, in a way, as the regal public library, like many museums and movie palaces - not theatres mind you, but palaces - emerged from the noblesse oblige of the very rich, with a sense of egalitarianism ingrained in their blueprint: that for a few cents anyone could sit in a luxurious movie palace with red velvet ropes, and that it cost nothing to enter the stunning interior of this magnificent library, with its thousands of books and artifacts.

The visitors these days are anything but unwashed. they are a combination of people of all ages sitting at their computers, doing research, writing papers, working on books, and an equal or not greater number of tourists taking photos.
I spent about an hour late yesterday afternoon sitting in that glorious reading room, quite productive, soothed by its beauty and the proximity of others working nearby, only to leave and find myself surrounded by mostly foreign tourists snapping away. I took a few photos myself, but with the natural light streaming in from enormous arch windows and the small reading lamps on the rows and rows of long tables, it was hard to get the right exposure. Or maybe I just  didn't have the patience or interest at that point... it felt like a beautiful woman objectified, with all these people snapping her image. I sensed that the presence of books and scholars meant nothing to most of them, although we all were enthralled by that ceiling I struggled to capture,

It was a civilized way to end the day, one that had started with a disabled Amtrak train leaving thousands of commuters waiting with no information as to how long we would be stuck on a track.  Fortunately I had a good article in the New Yorker about Sill She Rises, a program in Oklahoma - which has the highest rate of incarcerated women in the country, which is saying a lot, given that the number of women in prison has increased 800% in the past 40 years - started by folks from Bronx Defenders, which has been representing indigent clients for the past 2 decades. The article is chock full of awful statistics and tragic stories and great work, and if i don't make it to  Pittsburgh maybe I could go to Tulsa, a bastion of social change I'd never heard about.

And being so engrossed in the article kept me from feeling my frequent alienation from  other passengers, so many with their highest quality backpacks and shoes, brands and buttery leather in another strata from anything I ever could manage.  I remind myself that these very people might have philanthropic instincts as great as the Astors; after the well-tailored clothes and stunning haircuts, they might take a big wad of that expendable income and support a really effective program for incarcerated women, or a local library or a program for new immigrants, or in some way address the enormous discrepancy between their lives and that of most people. Now more than ever I need that reassurance that there are people who really care about creating positive change, that somewhere between the greedy and the indifferent there are people trying to make a difference. I look out the window and and up at a sky which will never be quite like it is at this moment. Someone else is looking too, I am sure.  I am not all alone.
Along with every other frustrated commuter, we finally make it to Hoboken, where all trains have been diverted, and I merge with thousands on the track, dressed for work or school or some other destination for which we will all be late, all impatient but passably civil as we cram into the train, washed and well-groomed masses streaming out in all directions, racing off to wherever we need to be in a city most of us are too busy to look up or look down and notice.



Thursday, November 1, 2018

Exposure Value

Exposure Value: in photography it's a number that represents a combination of a camera's shutter speed and f-number, and something I can't explain too well or understand much better but basically, it allows you to underexpose or overexpose your image. I imagine it doesn't mean much to all of us digitally raised or
re-programmed, but it seems a good way to sum up the over and underexposure world in which we live.
Exposure: the condition of being presented to view or made known. The President has constant exposure. Most hard-working honest people have little or no exposure.
Value: relative worth, utility or importance. It doesn't matter if  you never are liked or followed or have another person say, beautiful! to your well-curated image.  We are all of value.
leaves, finally! and perfect exposure

So that's the possibly lame working title of my November novel (not really - I'm in the "rebel" category) for NaNoWriMo, which a friend told me about and which I've decided to participate in because, well, September and October went by in a horrible drought of output, except for many notebook pages of ineligible scrawling. I couldn't figure out how to fit in sitting down in front of a screen after a day of doing the same at a full-time job and commuting and the unpaid jobs of helping with V (who makes everything else exponentially more labor-intensive, like 25 loads of laundry a week...) and the ordinary stuff like dinner and papers demanding attention and a dog who pleeeease needs another walk and by the time I have free time I collapse with the daily bad news or a Netflix binge to escape it.

Like many people I don't feel like I have enough time and resent that my creativity needs to be carved into little pockets, but that's better than nothing and the only way to make that grow is to keep pushing aside everything else that I can, including plenty of time wasters that come with having endless access to screens, where reading an illuminating in depth article can quickly leads to shopping for noise reducing headphones or  getting lost in the vortex of horrific "living while black" stories (napping/shopping/golfing/swimming /studying/babysitting... there's a never exhaustive way to show your racism) which I want to keep up with, and now a bomb that has me wanting to move to Pittsburgh, where there seems to be a bumper crop of decency among its citizens..

