life of m

Sustaining the Self and Beyond


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We are each on our own path

I was meant to be a helper. The times I feel most alive and present, I am doing something that to help make the world a happier, more beautiful place. Since I was a child, I have been drawn to help creatures beyond the human realm. Bless my parents for opening our home to all kinds of animals, including the rabbit whose owner couldn’t keep it anymore, fish, gerbils, etc. I recently scooped up a magpie who had been attacked by other magpies and carried him to the forest to give him a chance to recover in a quiet spot.

I don’t know if I would call myself an animal whisperer, but I am drawn to help and there are many animals who either chosen to cross paths with my own or have at least humored me in my attempts to assist them. When I lived in the North Cascade mountains of Washington state, I rescued all kinds of animals: a racing pigeon with a broken wing, baby mice whose mom had been eaten or killed in a trap, birds that had flown into windows, the list goes on. A young squirrel sought me out when I was living in downtown Lowell, Massachusetts. I really wanted to bring him home, but he was young and healthy, a state that would not last if I introduced him to my two cats. [As an aside, my husband tells me I am part squirrel because I seem to create little nests of things. He refers to my collection of earplugs and Kleenex underneath my pillow on our bed as my squirrel cache. I recently scooped up a magpie who had been attacked by other magpies and carried him to the forest to give him a chance to recover in a quiet spot.My mom has also informed me that when I was baby, she would have to stick her finger in my mouth and do a sweep in my cheeks for hidden grapes and other items that I apparently stashed there, perhaps for a midnight snack? I can only wonder.]

My desire to help creatures in need is not completely selfless. I experience great benefit from this act. My heart practically bursts open from the love that comes pouring out. I feel alive and present. I think I also benefit from feeling needed by another being.

There is so much suffering in the world, and I often feel helpless to make a difference. On our recent visit to Rome, I witnessed animals in need of medical attention and food, but I knew that I could not help them all. When I bemoan my inability to save all creatures, my husband tells me that each animal is on its own path. We can help them along their way, but we cannot make their own choices for them. I have come to believe that this may indeed be true. We cannot know what goes on for each being, so I do my best to help keep them help them as I am able and as much as they will allow me in to their hidden lives.

The greatest gift I have ever received came in the form of a wolf dog named Okami. My husband and I adopted him from a rescue near our home in Prescott, Arizona. He was with us for only a very short while, but he imprinted deeply and permanently on my heart. We were inseparable. We went everywhere together. He followed me and became my shadow. My husband described him as a wise, Zen creature. Perhaps, he had experienced great suffering or trauma in his short life before our paths crossed. We couldn’t know, but his gentle, grounded demeanor was the most soothing influence on my own anxiety-riddled spirit, second only to my husband.

Okami shared five months of his life with us and then I made the difficult decision to put him down. He had been struggling for a month while our vet tried to figure out what was causing him to waste away. It wasn’t until I researched his symptoms online and suggested a tick-borne disease that we were able to determine the culprit. The vet admitted that testing for tick-borne disease was one of the first round of testing he normally did, but he had forgotten. The test came out positive, and we began treating Okami right away, but it was too late.

For a month, I had provided around the clock care for my beloved wolf dog. Even that fateful afternoon when I brought him to the vet because he could hardly stand up I would not have believed I would be leaving without him. When the vet assistant came to the exam room to tell me he was having difficulty breathing even with an oxygen machine to help him, I made the decision to put him down.

I left with his body in a box and the emptiest feeling my heart has ever known. Without Okami to care for, I felt adrift. I convinced my husband to let me bring home a baby husky the woman from the same rescue had told me about. I needed to be needed again. Our baby husky was full of joy and life, and she made me laugh every day. But she didn’t need me. When we made the decision to move to Brussels less than a year later, my parents generously offered to look after her while we were overseas. It occurred to me that her presence in our life may also have been meant to be only temporary. She helped my heart to heal in absence of Okami, and now she was going to my parents to do the same. We sent her to my parents not 48 hours after they had put their own dog down. They had been heartbroken, and my dad had sent me texts that read: Without Kota, there is no need to leave the house.

We were a little worried about sending them another dog so soon after the loss of their beloved Labrador, but it quickly became clear that Naih the bundle of husky joy was just what they needed. She gave my dad a reason to continue his walks through the woods. She gave my mom a grand puppy, which helped alleviate some of my own guilt at not having provided her with the human kind.

