Monday, August 1, 2016

Holding the Moment

Gromit from his crate -  waiting to search

About a month ago, on a Thursday evening, I was out, it was one of the most beautiful kind of Minnesota evenings. 70 ish, sunny, a cloud or two to contrast the blue sky and an easy breeze lilting through every now and then.

I found myself at dusk with Gromit who had played nose work with me for three hours.  We were in downtown Hopkins, though a suburb of Minneapolis, it still has remnants of a small town from days gone by.  A cute single main street reminded me of an up north small Minnesotan town.


We were at a mock NW2 trial for the evening.  It was held at the office of an architectal firm - a large room in an old drug store building that had been converted into an open space, with short cube walls, desks lined perfectly all facing the large window in the front toward the west.  Blue prints everywhere, hanging from racks, sitting on desks, and rolled up in tubes.  Two meeting rooms set angled towards the front of the building.  The larger one with an industrial size rolling door the side of the one whole wall.  The sun going slowly down in the west, gleaming through the front and west windows, gave the space a serene calm glow.  It had  warm wooden walls, earthy green, brown, and gold paint tones mixed with a little brightness, no ceiling tile just the exposed roof rafters.  Uncovered duct work was shiny and silver and all the computer cables were neatly held by a thin wired shelf.  All attached to the rafters like something from the Real Simple magazine.

Gromit had searched all evening for me - containers, vehicles, interiors and exteriors.  Since he had recently been groomed, his fur was extra soft and short.  It was almost silky to touch.  And because he had so little hair, when I patted him on his side or his back end there was hollow thump sound.  Like a soft drum. 

As the evening came to a close, I moved him from his crate to the back seat of the van.  He could lay with his slender long legs all the way out in front of him in the back seat.  And so,  he did stretch out his massive body, plumed tail curled around his back end leaning on the door, front legs almost touching the door across the other side of the van.   He craned his neck forward like a yogi doodle.  He let his head sink down resting on top of his giant white paws.

I looked at Gromit laying in the back seat, tired and yet somehow good with life.  I reached into his space with my right hand, he lifted his head and gave me a soft look.  The look where his big brown eyes open round and watch me without making eye contact.  I slid my fingers under his ear and gave a scratch to his favorite spot.  His spot is just under the ear where the cartilage and his skull connect, just under the ear flap.  Gromit leaned into my palm and lay his whole head in my hand, gradually closing his eyes.  He inhaled slowly and then sighed with his whole body.  He dropped all the weight of his head onto my hand.  It caught my breath, this confidence in me - I wanted to stop time - forever to hold the weight of this head, this dear silly head, and busy brain.  This head, this giant white head, now after so many years able to let go and relax.  Inhale, exhale  - I breathed in with him and exhaled silently listening for his breath.   I wanted to count his long curly eye lashes and watch his nostrils move ever so slightly with each breath.  And those soft pursed black lips of his - just to be able to see how they outline his mouth as if a not so skilled make up artist in training had carefully applied black lipstick for an upcoming portrait- my heart could not be any bigger for him - I wanted to stay here with him.

I wanted to pick up all the pieces of things gone by, training that I can't undo, misunderstandings that I can't explain to him -  how if it wasn't for his health I would give Gromit all the treats he wanted - pup cups forever.  I would tell him if I had more money I would buy him his own personal acreage to run and run and run just because he looks so beautiful running and because he loves it so.  I wanted us to stay forever in this graceful second.

I left his head sink to the seat and gently pulled my fingers out from under him.  Slowly I ran my fingers from the front of his forehead to the back of his ears over his crown.  And then a car pulled up next to us and doors were opening and shutting and people were talking.  We both lost the moment and looked at the car.  It was fine - but it was gone.  The moment was gone.  It was a public parking lot in a downtown with bars and restaurants during happy hour after all. 

I will be forever grateful to whoever taught me the value of a moment.  How many more moments are full of blessings than lacking of them.  And when the torrent of difficult moments come I know I will never regret having stayed too long in a good moment.  This was one of those moments to stay in. 

I  have been thinking about the shooting at Pulse in Orlando.  In my life I have had moments of being scared that people thought it was okay to call me names, yell at me,  throw things at me,  tell me I was going to hell all because I was gay.  But eventually I came to realize that it was their fear in the end that caused people to do these things.  It was important for me to remember that I was every bit as human and worthy as anyone because of my diverse presence.  As I thought about it I remembered an event that now seems a life time ago and then again way too recent.  It was an event in Dubuque, IA.  I traveled to the city to show solidarity of a persecuted group that I could not separate myself from just because of distance.  Dubuque was going to have a gay Pride parade and the year before it had been difficult for the LGBT members so they put a call out for LGBT people to help by showing up and increasing their numbers.  


I am one of the LGBT community and I went even though honestly I was a little afraid.  But I was more afraid not to go.   I went because there were more people lining the streets to give us the finger, cuss at us and throw eggs at us than there were people marching in the parade.  I went to help balance the scale.  I doubt I will ever forget looking up at the stumpy 5-6 storied downtown buildings of Dubuque, as people were screaming at us.  Whole families loaded in the back of pick up trucks sitting in their lawn chairs, physically higher than us, parked along the parade route and they came down just to see and yell at us and show us to their kids.

I remember seeing police a top the buildings at every corner of each building from both sides of the street video taping us at all angles.  I was stunned coming from the liberal Minneapolis town I thrived in up here in the north.   And yet we did not stop, we moved on.  At the end there was a concert by a long time musician of the LGBT community - a sort of star in her own right.  And I think the LGBT community of Dubuque, IA was running on adrenalin with the ability to finish their celebration in less fear and so successfully.  For myself, I have never taken another PRIDE parade, in any town - Minneapolis, San Francisco  - anywhere for granted.  

If you had told me that day that we would hear the President of the United States speak about the rights of gay people to marry in my lifetime I would have thought you were nuts.  If you would have told me that Iowa would beat Minnesota to the punch on gay marriage I would have told you it would only happen on the same day pigs really do fly.  Those days were so powerful, and so much more strongly etched in my brain. 