Soooo..for the few people out there, welcome! I'll eventually get more upbeat.  Please feel free to read when and what you want -  I'll try to remember to use tags and titles, so you choose what is of interest, although as I often find when I read in print rather than on line - and one of the gifts I think we're losing by not having real newspapers - is that you can end up reading something you didn't think you'd find interesting and learning something really useful, or discovering about something or someone new.

Like Halloween,  that most bittersweet of holidays - the cloying sweetness of the candy offset by the sense of separation I feel from the phenomenon of families enjoying their walk up and down the street, kids in costumes all excited as they get to the door, in direct proportion to their ages: tweens are jaded, teens don't even pretend to wear costumes, but the little ones, well, what an awesome holiday to go up to strangers' doors and have them smile and give you candy!  I do like Halloween, it was a favorite back in my childhood of full size candy bars, an entire suitcase size bin of them under the bed I recall.

No one coming to  our door knows that we don't do Halloween ourselves, not that I need them to understand, but it's one of those things that feels isolating, that most people never stop to consider all that  it requires to accomplish this feat: the social skills to go up to a door, ring a bell, look someone in the eyes, grab a few pieces of candy or wait for the grown up to put it in your bag, smile and run off, when parents remind you to say thank you. oops, thanks! and then go to the next house....and really, why should you know what this night was like for us? That if you have no social skills or impulse control Halloween is a bad joke  I've gotten over it long ago but there's always residual grief, though we haven't attempted Halloween for years there's still a bit of sorrow and wistfulness, the remembrance of the times we tried, V in turn terrified or running inside people's homes, and you can't forewarn people - hand them a piece of paper, "please be understanding of my son with autism if he runs in your house and sits on your sofa" because frankly it gets exhausting to be an ad-hoc educator. And it can get lonely not to be part of a group ambling down the sidewalk.

Exposure Value is about the the limits of #metoo and this inaccurate sense of egalitarianism, that we all can tell our stories and have the same access to an audience. That most stories are lived and told in quiet dark rooms, and you have to take the time to notice, to open your ears and minds so you can listen.


Tuesday, August 28, 2018


Being present in things as they are...
in doing so, it can be useful to assume the attitude of a naturalist.
A naturalist simply observes nature without interfering or imposing his or her views. The naturalist's perspective is one of respect for what is observed. The word re-spect
(aka R-E-S-P-E-C-T) is a nice synonym for mindfulness practice because it literally means to look again. 

I'm finding this [from meditation teacher Gil Fronsdal - thanks S for recommending him] helpful as a way to deal with the enormous stress of the last few weeks and simply take in what's around me. In the heart of summer I find the easiest way to do that is through the sense of smell since it is so heightened in the heat and humidity,  from gardens to garbage. In fact the scents I most associate with this season are roses and rotting trash with a healthy spray of sunscreen (in pre-cancer aware days, sun tanning lotion) You could think of those first two as polar opposites in terms of how we interpret them: roses have the most exquisite scents, ranging from subtle to profuse depending on the species, and garbage while at the other end of what we generally consider pleasing. Yet given its associations with my favorite summer in the city experiences: at the end of any urban outdoor event - from concert or fireworks to barbecues, jazz festival to Shakespeare in the Park,that smell from overflowing trash cans and the detritus gathered along well traveled paths from people who have been enjoying themselves in crowded urban spaces, creating a happy hour for ants and their cousins and a putrid odor for the humans to endure.

...when we take [our emotions] personally we let ourselves be defined by them: the presence of anger means I am an angry person.  A generous act taken personally is proof that I am a generous person....from a naturalist perspective, one does not see "my anger" or "my generosity". Rather, they are simply observed as "the anger" or "the impulse of generosity"

Hard to believe it was just a little more than two weeks ago (it feels more like two months) I was on a 2 day yoga retreat on a sustainable farm, breathing, eating, moving and sharing with others who understand the enormous burden of being a caregiver, with the smells of the fresh earth and a swimming hole and outdoor shower and fresh cooked vegetables, and the opportunity to feel replenished and fortified to deal with daily stress... followed immediately by those reserves being tested as I experience the disappointment and the sadness of V having to come home after only two days of sleep-away camp because of some new anxiety-driven behaviors we can not understand and therefore struggle to address.  I observe how the distress of hustling for help for him aggravates the anxiety of starting a new job, and the desire to feel the hopefulness of new beginnings is clouded by the despondency towards my own seemingly endlessly challenging circumstances

For a naturalist there is no good or bad, the world just unfolds. 

Each person's nose has about 400 different types of olfactory receptors, and there are 6 million in total, which suggests that each person smells the world slightly differently.

