Friday, April 03, 2020

The Poetry of Leaving the Home

Dog needs to pee

Fill coat pockets with dog treats and poop bags
Put phone in coat pocket
Take off "inside" pants and shirt
Leash and harness on that dog
Put on "outside" pants, shirt, fleece
Put on shoes (don't sit down!)
Put on hat
Put on mask
Put on coat

A Scarf Before Masks
Zip it up and make sure it doesn't dislodge the mask
Pick up leash
Grab keys from door hook
Leave the apartment
Lock the door
Poke the elevator button with a key
(No stairs for you! Too many points of contact.)
Bump door open with hip.
Out in the air

On the way back in

Hold the bottom of the door handle
(Most people grab the top, right?)
Elevator button with keys again
Open door
Take off leash & harness
Take off mask
Kick off shoes
Take off "outside" clothes
Take off watch
Lay it on the floor
Get out phone
Lay it on the floor
Walk to bathroom
(There's a nightlight there, you don't have to touch the light switch)
Turn on faucet (I know!)
Wet hands
Soap up faucet handles
Soap hands
[insert instructions here]
Rinse hands
Rinse faucet handles
Wash face
Dry all
Walk back to phone and watch
Spritz them with the special sanitizer
Dry them off
Put on "inside" clothes

Resume life on the inside

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

A Full Year

It's been a full year. Some might say it was full of crap.

There were wonderful things, too, but this year felt like work. The sort of work that either kills you or cures you. I have had to give up things, say no to things, stop things in ways that I've lived my whole life trying to avoid. Over the Christmas holiday I think I've seen ways in which I managed to preserve the spirit of traditions, the relationships that are important to me even when I've had to put up boundaries and say no when saying it felt like such a defeat.

Speaking of that spirit, I didn't want the calendar to turn a page without one more blog post. I still love the tradition of the end of year questions that started oh so long ago when it was blogs taking over the world instead of podcasts. So, let's look at those and see what comes of them.

1. What did you do this year that you’d never done before?
Traveled to Florida and had a vacation that was just about swimming, eating, and sleeping. Canceled my post-Thanksgiving party. Set a boundary with a loved one consciously and carefully and enlisted help in keeping it.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions?
I didn't really make any. I did increase my dog training earnings goal and managed to negotiate for fewer days in the office for the coming year. Those were things that were on my mind. The reduced office time thing is something I've worked toward for years and always feels incredibly scary. I was so tired and so discombobulated by negotiation time this year that I negotiated and when I got what I wanted I was terrified by what I'd asked for. That was unexpected. Being me, though, I didn't try to turn back so we'll see how things go...

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
My cousin, K. My basically-niece, K. 

Several clients, too. That became my niche. Somehow, mostly because I've taught kids before and I like kids and perhaps because I didn't know how difficult it would be, I became a go-to trainer for families with babies on the way. Mostly the dogs are very challenged. It has been both very rewarding, often absolutely terrifying, and a challenge every step of the way. It's also taught me to be even more honest about asking for help and telling clients that I'm doing it. What I haven't learned yet but I'm seeing the path to is putting my foot down. It's important to be gentle and not to offend people but I'm the expert. If it's important to use a gate or change a set up I can insist...kindly.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
My cat, Anna. My uncle, John. And that's how the year kicked off! I should have known. Mr. Bethel died later and his memorial was a centerpiece of the year. Barbara Martin, which we knew was coming but still sucked. So many pets and friends and family members of people I'm close to that I couldn't even count. 2019 has been hard on loved ones.

5. What cities/states/countries did you visit?
Orlando, FL. Lots of dreams of other places like Spain and Savannah, GA but none of those materialized this year. I did make it to a different part of NJ for another seminar and it was very good.

6. What would you like to have next year that you lacked this year?
    Rest. Writing accomplished. An IAABC certification (didn't lack it but did work toward it and would like to finish that). A new couch and chaise. Top down/bottom up blinds. A sense of security in my career. A sense of safety in general. My art framed. Not this fucking president.

