Alyse In Words

A Year of Practicing Contentment


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My Furry Teacher

Day 138 – This was part of my last entry on April 18th, four days after my 10 year-old golden retriever died very suddenly:

I thought he was my indulgence.  He was not.  He was a teacher and friend who showed me so much.  The lessons are about optimism, being present, thin skinned/thick skinned, just being and letting go, remembering the future, silence and the importance of weakness.   I’m going to write about this.  I am going to get through it.

Each time I tried to write something here, I told myself it was too hard, that I wasn’t ready.  So, I will write some details about the lessons my furry teacher brought to me.

  1.  Be optimistic – There will be days when you are carrying a tree limb and no matter how you try, it won’t fit through the kitchen door.  Don’t be upset.  It’s sunny outside and you can enjoy that limb on the deck.  Celebrate the fact that you figured out how to get it up a flight of stairs.
  2. There is no time like the present to do whatever it is you want to do–I mean, really, who is in charge of you but you?  Want to play–play!  Want to nap–nap!  If you just taste the wind and look around you, there are so many things right here and right now that are worth your attention.
  3. If someone wants to get into a fight with you, think about who they are first.  I mean, if you are about 10 times bigger and stronger and mellow as say…a miniature dachshund that’s gnawing on your leg, ask yourself how much damage can it really do?  How long before she wears herself out?  Pay as little attention as possible and eventually she’ll go on her way.  But don’t let her try to bite near your eyes.  You don’t have to fight.  Just show her your teeth and gently remind her that her head fits in your mouth.
  4. You have to just be and let go.  I mean sometimes you get a car ride.  Could be going to the dog park.  Could be going to the vet.  Could be that drive-through place that has ICE CREAM!  Could be a long drive or a short one. The thing is–you’re getting a car ride. Put your face out the window and just be.
  5. Bark when you need to.  We all need to bark sometimes.  The quiet that comes after always feels pretty good.
  6. You know what’s coming.  Everybody knows that there are great times and good people and hard times and hard people.  There’s not much you can do about when and where they come.  Remember who you are.  Remember your pack is with you.
  7. That’s the other thing.  The pack.  You might get older and slower and not able to fetch like you used to do.  But your pack is there.  They will lick your face and share a toy with you.  They will help you figure out how to wriggle out of any cone of shame.

It was so difficult to get him into the car but I managed and the other dogs nearly knocked me down getting into the car.  There was no time for leashes and collars.  I drove with his head in my lap.  Then he moved his head to rest it between the gear shift and the console.  He turned on the radio and kept brushing his face against it, making the channels change and change and change.  He grinned a dog smile for the last time. The pack followed his stretcher in and we learned that there would be no healing.  I know my vet explained it to me but I didn’t hear the words.  Moxie and Baxter got quiet and the vet went about doing his job.  I thought, what would I want to hear in my last moments?  I would want something that filled my mind with good thoughts and good memories.  And so I told him things he loved to hear:  You have the coldest nose ever. Are you wagging? You are the most optimistic dog ever.  I love you.  You are my prince.  You are the best dog.  You can play in the fountain all the time.  Look for Dugan and Honey. Look for my Mom.

I spent the next couple of days thinking about the irony of it all.  A Facebook reminder that two years earlier I had been sitting with a woman whose dog had just been euthanized. How I finally understood Snow White’s ode to perfect, unconditional love.  Someday my Prince will come.  Someday I’ve fine pure love.  Nobody told me he would have floppy ears and drool.  How the next day a small, loud plane got my attention outside as it drew a smile face in the sky over Table Mountain.  I saw it and thought, no. No really? You’re still a comfort to my soul.  You let me know you made it home safely.


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Doggone

.Days 100-105:  To those who are following this writing, all handful of you, I apologize for the big gap in communication.  But in these few days I’ve been given the opportunity to learn a lot about myself and other things along the way.

Today I learned that if you google ‘grieving the loss of a dog’ you will find 703,000 URLs that will take you to sites selling tombstones, sites selling jewelry, and some insights into loss.  My dog Truman has died.

Every dog in my life, except Truman, has been a rescue dog.  I was a toddler feeding Cheerios to the stray dogs a neighbor rescued.  In Pennsylvania, where I grew up, it’s still legal to shoot your dog for no good reason.  The law says ‘without malice’ but I’m not sure how you shoot a poodle without malice.  Anyway.  The  list is lengthy and includes 6 German shepherd puppies headed for the drowning pool who ended up becoming seeing-eye dogs thanks to my mother’s quick thinking.  There was a neighbor’s beaten, broken dog who I stole with the complicity of a friend. He lived out his life on a farm, guarding the kitchen door.  There was Dugan, who came into my life with his owner’s son in tow.  He opened the door to my heart for dogs after a long, dry spell.  I lived with him in the winter of his life and loved him through his death. After he died, about  6 weeks passed and I had a recurring dream.  (If this is too, woo-woo for you, oh well.)  Dugan ran toward me, would stop, and then run back the way he had come.  One night, in the dream, he ran forward with a yellow puppy.  A month or so passed and for the first time ever, I got a dog, a pure breed dog, who was not lost or abused and had not been named by anyone else.   I thought he was my indulgence.  He was not.  He was a teacher and friend who showed me so much.