Through all the things I have watched with gay rights, all the things I have lived through in this gay rights movement,  watching the way things really do move up and on and eventually the majority of people did swing towards choosing to value life and diversity by voting to include gay people in having the ability to marry - this has given me so much hope.  Those unexpected moments when I was amazed at how much people were willing to go out of their comfort zone because they loved someone who was different than them - be it a child, a niece, a parent, an uncle, a friend, a minister, maybe even a coworker - those moments were so much more powerful than the blurry impressionistic picture of people yelling at us, that comes up in my head as I try to remember that day in Dubuque. 

I can only say that for me in my small world, I can count so many more times, so many more people and so much more impact from the moments a community of people come together.  Even two people and then three - people coming together are an amazing thing.  So many people killed in Orlando, so many people came together to be connected after Orlando.  So many moments of people stopping me to ask me about how I was doing.  A message from multiple leaders at work giving condolences and acknowledging the impact of this shooting.  I can't forget Orlando or Dubuque.  I can choose which moments are going to help move things forward.  Maybe in some way all the moments get us moving - I don't know -

Paul and I recently hosted a salon of sorts.   A friend accepted a request to facilitate.  It turned into dinner party and with semi structured discussion in a group of 8.  It was fulfilling and touching at the same time.  For some it was truly out of their comfort zone.  To be able to hear ideas not in sound bites or texts or tweets but hear the full context of the person expressing an idea is truly a gift.  To have my brain opened when new ideas were spoken was huge.   To be sitting together with words that are not always comfortable and yet moments of truth and sincerity - conversation with integrity and safety -  gave me a sense of connection.  

And so sometimes is the gift of spending an entire evening focused on Gromit or Chewie. Dogs live in the moment I am told.  Gromit and I lived in the same moment after spending three hours together.  To get that moment, to get a chance to listen to Gromit when he is communicating to me and with me -- it is such a different experience than training him to follow me or listen to me or see me as the leader. This nose work stuff is kinda different.  And Gromit and I are kinda a different team.  I feel like I can't get enough of Gromit talking to me and our trying to refine my ability to translate the language of Gromit and what he is saying to me - very fun. 

To hold his big white head in my hands while he fell deeply asleep.   To be really connected  with Gromit, to know that he was so comfortable he would fall asleep in a parking lot, with his head in my palm - that kind of trust, that kind of letting go by a Gromit - that is the best kind of moment.   I want to remember it and keep holding the moment.  


Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Best is Mine

Chewie is as loyal as the day is long.   I never have to find Chewie or wonder where he has wandered off to.  He is always near.  When I wake up in the middle of the night and need to quench my thirst or grab something to eat, he finds a way to bring himself from a deep sleep to semi-conscious.  When I toss the covers back and stand up, he pushes his weight up from the bed, swinging his head into the air,  he pulls his shoulders up first and comes to a stunned stand on the mattress.  Like a slinky he lets gravity pull him off the bed and thumping to the floor with his front paws and quick following back end he wakes himself up.  He silently trods up and down the stairs with me as just like his genetic ball fetching - as though this is what he was born for, to be at my side. 
He and I are almost at the end of a year of mourning, he has been by my side no matter my mood, no matter the time, no matter the game.  He adored Kristin.  In retrospect she didn't deserve him.  Then again, neither do I.  Who does really deserves this companionship?  Who deserves anything really? Isn't life the gift?  I can't help but think how lucky I am to have Gromit and Chewie beside me every night and every morning.    I am steadily finding the ground again with my feet.
I am getting ready to pay Kristin the final installment of money from our assets.  I had a therapist that used to say you do with your money as you do with your love.  It annoyed the hell out of me - I found it rather offensive to use money and love in the same sentence.  In this case, though it feels so true.   I have never thought I deserved the money I make nor the job I have nor the relationships in my life.   Well if giving money means I am giving love - there you go, I give it up to the universe.
I have always payed attention to tipping and wanting to hold on to money.  It has always been this pull between letting go of something I try so hard to control that ends up being the cause of so much anxiety and fear.  I find that when I am not desperate with money my whole life seems to lighten a little bit.  If I think I have enough to give up some it seems like I have enough in life too and I have some life to give and giving is easier.  So tipping generously always seems to come back to me in good ways. 
It is hard to know that this is what it comes down to and the way to clean up my life and move on means paying her.  Maybe somehow giving this hardest piece, the one where I have to go into debt to pay her, and know that I am paying her for having an affair and being named as Cindy's spouse publicly already, and the money will be 'theirs' - well maybe this big way of sending out something so hard to give up will resolve something inside me - the relationship the money the relationship was money?  Anyway, if I think I can pull this off, if I can find a way to remind myself I have enough for this frustrating moment, then maybe I can pull off feeling like I am enough.  The truth is I still feel indebted and less than worthwhile in the universe.  And as much as I want to blame Kristin and how she treated me for these feelings, that only works for so long - this is my life.  Like it or not I have it back in full force. 
These days I have so much contempt for her.  I swing back and forth between feeling utterly sorry for myself to realizing how free I am without her.  I used to want to try to play golf, she played in a golf league.  She always told me we could only afford to have one person in the house play golf.  I wanted to be less stressed and plan for the next milestone as an adult.  She said that I could never retire cause we could never afford it so don't even think about it.  I lived thinking we didn't have enough.  I started thinking I wasn't enough - it is confusing isn't it?
Chewie never seems to doubt his role to be present and steady.  Gromit never seems to tire of me.  I wonder if anyone else has the same sense of joy I get when I come in the front door after a run.  I leave and am back within about an hour and the dogs greet me at the door, with tails in the air, barking quips of hello.  They snort and rub against me and lick my salty skin.  Then they play bow and one rolls on the floor and they skitter back and forth on the worn wood floors and snap their teeth playfully.  My entry back into the house makes them play together.  They smile and snort and nuzzle their noses into my side both of them at once.   I scratch their ears and they let out a moan.  They arc their bodies and swing their hips around for a scratch on the back end.  They have no money, they have themselves, their instinct and it has turned out to be the best for me.  In the end - the best is mine - what was left of Krisitn and I  - because I have Gromit and Chewie.    They never wonder if they are enough, they are not stingy with their attention.  They don't care if I play golf or retire as long as I keep coming home to them.  Oh, well there is dinner too - they do like their dinner.  I can retire as long as I keep providing dinner.
Sleep well - sweet Chewie - sleep well


Friday, January 1, 2016

Hipster Gromit

Gromit is in need of a grooming.  I love his look right now and I don’t want to groom him.  He has the Rastas doodle do — he looks just like Big Bird’s Dog or as someone called him the other day the abominable snow dog - Ha.  