7. What date(s) from this year will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
    Not dates specifically but the experience of Anna's death, the experience of Uncle John's funeral. Dad being hit by the car. Mr. Bethel's memorial service. I'll also remember the 50th birthday trip to FL and the unbelievable menstrual bleed that coincided with it. This Christmas of oddness with mom's new bf and dad slowing down, holding K's baby for the first times...and having him poop all over me! Again, 2019 has been a whiplash. It gives with one hand and smacks up upside the head with the other.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Setting that boundary with a family member.
Exceeded my earnings goals in dog training again.
Not quitting when business building became hard and working with people I love was a challenge.
Canceling my post-Thanksgiving party when I was sick and letting myself heal.
Working with more challenging clients regularly.
Re-aligning the caroling event so that it was being done with cooperation and centering the people it was my intention to center when I decided to take over the organizing of it.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Not navigating mom's new relationship more smoothly.
A particular client session when an extended family member frightened me and I said things that weren't right for the client.
I could have been smoother with some of the business building. My fears played a big part.
Not noticing the changes in Ed's behavior until they were a crisis.

10. What other hardships did you face?
Anna's death.
So many doctor's appointments for cancer prevention and eye injury and general wellness.
I got really sick around Thanksgiving.
Christmas was just fucking hard.
Dog training got hard this year, less fun, less about dogs, and yet the success was a little constraining. I felt like in order to keep growing I couldn't just stop doing some parts of it that weren't working for me. I have colleagues who seem to do that so easily and I don't understand in my heart how they manage it. Working with people is hard. Working with people who love challenging dogs is hard. Loving these challenging dogs myself is hard. On the ATA podcast I heard someone reframe Compassion Fatigue as Attachment to Outcomes Fatigue. I keep trying to remind myself of that. There seems to be a line where you aren't too attached to the outcome but you are invested enough to keep working to help the dog and the family. It's silvery and only clear in certain lights, that line. Sometimes I think I land right on it and the very next day I have to look for it all over again. It's a constant task, like work-life balance. I can't even begin to gauge my success.
Ed had a huge behavioral regression. Or maybe it was moderate and I'm making it huge. I'm not sure but it's changed the basic fabric of the way we live.

11. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Menstrual "flooding" based in peri-menopause.
Frequent cancer screenings based on that bleeding.
Frequent cancer checks around the atypical lobular hyperplasia.
Another tooth implant.
A terrible cold with respiratory complications around Thanksgiving.
Continued allergies.
My left hip is really not right. IT still works but it's easily angered.

12. What was the best thing you bought?
    My Christmas tree. Absorbent period panties. At home euthanasia for Anna. My 3 trips home for Uncle John's memorial, Mr. Bethel's memorial, and K's baby shower. A second hand iPad so I can write my recaps on the way home.

13. Whose behavior merited celebration?
    Sara & Rob have been invaluable and so generous in taking care of Ed.
Ed has learned so much there and been so good in this new training.
Pony Express has been a rock star this year in many ways and I'm grateful for her.
J works hard, sets boundaries, and sees what people need in ways I find so important.
Everyone who works for Moms Demand Action.
Everyone working on my play. I'm so grateful we're doing that and it's still fun and I'm excited to show it to people but trying really hard not to rush it. We're getting better! It's good!
The at-home euthanasia vet. She remains a godsend.
Me. Sometimes.
Lisa is ridiculously generous and has made room for me every time I've traveled back to NH this year. It's made everything I did there this year possible.
My mom brought me Christmas ornaments from my childhood. She made really good choices, ones I did really want.
Honestly almost all of my friends are incredible and I don't know how I'd still be standing without them.

14. Whose behavior made you appalled?
Me. Sometimes.
So many US voters.
[Redacted] work thing.
[Redacted] Christmas stuff.

15. Where did most of your money go?
Human medical things.
Buying lunch, probably. (That French lunch place was a huge find this year, though. That curry stew is still mouth watering no matter how many times I eat it.)
Rental cars.
Loan for mom's car.

16. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
    My Christmas tree.
Ed's separation anxiety progress. Every little forward movement.

