Saturday, June 28, 2008

Swing Setpiece

Whee! I am suddenly flying down the sliding board of life, and its surface is awfully slick. (Remember those hot metal boards of your youth--the ones they now declare too dangerous, but were merely exciting, especially as they burned your legs in summer, or caught your shorts on a rusting bolt, or got polished by the evil kids so you'd go frighteningly fast?)

Only now, I view myself in this passage, thanks to those journals discovered in the literal and figurative attic last week, as not so much pushed by someone else as I was propelled by myself. Yes, I received the assist of an unexpected push. But I climbed the ladder.

My child sleeps upstairs, in his last night ever in this house. (Yesterday, I was given a copy of a chapter from a book on how to mitigate the effects of divorce on children, and one of the first things it advised was to try to keep things the same for the child: house, neighborhood, environment. Alas, my winnings from the lottery will be arriving too late for this.) He cannot really comprehend it yet: the other day he was spinning an elaborate scheme for the New Year's party he wanted to have here, complete with fire in the fire circle by the barn, and torches given to all the children (yeah, right!) so they can run around in the field out back. "But, honey, remember? We won't be living here then." Silence.

As the movers carried boxes and furniture for four hours today, Nelly lay on a pile of my clothes at the foot of the bed, looking at me wonderingly every time I came into the room. What is happening? she says with her eyes, which look a little scared, a little bemused. Like my son, she won't really comprehend until we're there. Come to think of it, neither will I. Some things are too big to grasp in advance.

I am now coming to the end of a process that is simply the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. Physically. Emotionally. The screeching sound of packing tape pulled off its roll is embedded permanently in my ear. I have lost two entire months of my life to the efforts to sell, stage, show, clean, pack this old house, and look for a new one. I am dying to stop. (Especially glad to have over the part where I crawled around on my knees picking up stray hairs by hand from the white tile of the bathroom before a showing.) I am dying to get back to work. To have a new life, with myriad possibilities, begin. To start training Nelly again, instead of this sloppiness of using the word "yes" as a reward marker because I am too exhausted to find the clicker and do things right. She deserves this, because she is showing her inordinate talent as a circus dog more and more. She is a little monkey, launching herself into the air, into and out of cars, into and out of laps. The other day she tried to jump up into the back of Janet's car, with the tailgate up; it is over four feet high. And offered nothing to land on. She flipped backward into the air, like that squirrel she caught once off the siding of the woodshed, and she landed on the dirt with a hurt look in her eyes. I need to get this trapeze stuff on cue, but quick, before she really hurts herself.

Now, late at night, after packing nonstop (I represent the problem with America in perfect miniature: too goddamn much crap; we should just stop all manufacturing right now, and we can just Freecycle everything around to one another), I need some mindless entertainment. I will go read the newspaper in bed. Maybe it won't be such bad news after all.

Friday, June 20, 2008


Am I ever glad to be a social animal. The smartest ones are! Evolution provided a way for ten heads to be better than one, and that is why we are where we are--at the top of the heap (though it's also why the heap is too big, and listing dangerously to one side). Dogs are our closest companions because we instinctively understand each other--even if, as I would maintain, the greatest part of the understanding is done on the canine side--wired similarly as we are. And we can communicate so smoothly because the wolf's evolutionary social path, the pack, caused the canid mind to become as sharp, if not sharper in some ways, than ours. No one--and I mean no one, not even a primate--has the observational skills of a domesticated dog. You can see this in action every time it seems your pooch has read your mind: I was planning on going out, sure, but I hadn't even picked up my coat. That's kindergarten stuff to your Mensa friend.

I am so happy to be a social animal because, as I have discovered in the Meaning of Life (let me reiterate this personal discovery, OK? I'm so excited I repeat myself!), our relationships with one another are the joy and the salvation. They're why we're here--I mean, why we managed to survive. And also the reason why we'd want to.

The flower and fruit of all this Darwin is appearing in my life at this moment. My friends, as well as family (notwithstanding my mother's perhaps understandable lapses into non-helpful helpfulness), are doing heroic things. And I am suffused with love for them, for every phone call, note in the mail [Heather still writes lovely cards, with stamps and all!], liquor box, errand, show of support, way with bubble wrap, advice, smile, Nelly walk, hug, and bottle of wine. It's a flood of help, and though it's still not enough to completely scale the Everest of labor I still have before me to get out of this house and into another, it's enough to make me feel almost ashamed to receive so much.

But not as chastened, and astonished, as I was to read from a diary I wrote sixteen years ago and just unearthed from a box in the attic marked "Archives." I sat spellbound and gobsmacked and amazed to read words I had apparently written. Then forgot. I have now labeled this composition book The Incredible Premonition of the End in the Beginning. "This can only end badly," I wrote then, "in tremendous pain." I knew it all, it seems: what seemed fishy, what felt too good to be true, what didn't square with how the human psyche operates, what sounded suspicious, what I saw and felt and believed would ultimately happen. Which did.

Here's my dog now. She's watching. Her ears swivel forward, back. Her eyes are bright. Their rods and cones calmly absorb. Then she acts. She receives a signal, and she does not think about it, she acts.

Intuition is a gift, a way to protect ourselves. Disregard it at your peril. Prefer the pretty picture at the cost of your devastation. I did. Although if I had heeded it then, and walked away from what I thought I needed, I would now be missing some priceless things in my life, such as my child. And some valuable lessons, not only about trusting the voice of intuition which knows. It always knows.