I think metro-sexual dogs like Gromit prefer to be coiffed.  I have been wondering today whether I have really taken into account his natural dernier cri?  Why you might ask?  Well, I just got a dose of having that awkward realization that in a particular setting I did not fit in, not my style or my age or for that matter my vehicle - like truly I was just out of my element.  I think I might understand how it feels to suddenly be unhip.   I think Gromit prefers to be a part of the hip crowd.  It must be so hard to have such an uncouth person setting his grooming schedule and style for him. 

Neither Gromit nor I  look in the mirror often and when I do it is to make sure my shoes match, my sweater is not on backwards, and to check to see if there are any dryer sheets clinging to the hem of my pants.  I don’t take an in depth look at the pores on my face, count the crows feet around my eyes, check to see if the number of chins has doubled or whether there are any gray hairs to pluck.   I think we both forget we are aging.  This day I was jolted not by the fact that I can apply the same thick Nivea hand creme to both my hands AND the delicate skin on my face, as it soaks in completely without giving me zits.  Oh no, I was jolted by a whole population of people starting to take over the world that are younger, are thinkers and have a style that I had not been aware existed until I felt like an alien in their presence.

I am having a stay-cation of sorts.  I am taking a week off of work and enjoying family and tackling a couple of things that I would like to do in reclaiming the home I live in.  Today I decided I needed to accomplish something.  So I went running with my friend Susan.  But wait, that wasn't my accomplishment.  I whipped up breakfast and even that was not my accomplishment -I made myself toast with peanut butter.  I cleaned the shower.  That was my house accomplishment.   I am on vacation and did chores and exercised - so what if they weren’t on my true house reclaiming list, I thought I deserved a little time at a coffee shop.  I hadn’t done it for years. 

I used to frequent a coffee shop to write music.  I know it seems kind of odd to sit in a coffee shop and write music but I needed to get away from the piano and think through what was on the page.  Anyway, I would walk to the coffee shop to get some exercise.  I frequented a cafe known for its lesbian friendliness and as a local independently and women owned establishment - Blue Moon.  It was before Caribou and Starbuck’s and Dunn Bros had taken over the Twin Cities and you went for the coffee brew and the ambiance of the shop.  It was not a time when coffee shops were supposed to look the same and you could feel like you were in MN even when visiting NYC because Starbucks brewed the same coffee in the same cups.  I like Starbucks, just pointing out it was a different time.  

Blue Moon was a first date place during the 12 step boom.   The coffee shop was quiet and had great music that you would not hear on the radio or in the elevator.  It had art on the walls and published written works,  poems and t-shirts for sale and a calendar of community events that would be  happening at the coffee shop.  There was a community bulletin board to leave a business card, post rental/roommate flyers, and 12 step meetings.  There were old recycled board games in case you didn't want to 'process' with your friend during your coffee time. I could sit and quietly write music.  I could drift away from the world and everyone would be doing their own thing.  You could people watch and it was hip to know the owners but not exclusive.   You could show up in a flannel shirt or a dress - fit or flowing.  Social Worker or Granola or Pagan or Queer or Straight.  It didn’t matter all were welcome.  Everything was acceptable.  Everything was expected.  Everything was understated because everyone was dressed differently.  Blue Moon was one of the top coffee shops in the cities.  It is still here and is still a warm place to stop in and visit.

So, in this sense of nostalgic staycation bliss I looked up the ten best coffee shops in the Twin Cities.  I thought I was doing just fine because right away City Pages came up with a list of the 10 best local coffee shops.  Exactly what I wanted, independent places.  And City Pages - that is hip.  They still actually have a paper in print - nostalgic and oh so retro.  Something quiet, with art on the wall and a good fresh cup of coffee.  Independent music and space to think.  Maybe read the New York Times that I haven’t gotten through from Sunday. 

Here were my choices -
In my neighborhood - at least I live in a hip neighborhood
    •    Angry Catfish:
    •    Peace Coffee:
    •    Dogwood Coffee:

I had to rule out Angry Catfish because I don’t have a fat tire bike and I wasn’t going to drive my minivan to a coffee bar/trendy unique bike shop.   That is the place they put hammered steel fenders on my Casseroll Salsa bike.  And they were psyched about it - so was I !

Peace Coffee is next to the micro cinema - Trylon:  I have seen  showings of cult film classics like the scary Halloween Japanese cult classic Hausu - the main girl characters have names like Gorgeous, Fantasy and Melody.  Oh to see Melody get eaten by the piano - nothing like it in the horror films of today!  Plus I might see some of my old co-ed softball buddies there -

Dogwood is within walking distance, has awesome pour over coffee, shopping at Forage: and, dang it was packed!

The place I picked was in a new neighborhood  - Spyhouse:
Sounded like they brewed awesome coffee and had cool architecture and it was on Broadway.  To my liking - the art district in NE Mpls.  It was 1pm and who would be having coffee at 1 on a Monday afternoon.  So I got in the car and had to use the GPS to get there.  When I arrived the street parking was full, luckily there was a building parking lot behind the coffee shop.     My van was a little big for the parking lot spaces and I noticed the hipster Volvo's BMW's and Prius'.   Doesn’t anyone have big dog vehicles anymore?   I had to walk like half a block to get to the entrance.    

On the walk around the corner of the building I spied with my little eyes - a hip craft brewery, a sewing/design studio, a CORE power yoga stop and a boot camp type work out place.  I was already feeling over my head and what was with a full parking lot?  The place couldn't be that busy could it? 

