Saturday, March 30, 2019

A Patch that Is Rough

Honestly, I have the best friends. You should get friends like mine. They can't be beat.

S is a children's librarian. I've known her since pre-school. We stayed in touch when she went to private high school, we drifted, I got invited to her wedding anyway, and now we've settled into a relationship that I'm not entirely sure how to categorize.

We don't speak every day. We have people in our lives that we connect about. She's the person who traveled with me to see our 5th Grade Teacher last summer. We have traditions. On our birthdays the other person calls up a local independent bookstore and buys books to have waiting there for the birthday celebrant. We're not picky about the timing of "birthday" either. The real joy is in finding a gem that the other person, an avid reader, won't have read before and will feel, after they've read the book, as though they've been waiting for it all their lives.

S gave me two books this year and this morning I sat down to read one of them, The Rough Patch. It looked so good and S's choices are always amazing and I had a few minutes before I had to walk the dog and head to work so I sat down and read it. I don't want to spoil it for you but I broke down in tears. It's a beautiful book about a hard subject with universal themes and now I want to buy a copy for each and every one of you.

You see, this year has been a bit of a rough patch. Not just for me, a lot of people are having it rough. It's all hitting a little close to home.

In December I started taking this cancer risk reduction drug and my cat, Anna, was diagnosed with a tumor on her intestinal wall. In January my father and his dog were hit by a car. His dog did not survive the injuries. Dad did and is healing very well now but it's been a long road. At the end of January my uncle died. The day after that Anna died. Two weeks ago a different childhood friend with whom I connect similarly but on different subjects than S wrote to let me know that her father was going into hospice. Last week he died.

It's been an especially rough patch for dads.

I put all these things into one paragraph and it feels very special and heavy. Then I realize that I'm celebrating my 50th birthday (all fucking year, what's to stop me?) so it's, in fact, normal that so many funerals and accidents and life events occur in succession.

Good things are happening, too. When I went to my uncle's funeral I stayed with a friend and we got to hang out and it was lovely. One of my cousins had her first baby. I spent 4 days in Florida with a group of friends and my mom as part of my year long birthday-ing. The other book that S gave me is by a writer who I love. S gave me the next book before I even knew it was out! A couple of weeks ago a friend invited me to come by and pick up a gift for having hung out with her dog while her husband was sitting with his mom in the hospital (didn't even mention that one, did I?) and she wound up inviting me to stay for dinner and it was delicious and nothing I would have made for myself and I was so grateful for just being able to eat and not think about it. I'm knitting something new. I have several new clients. We hired an administrator for the school where I teach dog classes. I'm going to get Reiki done for the first time as part of a friend's training in that discipline. There are a lot of exciting things going on!

It's a bit of a rough patch, though, and I find myself falling into the trap of thinking that every rumbly strip of road is a step on the path downward. Every time it gets dark out I have trouble remembering that doesn't mean that we live in the dark now and forever.

Floating in a pool every day for four days helped a lot. Remembering that floating in a pool, napping in the middle of the day, sitting in a hot tub, laughing with friends is possible helps me to remember that those things are probable. They are, in fact, much more probable than a life of drudgery and darkness because I have good friends. I have great friends. They make great drinks and tell funny jokes and buy me amazing books and do math when I can't, and a million other wonderful things.

I highly recommend getting friends as cool as mine. They make even the rough patches smoother.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

I Can See the Groove

I'm not sure if I've mentioned this here but we're still working on a production of my play, Like the Moon. A few friends got together and did a reading of it about a year and a half ago. Then sometime last year we decided that we'd meet once a month for rehearsal until we feel like it's time to rent a venue and show a fuller version to the world.

Last year was busy. This year is proving a bit of a challenge, too. We're getting our rehearsals in but there isn't much other time available for working on lines or writing out back story or whatever character work I might want to do.

The other day we met up and I couldn't see a scenario in which I wasn't going to let everyone down. Surely I wouldn't be the weakest link in this chain. Thankfully the director started us slowly. We read the whole first act before we got on our feet. Then we did get on those feet and got through the first scene that way.