In the span of an hour :  an overheated brake on the train, the newly showered and still waking up smells of soap, hair products, coffee, followed by more coffee and donuts in the station, outside to rotting garbage, marijuana, bacon, a whiff of someone who hasn't bathed in weeks, cheap or expensive perfume, I can't really tell which - it just smells like chemical masking sweat,dog poop (eau de canine), an elevator full of deodorant and cleaning chemicals and yet more coffee.
I like some more than others but as I travel through my morning they all just unfold, and while there's an underlying sense of good or bad,  desired and disliked, I don't personalize any of it and I know that whether they are aware of it or not, everyone else is experiencing their own distinct interpretations of the same air we breathe and smell.  The bereft and the confident, the struggling or successful, we all react to a shared world of scents. We do not wonder "Why is this overflowing trash can happening to me?" or "I'm so wonderful to be smelling chocolate croissants."  There's nothing personal about any of it.

Be both the naturalist and the nature. 
Because of our wonderful power of observation and reflection, human beings can be both the observed and the observer. 

In the game of which sense would you be most willing to lose, smell always wins [I read in the Smithsonian] But in evolutionary terms smell plays an important role: we smell things we need to avoid or that trigger possible danger: spoiled food, gas leaks or fire.  Smell is also deeply emotional, linked to memory and past interactions. The scent of a certain cologne or pastry can evoke a loved one or place in time.
For me, it is smells that connect me to memory, the people and places I cherish: my grandmother's skin, my aunt's kitchen, the cabin in the mountains, the Earl grey tea a friend used to drink, cheese steak. I have not eaten red meat in over 40 years, but I'm a Philly girl, I still love the strong smell of frying onions and meat on a large frying pan followed by the more subtle melted cheese on top. This is my childhood, as much a part of my nature as fresh mowed grass or autumn leaves.

You are here. You are a naturalist. I have to remind myself over and over in the course of days that stretch into weeks of emails and phone calls to interview and schedule for help, setbacks and cancellations, the mysteries of neurobiology and human behavior I cannot solve, getting up at 5:30 am each morning with anxiety gripping my gut, going through the day watching reactions and projections: The fear. The longing for something to be easy.  The dread: will life every be able to be about what I love to do instead of what I have to do? The clinging to the belief that it isn't fair.  But life isn't fair.  Is there a way to feel neither avoidance or obsession with that fact? Breathe. the smell of coffee and an egg frying and gluten free toast, which smells just like the regular kind even if it tastes a little grittier. 

The naturalist sees the longing to have more time to sit here writing, but she sees the must do's that cram in almost every waking hour, except the end of the day when she collapses in exhaustion, grateful that there really is such a things as good TV.  The naturalist feels the determination to change things, and then she smiles and smells coffee, sunscreen, toothpaste and the fresh sultry air as she leaves to take the dog for a walk.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

dogs days and weeks

the dog days of summer

plural noun. the sultry part of the summer, supposed to occur during the period that Sirius, the Dog Star, rises at the same time as the sun: now often reckoned from July 3 to August 11. a period marked by lethargy, inactivity, or indolence.


1. The Human Tragicomedy

My across the street neighbors asks me to give her key (we keep a spare) to someone who needs to get into the house while they are away on vacation for the next 3 weeks.

My next door neighbors ask me to take in the newspaper for the week while they are away on vacation.

My neighbor two doors down asks if I can take in her mail for 2 weeks while she is away on vacation.

My neighbor 3 houses up asks if I can feed her daughter's goldfish while they are away for the week.

My new neighbors who just moved in ask if I will take in their packages until they come back from vacation later this week. 

There seems to be a pattern here...

I could easily start a business: "Homebody Helper. Responsible neighbor who spends most of her time at home will make it seem like you do too."  But I prefer being neighborly to trying to monetize my helpfulness.  I love my neighbors, and I like being of service. In a way I feel flattered, or at least connected in a healthy way. 
Still, these tasks confirm the feeling I have as I walk through my neighborhood, from my more modest end up through the bigger houses at the top of the street, that it feels a bit like a ghost town lately. And it could explain why I'm finding my energy wane more quickly than usual.  It's not me, it's Sirius the dog star: something cosmic and chemical and geologic. It's a way that we are a part of some greater ebb and flow in the universe, which makes it easier to let go of judgment or aversion.
Please excuse me from the agreement I made with myself to chronicle my life on a weekly basis due to indolence.  I walk and swim and write in my head but the lethargy that has set in makes this word to page part - the synthesizing and editing and sorting out that is the most demanding part of the creative process - hard to sustain.