We miss her every day and hope to be reunited in the future, but we sense that her purpose in this life is to bring joy to as many creatures as possible. She is able to do this with my parents very well. In the short time she has been with them, she has helped a young boy overcome his fear of dogs and gained many friends—human and canine—at every dog park she visits. My husband and I joke that one day we will receive a letter from her, thanking us for giving her a home for the first year of her life and kindly requesting to stay with my parents forever more, where she has free reign of a 2400 square foot house, a huge yard, daily walks and visits to dogs parks, a canine best friend who lives around the corner, my mom to bring home toys and treats for her, my dad to wind around her little princess paw, and better healthcare than many people living in the United States and around the world will ever receive.

The spirit of the wolf continues to haunt my heart, and every time I go for a walk in the woods near our home I make a silent (and sometimes not so silent) wish that I will find a baby wolf who will fill the void in my heart and become my constant companion and shadow.

This afternoon when my husband and I went for a walk through the woods, we happened upon a young cat. It became clear that this cat needed help. Its collar had become wrapped around its neck and front leg, so much so that the fur had been rubbed off completely. As we approached, the cat mewed but moved farther away from us and underneath a fence. My husband and I went in different directions to try to get nearer to him.

I found a spot where I could manage to climb over the fence, and I moved toward the cat very slowly, stopping periodically to crouch down, whisper, and rub my fingers together in an attempt to cajole it closer.

Amazingly, kitten did come closer. We did this back and forth dance until he was nuzzling into my hand and legs while I say cross-legged.

Can you take off your shirt and toss it over the fence to me? I asked my husband. My own tank top would not be enough to try to wrap around the cat in order to carry it without being scratched.

If I throw it, he will run away, my husband said.

It’s ok; he will come back. I felt sure that he would. He needed help.

Kitten did run away, but he did come back. We danced a little more until I was able to wrap him up in the t-shirt and draw him into my chest. I whispered and comforted him until he settled into me. I thought I would try to hand him off to my husband so I could get over the fence, but I was afraid he would escape, so my husband held the fence down while I sidled and slip over the top. Apart from my leggings getting temporarily caught on a loose fence end, I made it over with relative ease. Kitten stayed calm for most of the walk except for some panic at the large road crossing between the forest and our quiet corner of Boitsfort.

Once inside our house, my husband cut the collar off and closed the doors between the foyer and the front door. I sat with kitten while he went through two bowls of food. I didn’t try to pry the collar off because I wasn’t sure if it was embedded in his skin, but it eventually fell off of its own accord. Free from the collar, he was much happier. He purred while he ate and let me clean his wounds with a soapy washcloth and wet wipes. He even let me cover the wounds with Neosporin.

My husband came in to say hello, but kitten was not so sure about him. Our other cats were very curious, so we let kitten out for a chaperoned meet and greet. It was clear that kitten did not want to stay inside. He immediately went for the large glass doors that led to our terrace. It was only a few more minutes before he discovered the open kitchen window that my husband had opened to air out the house from the awful stench his collar had carried. I yelled out, No! and went running out the front door in an effort to scare him back into the house, but he was gone.

My husband had walked around the corner to see if this cat might fit the description of a poster we had seen on several windows and light posts around the neighborhood. He did meet the description, but he was also no longer in our care. We walked over to the house where he had once lived and spoke with the owner. She was over the moon that he was still alive. We all walked around the neighborhood, looking for him, but to no avail. Kitten was gone.

Back home, I felt the return of the void. We had been so close, and the lack of resolution was woefully uncomfortable.

I had been texting my dad questions about how to care for the cat in its current condition and then shared my remorse when he escaped. He responded, an animal used to the outdoors would probably not want to live inside. Don’t feel bad. You enabled to continue doing what it loves.

My husband echoed my father’s words. You gave him a real chance to live, my husband told me in a reassuring voice. With the collar, he might have made it maybe three more weeks, but he would have died.

I know, but I’m worried that his wound will get infected. And he was so skinny. He needs to eat so much more food, I said.

When I started to cry, my husband wrapped his arms around me. I told him how I hadn’t felt needed since Okami had died and that I thought this was my wish for a wolf puppy come true.

I thought he would be my wolf cat, I sobbed into my husband’s chest.

You gave him a miracle; you gave him the ultimate wish to be free from a bonded trap that was killing him. His ultimate wish was not to be released from a trap only to be put into a larger cage, a house where he would live indoors.

I took a deep breath in and let out a slow exhale. I think you are right, I said. Maybe, he didn’t want to go back to live with that woman. He was meant to be a wild and free spirit. I hope he will be ok out there.