At that point she took a poll of the room to see if we wanted to keep going or go back and I said, "I'd like to go back and do that again. I don't want to oversell it. It's like I'm not in the groove but I can see it from here. I think if we do it again I might get there at least a couple of times."

Dear Reader, I think I did, too.

It feels a bit the same way with everything right now.
  • If I just hadn't gotten sick I could have a cleaner apartment.
  • If I sit down for just 15 minutes a day and work on the application I can finish the writing for this new certification.
  • If we can just get the new admin trained in I'll be able to work on the syllabus.
  • If, again, I hadn't gotten sick I could have written all these condolence cards and sent these baby gifts and be a better supporter and have my taxes finished.
To be honest, I'm doing ok. Just like in that rehearsal I am not dropping the ball for anyone. At least I don't think I am. I am not, however, in anything resembling a groove. I am just to the left of the groove and occasionally stumbling into it by accident.

If that's going to be the theme for the year then lord help me because this jerky, whiplash rhythm might break me.

No it won't.

I don't have time for that. I don't want to have time for that.

What I want to have time for is tripping along next to this proverbial groove and appreciating the fuck out of my friends and colleagues and neighbors who continue to want to do what I want to do. They want to  get my words out into the world. They want to do complex administrative work so that we can hire the right person not just any warm body. They want to celebrate my birthday all year long. They're happy to hear from me whenever that happens and they know that if they truly need me they can say so and I'll trip right off the groove and try to help.

A lot of sad things have happened already this year. All signs point to several more sad things happening, too. If I wasn't surrounded by such stellar people this would all seem overwhelming. But I am. Oh, I am. My people are so very stellar.

Years ago a friend's kid was in the tooth losing stage. My friend was in the sleeping through the night stage. Which meant that a few times she forgot to get up and perform the duties of the Tooth Fairy. So she'd email me and ask me to call her kid as the Tooth Fairy and apologize . So I did. It was certainly one of the greatest acting jobs I've ever had. I went with an accent. My character was always super busy so my message was rushed and bubbly and apologetic. I was always terrified that I'd screw it up. I even wrote myself little scripts. I had only one audience member to please so the stakes were pretty high. The kid has yet to ask me about it, thank goodness, but all reports say that he took me, I mean her, seriously.

The same kid is a tween now. Over the years he has fallen in deep love with my dog. They, seriously, have the most lovely relationship. A relationship based largely on cheese and affection. Sometimes "my dog" sends presents to the kid.

I came home the other day to find a #10 envelope in the mail that was thick and...puffy. Weird.

Inside was a pair of socks and a note from the tween. The note told me that Eddie wanted me to have the socks. The socks said, "My dog is cool as fuck."

I'm warmed from the top of my head to the tips of my toes by the whole interaction. I needed that. I needed to be reminded that it's not so much the huge gestures we make and the big goals we reach as it's the regular tiny efforts and expressions that make our lives something to be proud of. My relationship with this kid is built on stolen moments of dog training, one big knitting project, one game of Exploding Kittens, a couple of Broadway shows, a trip to the M&M store, and several phone calls he doesn't even know I made. I didn't even really know what I was building but I managed to build it anyway.

So I guess I'm going to put on my new socks and understand that, no matter how off the groove this year feels, I'm building a life I can be proud of. I'll be building it until I die but that's probably a long time from now so I may as well get comfortable with the process and not worry so much about the product.

As the old movie tells us, if you build it they will come. And, hey, if you need someone to cover for the Tooth Fairy's mistakes I'm your girl.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Anna September 7, 2000 - January 27, 2019

Best cat I've ever had.

End of obituary.

The best cat I've ever had deserves a little more, though. A lot more, to be honest, but a few words are all I have to give now.

Anna was born under my bed in a studio apartment to a dangerously bipolar mother. She and her three brothers and one sister lived there with me and Emily until we decided who should live where. Anna was the smallest. Max was the biggest. Pinto was the smartest. Much later we learned that Elvis was the sickest. Mariah, well, she got to be sort of normal...for a cat who lived all her life with her mom.