Not very much. It felt dangerous to be excited. It always is but this year especially. The year my mom turned 50 she got super excited about it. That was going to be the year that everything turned a great corner for her. During that year she was diagnosed with breast cancer, the tissue was lost by the hospital, and because of that she had to have chemotherapy. That chemo resulted in changes to her body and possibly her psyche from which she's never recovered. With my atypical lobular hyperplasia diagnosis last year I have been incredibly wary of this 50th year. I wanted to celebrate it but am suspicious of it all the same. So far no big diagnosis but a lot of little things dragging me down. A lot of fear and a lot of bending to fear. I want to celebrate my 51st birthday more definitively so that, even if shitty things happen along the way, I can say I lit up the night anyway.

17. What song will always remind you of this year?
    Happy birthday? No, Susan Werner's May I Suggest. I sang it at Mr. Bethel's memorial gathering in NH. Gwen structured the afternoon with one of his bands playing for an hour then an hour for folks to share music or memories and then his other band. I spent so much time debating if I would perform or speak. I didn't feel like a good enough musician when I knew what a spectacular musician he was. I thought about going with poetry but couldn't find the right piece. Finally I tumbled to the fact that I really wanted to sing May I Suggest even though it felt like 100% the wrong style. I asked Gwen if there was room for me to perform and half wished she'd say no. She said I was the first person to offer in advance. So I sang. A cappella. And it went well. People loved it and it opened up that section of the memorial and people spoke a lot after then were invited to play with the 2nd band later. In retrospect I think that being Mr. Bethel's style wasn't important. It was my style and something I'm good at because I've practiced and committed. That's what he'd have wanted. If he could hear me I hope he liked it.

18. Compared to this time last year, are you: These are all the same as last year which seems like a pattern it might be nice to change.
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.
Sitting outside eating and drinking with friends.

20. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Feeling mistrustful.
Being afraid.
Doctor's appointments.
Sort of attending memorial services except that those were important and good things to have done.

21. How will you be spending Christmas?
Went to NH. Spent time with Melissa, huge York gathering, time at the Pond House with that family.

22. Did you fall in love this year?
No. In my head maybe. 

This continues to be something I want to do but that I don't prioritize and there are deep reasons for that but I don't feel ready to address them. I keep wanting to qualify that sentence with "I guess" but I don't guess, I know. It sometimes feels like time is running out but I think this year my mother proved that just isn't fucking true.

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
    I have some deep dark feelings about a lot of people, mostly it's political.

24. What was your favorite show?
    The Crown, Peaky Blinders, Ray Donovan, The Walking Dead, so many more. I do love my stories.

25. What was the best book you read?
The Rough Patch. 
The Lymond Chronicles (I'm in the middle of a full series re-read. It's even better this time around.)
The Night Circus (Morgenstern has a new book out and I'm wary of reading it because I liked this one so much and want to like the new one just as much.)
My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She's Sorry

26. What was your greatest musical discovery of the year?
I don't discover music much. I've been listening to a bunch of barbershop. I got to go to Carolann's Thursday night thing at least once, and that was great. There was a Susan Werner song I clued into that I hadn't before but I can't remember that name just now. I saw Come From Away with the Hortons in August and that had a lot of good music.

27. What was your favorite film?
    Bill and I have seen so few this year. And that's the only time I go to the movies, really. I honestly can't remember even one.

28. What was your favorite meal?
    Michelle made me another birthday dinner. It was amazing. There were deconstructed spring rolls and a stew and my favorite people were there. 

I went to see a really challenging client for the first time in a part of Brooklyn I don't know well. On the way there I saw a lobster place. The session was good but hard. They booked a 5 pack. On the way home I bought myself a lobster roll and it was gooooooood. 

When we got sick of Easter leftovers Lissa and I went out for an extravagant lobster dinner and it was amazing. At the Pond House in August we had a big lobster dinner. I had a surprising amount of lobster this year and it was all my favorite.

29. What did you want and get?
   That birthday dinner from Michelle. Respect for that boundary I set around Christmas. The trip to FL. Reducing my office hours for next year. The iPad.

30. What did you want and not get?
    Anna living to 19. Some ease around Christmas events. Security in some professional situations. Kisses.