My friends have now been teaching me in what ways I can be a better friend in the future. Who knows. Maybe that is why.

Would that I had been more of a dog. No self-doubt. No doubt.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Mother Love

Have you ever seen baby squirrels? No, I hadn't either, until this moment. I'm sitting here watching them now, gray mercury flowing up and down the branches of a grand old maple. They are playing, in the cool crepuscular air after a day of hammering heat. In the background is the most varied range of eerie sounds ever to come from the same animal, a coyote somewhere over there in this valley between two ridges. He is invisible in the tall grass, but announcing his presence with yipping and yelping and howling and, yes, even barking.

Have you ever had someone who ought to know you, and certainly ought to care for you, say something so stunningly brutal for a moment you don't know where you are? Like, say, propose that to make your life better, you ought to set your child out on a streetcorner with valise in hand, then drive away? --This being someone who, knowing you, thus knows your child is as necessary to life as is air?

No, I hadn't either, not till this week, when two members of my family did so. Well, they didn't say I should do this with my child. But that is tantamount to what they meant, when they told me that if I couldn't find a rental that accepted pets, I should think about getting rid of Nelly.

These are people who, I think and trust, love me. They are people who have witnessed me over the course of thirteen years make commitments to my dogs that are as deep as one can make. (I suspect I would never, like one truly maladjusted person I know, claim that one "shouldn't" pet a dog more than once per day--based on the bizarrest rationale a strange mind has ever come up with--and so he won't touch his dog more than that. He just dropped off said beast at his former girlfriend's, with one meal's worth of food, and then announced he was going to leave him there, maybe forever, because she "needs" a dog--though he knows she lacks the resources to care for one. Sheesh!)

These are people who know I take that commitment seriously, because it implies a contract: my dog is a dependent, in every way, and I agreed to provide for all of her needs. One of which is to never give her away, something that hurts dogs as much as it would hurt anyone. Anyway, I'd sooner give away my heart. The suggestion, then, could not have been anything other than a slash with a razor. And why? Why seek to hurt the ones you love most?

Actually, though, one comes to expect such things from one's mother. I don't know why, but the mother-child relationship can grow from needful worship to blinding meanness in only a decade or two. My mother has been proposing for years that I get rid of my dog so I can "enjoy some freedom." When she knows I already have the greatest freedom, the freedom of joy, from my relationship with this powerful Other.

I have a pen pal in Attica, a very interesting man. He writes me at length about the books he's reading, and the fine meals he cooked in his previous life. He has very refined taste. He would never tell me what he was in for. But someone on the outside who also knew him, did: He murdered his mother. If I ever got the ear of the powers that be, I'd tell them I could guarantee this man is perfectly safe to let out, will never kill again. How do I know? There's only one Mom, and he already took care of her.

Then, I get it twice in the same week, the second time by my sister. I was dumbfounded, smarting from this overt hostility. But my wise aunt snorted when she heard about this advice-cum-attack: "Ha!" she said. "You know your sister would never in a million years give up her dog."

Why are we so prone to mental illness? As my friend Sally says, "It is little studied just how prevalent it is." In all of us. I seem to know fewer and fewer people of whom I would say, Well, they're basically healthy. Nope. I'm talking the twenty-foot well, over which darkness you lean and wonder if there's an inch of water down there, or maybe it's right here and you'll touch it if you reach out. Or completely empty. Hard to tell.

I do not let myself off the hook. Motivations are a fascinating and difficult area of study, especially when applied to the self. And 1000-piece puzzles are very hard, but rewarding, to put together.

The squirrels--so "C-U-T-E," as my son would say--have now gone back to the nest, where I trust their mother is caring for them very well. I hope she informs them about the intentions of the black rat snake who likes to twine himself through the branches until he looks like one, waiting, silent. The snake loves squirrels, too. Maybe in much the same way a mother does. Food for thought.

Saturday, June 7, 2008


I'm thinking it would be more pleasant to simply have the skin peeled off.

I am letting down the people who are supporting me, the friends who have taken my cause as their own, rooting for me, cajoling, helping, searching, leading me by the hand. I do so by evincing a massive mental illness. I am aware of it, can see it for what it is--the literalization of "I don't want to go!"--and still am powerless to change it. That is why I am about to fall into a very hot soup. And I am apparently taking my child with me, he who I am charged with protecting. Whom I want to protect, and take great care of.

Ironically, I drove two hours yesterday to help a dear friend move. (She has far less stuff than I do.) She too is leaving behind a sad period in her life. She is going to get her MFA in painting. So we made a video documentary of the move, talking about art, criticism, the act of moving, and storage facilities. Into the camera (I can blather extemporaneously, just as I can in type) I mused that, without a home, my friends have become my home. It felt ironic to be moving this friend, when I can't move myself.

It is also ironic, as I only realized this morning, that it was the changes and improvements I made over the years to this house that made it so nice as to appreciate in value
far beyond what I could ever buy out. So, in the end, I helped cause my own expulsion from the house I don't want to leave.

Soon, into a box will go something I want to leave you with. I'll make its acquaintance again at that unnamed point in the future when I can retrieve my boxes again
. It's from an old hammered copper plaque that features a Scottie. Think on it.

He asks me no questions
He tells me no lies
And when I address him
looks straight in my eyes.
Content with a little he never despairs
but in all my troubles he willingly shares.
He asks me so little
He gives me so much
then always let sympathy
dwell in my touch.