Whatever possessed me to try to put my head up and keep walking into the coffee shop, I will never know.  I think it might be likened to stubbornness.  Or as Paul, my younger, hipper brother said to me - I was going to just walk in and own the space.  Walk in I did.  When I got in it was humming and packed.  Did I mention that we don’t use shop or cafe anymore - these are coffee bars, ahem.   It was dark and there was indie punk music playing.  There were more glowing silver Apples flipped up and open than I had ever seen in one place.  No one had a pencil, notebook or a barely held together board game with missing pieces.  No two people were sitting intently looking at each other on a first date.    There was no artwork on the walls because the warm wooden tables were the artwork and they all faced the same direction.  They were lined up like a classroom.  

I looked around and there was no way I could stay.  I was not dressed right - I thought of my Great Aunt Gladys immediately and understood now why she had to ask if she could get away with a denim skirt before I would pick her up to head downtown to the Espresso Royale coffee cafe for a few hands of Bridge.  I should have called and asked the barista - can I get away with my sporty granola look - hiking boots and cords with a baggy cotton sweater?  I felt naked with my Target gloves without e-tips (for using my smart phone and not having to take them off).    Instead of having a hip California look to them, these young people had an refined/updated Paul Bunyan look, trimmed beards, tailored fit jeans,  polished black boots. They made body piercing and tattoo art status quo.  They all had fitted down jackets hanging on the back of their chairs - no leather jackets in this place.   I was old, baggy, saggy, and had comfortable shoes on.

The place was humming with conversation and reminded me of the way we no longer separate work and play.  This is a generation of independence and consulting.  They do not work for people they work for themselves and if you want their skills you cannot own them you can hire them but you will not own them like when you work for a company - work for the ‘man’.  They work when they want and are interested in their work.  There were as many men as women drinking coffee.  They chatted and typed and sipped. 

I felt so obviously out of place that I made myself get in line for coffee of course.  Still I thought - I have my mac in my backpack.  Oh yeah, I was one of them no matter what it ‘looked’ like.    So what if my backpack was dangling open because I didn’t remember to zip it shut after I put my reading glasses in or the fact that I never put the NYTimes in.  So what if it had the name of a bank on it and that I had to empty my knitting out of it before I put my laptop into it.   My apple will glow just like anyone else in this coffee speakeasy.  I suddenly realized how invisible I was when  a couple of women just walked in and stood in front of me in the line.  

That was it - I was so uncomfortable I couldn’t stand in line any longer.  I took my gloves off, smiled that I had to take them off and typed a quick text to my good friends to explain what had just happened.  I was laughing - this is not a feel sorry for Heidi moment it was hilarious to me.  I wasn’t really invisible I am sure my indecision made me look like I wasn’t in line. 

It was energizing.  It is a moment when you realize there is change and I am glad for that.  I will go back to this place dressed a little more to disappear in the crowd.  I will find a corner and stay and watch and learn.   When I couldn’t fathom how things will get better I realize there are changes coming changes are already happening.   And this was such a small corner of the change but such an obvious moment.  

Later that evening I had dinner with my hip neighbors and Paul and their good friend from Texas.  They told me that high waisted jeans are coming back into fashion, zubas  and mullet hair styles too - is there any way to explain retro is not always hip? 

I ended up at Peace Coffee and enjoyed my visit, coffee and table with personal outlet for my Mac. 

I am going to get Hipster Gromit in to get his groom on. 
It is winter and shearing him when his coat is of no use to anyone might seem impractical - but no one owns a Gromit.  He does get a certain walk about him when he comes fresh from the groomer.  He prances about like a doodle ready for a night at the opera or a dramatic poetry reading.  And that makes me wonder  — how hip is the Gromit?  At 11 does he see himself as the senior dog that he is, or does he want to mix it up and be best in show(ing off).   Perhaps I will get him the doodle version of a Brazilian blow out — a nice shampoo and brush out. 

Perhaps I will pick up a fitted down dog jacket for him to match his manicured beard and exquisite feathery tail.  I don’t think I can do a piercing  - but his dog chip could count for that?  He has had that since he was a baby dog.  I know he is getting older.  He still likes to walk at the dog park on occasion but we stay on the periphery of the riff raff and raucous youngsters.  He is energized by them but not really interested in a serious tussle or race these days.  

I am updating his nose work equipment so that he won’t have to be embarrassed by my less than airtight container that you can see through.  The odor tins won’t be rusted any more.  Fortunately he got into this new sport on the edge.  He was one of the charter movers and shakers in the canine world of nose work in Minnesota.   Even if he is not the most titled dog in MN he can plug in with the best of them and hang in the coffee bars of nose work without feeling old.   As the nose work people would say - Happy Sniffing my boy - happy hipster sniffing! 

Monday, December 28, 2015

Something Better

My my , Ferron

I don't think about distant places
When I've got my own mind
But it leaves me when I least expect it
Then I'm looking for a short line for home
I'm praying to a sunset mountain
Well aware the softest light's behind me I
 stare at the pink cloud water fountains
And wonder now who is ever gonna find me?
My, my
My, my

Help me remember those times
Every once in a while
When I'm a quick flashing light
When I'm aglow in a midnight smile
Or deep in a wide, wide night
That I'm glad we're more than bodies
And that we're ever souls in journey
I am thrilled this earth is beauty
And there's no past tense for 'easy'

My my... my, my
My my... my, my

I have been enjoying some revitalizing energy with Gromit and Chewie this fall.  It is true that they love cold weather.  However, they have been springy happy and boisterous in their greetings.  They delight in almost everything new or any to be investigated sound and greet me every morning,  with barking howls and arcing bodies, tasting and breathing in the air at the top of the stairs, swishing tails thudding against the walls.  Tails long enough to be reaching both sides of the stairs as they head down for breakfast stopping each time I stop - turning and smiling.  Happy to be awake, happy to be awake with me.  And when they wait impatiently for me to finish making their breakfast they act like I am the best chef ever.  Their breakfast is a delicacy to them but they are so hungry they wolf it down and always want more. 

With Gromit turning 11 and Chewie solidly through the middle of his 10th year, I think this young dog behavior is just a joy. 