I named her Anna because I had Emily and when I adopted a cat I thought I should try to be a grown up and have a theme to my pets. I went with the Brontes and named that cat Charlotte. So when the initial plan was to keep Charlotte with me I chose one of the girls from the litter and named her Anna to round out my trio.

Charlotte was better suited to country living so one of the boys stayed with us and Anna wound up paired for life with a brother whose physical illnesses contributed to mental illnesses that made him unpredictable and fearful and not exactly dangerous but never truly calm. That should have been the first tip off that she was tough.

The story I always tell about her is probably the only story anyone needs to know.

My friend, Pony Express, got a job on a dance company tour when the kittens were around 2 years old. She had adopted Max (big) and Pinto (smart). We decided that with her gone for 4 months the cats should come and live with me. They'd lived together as babies and again for a few months at her home when I was between apartments so we were confident that it would work out. My one misgiving was that Anna was small and quiet and reserved. I worried that she'd be pushed around by the three boys but it was the best solution we had so on we forged.

As a woman I realize that I essentially underestimated Anna's strength and skill in much the same way people have underestimated mine for much of my life.

One morning not long after we'd integrated the feline households I was getting ready for work and I was in the bathroom. I suddenly heard a tremendous banging. It was staccato and rhythmic and so fucking loud! At first I stopped to listen because it had to be coming from outside my apartment, but where?



It was coming from inside the apartment.

I rushed into the living room expecting to see Anna being terrorized by one or more of the others and poor Emily looking on helplessly.

As I emerged from the hall I saw it:


I had a trunk under my living room window, a makeshift window seat. On the trunk, back to the window, hunkered down protectively was Pinto. Pinto was the kind of smart that makes you think about evolution. He picked items up and examined them. He controlled Max's behavior and movements. He stole things from humans. His brothers were justifiably terrified of him.

Anna was on her back legs in front of the trunk. She was using one front paw to smack the trunk with all her might. The trunk, mind you, not Pinto. She was hitting the trunk about a quarter inch in front of Pinto and every time he moved back she advanced just enough to do it again. Always advancing, never touching, she backed him across the trunk, onto the window sill and into a corner. Then she waited a moment in stillness and, in a move reminiscent of her mother's most dangerous moments, walked slowly away.

I went back to the bathroom and got ready for work.

I never worried about her with the boys again.

Later I believe she was the first to understand that Emily was having seizures. She may have been the only one to witness them. Her behavior changed toward Emily, she stayed closer, not for comfort probably but to monitor an increasingly unpredictable situation.

She endured endless veterinary indignities when I couldn't be sure if it was Elvis or her who was ailing.

She nearly killed at least 3 computer trackpads with her drooling. She nearly licked me and Pony Express bald. She loved to knead her paws but only on bare flesh, the moment you protected yourself with cloth it was no fun anymore.

On Sunday night she fought the sedation just barely at the moment the full dose went through the needle. After the next shot her breathing, which had been labored, stopped almost immediately but her heart kept beating for several minutes while I pet her.

She died as she lived, fucking badass.

Best cat I've ever had.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Back to Basics

It's fitting, I think, that I'm sliding into this last post of the year right at the deadline.

Back in the days of blogging I had a number of end of year meme sort of posts I would use to wrap up the year. I do most of that offline now. I miss those memes, though. So I figured I'd use a couple for this month's post. 

It used to be that listing the first line of your first post of each month was a small sampling of what you'd written over the year. For me it's more of a table of contents and it's going to get super meta once I get to December but I think that's cool.

January: The big world is different and my little world is different.

February: For my birthday last month I took myself out to a show.

March: You're not detail oriented.

April: How many of you out there are writers?

May: Someone said, "They should have taught us better."

June: Dear Mr. Pratt;

July: As things have ramped up with my dog training business I've learned a lot about my own anxiety.

August: This morning I was flipping past some photos of a Christmas Eve a few years ago and suddenly asked myself, "How did I feel about last Christmas Eve?"

September: When should I quit my day job?

October: I saw Anne Lamott speak recently.

November: I can do this....right?

December: It's fitting, I think, that I'm sliding into this last post of the year right at the deadline. 