There's also been so much else going on that I must attend to even in 90 degree heat, responsibilities that drain whatever reserves of energy I have. The magic elixir of coffee and necessity propels me forward each day. There are visits to doctors for V's increased impulsivity and anxiety as well as a case of pink eye. Getting ready for one more week of camp later this month, updating the health and medication forms.  And the Herculean task of trying to find after-school help as we head back to work next month. All part of the ongoing list of How it's Really Different that I wish others understood: from the long applications and waiting list and numerous phone calls regarding funding and administration of medication and other details for 6 days of camp for V - far more effort than an entire summer used to be to plan for his brother; ditto finding afternoon help:  emails to every person and organization I know, and postings on numerous sites where others seek childcare: people seeking help with 3 kids under the age of 5 starting at 6 in the morning - where they are also expected to clean the house, drive the kids to activities all day and make dinner - have lists of people eager to do the job, while I still have no responses for someone to spend 3 hours a day with a teen with severe autism  (the smart, fun, and endearing descriptor doesn't seem to help.)  Or is it that I seek an experienced, energetic, engaging, reliable and attentive person?  will clean the house for you. I'll fix you dinner if you want.  We'll pay you well and we'll be so grateful and easy-going. And still nada. In addition to anxiety in the moment it brings up enormous fear for the future: if it's that hard to find good help for an autistic teen a few hours a day, how much harder still when he is an adult, because as much progress as I hope he will continue to make, V will always need help and likely round the clock supervision.
yes (and coffee)

This is not how I want to spend these dog days. I'm bone tired.  I want one of those creative staycations or productive, privileged post-retirements to devote to artistic endeavors that I read about in the NY Times. Or at least the luxury of the white privileged mom (and her peers) in the article that went viral complaining that she was punished for leaving her 4 year old alone in a locked car while she ran an errand, with just a cursory mention that any black or brown mom would have her kid taken away from her for the same infraction; and the women of any color with kids like mine who couldn't leave their child - even one who is 3 or 4 times as old as that 4 year old - alone for 15 seconds, let alone 15 minutes! (note to self: cancel my newspaper subscription.)

It's not that I have that aspirational longing for superficial or consumerist things I keep reading about, as if all anyone wants in this post-Trump world is to revel in proof of their material success. I've never been interested - and I realistically know it's not possible at this point - to ever live a life that is in any way affluent. I just want to be safe and comfortable, and for others to enjoy that same basic right. Sure, I'd love to travel and get weekly massages, but my main aspirations now are for peace of mind and freedom from having to respond to the needs of others. I just want time. To feel relaxed. To do as others during these dog days of summer: to have a whole week or two to lie on a hammock or sit beside a body of water, where I will eventually swim, and then get out and continue in the glorious task of doing nothing.  Or only what I want to do. 

In the meantime, I am happy to take in your mail.

2. Another viewpoint, from the source. (Because we believe in civil discourse in this house.)

You're bone-tired?  Now that sounds very appealing. I have to settle for dry kibble and naps. (haha, that's a canine joke)  But seriously, when did dog days get such a bad rap?  Did you know that Sirius the dog star, or Canis Major as my species and anyone else conversant in Latin calls it, is the brightest star visible in the night's sky from any part of Earth? It's almost twice as bright as Canopus, the next brightest star. That's pretty awesome stuff!  

And on a more grounded level, what could be better than dog days?

Walk. Sniff. Bark. Nap.You could embroider that on a pillow. (You can leave out the eat/drink/pee/poop part that keeps us going, that makes us living beings just like you.) 
Every day is a good day. I am grateful and mindful without all the effort you put into it.

And if I may remind you, as we cross the street and head south as we often do through a working-class new immigrant neighborhood, most people are still here, working to cover their rent or mortgage or car payments. People are happy just having a barbecue and blasting their music. There are no early retirements and second homes and third cars and smug embrace of wellness. There are no distant relatives of Gwyneth Paltrow replenishing themselves in any of the small houses we pass every day, many with 2 or 3 families crammed into one address. Have some perspective.  We have a whole house and a yard to ourselves, and while you may not be able to afford renovations, you will never have to worry about eviction.

You will never be abandoned, like I was, because someone couldn't afford to keep you or hold onto the farm or whatever reason I was found wandering around rural Virginia with no people. This house, this life - yes, I know I have far less responsibility than you - I am a dog, and not a working one - but you have it far better than most people. Yes, cancel your subscription to the paper (although those blue sleeves it comes in are the perfect bags for cleaning up after me). Or just throw out the Style and Travel and Real Estate sections and focus on the news - it's too important to ignore right now. Having an ignorant, unhinged president is all the more reason to be well-informed, to be able to take action to make positive change. Focus on what's important and let go of the rest.

Your dog days might be hot and muggy but before you know it the days will be shorter and then it will start getting cold and you'll wish you were back here, where you can just throw on those slightly more fitted versions of mumus you actually wear out in public. Humans. sigh.

Breathe. smell, appreciate.There's a whole big sky up there and trees down here.  If nothing else, learn how to nap. I swear, it's a game changer.