This year, I was able to shop for the holidays.  I just got kind of kick out of it this year.  I had a moment of remembering my doodles - what should I get them?  I actually picked a couple of new simple squeaky toys.  Very simple but they loved them and played with them for about an hour as though I had brought home the winning lottery ticket.   Gromit barked and then laid down and just kept squeaking his.  Chewie kept tossing his at me.  Then I hid them and they raced about looking for them, each running back with a toy and squeaking it incessantly.  Their joy made me feel not worthy because I was so happy watching them.  Who were those squeaky toys really for  - them or me?  I love the energy and excitement and enthusiasm from these guys right now. 

In my solitary life I am checking off the list of firsts - first birthday, first Thanksgiving, first Christmas, first family loss.  I am tired of grief.  I am not saying I am done with it - but it is a wearing process.  And right now as I watch some of my relatives lives change because of their health I am aware just how fleeting life is, what a gift it is and to have to be in the midst of this relationship grief is just annoying.  

I am tired of feeling the loss of my marriage right now.   Mostly I feel totally cheated when at the end I was not involved or a part of the decision to end 'us' as though I never had a voice at all.    I remember a barbecue when a young friend trying to survive breast cancer, asked a group of us how we kept our relationships going and Kristin responded - “benign manipulation” and laughed.  I felt awful inside.  It is really hard to think of that as a joke now. 

I want to roar and spring my claws open and swipe everything in my path out of my sight - nothing, there is nothing, there was nothing - in some weird way it is like all the roar and swiping is energy that fights the air - fights nothing.  And it doesn’t help - there is nothing pushing back because she is gone and she expressed righteousness and entitlement in the quickness of her departure.  It was like a relief to her - and that feels the cruelest thing of all to me - as though she was getting away from me, escaping me - the shame surrounding me to think someone escaped having to be around me is kind of awful.  I don’t wish her any happiness  or peace right now.  I don’t like carrying this around inside me.  That is not who I want to be.  I keep saying this won’t impact my faith in humanity but it is a struggle right now.  I know time will help me move through this place.  And I will find a way to have the integrity of compassion.  I am just not seeing the way right now.  And so the journey continues.  I stay close to the people who value that compassion in me and keep talking and leaning into it. 

I would prefer to spend my grief on people that are more affirming right now.  Amazing people like the family bridge maven - Gladys.  As I started to write this, she was transitioning out of this life.  She was in her late 90’s.  She was my great aunt on my mother’s mother’s side - my grandmother’s sister.  Shy of a century of living, she lay quietly in a hospice bed.  Her body so small.   Her impressive natural wavy short red hair, never colored, naturally red hair.  Hardly a gray hair on her head.   She had bright blue sparkly eyes to go with that red hair.  She died this morning.

She grew up in the Powderhorn neighborhood in Mpls and talked of watching Fireworks on the Fourth of July around the small lake in the middle of the Powderhorn Park.  Talking with her reminded me of my family roots in this town.  She told old family stories like her brother falling off the rug porch at their house and breaking his arm.  She attended Central High School in Mpls.   She was class valedictorian.  In those days girls wanting to work didn’t go to college though, she went to learn how to work on fancy new machines for offices.  

She never married and always worked.  She learned how to be an office assistant.  She wore dresses and skirts, panty hose, smart shoes every day for work as long as I can remember.    For many years she worked downtown and shopped downtown.  She argued with the men about politics at family gatherings.   She was competitive and may have had some pride.  She drank as she wanted.  She made her own decisions about her life.  She had time for us kids, was often late to events and her arrival was always highly anticipated.   She was well read.  And she traveled.  She was a member of the Sons of Norway.  And traveled to Norway.  When China opened its doors to travel she went with one of the first groups to travel there.  She went to Israel and other places.  Her magazine basket always had a copy or two of current National Geographic magazines.   To a child it seemed she could talk about anything and was interested in anything.  There was always somethings to look at in her house. 

Church was important to her.  She was confirmed in the church she attended through the later years.  I remember celebrating my Grandparents 60th Wedding Anniversary at this church.  My Grandmother and my Grandfather’s funerals were at the church.  I had been to Easter services and Christmas services there.  I would wander the narthex and see confirmation pictures of the classes that she, my grandmother, and their siblings were each in.   I wondered what it was like to be in those confirmation classes. 

Later in life she dated a man of similar age for a number of years.  She saved her Saturday evenings for him and would never plan to do anything for a Saturday in case he might call with a plan.  It was a reminder to me about days gone by and how men and women of another generation worked things out. 

She played Bridge with me when I was learning how to play.  I would sometimes pick her up from her house and we would go together downtown to a coffee shop called Espresso Royale and meet Paul and some friends to play Bridge.  I would get a call from her to ask what she could wear to the coffee shop - “could I get away with a denim skirt?” is how she would put it when she asked.  I loved that about her.  She would ask what I was going to wear and I would reassure her that a denim skirt would be just fine.  She was never impatient as we learned the game but we were the great niece and nephew, I am not sure that is how it went with all her bridge partners.  She had an unusual confidence for a woman of her age.  She would correct bad plays and help us with bidding.  She also had a laugh that was contagious.   When one of my friends was in film school, Gladys played the Bridge Maven for one of the student films.  She was such a sport about it.  In the film she her part was like a Bridge Superhero.  She wore white gloves and would appear suddenly when there was a problem and give instructions to a group at a table.  Then she would clap her gloved hands and be gone. 

We filmed at her house - a house that she had lived in with her parents and was in the family a very long time.  It atop a hill from Minnehaha Creek and was a traditional stucco Tudor Bungalow.  It had gorgeous red floor rugs covering the wood floors and sweet little wooden cubbies and custom cupboards like so many of the old bungalows.   The kitchen had a tiny eating cove and the stove was six burner gas with two ovens.  It was huge.  The living room had a fire place in the center of the front wall of the house.  There were little gnomes and trolls around the house.  It was filled with memorabilia from her travels and Norwegian artifacts.  An organ sat in a corner of the living room.  She would have my Mom play when it was a holiday and then tell my Mom that she could have the organ when she was gone.  She had slides and pictures from the old days.  When you went to Glady’s house she always had a meal.  Always, some type of lite meal.  And she had a drink before the meal for you, a glass of wine and then a liqueur for after the meal.   And she could entertain and chat well into the early hours of the morning. 