Another thing was this list of questions that went around. Back when I did this regularly I wouldn't redact anything but this year is going to require some redaction. I was going to let that keep me from posting the questions and then I decided that I'm sick of little rules of my own keeping me from doing things I want to do.

1. What did you do this year that you’d never done before?
Had an MRI.
2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions?
Kept up a 365 project. Did good things. Beat my dog training earnings goal.
3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Not someone very close but I did get to meet a baby at an annual gathering, and she was delicious.
4. Did anyone close to you die?
Lots of deaths but none too close to me...yet. Probably the closest was my neighbor, Sharon Robinson. She was a community organizer and when she found out my name she always called out to me as “Ms. Robinson!” and I returned it. She was lovely and she’s missed.
5. What cities/states/countries did you visit?
Went to Paramus for a dog training seminar.
6. What would you like to have next year that you lacked this year?
    Naps/recovery time.
7. What date(s) from this year will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
    My brain was so scrambled that the dates won’t stick but M’s pool party, the visit to Barbara & Margaret with Sara, Anna’s diagnosis, my MRI, my biopsy will all stay big.
8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Hanging out w/M.
Exceeded my earnings goals w/dog training.
Quit [redacted].
9. What was your biggest failure?
Not realizing [redacted] was a problem earlier.
Some of my interactions with M and the [redacted] students.
10. What other hardships did you face?
All the breast cancer shenanigans.
Anna’s terminal diagnosis.
11. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Diagnosed with atypical lobular hyperplasia so figuring out how or whether to take steps to reduce my cancer risk.
12. What was the best thing you bought?
    The trip to see Barbara with Sara.
13. Whose behavior merited celebration?
    M, C, Momma M, Sara, & Rob, the folks who ran the camp we sent M to.
14. Whose behavior made you appalled?
M’s school, [redacted reason].
15. Where did most of your money go?
Veterinary things.
Human medical things.
16. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
    [redacted job related stuff]
17. What song will always remind you of this year?
18. Compared to this time last year, are you:
i. Happier or sadder? Sadder
ii. Thinner or fatter? Fatter
iii. Richer or poorer? Richer
19. What do you wish you’d done more of?
    Training my dog.
    Snuggling my cat.
    Rehearsing Chekhov.
20. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Ride on the subway.
Phone calls.
21. How will you be spending Christmas?
Went to NH. Visited friends and family. Drove back to BK on Christmas Day.
22. Did you fall in love this year?
23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
    Pretty much the same people, though the next door neighbors are looming large right now.
24. What was your favorite show?
    Vikings, Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Game of Thrones, Ray Donovan
25. What was the best book you read?
The Hazel Wood - fiction
26. What was your greatest musical discovery of the year?
I love Fairytale of NY, I’d never heard it or known that I heard it and we played it several times on the Christmas road trip. It makes me want more Pogues and more of just that song.
27. What was your favorite film?
    I can’t even remember what I saw, I’ve seen so few.
28. What was your favorite meal?
    Michelle made me a dinner party for my birthday and it was glorious. Scallop apps, a stew, Mollie made a cake for dessert. It was awesome.
29. What did you want and get?
30. What did you want and not get?
    An easy diagnosis for Anna.
31. What did you do on your birthday?
    Can’t remember. Sure I hung with friends. In April Michelle made that dinner party for me, which was amazeballs.
32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
    More time in my house, hanging with my animals, also napping.
33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept of the year?
Stretchy, washable, clean...ish.
34. What kept you sane?
    My friends, hands down.
35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Norman Reedus
36. What political issue stirred you the most?
Getting T out of office/mid term elections.
37. Who did you miss?
Auntie Blanche
Anna, pre-emptively
38. Who was the best new person you met?
39. What valuable life lesson did you learn this year?
How to [redacted life skill].
40. What is a quote that sums up your year?
“Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.”
  • Carrie Fisher

In my search for the right quote, and I really think that the one above is the right quote, I found a lot of other great ones. I could have found more but I stopped when I found the right one. I didn't want to leave the other greats behind, though, so here they are as a bonus!

