Category: animals

a day off

roxiannoyedA few days ago, i called a friend and begged her to help me out today. i should have been in a gallery in Southwest Harbor, but knew if i didn’t have a day off to heal, decompress and rest, i would be creating a world of pain for myself.

She agreed, bless her heart, and here i am on the couch with the computer on my lap, heating pad (another gift from a friend) behind my back, my softest work dress on and very little work – other than writing and some gentle computerized toil for clients – getting done. Laundry chugs in the washer, but that is about as ambitious as i feel right at this moment. Having the whole day to myself feels luxurious. i don’t want to make too many impositions.

As a result, mostly, i am breathing slowly and with intent. Last night, i had a vivid dream about starting a meditation group at my new 9-5 employment which reminded me, i have been too exhausted to do my normal centering, healing meditation. So, as soon as i crawled out of bed, i mediated for the first half hour of wakefulness. Then, after a few poems and a small nap, i went back to it. i curled up here, on the couch, took that first deep breath, and was immediately beset upon by cats.

For weeks my female cat, Roxanne, has been angry with me. After Darwin died, she fell into deep grief. She stopped sleeping on the bed. Her pugilistic attitude toward her younger cat brother has not improved – if anything it has escalated. The only time where this lifted was when her favorite human in the world visited, but when he left again, she fell right back into her grumpy melancholy. Most of all, she still seems to be grieving Darwin – just as i am.

However, as soon as i sat down for tonglen this morning, she wrapped herself around my thigh. Her soft fur rubbed over my leg while she purred with ecstasy. Perhaps, she is not just grieving our beloved dog, but the changes that have come upon our life – transformations over which she had no control. If she could mandate the intricacies universe, she would have her bipedal slave around a lot more often. And have a minimum of 8 cans of wet food a day that she could stare at, eat two nibbles of, and then abandon. Failing that, she suffers.

As i pet her side, vibrating with purrs of sweet comfort, i am a bit surprised at how easy it was to give her joy.

Indeed, the same is true for me. Little things have been filling me with happiness. i have been surprising myself. In some ways, i am coping with this transition much better than expected.

However, there are a few fascinating little developments. After all these years working as an artist, letting my entire life revolve around the creation of novel, poem, painting and pottery, i had forgotten how strangely out of step i can be with other people. This is different than the loneliness over which i have written thousands of pages – this is being the one person drumming out a syncopated rhythm while the rest of the band is playing a march.

i am remembering all the years of my schooling, the years in the traditional work force during my youth. i always felt on the outside, but the past few years had driven the memory from my mind. Frankly, those i was normally around wanted to buy art or made it themselves. As an artist, i was focused and professional, but typically alone and self-driven. All education, training and help i received had to be sought out on some level. Being in a structured, large business environment – one to which i have adapted with some facility – drives home that my heart beats for different things than a lot of people, my thoughts come in at a different angle, and that the speed and grace of my gait as i walk through this world are not typicalIMG_0213

Also, i am being reminded that this body needs gentle, loving care. Working at home, i could vary my tasks frequently, nap if necessary, basically live as though i were a cat. When my health crashed over the past two years, i became more and more overwhelmed because it all landed on my shoulders, but i never quite surrendered – or at least not for more than a day or two at a time. Mountains were created and then studiously moved teaspoon by teaspoon. While i enjoyed this workflow, but that is not possible at this new job. i have to be able to sit still, focus and learn at high speed. My compassion will be tested, for myself if not others. i can see the pain of back and limb as a failure, as a judgment. But, these limitations are not condemnations of me – they are realities i have to face and to which i must adapt.

Part of that was asking – begging – for help today. i could sense i had reached a limit, and i needed to be gentle with myself. It is also governing my behavior today. Oh, there is so much art i want to make, so many chores that need to get done. For weeks, i have been treating myself with kid gloves when i come home from work – resting, trying to ease my pain, letting myself sleep when i need to regardless of how badly my to-do list stomps around. (It can act like Godzilla, thrashing around, tearing down my plans.) For the first time in my life, i have been fully accepting the messages my body sends me and obeying.

i would love to tell you that the dishes and all the laundry will be done, put a way and the floors swept and scrubbed today, while i still managed to get all the clients’ jobs done and finished the three paintings that i started last week all while airing out the studio and getting it ready to reopen. Oh, how i would adore it if i could confidently say that today will become the pivot upon which my life will turn and everything will be magically stable and glorious. But, if all i can do is sleep, or write, or rest here on the couch like a large drooling lump, curled up with a smaller purring, drooling lump, then that is alright. This is about what my body and spirit need more than my ambitions and dreams.