31. What did you do on your birthday?
    Went to dinner with the core Clinton Hill group. Ate at La Rina. Had a lovely and very low key time.

32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
    Being able to trust all the people I want to trust.

33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept of the year?
Growing with me. Drool resistant. Functional.

34. What kept you sane?
    My friends, hands down. - That was last year's answer and it still holds. I have the very best friends in the whole world. They are generous, funny, creative, intelligent, and the most caring people I know. I am continuously grateful for them and amazed at everything they do for me and for others.

35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Norman Reedus - This held true, too, though Kate Moennig certainly gave him a run for his money.

36. What political issue stirred you the most?
Getting T out of office and minimizing his damaging impact on the world. Some might say this is a losing battle but we can't stop fighting. Every day. So much fighting. And people still refusing to see how immoral and self-serving he is.

37. Who did you miss?
Auntie Blanche
Friends going through just as hard times as me so we don't connect as often.

38. Who was the best new person you met?
Jennie. She's a hoot and an inspiration and, to some extent, a kindred spirit.

39. What valuable life lesson did you learn this year?
How to set a boundary, even if it makes people angry or confused. I could maybe get better at saying why I'm doing it to minimize possible damage but one step at a time!

40. What is a quote that sums up your year?

As usual, I refuse to choose.

This one is good:
“And the English army, wheeling, started south at a gallop over the hill pass into Ettrick, followed by twenty men and eight hundred sheep in steel helmets.” 
― Dorothy Dunnett, The Disorderly Knights

This might be too much me:
“And habits are hell's own substitute for good intentions. Habits are the ruin of ambition, of initiative , of imagination. They're the curse of marriage and the after-bane of death.” 
― Dorothy Dunnett, The Game of Kings

“Grief takes many forms, including the absence of grief.” 

― Alison Bechtel

“What would happen if we spoke the truth?” 

― Alison Bechdel, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

"My biggest challenge is trust, and really believing that trust, in letting things just happen personally and professionally and trust with myself. But I'm getting better at it."
 - Katherine Moennig

This one is probably the best guide:
"Find people who will make you better." - Michelle Obama

And then there's this. I've had a lot of luck with my "Year of ____" strategies, starting with the Year of Yes. So I'm sticking with it. The 2019 phrase was "Back to Basics" and it helped a lot. I continued to remind myself of it all year long and it centered me and got me out of my fear and into intelligent action. Not sure what will beat it this year.....let's try


After the respiratory illness it feels like almost a luxury. I'm interested in how it can remind me to take a moment before speaking or acting. Sometimes it will mean others can ring in, sometimes it will mean I can change my mind, sometimes it can mean that speaking or acting shouldn't happen at all. No matter what I hope it will help me find the space and the rest in a life where I'm setting myself up to be the sole engine.

May your 2020 be full of air and light and love. Happy New Year.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Two Kizzes Walk Into A Theatre

I had this written and ready to go, everything but the photos, in plenty of time to post before the end of July. It didn't happen. And I get why it didn't and that's ok because things are really hard now. I'm fortunate to have great friends and work and kids around me just like the ones in this story. So here's the story, a little late.


Years ago I lived with a guy and I taught dance to kids and I worked in a restaurant to make money and I was going to be an actress and the world was my oyster. I was under 25 and under 110lbs and, at least one year, made under $15,000 and still lived in New York City without starving.

Now I live with a guy who has 4 legs. I teach dog behavior to people of all ages. I work in an office for health insurance. I have no idea what I'm going to be next or what the world will do next, and I'm under nothing but the gun, if you hear what I'm saying.

Back in that day I also had a friend who danced with The Royal Ballet. Our parents were better friends than we were but I was proud to know her and I was teaching dance so when she came to The Met on tour I wanted to see her.

That guy, JAM, and I splurged for nosebleed seats for ourselves to see Manon. It was a ballet I didn't even know the story of, which was intriguing and fun. Then we splurged some more to take 3 of my students, women I remain friends with to this day, to see Swan Lake.