“My desolation does begin to make a better life.”
William Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra

“You know nothing.”
- Game of Thrones

“What do we say to the God of Death? Not today.”
  • Game of Thrones

"It's easy to confuse what is with what ought to be”
  • Game of Thrones

“Besides, she was the Wraith – the only law that applied to her was gravity, and some days she defied that, too.”
Leigh Bardugo, Six of Crows

“The heart is an arrow. It demands aim to land true.”
Leigh Bardugo, Six of Crows

“The water hears and understands. The ice does not forgive.”
Leigh Bardugo, Six of Crows

“There is no point at which you can say, 'Well, I'm successful now. I might as well take a nap.'”
  • Carrie Fisher

“The only thing worse than being hurt is everyone knowing that you're hurt.”
  • Carrie Fisher

And then there's this. Some people think it's silly but I've had a lot of luck with my "Year of ____" strategies, starting with the Year of Yes. So I'm sticking with it.

“Back to basics”

Part of going back to basics will be coming back here at least 12 times next year - specifically one each month. I'm looking forward to it.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

I Can Do This

I can do this....right?

Do what?


Like what "this?"

OK, well, like finish this job project.

When does it end?

December 17th.

OK, well, it's almost December so, yeah, you can do this.


I can do this...right?

Do what?


Quit it.

I can organize this event?

Which one?

The community one that's been going on for 50 years that could completely fail right here on my first year as organizer.

But no pressure, right?

Very funny. Can I do it?

How many events have you organized in your life?

I don't know.


Like community events?

Like parties and plays and outings, like events. Any kind of event.

Um....a bunch.

How many failed?

I'm sure some failed!

Name one.

Um....well, I don't remember, I've organized a lot of stuff.

I know you have! You're good at organizing stuff.

Eh, I'm ok at organizing stuff. I'm not as good at it as...


I was just going to say that...

Don't speak! You organize things and they don't fail. Sometimes they get weird but they don't fail.

Thanks...I think.

You're welcome. Are we done here?

I guess...except can I do this?

Do what?


I said to quit that!


Don't be sorry, don't do it!

OK, so I can do this 12 posts in a year right?


Thanks! But what if they suck?

That wasn't part of the deal.

Yes it was! I don't want to write shitty posts.

Maybe you don't but did the goal explicitly state, "12 Exquisite Posts in 2018" or did you leave it at "12 Posts in 2018?"

Well, I mean....


OK, ok, ok you got me. I can do 12 posts.

And so far many of them have been good, right?

To me.

And who else do they have to be good for?


Correct! Everyone jokes about blogging being self-centered but, come on, there's a grain of truth in every joke. At least one grain!

True enough. Next year I should be more specific.

You have time to worry about next year?


Maybe concentrate on finishing this year before you jump ahead to next year.

Oh. Yeah, right. But it's so much easier to think about next year.

Yes it is.


Why do you think?

Well, geez, I don't know. Because it's far enough away that no one has fucked it up yet?

That's accurate but disturbingly phrased. I'd say because it isn't real yet. It won't be real until you're paralyzed with worry about it.

So nothing becomes real until it's awful?

That's not what I said!

That's kind of what you said.

No it's no...ok, yeah it kind of is. And it's a little bit true. But not completely!

This is confusing.

Then stop thinking about it.

Stop thinking about if I can do it?

Stop thinking about next year...and yes, also probably a good idea to stop thinking about if you can do it.


What are you, a three year old?

At heart.

That's not cool.

Actually, it's pretty cool.

It doesn't matter. In fact, maybe it's good! Three-year-olds are better at living in the moment. Live in the moment.

This moment bites.

Then you better live it quick so it can be over and you can get to the next good one.


I know, right?

So I can do this?

Shut up and do it.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

With Eagle's Claws

Seen in Brooklyn

I saw Anne Lamott speak recently. I always tread a line with her. I love her writing and I take great comfort in a lot of the strategies she espouses, especially the ones from her experience with addiction recovery. I struggle with the amount of talk about Jesus.

To be fair, I don't disagree with or even dislike the vast majority of what she says about her religious practices. A lot of it is interwoven with the recovery strategies that I'm so drawn to. I'm on alert, though. "Is this going to cross my line?" "What about this?" "Where's my line again?" "I thought you knew!" "I'm not sure. I thought you knew!"