There are many people that i fail – like my poor realtor who has never had a pristine house to show because i still live here alone, and have to work around both my health and being perpetually exhausted – but today, i am deliberately putting that guilt and shame aside. It flows out of me on my breath.

This is the day for me to be kind to myself.

If i can manage that, then i believe, the rest of those who depend on me will get better results in the end.

And for now, there is really nothing more healing than this moment of contented cuddling.

poem: grieving

Without warning
the words rip their way out.

“I miss my dog!”

i might have gone to him
for cuddles
to be confronted
by his absence.

Or,
i might leave the house
not having to worry
about walks,
free from fretting
over him
while i travel.
That momentary gratitude
that i can be on my way
turns into gutted grief.

By in large,
this flesh has grown numb
to the shuddering pain of tears.

Despair has given way
to emptiness.

A surreal stillness
has completely overtaken
all the loud wails of grief.

This is life now;
this is my new loneliness.

Only, i cannot see this
as movement forward –
rather,
i am an ostrich,
head firmly planted
in the sand,
choking on change
i never wanted to happen.

6 may 2016

poem: for Darwin the dog.

Darling,
it started to pour
an hour
after you died.

i could not shake
the feeling
that the Divine
had finally lost
her composure.
My tears were joined
by an ocean
of saltwater rain.

This world is poorer
without your presence.

i can already feel
my will and heart
unraveling
in the face
of this tsunami
of grief.

You will be
what i search for
in my dreams.

No doubt,
you will wind up
tucked inside
stories and poems
until i surrender
my pen
into death’s hands.

Still, i think of you
as though you remain
tethered to my soul –
i beg for forgiveness,
i give you all my love
and, sweet boy,
know that underneath
this mask of calm
and the unmistakable acceptance,
i ache with loss
and shine with gratitude.

2 may 2016

Beginning and ending

Two poems about Darwin.  The first was written right after his adoption, when he was still a neurotic perpetual motion machine.  The second written the night before he died.

***

We are the same,
he and i,
living with these yawning voids
inside our hearts.

It is the price we pay
for not being loved well
when we were young,
innocent,
and needed such comforts most.

Somehow
we both learned to love
on our own,
but it’s not the same.
We can’t go back in time
and just fill ourselves up.

Today
in the puppy’s sad eyes,
constant presence
and determined longing,
i see myself.
For many have i followed,
and many times have i gone
to outrageous lengths
to please someone enough
that they might love me.

written in early 2005

***

darwin 1We are the same,
he and i,
this old dog
snoring,
soft sighs of sweet joy,
and his human
weeping
over impending loss.

We have both moved
so far
from where we started.
Lonely and wounded
in our youth,
we have grown
full of love,
fluent in gratitude
and constantly delighted
by kindness.

The yawning voids
were filled
by our own hearts –
learning to trust,
deepening
in the bond
flowing between
canine and poet.
We found contentment
in each other’s
constant company.
We bloomed in safety.

Today,
in the old dog’s dying eyes,
i see myself.
There is an immortality
to the patient kindness
i witness.
The love flowing out of me,
the saltwater rolling down my cheeks,
is met with breathtaking love
and unquestioning trust.

No doubt,
many times,
i will weep,
a gift of thanksgiving
and grief,
remembering
how well
this dog
loved me.

1 may 2016

poem: how many times

How many times
have i prayed,
a monster of need,
tiny hands grasping,
flabby arms flapping,
begging,
disconsolate,
stewing in hopelessness.

Such desperation
is exhausting,
and it did me no good.

My worst nightmares
have begun to come true
and i cannot rise
to the occasion
higher
than i already stand.

The worst
has begun
coming to pass,
but such losses
dance
with contentment.

The dog’s last breaths
taught me
about gratitude,
about finding
loving kindness
even in agony.

With a teacher like that,
what could i do?

Suddenly,
all my praying stopped.

For if i can find
peace,
calm,
stillness
and joy
coexisting
with this pain,
grief
and failure,
then who am i
to pretend
i know
what i need?

7 may 2016

the dog practices zen

They say it’s Dog appreciation day…. so, an old poem about my old dog, when he was still a young pup.

 

the dog practices zendarwin the dog

he sleeps upside down
in the rounded belly
of the papasan,
legs askew
hanging in the air.
soft sighs
and twitching toes
testify to his dreams.
even rolling over
is accomplished
with a slumbering vitality
few humans will ever achieve.
suddenly waking,
he attacks his left leg,
chewing it with the same
intense wholeness…
and, surely, stretching
should only be attempted
with complete attention
and unhesitating abandon.