I have never had a refined fashion sense. I don't seem to have a feel for what I both like and what will look good on me. On anyone, really. It confuses me. There are rules about color and line and fit and form but you're supposed to flaunt them more than you follow them. You can only flaunt them within a whole other set of rules that no one can quite define. At least that's what it seems like to me. Back in the day I was experimenting a bit and finding a style that made me feel like New York and me and someone anyone would want to meet.

The night we saw Manon I wore my favorite outfit. It was a short, black, swing dress in a jersey fabric with a mock turtleneck and no sleeves. I had these wildly patterned tights in bright colors and a pair of black, high heeled pseudo booties with elastic "laces" that I still miss. They were commanding and comfortable and I wore them straight into the ground. I rolled my shockingly permed hair in a tightly rolled style that was one part Howard's End, one part East Village retro, and several parts desperation (it was a terrible perm and I could not see it at the time).

At the end of the night we climbed our stoop and I saw myself reflected in the window glass of the big wooden door. I looked exactly the same as I had when I left. Maybe a little more flushed. I was worldly and in control and ready for what came next. In that outfit, with all I'd learned, I could take all comers and look forward to it.

A few nights later we boldly set out to bring 3 girls between the ages of 4 & 8 to their first ballet performance. We gathered at B's house to set off. I wore an emerald green silk tea length dress with puffy 1950s crinoline and cheap silver shoes that were all the rage at the time. The same hairstyle now felt like something out of Leave It to Beaver (same number of parts desperation, though, it really was the worst perm and all my fault). B brought out some of her jewelry to complete my look.

She clipped 2 earrings to the top of my shoes as embellishment and the girls looked on in awe. J, B's youngest asked, "Are they real diamonds?" I was quick to tell her no no no but B cut me off, "If anyone ever asks you that you simply reply, 'Every other one!'" Then she taught us all how to fold our sweaters and carry them over one arm and waved us off toward the subway.

Fellow passengers complimented us on our beautiful, well-behaved girls as we rode the 2 train north. We still had nosebleed seats but with kids the trip all the way up to the top of the sky was part of the joy.

At the end of the first act J told me she was tired. For 5 seconds I had an epic internal battle with myself about what to say to a child for whom I had bought a ticket I couldn't really afford and then I took a deep breath and said, "Do you want to sit in my lap?" She did. And slept soundly until it was time to go home.

I am someone who is afraid at my core about "wasting" money and to this day I am grateful that I realized that the real waste would have been to force a child to stay awake for a whole performance and have that cause her to dislike it. She loved the first act and she loved being included in the outing and she loved sitting in my lap and she loved being carried to the cab by JAM. Not a thing was wasted there.

By the time JAM and I were climbing the steps to our own apartment in Brooklyn I felt proud but also like I'd been pecked to death by a thousand swans in matching tutus. There was a plastic bag trailing out of my purse for the 7 year old who got pukey on car rides and my cheap sparkly shoes were filleting my ankles at every step. I saw my reflection in the door's window and if I'd had the energy I would have laughed.

The shiny green dress would have been less wrinkled if I'd slept in it, one whole side of my hairdo was unraveled and pointing in several directions, I had mascara smeared down one cheek, and my glasses were askew. I looked nothing like I had when we'd left the house. I might have been worldly but I was not in control of anything and certainly not ready for whatever was coming next. On the other hand I had still learned things that night and I had already taken all comers and I knew how I'd tackle the opportunity again next time it was offered.

The difference between Elegant Swing Dress Me and Wrinkled Donna Reed On A Bender Me was that Wrinkled Donna Reed had already accomplished something. I gave three young friends their first experience at the ballet. I, with JAM's full and vital participation, got all three of them to  and from Lincoln Center safely and calmly. We talked about the performance and the theatre and probably a bunch of other things we've since forgotten the importance of.  We didn't give them tickets to the ballet, we gave them an experience at the ballet and with their friends and with us. We put them first and we let them lead (mostly) and we learned from them. I couldn't enumerate the things they taught us that night but I'd bet money that those lessons crop up frequently when I'm interacting with kids even now.