The lessons are about optimism, being present, thin skinned/thick skinned, just being and letting go, remembering the future, silence and the importance of weakness.   I’m going to write about this.  I am going to get through it.


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I Get What She’s Saying

Days 83 & 84:  I can’t think of one thing of value I did on Monday.  I mean, I went to work and worked.  I came home and wandered through my evening, got up this morning, and started it all over again.  Days like that feel like there is no life in living, just treading water.

The patient part of me says, Be present. Sit with it. Become aware of your surroundings.  And that is often enough.  Restless me wants to constantly be in forward motion, creating something, breaking down something, getting it in gear to GO.  I was all about GO tonight with plans to box up a few more things heading toward the exit.  Then my phone rang.  It was Mary. She is in her 80’s. We have met 2-3 times over a lifetime and I will spend some time with her in October.  She always talks as if we just stopped speaking to one another 5 minutes ago.  She tells me family stories, asks me probing questions and punctuates important information with Are you getting what I’m saying to you here?  And I do.  She always reminds me how the past, present and future are woven together and that no human story is unique–someone, somewhere has been in a similar spot and made choices too.  We spent a long while on the phone and then she said a quick Don’t forget I love you.  We’ll talk soon. 

I saw how the evening had slipped away along with the likelihood that I would accomplish much more tonight.  The conversation also energized me with an interior eagerness to put some muscle behind my decluttering.  I need/want/am going to have less stuff and need/want/am going to have more people time.  Someone once said that the person with the most toys at the end wins.  Somebody else said, the person who has the most time to play with their toys wins.  I say, the person with any toys that are used up and worn out because they were shared doesn’t care about winning because just living is so enjoyable.


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Bittersweet

Days 80,81,82: Well, it was a weekend of more doing that writing.  More reading than writing.  More community than writing.  The whole weekend had crisp air with hints and smatterings of rain.  The past and present spent a lot of time kissing one another.

Truman went for his doggie spa day.  When I went to retrieve my golden retriever, they had trimmed him into a puppy cut.  In his eyes I could see the light and love of the fuzzy yellow puppy that he was 9 years ago.  He put his head on my shoulder in the car and I thought of the long days he spent at my side when I was recovering from cancer.  I thought of how little he expects of me and how much he gives. And I noticed the white mask forming on his face and the white patches on his haunches. The dogs are 9,10, and 11 years old.  Looking at the wagging trio,  I decided not do the dishes. I didn’t do much other stuff for the rest of the day.  I threw the ball, tugged the toy, scratched ears and bellies, massaged some aging joints and we all fell asleep while I was reading.

A couple of years ago, I gave away a huge portion of my collection of cookbooks.  I had an obscene amount of cookbooks.  I collected most of them as a young mom and some of my best memories with my own mother involve hot cups of coffee and buttered toast shared while leafing through recipes –improving, mocking, marking to make, and wondering who could afford the ingredients for some of them.  I kept collecting them after she died and looking for her handwritten notes among the old ones.  My daughter and I carried on the tradition but it never felt like it ‘clicked.’ I was reminded more than once this weekend that she learns by doing.  She grew up with me having Saturday or Sunday community dinners.  Usually fresh bread and soup or chili and lots of philosophical conversation, some music and musings.  And anyone could come.  As I sorted through more of the cookbooks (and decided to give away 3 boxes), I thought about how much I miss those meals and what it would take to revive that in some way.  Later that night, my daughter called to share her pasta sauce happiness.  She started serving community dinners a few months ago for protesters on their way to the DAPL stand-off.  It has since evolved into community dinners of her own.  Fifteen hundred miles was unable to contain the savory and sweet of that conversation–how much I miss my mother and my daughter and yet how close to me they both are.

Tonight as I finished boxing and sorting, I thought about my morning and early afternoon spent with an excellent friend cooking up ideas for the fairy house we are making from a tree stump in my front yard and plotting what to cook for an event we are both attending next weekend.  I thought how good it is to have a co conspirator.  I also stumbled on a copy of The Subject Tonight is Love a translation of Hafiz’s poetry by Daniel Ladinsky.  It was a gift to a paramour from whom I separated several years ago.  Until tonight, it was pristine and unread. The heartfelt note tucked inside it reads, These words are for you and say to you from across time and truths that you are beloved in the heart of the Mystery and in the heart of the one who asks you to stretch yourself and crack open the dusty doors. Read them and speak to me about what you know, what you are learning and what you hope for.  We never had that conversation; but, after tonight, the book will no longer be unread.


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Broken Goddesses

Day 75 – I’m baaack.  Geez, I detest being ill.  More so, I really don’t like feeling ill.  I learned something about myself in the midst of it though.  I shall raise my right hand and admit to being judgmental of women who whine about their diets and health and greying hair and fading beauty and boo hoo.  And while I don’t whine about those things and try not to whine aloud in general, wow is my interior voice great at whining and complaining.  Well, as long as nobody knows but me, it doesn’t count right?  Wrong.  So wrong.  The good part is that it’s becoming pretty clear what my barrier is to daily, DIY contentment.  (More on that tomorrow when I’ve had a little time to process.)