 

4 may 2006

on the market

IMG_0175  The house is on the market – at least, i have signed papers with the realtor and we have started the process of taking pictures. IMG_0174 It will probably take at least a week to get the sign in the ground and all the photos up on the internet.  These are some shots I took after she left, mainly to prove to myself what 24 hours of concentrated cleaning can accomplish.  Sadly, i still have a ton of work to do – particularly cleaning the studio and moving the bits of glaze and boxes of clay still in the house over. i have not even begun what will be an impressive saga of purging: selling older art, furniture, books and other things.  i see many yard-sales in my future, as well as sales both on my online store and in my studio/gallery.  Lists of the things i can cast off and those i cannot live without fill my journal.

This was a intensely melancholy thing yesterday; i felt like i was hemorrhaging pain again afterward.  Indeed, my main goal after Kathy left was to be kind to myself  – and i was deeply grateful for both her compassion and efficiency during what is a difficult time for me.

During a class earlier this year, we were given a list of stressors.  Buying and selling homes, as well as changing living arrangements, moving homes and transplanting businesses all sat among the most highly rated causes for stress. IMG_0178

IMG_0176Obviously, i can’t be alone in being upset by such things – and, that said, i still feel like i am taking this particularly badly.  My woe refuses to be dignified.  This is a massive transition for a misfit like me: i root to spaces, i suffer tremendous anxiety that is barely kept in check by meditation, and i worry unreasonably about my beloved animals’ responses to this time of trial.  Like me, they seem to be suffering.  Both Roxi and Martin are hiding more than usual, chased under the bed by the sounds of transformation.  Roxi, in particular, has been so upset (she is so much like me) that even cuddling takes an openness and comfort that is in short supply right now.  Instead of sleeping beside me like she usually does, her paw in my hand all night long, she curls up on the couch, forsaking dreams to keep one eye open.  Unless he is the sleeping old man of the house, Darwin follows me everywhere. He is determined to keep me grounded and cheer me up simultaneously, hence all the photo-bombs of dog in these pictures.

IMG_3441So, i worry, and i stress, and i can feel it effecting my body. My blood sugar skyrockets irrelevant of food, my vision gets blurry, my heart slams around in my chest.IMG_3440 In response, i meditate more – for at least two hours last night, phone and computer off to avoid all distraction – and if i keep that up, it helps tremendously.  Still, no amount of quiet stillness has as yet turned me into a flawless person.  My memory and my work are suffering from the overload.  Even when i regain my inner peace for a time, i am still not supernaturally endowed with awe-inspiring strength or confidence. With my whole heart, i redirect myself whenever i start blaming another for my problems.  Instead, i take deep breaths, hope everything happens for a reason, and knead acceptance into my tight muscles.  Every time people ask me about my long term plans, i wince slightly – unable to articulate what i need to do. IMG_0179 Indeed, i truly don’t know what the absolutely ‘right’ course is at this stage. IMG_0177 To know that, i would have to be a precog and that – along with teleportation, telekinesis, telepathy and transmuting base metals to gold – is not a skill i have developed. Most of the time, i have no idea what to do, and no other viable options, than to keep putting one foot in front of another with as open a heart as possible.

Thankfully, i feel secure that the decisions i am making take me down the wisest path given who i am, what i have and what i know right now.  Of course, there is an element of choosing the lesser of evils, but that is what this moment entails.  So, i must move forward and accept the consequences. i have been actively holding my hands open to accept what the universe gives right now with as little resentment and fear as possible (and eventually, i feel confident, the cosmic diarrhea running through my fingers has to stop.)

However, i keep remembering something that occurred to me years ago: there is a certain nobility to endings.  They demand a sense of presence and honor that can disappear when things are stable and appear unchanging.  How we leave situations, whether it is a relationship, a home, a job, a life – that speaks at least as much about who we are as how we enter them.  As much as it hurts, i have been greatly blessed and honored to have lived here for ten years, to have created this marvelous network of friends, to have worked as an artist so wholeheartedly.  Now, to remember that gift, and maintain this sense of gratitude and grace, when the cosmos starts to have gastric distress in my general direction again.

roo

sorrow on four paws

a very short story inspired by a dog’s loss

###

i tried to tell her. i did. My whole body was wild with the horror of knowledge. Something was WRONG. Every time she came home, the smell of her mortality was stronger. i tried to piss it out, shit it out, bark at the cruelty of fate until it relented to my will, cry until my tears washed me clean of this dreadful certainty. None of it worked. None of it. She kept moving away from me. i kept asking her for time to run by her side, begged for her to stay with me. My need for her love escaped me in long thin cries of despair.

She did not listen; she left me howling.