My favorite story about Gladys is how she handled a group of firefighters who basically rescued her.  At the time of the house fire she right at or near 90 years old.  She had a fire started by a dehumidifier that was for all practical purposes new.  And when the firemen got to her house they tripped over her getting into the house.  When they wanted to take her to the hospital she politely refused because she had to get her hair done and also had bowling league later that day.  That is a woman who loves life and had a plan for her day.  She had social engagements - the hospital?pshaw. 

She did have to go to the hospital and never was able to move back into that house.  When I visited her in the hospital she kept talking about how bad her fingernails looked.  The next time I visited I took a bowl and nail polish remover and nail polish.  We trimmed and filed and did her nails.  It was one of those things that makes me sound like a good niece but truly it was a bit selfish.   I got to finally make her feel special.  It is so hard to do that with someone like Gladys.   

I think of how fleeting life is - Gladys though, had a full life.  There are others who were not able to enjoy the same longevity.  Through a good 90 years of it she had her wits and physical abilities.  That clever brain that could push an argument and did not fear having a differing opinion.  Plus, I want to still be bowling at 90.  I want to be able to lift a 16 lb. bowling ball and throw it down the alley like Gladys.  And she could laugh and her eyes would laugh with her.  She kept reading and learning.  How else do you do these things if you start thinking you might not be able to do them?    She just kept doing them.  Dementia finally took hold the last couple of years.  In the end, the dementia got in the way of letting her brain run her body.  And she stopped eating and taking in water. 

I know that for large dogs Gromit and Chewie are senior - older dogs.  I don’t want to think about it though.  I don’t want them to think about it.  I want them to do what they think they can do.   I want them to chase each other and tussle in the living room.  I want Gromit to run for running’s sake - head in the air, open mouth, tongue dangling and ears swinging back, all feet leaving the ground at once.  I want to know that Gromit is still clever enough to wait me out and that I cannot leave something on the counter cause he will find a way to get it.  I want them to continue to bark their hurry ups to me for breakfast and dinner. 

Our lives together are fleeting as well.  I won’t lose being delighted in their joy because I am grieving something else.  I still see this joy.  That is the type of grief I have from losing Gladys.  My friends Ellen, Naomi, Laura, and Laura Beth, who left much before their time - these friends gave it all they had and while I feel cheated of time I do not feel cheated by them.  I feel always lucky to have known them.  And that is a very different type of grief than the grief of my marriage being over.  This grief for these friends does not diminish my faith in humanity.  It makes me want to be around people that I care about and that care about me.   This grief makes every connection, friendship, family like there is - something bigger, something better. 

And Gromit and Chewie greeting me every day when I wake up or return home from work - barking, prancing and leaning into me.  That is a joy I will not overlook.  It too restores a universal faith in something bigger, something better that I have in me with them than without them.  

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Retrieving Recovery

Chewie was about four or five months old the first time I rolled a ball across the patio in front of him.  His shiny wavy black coat, long floppy ears, soft mouth and awkward high lifting puppy  paw trot were adorable.   As the ball rolled by his nose I watched him stand-up quickly and lean toward the ball.  He looked at the ball and paused with his over sized paw in the air - his instinct was pushing his body.  I will never forget the look on his face as his legs kind of left his cognition behind and moved toward the ball.  And when he reached the ball and picked it up he stood for a few seconds not quite satisfied and then he trotted over to me and dropped it.  I swear I almost heard a click as his brain and body slid into sync like a combination lock.   He was a retriever.  It was as if he waited for his body to make the moves and then his brain put together what he was doing.  He was born to retrieve.

For as long as I can remember I could read treble and bass clefs.  I read them as easily as I could read a book.  As a kid I always found my center on the piano bench.  The relaxed looseness in my wrist and strength of my forearms and muscles in my hands were natural.  No one had to tell me to sit up straight.   I just did it.  My hands knew how to slip a thumb under my fingers without lifting my hand up, or to throw my hand over my thumb to be in position for the last half of a scale or run.  My forearms never dipped below my wrists but stayed strong and steady.

I think the first song I ever played on the piano was a duet with my mom.  She taught me “Heart and Soul”  probably before  I could read words or music.  Everyone learns the song eventually.  In that simple song were the basics of so many songs - I IV V - a melody and chord structure to support it.   

I understood the concept of a key signature and a time signature and the circle of 5th’s way before I understood long division.  As a kid I loved music theory and it was easy because it was interesting to me.  Wholes steps and half steps and scales and chords and maps filled with symbols for sounds.  I ate that stuff up.  Sharps and flats never confused me. 

In college I took an intensive music drawing class.  I learned how to line a page, how to draw notes and space notes/rests in a measure.  I studied the importance of how to draw so an musician’s eye and brain can translate to the hand efficiently.  I understood that the story of music needed to include a plan to make a page change smoothly for the musician - I learned the nuances of french music drawing - rounder notes and heavier stems.  I studied handwritten music and loved digging through my grandparents music to find examples of music that had been drawn by hand before being copied.   I am dominantly right handed.  I am not able to write letters well with my left hand but I am able to draw music symbols with my left hand.  It is another level of retrieving.

When Chewie was doing agility I often used a ball to reward him.  If something was a particularly difficult I would pull out his ball and throw it to remind him of his confidence and to ground him.  As we started nose work I used a ball to reward him for finding odor. 

These days, with his hip and knee I have to be careful about how I throw the ball.  I keep it low to the ground and hold him in a stay until the ball stops.  Then I release him to run to it.  He avoids the jolting and sharp turning of serious ball play this way.  He does not avoid the smile or the excitement or the right with the world howl when I hang on to him and he cannot leave my side for the ball.  He is a retrieve, he loves to retrieve.  The world is right if he can retrieve  - it unlocks and unwinds all his self doubt.  This he knows how to do.  

This too is true of how I start back into the business of being social.  I question myself at every turn.  I wonder about every conversation.  I believe no compliment.  I am suspicious of any depth and almost cringe at kindness.   I spin in circles like Gromit caught in converging odors.  I might need to interrupt the convergence.  I need to find my confidence again.