While elegance is fine for starting out toward a goal, if you're actually going to get anything done you have to be ok with getting your hands dirty. Or in my case your cleavage drooled on by a sleeping pre-schooler. The wrinkles and the lost bobby pins and the heel blisters were signs of a job I had committed to, I didn't do that night halfway.

I couldn't figure out what kept bringing these memories up recently. I'm still not 100% sure but I think there's something about the woman I see reflected back at me in windows these days. She looks a little rough. Big scar, rounder cheeks, deeper wrinkles, way better hair style. I miss the elegant me, I think. I haven't seen her in a while.

Perhaps I had forgotten that it wasn't elegant me who's done all the things I'm proud of in my life so if I had to misplace one of them she's the one to pick.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Brooklyn, Brooklyn Take Me In

It has been a month.

All the bad things feel like they're going to go on forever and all the good ones I couldn't remember them at all.

I considered quitting. Oh yes, I did. Quitting everything. Taking my ball and going home. Curling up in a ball and waiting until the world passed me by.

Tonight I stopped writing this (look how [not] far I'd gotten when I stopped!) to support a friend's Concert Window show. Carolann is doing them the last Sunday of every month and it's fun. Join us next month!

I don't listen to enough live music. It will likely come as no surprise to you that while listening to live music I remembered some things.

This month I finished a re-write on a play about Amelia Earhart that I wrote for a friend. I did the first draft in 2015 and delivered it into her capable hands. She asked for a brave educational re-write soon after. I went in and made it possible for students to be assigned small roles. Seems so scary to trust student participants like that but, wow! She's a working dancer and choreographer and teacher. We work on it when we're able.

Last month she came back with a plan. She's going to produce it in a professional theatre. So she'd started looking at it again and she had questions. She came to meet me and she told me what those questions were. It's hard enough to listen to questions about your work when you feel strong. When you're not feeling strong...

I did the thing that, apparently, Bradley Whitford says we all do when we get criticism. In your head you go through these stages:

"Fuck you!"

"I suck."

"What was that again?"

Fortunately drama school taught me to go through those stages silently.

Honestly I thought I had to try to work through what she asked for on the page/screen. Took me a few weeks but I got it. (15 minutes a day. I swear by doing hard stuff 15 minutes a day and getting it done.) I like it. Some of what I did I fear is a director's work and not a writer's but I put it in there to see what she thought. She liked it!

We're going to meet soon to read through some parts. We could have met last week but see above re: nearly quitting.

It's the scheduling that's laying me low. I'm the scheduler for a lot of things. The job that gives me my health insurance, for instance, is very heavy on scheduling, especially right now. So I didn't schedule that meeting. I did mange to get the once a month rehearsal for my Chekhov play locked in, though.

Last summer we got lost and missed about 3 months. So far this summer we've nailed it, though. We even have something on the books for July.

In this month's rehearsal as I stomped and slammed around the stage (it's for the character, totally legal) I got glimmers of the real play. I dropped in for 3-4 whole moments at a time and was really there. It's nowhere near ready but I can see a time when it will be. My first thought?

"How am I going to get all these props to a rehearsal space? Fuck!"

The more significant thing that happened started in our May rehearsal. We were working on the end of the play and the director asked me to do something that was in direct conflict with what I'd written. Actor Me did what she said.

Writer Me stewed until the following month's rehearsal.

Of course I did.

The nice thing about that, though, is that I got through the Whitford Stages all by myself and was prepared. Writer Me waited until the end of rehearsal and told the director I didn't love it. Our conversation went something like this.

Me: I thought about it and this doesn't fit with what I wrote.

Her: Say more?

Me: Because I wrote A and you asked for B.

Her: I see that. What about A.5?

Me: Sure.

Her: Cool.

Me: Cool cool. Should we order food?

Her: Yeah, sure.

So, you see, despite the fact that right here today I'm as easily frustrated as a toddler after a day at the zoo, good things have been happening right, left, and center this month. These are only two examples. There were more. Trust me on this.

I need to trust me on this. It's a good thing I have a blog to write things down so I can look them up later when I need a boost.

That's what blogs are for, right?