Grief beyond all measure poured from my throat until i could no longer make sound. The sunshine cannot reach me anymore. There is no will in my legs to run and jump. Why can’t i remember her face or scent as clearly as i used to? How could it start to fade so fast? i roosearch the house for evidence of her and bury myself in it. i beg the universe for her to walk through the door. Huddled in a ball, i silently bargain: i will never, ever, misbehave again – even if the rules make no sense to me – just to get her back.

Oh, i would love to hear her yell “Bad Dog” at me, just to prove to myself that she is still lives.

But, she is gone. My ears cling to the memory of her voice, willing it to stay. i bury my nose in her clothes, trying to forget what has happened.

So many humans are talking about my person – but none of them matter. i remain utterly alone. None are her. Some try to comfort me, they rub me and talk to me, but i am without solace. i slump on the floor, shuddering with each breath, exhausted by my mourning. There is no joy within me, no energy left to lift my head or wag my tail.

‘If only she had listened to me!’ i would whimper it out again, if i had any strength, ‘if only she had understood!’ In my heart, i just wanted her here, safe, with me. Oh, how i wanted to run beside her my whole life. i did everything i could to keep what i smelled from becoming real. With each cry, i was begging her not to change, not to move away from me, all while knowing that i would accept any transformation over her death.

With everything i had, i tried to let her know, but i failed. She did not hear me.

And, now, i am alone.

i am no longer a dog – good or bad – but devastation and sorrow on four paws.

poetry: Roo

IMG_0035She sobs from loneliness,
her whole world upended
by the absence of the one she loves.
With each whistle, moan and bark,
i realize more fully:
i have been her.
Intelligence does nothing
to mitigate the sorrow
that can cling to solitude.
When the heart is focused,
demanding that one person,
beating in an echoing chamber,
an endless loop of need –
all one can do is howl.

written 1/16/2015

Darkness and warmth

roxi
Don’t blame me for your high heating oil bills, human slave.

For the past several years, the cats have defeated all attempts at weatherproofing the house with plastic.  Plastic over windows, like catnip, is completely irresistible.  Since they don’t pay the power bills, they don’t care.  Also, they wear fuzzy fur coats all the time, and their jobs are to hold the bed down (Roxi) and hug all the blankets (Martin) for at least twenty hour a day, so an argument to be made that they stay warmer than their hairless ape.

So, Saturday, i went to my friend Lara Max’s house and used one of her marvelous, vintage Singer sewing machines (getting a severe case of sewing machine envy in the process. i forgot how much i liked it) and made heavy curtains out of fabric – taping them down like i do the plastic – to stop the precious heat from seeping out the house.  Yesterday, i put them all up, took some advil for my aching back and stared at my work with pride.

For about five minutes.

Then i had to make myself feel useful.  Since i was waiting for responses for a website job, the next logical thing was to attack something on the monstrous to-do list, squatting on Stickies (the app, not actual pieces of paper) on my computer.  Of course, i wanted to choose the most fun thing…Print

So, i started working on my presentation for PKBucksport – our local Pecha Kucha event happening February 5.

Sometimes, i think i develop short-term creatively-based OCD.  i didn’t have to finish the project last night.  i already had all the slides together – getting the text done was gravy.  But try as i might, i could not stop.  i knew what i needed to say in a way that might have disappeared if i waited until morning.

i finally fell asleep at 4 am – having finished the job.  After some more advil kicked in, i slept like a baby until nine-thirty when Roo, my new tenant’s dog, woke me up with her angst (the poem she inspired will post tomorrow.)

Once i straggled into wakefulness, i found myself dealing with websites and moving furniture and stealing time to walk the dog for a half an hour on the Bucksport boardwalk while the weather was good … not doing what i wanted to do all day.  My house feels like a womb now, as though i have sealed the rest of the world out.  The light of day was muted through these brand new heavy curtains.  There is the perception of warmth, if not the reality of it.  For whatever reason, with the view of the outer world cut off, it is making the inner one light up.  It feels like words are filling this space, bouncing off the walls, floating up to the ceiling (like the bed would if it were not for Roxi’s diligent efforts.)

Transitioning my work to the house has been slow.  Except for painting and my new standing desk (yay!), everything is thrown into place, not organized and sorted.  Other labor demands several hours out of each day, and thank God for it, but i still find myself craving stillness and quiet and the chance to pluck those words out of the air and put them down onto paper.  i have written so many poems in the past week, stealing time from one task or another.  The PK writing felt like theft too – as though i was stealing something from the universe that felt indecently good – and happily will be able to give it back on the fifth.

The house is filled darkness and warmth.  i stole time to write this from the dishes, but i don’t actually repent …  the dishes are patient.