Saturday, September 29, 2007


I am, unfortunately, allergic to anything called "a practice." Perhaps this dates back to the days of piano (a word in which "pain" is plainly hidden), when in exchange for thirty minutes a day of etudes and scales, I got horseback riding lessons. It is a testimony to just how magnetic I found the touch of horseflesh that I endured the hated Mrs. Brown, literally a hunchbacked gnome of a woman, who rapped my knuckles if they took the wrong form over the keyboard.

I know I ought to engage in many beneficial practices, such as the daily practice of yoga, or that of meditation, but I just can't make myself practice anything. It is probably a back-dated justification to believe I am too much of a free spirit to be packaged into a practitioner. Yes, I like that. But I must also consider that now that I am free to pursue my own practices, the memory of having once been forced to gives it that troubling flashback flavor. (Notwithstanding the fact that I am really happy now to know, sort of, how to read music.)

So, no practices for me, except this one: the practice of assembling gratitudes, those gifts that drop like fall leaves into a life. Just like that. Unasked for, unearned. But variegated and astonishingly colored, and worth a moment of scrutiny. And, um, gratitude. They will blow away eventually, to be replaced at every new breeze. Or maybe we'll put them on the burn pile and watch their transformation into smoke.

Herewith, a few of the things I am grateful for.

~ That Nelly chooses to sleep on the unkempt pile of clothes I am too lazy to hang up from the footstool on the end of my bed. No, I am not grateful to have a chenille sweater stuck through with white dog hair. But I am filled with happiness to see her on her throne of clothes, and I am touched by her apparent desire to be close to me, or at least close to what I have excreted from my scent glands.

~ Pumpkin ice cream, now making its seasonal appearance

~ My child telling me, when I tell him I love him more than anything, "But I love you more than you love me!" even though this is an impossibility

~ I am grateful unto astonishment for my friends and family and the outpouring of generosity and concern they have showed in the past two months. They have:
* Given me shelter (and clean sheets and breakfast) on a moment's notice
* Taken my child and done fun things with him while I either fell apart or did one of the twenty thousand things I suddenly had to do
* Held me in their arms while I sobbed
* Spent hour after hour on the phone with me, listening and advising, with never a word about themselves
* Brought me produce from their gardens, and bags of groceries, and presents to make me smile
* Provided dinners, with a dessert of shoulder to lean on
* Offered to help with chores
* Given me the first experience ever of having someone clean my house, because I could not keep up with it
* Called me, day after day, to check in and make sure I was okay
* Given advice on jobs, and sometimes jobs themselves
* Taken Nelly on many walks when I did not have the time, and cared for Nelly for eleven days so I could take my son on the vacation that had been promised B.C. [Before Cataclysm]
* Bought clothing for my child, to take some of the financial heat off
* Given me classes of yoga they had paid for, ditto
* Invited me places so I wouldn't feel lonely
* Sent me e-mails, of a cumulative tens of thousands of words, containing good counsel and huge comfort
* Listened, yet again, to more hours of the deepest expression of grief
* Embraced me with love
There can be no greater gratitude than I feel for this.

~ A college radio station nearby that plays old country & western heartbreak hits when I need them, and techno when I need that (admittedly less frequently than the former)

~ Short-grain brown rice

~ To be here, now

[with thanks to Kris for the inspiration]


Paul Kowacki said...

Due to my own tragedies I've been out of my orbit, and only recently noticed your blog under "Web Woofers" on the FIDO site. Initially I'd been intrigued by The Perfect Vehicle, ordered it, and it became the first book to hold my interest in some time. I've been struck by the persistence with which you pursued your love of motorcycling, and, interestingly, by the strength with which you appeared to pursue your love of other people, whether friendly or romantic. Remember of course that that book was written years ago, and until a few minutes ago it was my only knowledge of you, as I only now got around to reading your blogs, and seeing the way your life has turned. So a few minutes ago I imagined you, the author of that book, as happily living your dream life, and now I see it actually had been shattered. I'm so sorry to see that you are suffering such pain. But, unless I'm being fooled by the language that separates/joins us, you are a fundamentally focused and capable person, thus will survive. The gratitudes you express are so appropriate, and it is heartwarming to see you so openly showing your appreciation; how wonderful to be able to freely express love. So many people can't even acknowledge to themselves that they love, much less to others. You are so lucky to be who you are.
My wife Chris and I take in severely abused golden retrievers, with stories to tear your heart (we bring them from Massachusetts to Prospect Park (Coffee Bark especially!) for their psychotherapy). We have unspeakable tragedies in our lives, some playing out as I speak. Of course you know you are not alone, and your experience is not unique, and that life is about living, and joy, and doing something good. And of course I know you know you will be okay, but I'm still sorry to see you suffer.

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

Thank you, Paul. You have a kind heart, and so I can add your reaching out to me--especially in the midst of your own pain--as another gratitude in my list. "When bad things happen to good people": this is not only a bestselling book title, it's the very definition of life. (Bad things also occasionally happen to bad people, too.) But I'm sorry they happen. And if I have any strength when they happen to the people I love, I hope I can help them the way they have helped me. I hope you, too, have as many wonderful friends as I do. While we're at it, let's add another item to the list: the miracle that is this chance to live with descendants of wolves. I hope to see you in the park sometime when I occasionally visit with Nelly. Good luck!

Paul Kowacki said...

Interesting that you too are a denizen of Prospect Park (PPk), we first started to bring the dogs for their benefit, but it is now perhaps even more about us. Mary McInerney, president of Fido, said it well in an interview for Lauren Johnston of AMNY last summer (www.AMNY, New York guides, PPk, Dog Beach), that it is her social life as well as her dogs'. Who was it that said "You meet the nicest people on a (park meadow?)....? This Sat is Coffee Bark (check Connie's photos of the 100th on FIDO homesite). We hang with Mary M., Bob I., and my wife especially with Tony C., near the Fido table in the Long Meadow, or at the Beach. And yes, I ride, since '71, with a hiatus; quit going to Laconia in '76, mostly local rides at night/after dark. Sounds like you may not be riding currently; don't fret, it's still there, better than ever, waiting for you.

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

Paul, I think maybe you've given me the subject for the next post: the idyllic Prospect Park. It changed both my life *and* my dog's. I had a great idea for a sitcom that takes place in the park: there would be a Seinfeldian group of people along with their dogs, each of whom would have stuff going on. Actually, I lived that sitcom, and of course Tony was central in it. (He's central in all of them.) Interesting how our dogs form packs out there, and so do we.

As for bikes, it's almost mystical what you said (and bikes themselves are mystical). I've been dreaming about them lately. And part of my plan to rebuild my life has a motorcycle at the center of it. Hmmm.

Paul Kowacki said...

I'm "certified" as a producer at our local public access TV station, which means little in the larger world, but has given me a channel for my interest in film. Periodically I bug Bob I. to get together a crew to do a film (docudrama?)on the dog world/life in PPk. I envision a film shot from the dog's eye view, with voice-overs (I have a connection to Bill Cosby, perhaps he would be the voice of Denali, and perhaps Jerry Seinfeld could be Jupiter-Tony's little guy (tongue in cheek)); it would be in the style of the old Rascals/Spanky and our Gang, with a light story line, but documentary by virtue of location etc. Bob is sharp, though, he said "I've had 40 years of being a DP, I'm burned out, show me the screen play, maybe I'll get interested". I live in the Land Of The Unfinished Project, and he probably thinks he's safe, but I may just sneak up behind him......