As I look to feel my feet on the ground, stop racing thoughts, pull back from the world to breathe and build some semblance of confidence back - I remember and see the piano more often.   I don’t just dust it.  There is music on it again.  My fingers are slower, some arthritis has set in.   I can’t sight read as easily and without a lot of effort the music is too hard…I have questions and no teacher to help me answer them. 

I might need to remember to start with a treble clef and a bass clef and not worry how far the ball goes, or how high I can jump to catch it in the air.   I might need to hold myself back and play what comes easily for a while.  Start with finding middle c, sitting straight up on the bench.   I might need to let my fingers lead the way and not my self judgement. 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Wobbly Knee

This evening Paul and I took the dogs to a large fenced field.  They can run and play in this field.  And run and play they did.  At one point Chewie looked at Gromit and dashed  away tail high in the air - Gromit watched Chewie and took off at a full out and out gallop for that tail - as he caught Chewie he leaned his open mouth over Chewie’s shoulder and threw his hips into Chewie’s back end.   Chewie arced his head around and snapped his teeth and smiled at Gromit - he danced in a circle and they went loping off and came back again.  They bumped once more.  I watched as Chewie lost his balance and got up and went for Gromit.   But then he let out a muddled yelp and whimpered and came limping behind me.  He layed down. 

Flashes of panic floated through me on the inside as I started working my hands down his body to see where he had discomfort.  He stood up lame on his rear right leg - he has a bad knee and a bad hip on that side and has had surgery to boot on that leg.   I kept quietly praying please don’t need surgery.  Not because of the cost, it is the pain and confusion for Chewie that happens with surgery.  He is my kid dog, my little guy.  He has been down this path once already.  The months of recovery and the way dogs never complain so you never know how far to push in rehab.  I hate the look of a dog after surgery when the anesthesia is kind of worn off but not exactly and they just are dazed.  

Every single day I weigh the joy and pain in his life.  I kiss him on the top of his head, and hug his lumpy soft body, scratch the sides of his snout and rub under his ears.  I wouldn’t call it worry exactly but I do consider his life and watch for the smile in his eyes and the spry bark for dinner.   I look at his body and am surprised at its continued lean and muscled build.  It will never be the big muscles of his running days but he is trim again like those days.  This return to a lean body is to relieve his joints as much as possible.   I watch closely how he goes up and down the stairs, in and out of the car, lifts his leg to pee, and how his gait changes from walk to run.  He has been doing so well and his falling down and losing his backend has lessened.  Maybe the yelp was just a yelp like when I do something wrong in kettle bells.  Maybe it was something, maybe it was just a pulled muscle, maybe it was a hitch in the joint, maybe it was nothing huge...I watch like a hawk.

This summer has been really hard and now it is fall and my birthday happened.  I tried to use my birthday to mark my moving on from whatever weirdness just happened over the summer.  For my birthday some dear  friends came and painted my garage and helped fix the roof on the garage.  They let go of their lives to spend time tending to my worries and remove some of the overwhelming feelings that weighed on my sagging shoulders.   They came to my house with vegetables from their gardens, and they painted an removed rotted boards and old shingles and replaced them all,  and we ate dinner on the screen porch with a MN sunset and glorious evening weather like my life might be a celebration - they filled my house with family noise and bustle and laughter and accomplished minor miracles in a weekend.  

These women are the friends that have made so many things possible and are the backbone of my self-reliance.   I have real conversations with these women and talk about my most deep seeded fears in trying to live a life that is true and compassionate.   These are some of my friends who are heroes and friends all at once.  They see me as capable, strong and complete yet not flawless.  We are human.    They see me as a peer and I feel like I belong and am right in the world when I am with them.  I trust them to let me know myself, all of myself - the good the bad and the ugly - without walking away from me.   They tell me when I might be a bit off or have misread a situation. 

These are some of the best friends who I have shared suffering and celebration.   I have done things with them people only dream of doing - pushing snow in Antarctica, kayaking Lake Superior, canoeing to silence in the Boundary Waters, marching on Washington DC, biking in New Zealand., seeing the northern lights, breaking trail in the woods -  Together we taught and learned some of the most practical skills of life - how to chalk a line, square a wall, and build a house, filter water, light a whisper stove in driving wind, roll out of a kayak and get back in, read a compass, plant wood, knit clothes, stoke a wood stove, split wood, mark way points on a gps, bake bread, change a bike tire, and live with compassion and strength.  

And so now, when I look back to before the summer and try to figure out what the hell happened, what did I do wrong,  how did I live thinking I was in a happy and joyful relationship, how was my reality so far off?  How do you go from seeing someone as your life soul mate, the one who asked your to marry her, the person you most look forward to seeing each day - how did I end up meaning so little to that person that she writes me off in the matter of two weeks?  How does that happen?  More important than trying to figure that all out for me is how do I move on?   

When I watch Chewie it reminds me of myself in this space.  Like I want to play and have fun but I kind of keep falling, my emotional legs collapsing under me.  My joints just can’t hold me up.  I wish I could figure out how to relieve my emotional joints.  I feel like they are swollen and sore with sadness, frustration and anger.  My emotions feel elastic, unreliable and they melt into each other.  I feel like I can’t stand on my own wobbly knees and they give out letting me fall into places and people that I am not ready to fall into.   I can’t seem to find the corners and edges to tuck away what needs tucking to walk in the world.  I want to walk in the world in a certain way.  I want to have feelings and compassion but I don’t want them to spill out into places that they don’t belong.  I want to be in the place of looking and observing myself and being able to make a choice about my actions and reactions.   I want to choose who and how I share my feelings, to feel confident and knowing but not controlling.  I want to let the people I interact with have the space to say whether or not the depth of my feelings is right between us.  Usually I can intuit this and keep the right space, the right depth.  Oh, but these days, things just eek out and every eek has the potential to open a flood gate.   How do I move on?  