Even though I know kitten is now somewhere out there, roaming free, I left a bowl of food and an almost empty can of tuna in the windowsill, just in case.


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And the purge goes on-Shutdown Day 9

DSC_0207This morning, I woke up in a snuggle sandwich between my two cats. They seemed quite pleased to have their choice of spots on the bed now that my partner has returned once again to Arizona.

It was quiet, save the constant hum of traffic outside on Dutton Street. When my eyes first opened, I felt the emptiness. I missed the simple comfort of having someone to say good morning to. Without a companion, the idea of getting up and starting my day was far less enticing.

But, I was determined to plod on in this strange time in my life of being alone in a city full of people and shut out of my work community for a spell.

I got up, made my bed, tucked in the corners, and set to work cleaning dishes and boiling water for coffee.

With each round of cleaning, I continue to lift the heavy weight of material possessions from my small frame. This round has become one of geologic purging. I have been taking the many dozens of rocks of all shapes and sizes and deciding that it is time for me to set them free to wander the earth once more. Their destiny is beyond the confines of my apartment. I have had my time to enjoy them, to hold them in my hand, gaze upon them, place them one on top of the other in myriad patterns.

Now, I must set them free and in so doing, set my own self and spirit free to wander as well.

With each rock, twig, and shell I place in a large canvas bag, I feel lighter. I have taken the ogre statues and gargoyles from my windowsills down. They don’t belong to me. They never did. My ex loved them. Perhaps, I will send them his way. Perhaps, he will be happy to be reunited with them once again after so much time has passed.

We each dealt with grief differently, he and I. I kept everything, while he drove off leaving nearly everything behind—a complete separation. Will he feel something meaningful by having some items in his possession once again? I cannot know. I just imagine and hope that he might. There has been time for healing and for emotions to simmer and cool.

What I feel is continued love for him mixed with a desire to free myself from possessions that once belonged to him. In my mind, I imagine they might bring a smile to his face were he to lift them out of a box and see them once again. This is all I can go by. I do not wish to simply send them out orphaned into the world when there is someone who may be able to take them under his wing once more.

So go the strange musings and inner workings of my mind on this 9th day of government shutdown. And the new is yet new.

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Flying solo

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In 32 years, I have become an expert in wishing for the things I do not have. I am less practiced in being thankful for what I do have and being patient for a future time when things may be different.

This morning, I asked myself: What do I want from a solitary life?

I lay in bed mulling over the question.

My two cats took the opportunity to come and snuggle.

So far on this Tuesday morning, the solitary life was a cozy one.

I thought about my music and research partner up in Maine. He gets up between 5-5:30am every morning to practice his new bass.

I reached under my pillow to get my cell phone.

9:41am.

Damn! Looks like I missed it today. I really should devote for time to ukulele and actually practice finger picking and playing scales.

It is not that I am lazy, I just get really tired. I thought that I would finish my dissertation and magically feel like a human being with energy again, but I guess that I am getting old.

My coworkers and I joke about all being extroverts by day and introverts by night. We deal with the general public all day, every day, and we love it (most of the time). We all express an interest in the night life when we congregate at the start of the day, but by the time 5:15pm rolls around we are spent.

Back to the question at hand: What do I want from a solitary life?

I want to create.

I want to write and improve my writing. I want to be published.

I want to write songs from my own stories and from those of people around the world using the Story-to-Song method I have been learning these past few years.

I want to perform.

I want to be recognized for my creations.

I do not want to live 3,000 miles from my lover.

I do not want to be tortured by my hormones.

Apart from the latter two desires, I think the others are attainable. I have my work cut out for me. I may benefit from growing some thicker skin as I begin to put myself out into the performance realm of the universe.

I create all of the time, but it has taken years for my to call myself an artist. I am collector of all kinds of things that may be considered of little worth to someone else.

I would not be this far without the support of friends, family, and you—my beloved readers!

Thank you!

Please post comments to my blog. I am excited for your feedback, ideas for subjects to write about, and ways to improve.

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Another year

Another year is drawing quickly to a close. This morning, I paid a bill online, looked at the year, and remembered how crazy it seemed awaiting the new year 2000. How would we write it? How would we say it in conversation? And then eleven years passed, and I stopped thinking about it—for the most part, at least.

We have to let go of a lot to get through each day, week, month, and year on this planet. I have never been particularly good at letting go of anything. I save movie stubs, postcards, wrappers from chocolates if the occasion when I ate them felt even remotely sentimental or I just liked the design. I have trouble giving away an article of clothing, even if I haven’t worn it in ten years. I might wear it someday, right? While it is true that every now and then I think back fondly on a shirt or a sweater or pair of pants from my past and momentarily wish I had held onto it, it generally doesn’t cause me to lose much sleep.