Being alert to someone's work can't be all bad, though, can it?

I was, fortunately, alert to an longtime friend's work recently. It was Kath's last year as the creator and organizer of The Great Pupkin. When she started it was just 10 or 20 families and their dogs walking in a small, weird parade around the park during the Halloween festivities organized by the Parks Department. This year, the 20th, there were over 100 participants and around 3,000 viewers. It's huge.

Leo, Kath, & Justine post-show
I've been teaching dog classes the last few years on the Saturdays before Halloween and haven't been able to even attend the Pupkin so I decided to take the day off from teaching in order to volunteer for Kath's last year as the fearless leader of this wacky, wonderful gathering. She gave me a plumb spot on the stage helping to usher contestants off in a timely manner. It's pretty amazing to be up there in front of 3,000 people and some folks need a little help being demagnetized from the thrill. I dressed in as much bright clothing as I could and was as happy and funny as I could be and I got to meet every single ding dang contestant. It's a job I wish I'd been doing for 20 years of this thing and Kath even mentioned to me afterwards that she wished they'd had an exit wrangler all this time. Turns out even after 20 years you learn something new every time you do something like this.

I'm reading the book Ann Lamott was in my neighborhood to promote, Almost Everything: Notes on Hope. Between the talk and the book there are many little tidbits I want to share with the world. So many that I'm really better off just sharing the book. It's a good book. I think you'd like it. Yes, even if you don't like that sort of thing.

The morsel that she shared in the talk that I cannot get out of my head is something that she and a friend, I think, often say, "Everything we've ever let go of has claw marks on it."


Do you need a minute to think on that?

Go ahead and take it, it's worth it.

Gets right to the heart of the matter, doesn't it?

Available where books are sold.
I needed a minute when I heard it and now I can't stop hearing it and seeing the way she made a fully taloned gesture down toward the edge of the stage as she said it so you could really sense the value scraping itself out of her rigid grip and falling, exhausted, to the ground.

I've long been honest about the fact that letting go isn't my strong suit. It felt nice to have solidarity with Lamott and her friend about that. It was a revelation to me for someone to clarify that we don't have to let go of something easily for it to count as a successful letting go. We just have to let go. Which reminds me of a thing that my friend's dad always said after he'd attended a wedding.

"How was the wedding?"

"It was successful."

If the point was to get married then there's only one little thing that has to happen for it to count as a success!

Perhaps you've gleaned that I'm in the process of figuring out how to let some things go. They are, of course, not any things that I can talk about in public yet so no details will be forthcoming. But I needed to write down something about the process and I needed someone to read that information.

Thank you for reading.

We had a nor-easter deal a glancing blow to Brooklyn on Saturday so all the park Halloween festivities had to be moved to Sunday. We still got enormous turnout. It meant that I had to run right after the awarding of prizes at the Pupkin and head over to Sean Casey Animal Rescue's Howl-o-ween event where I was helping my PumpkinPups colleagues with our table there. I had asked The PP folks if they could do the set up without me and explained that it felt important to me to close the loop on my Pupkin experience. I might wind up back there as a spectator or volunteer but it may be a while. As I'm sure you all know, building a business is no joke and that's where much of my focus lies. It won't be the same without Kath, either. It'll be great, I'm sure, but different.

It's a quick 20 minute train ride from one place to the other. The G Train wasn't crowded. I had a book in my bag and a podcast loaded up on my phone but I didn't turn to either of them. I looked out the window and thought my thoughts like an A. A. Milne character.
The Honorable RBG

I'd had a great time at the Pupkin and getting to meet every contestant was an extra special treat. I was excited to go to Howl-o-ween, too. I couldn't wait to hear what my friends had seen before I got there and who they'd talked to and see what they needed next.

I was letting go but because I had something to move toward it was less like scratching something bloody and more like opening my reluctant paws and letting it fly away.

In the immortal words of T.S. Eliot

"And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
By the purification of the motive
In the ground of our beseeching."

And that, too, is true. So on we go...