There are no words for how beaten down I feel.  These friends are the backbone of my self reliance.  I have to strengthen my emotional joints and learn how to walk straight up again.  I don’t know when or if I will ever trust again - but then I think of my friends and I think of course I trust them and they will help me navigate these waters.   I don’t want to miss any more of the next adventures we have coming together.  That is as far as I can go right now.   These are the friends that I can spill over with emotionally and rebuild my edges find my tucking points and walk again in the world.   I don't want to be too much though, and they say I am not - but like that rehab thing - how do I know when I am pushing too much? And then I remember I am the one in rehab and I trust them - they will tell me. 

My good friend Molly was explaining how in watching me go through this process it is like getting into a boat.  When you are trying to get back into a kayak from open water you have to use your weight to help you get in.  You have to get your weight to the center of that boat, and then low in the boat.  That is how you can stop the rocking and wobbling.  She said in watching me -  “The elegance in that navigation is in the pack of your shoulders, the stretch of your spine and putting your weight solidly into the boat."  Oh, how I hope to have this elegance, this integrity.   And that is my work, to continue to put my weight solidly in this moment, this time, this lesson.  I have had my friends around me this summer.  All my close friends have checked in and stayed close. 

I want to hurry this process of grief so I can get back to our lives and the next awesome thing we do together.  And then I think wait this is the awesome thing we are doing right now - I am navigating these waters and as I put my weight into the boat solidly - I am so lucky to have friends to bear my travels, a compass to keep me pointed in the direction of true north or true Heidi.  I don’t want to be here.  I never wanted to be here.

Then again, I don’t think Chewie wants to have a wobbly knee or sore hip.  The best I can do is keep watch and be ready to swoop in if he goes down.  Offer to be with him and around him no matter what - pain or no pain I am right there, playing and smiling or tired and sleeping, stiff or agile - I will be right there.  The best I can do is keeping watching his happy dance and finding ways to give him room to dance without risking that wobbly knee.  I can’t control him though and he might go too far - I will be right here next to him to make sure to support him if something does happen.  

I have fallen off course, my course feels like a mystery and somedays I sit still and don’t move.  My friends, my family though, they are right here with me.  I can see them and hear them and feel them all.  I am not alone no matter how lonely it feels sometimes.  

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Be Here Now

If I looked up the definition of integrity I am fairly certain that I would find synonyms like sincere, honest, fair along with a zillion inspirational quotes by famous people that exemplify integrity.   I have been trying to hold all my actions up to this lofty word like my life actions can be contained in a spreadsheet checklist  -tick marks weighting every action, every choice I make.  As though the whole world were watching every step I take and judging me as on or off the line of integrity.  Like I could add up my life and say  - yep she had integrity or nope she walked off the line and carries a heavy burden of shame.  Perhaps there is no gray; perhaps all actions can be deemed actions of integrity or actions of disgrace probably though the nature of being human is not this black and white.  

I watch Gromit sleep.  His giant chest cavity fills and rises as he breathes in and then lowers as he breathes out.  If I look closely his  nostrils flare with each breath.    His head, groomed looks thin and bony but his coat is soft and plush.  The steady breathing takes my focus away from the world for just a few minutes and I meditate in the quietness of his presence, his off duty self-assuredness.  Every so often he sighs and breathes out more than he breathes in.  His long snout and big black nose rest heavily on the chair or floor.  I look  at him longing to pull his calm into me,  to lay my head on his stomach and hear his heart beat and listen to his lungs expanding with the oxygen he draws in.    To focus on his moment of peace taking a break from watching and protecting the house and everyone in it from whatever might be lurking outside.

Instead my heart races and my breath starts to take off.  It is 1:30am.  I slept for a couple of hours.   This house, this bed, this room - I used to go on vacation and love coming home to this place.  So many things I had found comfort in and felt steady about have become reasons for alarm.  Reality feels fleeting here in this place that used to ground me, hold me close to the earth and myself.  I am haunted by ghosts that play at my memory.  Happy memories that I have been told were false.  The person I counted on to tell me the truth, the person I counted on to be with me through thick and thin - she bailed.   The place I knew for 19 years in my heart, is now gone.  I am still taken aback at how quickly it was dismantled both physically and mentally.  

I am surprised at how naked and stripped I feel, how absolutely violated by the words at the end. 

I know this happens a million times every day in the world.  People leave relationships and someone is devastated.  I wonder today how the world keeps hope - I see now how valuable tiny moments of connection are between people.   A phone call, a smile, a picture, a note, some flowers, a kind word - when you are devastated - they are critical to building back to a place where you see the world as compassionate.   I think the cracks of devastation really can be filled by the simplest acts of generosity and kindness. 

The routine of walking Chewie or Gromit, feeding the cats and doing the litterbox - the everyday things that need to be done and cannot be let go - they help me survive and they are steady and real and ground me.  When someone compliments something in the house that was Kristin's design I start spinning in my head and look for an animal to touch.  I know what is real in my house.  I care about the house - but what was once loved about the house is no longer meaningful not like the the tail wag of Gromit or the greeting of Chewie when I get home.  Mango nuzzling me at night while I am trying to read.  Squash waiting for dinner inside the house while I find my keys to open the door to get him his beloved canned cat food - ugh!  These things keep me grounded and these relationships I trust.  These are luxuries and these relationships have dignity. 

I recently said to my brother that I am trying to live up to the integrity in my words.   I keep trying - 

My young nieces came to stay with me for two weeks in the midst of this turmoil.  Before my youngest niece left she asked me if I thought I would ever find true love - my heart just welled up and I looked solidly and truthfully at her and said - "Oh, Taylor, there is true love all around me."  I felt strong and I felt sure about this.  And I wanted her to know this. 
I look back at Gromit and focus on his steady quietness - his eyes closed softly.  His feet limp.  I breath in with him and grab my laptop and start typing.   Still much more to grieve and yet Gromit and Chewie remind me there is so much more joy to grab too,  so little time to treasure the community that is still around me, my family, my friends.   Like that age old Ram Dass guy's book - Be Here Now - I am here sleeping, eating, walking, playing ball - having coffee, biking, playing cards, being with friends, with family - and moving minute by minute.  Gromit and Chewie are here with me every step I take.  They just are   -