My vehicle is back from its’ second week-long visit with Miracle Keith.  I don’t know what all he did to it but the transmission is working nicely and it no longer sounds like there is a toilet flushing beneath my dashboard.  It happened at no cost and I am willing to admit I could be the new poster crone for buying that extended warranty on the engine/transmission.  Sometimes the feeling of safety and contentment is worth the extra $9.00 per month added to the car payment.

I did push through and get some work done on decluttering and spring cleaning yesterday. I had no problem giving away a whole series of Spanish glass heads that I collected.  Not easily come by, worth some money and nearly all gone.  It’s the broken goddesses that I plan to keep.  I have been collecting them for a while.  There is some part of me that is indignant on their behalf.  One moment a revered deity and the next off to the thrift store because someone knocked her from her perch.  I have Quan Yin and Quan Am, each missing fingers or toes.  Themis with a broken sword.  A straw goddess with an uneven base, Mara.  A carved wooden one that has been scorched in fire. I have absolutely no proof that it is an image of Teresita Urrea (a Mexican/American folk healer written about in The Hummingbird’s Daughter) but I would like to think it is.  Everyone was cleaned and dusted and they are all chatting in a circle right now, perhaps comparing wounds or maybe just healing one another.


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Visualizing What’s Not

Days 70 & 71:  I continue to revel in what’s not.  I smudged the house and let the wind sweep though the rooms.  Things here feel lighter and changed.  The house is not suddenly, magically organized and simplified.  However, it looks as if I have managed to set up a Spring clean-up for my neighborhood of about 400 homes.  Not my kitchen cupboards.  Not the office/craft space closet.  No.  None of that.  But I spent hours making it possible for our non-HOA’d, unincorporated village to have Spring clean-up.  Someone print me a sign that says, ‘Really?  What were you thinking?’

I have not heard about my car’s transmission issues and I am just not worrying about it.  I do have a sign that says ‘Worry is a misuse of imagination.’  It reminds me that worrying about the future is about as useful as trying to change the past.  It doesn’t get you a step further.  As a former champion worrier, I assure you this is true.  I enjoy visualizations and this is something that works for me.  Did you ever get a song stuck in your head and nothing turns it off.  Close your eyes.  Visualize the person/band performing the song on a stage.  Imagine yourself turning off the spotlight, pulling the plug.  Then say ‘The show’s over’ and visualize the dejected performer(s) exiting stage right.  It works for me.  And I am working on one that has to do with worries that crop up or old memories that don’t do any good.  I bid them farewell and tell them to have a nice trip.  Then I see them stacked onto the deck of a boat (or walking on board with a suitcase).  The boat moves away from the dock and I watch as it sails off into the sunset. Gone. It requires a little faith in yourself and practice but it can work.  If not, there’s always sangria and chocolate chip cookies. Exhale.

 


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Promise-Scented Winds

Day 68:  It was warm and windy outside and I invited some of that breeze into the house.  I had a lazy day on the exterior.  I didn’t cook. I didn’t eat much.  I did take some time to visualize and breathe. I’ve heard it said that we are inhaling and exhaling the same air breathed by Buddha and Gandhi, Mother Teresa and Bette Midler. I have been thinking about relationships and personal growth and I think it’s similar.  We have remarkable friendships and loves and those relationships move forward in time.  Some stay, some meander off, others we cling to for too long and still others we halt.  Then winds of life blow through and stir up feelings or memories and we reexamine them.

Today I thought about some of my relationships and change. My dad was a violent alcoholic. I remember coming home from some fete at school.  It was my 18th birthday and my parents had forgotten it. They were arguing, it escalated and I had my dad arrested.  That’s some ugly stuff.  As an adult, I poked around at family stories and learned about what happened to turn a creative, thoughtful boy into a bitter, brutal man.  I learned to put distance between kid-me and Dad so that as adult-me I could see Ted the person. I found compassion for kid-him and damaged adult-him.  I don’t sit around massaging old wounds and trying to remember the pain.  I’ve let it go.

I don’t understand why we cling to stuff and try to convince ourselves that we can change the past.  It’s like going to the cemetery and arguing with bones in the ground.  Bones don’t answer and you look foolish.  I think a lot of being content is choosing to let go.  I mean, have you ever seen anyone skipping down the street saying, “Wow!  This resentment I’ve been clinging to for 10 years makes every day pure sunshine and the future a promise of goodness!”

About a year ago, an old acquaintance from high school started chatting with me on Facebook.  Someone else contacted me and said, ‘She treated you like crap in high school. What’s with being all buddy-buddy?’  I remember laughing a little and feeling sad for the other person.  It was simple math–45 years of time and space and life changes makes one difference.  If you choose to let go.  I choose to.  I don’t pine for the good ole days.  I want to be able to look forward to the remarkable new days that belong to adult me.  Silver-haired me.  Those days were blowin’ in the wind and I’m glad they are blown away.  These days are swept with winds of change.  These winds are scented with sage and citrus and promise. Lots of promise.