I am actually so terrible at giving things away that my sister is wary of any hand-me-downs I give her because I have asked her to give so many back. I even bought her a sweatshirt to replace the one I gave her. Who does that? Can I blame neurosis?

I don’t know what is wrong with me, really. I love giving things to the people I love. I even love giving things I care about deeply to the people I love. I love the look on their face, the joy it brings them, the feeling I get from being the reason for the wave of emotion. I think it stems from a deep desire to make them happy, especially if they are not doing a good job of it themselves.

How does one get over this kind of problem? Is there a 12-step program? I do find that giving things away to someone I know can feel rewarding because I get to watch them enjoy the gift, I know the item I care about is going to someone who will appreciate and care for it. I love seeing Gustavus kiddos wearing my old sweaters and hats and toting around bags I have fashioned into birding gear.

Yet often times giving something away and having the opportunity to see it time and again makes the letting go that much harder. I am reminded of a connection I tried to discard that stubbornly keeps looking me in the face.

Sound a bit dramatic for an article of clothing? It is probably because I have shifted away from inanimate objects and thinking more about the animals I have parted with in the past year.

When I moved to Alaska, I left more than a dozen chickens behind—including my first and most beloved chicken Pippin who I gave to an equally beloved friend, crying as I gently picked her up, held her to my chest, and carried her to the car.

I still managed to arrive with an arc of animals of sorts, though really it felt more like a circus—two 100 lb. Labradors and 4 cats. Too much for one woman, even one as crazy as I must be. But these animals were my children. I raised them from when they were tiny, snuggled with them, took them to the vet, bandaged their wounds, and traveled with them across a continent to start a new life on the last frontier.

Even a heart filled with as much love for those critters as mine couldn’t hold it all together. Bit by bit, my world fell apart at the seams. Two love-starved Labradors home all day while I was at work was unsustainable, so I sent one off to a person I knew would care for him.

Down to one dog, 4 cats. I had friends who offered advice, tried to convince me to give away some cats, and I finally gave in. 4 cats are a lot to clean up after when you are tired at the end of the work day and at the end of another long work week. I brought one cat down to Arizona, my one cherished female who had slept beneath the covers, her head in the crook of my arm, since the first night I brought her home. She wasn’t the one I intended. There was a weather hold for hours the morning of my flight, and by the time the weather lifted, I had missed my opportunity for getting my skittish maine coon into a carrier. Arwen watched as I ran around the house with the three other cats. On of the cycles around, I noticed her sitting patiently and without a thought, I scooped her up and placed her in the carrier (I had already promised her to my sister…am I a great sibling or what?). Leaving her in Arizona, I cried. Then I headed back north. There was still one dog and 3 other cats in need of love and attention and just my one small lap and two hands.

Before leaving for a furlough from my job, I found a home for another cat—a family who lives on a farm in Gustavus and who had been looking for a second cat. They came over and left with Izzy ten minutes later. It still actually makes me cry just to write about it. No more Izzy sitting on the toilet while I shower, crying until I open the door so he can come in and lap up the soapy water.

I think my cats, having been raised in the shadow of Labradors, grew up thinking they were of the canine persuasion. They love tummy rubs. They are super affectionate. One even howls.

My one dog, Kota, who I have known since birth and brought home at 5 weeks, is currently on doggie holiday with my parents. And holiday it must be—attention all day and into the night, regular walks and visits to the dog park. Much better than sitting home along for 12-13 hours at a time while mom talks to visitors on board a cruise ship.

Animals are empathetic creatures. I have been biting my nails for at least two decades, and somehow all of my animals have picked up the habit. It is weird. I guess it is the reason why deep down I tell myself that no matter where they are, they are still mine, if only in spirit. In hindsight, I should have never adopted so many animals. It is too painful to part with them, however more sustainable your life may become. Plus, it is easier to ask for a sweatshirt back.

The only way I can handle not having them near me is the out of sight, out of mind scenario. I need to imagine they are happy—and I am sure they are—and push any other thoughts out of my mind. I am just a selfish human.

I wonder if we hold onto tangible things as an illusion of stability, an idea that we have control over the changes in our lives. With the events and dramatic changes I have experienced over the past year and a half, I am pretty sure I have lost the illusion. Sometimes, I feel like my critters and my things are all I have left to hold onto.

After all, as someone very dear to me used to say, “Home is where your stuff is.”