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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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.


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Fly By The Seat of Your Spanx

Day 64:  Today there were a few more bumps in the road and a wrench I had to yank from the machinery in my effort to get things back on track.  I spent some time reading Crones Don’t Whine and chewed on a passage for a while:  A crone is herself. She accepts change, appreciates the good in her life, grieves for what dies or loses vitality and goes on.  What she does and who she shares her life with are expressions of who she is–not her identity.  When it’s time to let go of a phase of life, she can.  But the truth is, she does not reinvent herself intentionally; rather by improvising and adapting to change.  

If I am reading that all correctly, what Jean Shinoda Bolen is saying is that wise women live in the present and deal with what’s in the now.  Smart wise women don’t make too many plans and essentially fly by the seat of their Spanx.  Okay.  I can see why my expectation that making changes for myself on my nifty time line is a set up for failure.  No–it’s all a set up for learning.  If nothing ever breaks, how do you learn to deal with broken things or broken dreams?  How else would you learn how to make repairs or seek out a different route to your destination?  By no means am I saying that learning something requires hard times.  I’m a speak-it-into-reality person and I try to choose words carefully.  A while back I started saying things like ‘I want my life lessons to come from positive experiences,’  and ‘I want to learn and grow without experiencing disasters.’  Life eased up.  It all seems to go a lot better when I pay less attention to the billboards and more attention to the highway markers of life, you know?

So, I’m here.  I’m letting go of the idea that it’s disruptive to have my son revolving through the house as needed.  He’s working on his life.  I’m working on my life and my life is good–even if I am not working on it at warp speed right now. The only one setting arbitrary deadlines is me and I am in charge of my life.  I say I can change that.  Letting go feels a whole lot better than the hand-wringing and griping I did last week.  I have been doing fly by your personal ethics living most of my life.  I got through fly by the seat of your blue jeans with no child support single parenting.  Both son and daughter are figuring out their flight plans; nobody is crashing and burning.  I don’t know why I expected crone transitioning to be something I could neatly map out.  It IS yet another chance to improvise and adapt and generally fly by the seat of my Spanx.


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Balance and Serendipity

Day 56 – I really like paying my bills.  No. Really.  I don’t make a ton of money.  I haven’t had a raise in pay in 4-5 years and the cost of living in Colorado has gone up about 14%. I probably have a reason to whine and complain but the fact is, every month I am able to pay the bills. I have more than enough left to make my life.  I had the extra expense of a garage door repair and still managed to save around $100.  I am not a financial genius by any means but I do trust in checks and balances–actually serendipity and balance to be specific.

I think that if I act responsibly then the Universe or the Great Whatsis takes note and when I need a hand I get one.  I pay my bills early.  I buy food for the birds and critters in the trees around my house. I pay for boxes of Girl Scout cookies and tell the kids to give them away to seniors and people in uniforms. It’s not rocket science. It’s what I can do. In return when my computer monitor blows out (like it did on Sunday), a friend hands me the monitor she’s been hauling around in the trunk of her car for a year and Monday night I have a whiz bang new monitor.  You may think it’s dumb luck.  Philosophical folks would say that we speak our realities into existence and that what we say happens is what happens. I must admit that I have been on the ‘thoughts become things/words create our realities’ train for a long while now.  I believe in serendipitous events,too.  And I believe in balance.  There is only one part that puzzles me.  It goes like this:  If I try to sell my stuff, nobody buys it. I can help other people sell their stuff and what I tell them to do works–people buy their stuff.  If I spend money, I usually get great bargains. It’s how I’m built–someone out there got long thin legs and I got short legs but great bargaining ability. There’s some balance there.  I think. There is an asterisk:  *If I sell my stuff to use the money for a cause, it all turns out well very quickly.  For example, I bought a set of amazing handmade, artist signed vintage Native American jewelry from a wealthy person for $5.00.  Two weeks later I needed money to take donated books and clothing to the Pine Ridge Reservation.  I sold the jewelry to a collector for enough money to finance the 1000 miles of driving, truck rental and expenses. As I clear my clutter, friends keep advising me to sell the stuff.  They look at me with puzzled faces when I say I can only give it away.  I could sit here and write 50 stories about giving away something and how much joy and serendipity it has brought to my life.  I don’t know how it works.  I just know that it does work. Playing tag with the Mystery.  I like this game.


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What a Present

Days 51-54:  If I were more of a professional at writing this I would write a dandy excuse and then break this out into several posts.  I am trying to keep the days together, so here it is–some fun and crazy stuff, some introspection and learning that happened in the days preceding, including, and after my 63rd birthday.

On day 51, I went to work with a singular goal in mind–get through the day and look forward to the weekend.  I did the thing I do nearly every year for my birthday–I bought pizza for my co-workers. It’s not a big expense but it makes me so happy to see people  who don’t expect good surprises in that place to have one once in a while. Someone remarked about my generosity and I told them it was a completely selfish action–I enjoyed myself immensely.  Surprise pizza is never a bad idea.

I woke up on day 52 to a world coated in ice.  After days of spring-like weather, it got cold and brittle.  So, I made hot tea, snugged in with my comforter, and began underling things and writing in the margins of my copy of Crones Don’t Whine. Just the phrase appeals to me because I can’t become one of those women who has nothing more in her life than soap operas and swapping stories about fair/good/poor bowel movements.  If you’re still here, you’re not here just to poop and talk about it.  Jean Shinoda Bowen writes:  Moving on becomes an option or a necessity, predictable and unpredictable events happen.  It’s not only that outer circumstances change; your thoughts, feelings, and dreams may also shift and change. Many women now feel a pull toward solitude for reflection, self-expression, inner development or just plain time off from others. Inner time is needed for this new season of your life.  I turned these words over and over in my head and looked at the challenge that is the most cluttered room in my house–the room with my computer, sewing and art supplies. The words self-expression and inner development challenge me.  Part of practicing contentment is feeding the passions in your life. Mine are shifting.  But shifting to where?

On day 53 I turned 63.  If my mom were still around, she would probably be 72 by now.  Her credo was, If you don’t have enough sense to lie about your age, it’s not my fault.  I don’t lie about it.  I stopped dying away the grey about 3 years ago. I have saggy parts and body fat. I cover those things in bright, comfortable clothes.  Deal with it.

At a pre-birthday dinner with some of my best friends, we ate amazing Lebanese food and solved the problems of the world.  I listened to them disagreeing with one another and thought about how lucky I am to have them in my life. Friendships are an amazing gift. My friend who recently adopted a dog at my urging gave me a birthday card with a note from her new pup included. He thanked me for saving his life. That was an awesome gift, too.

My birthday went like this: Drop off my leak-infested new car at the dealership for a week of rehab and leave being forced to drive a 2017 Malibu with 37 miles on it. Sigh. Gasp. Poor me!  A dear friend and I went off for mani-pedis that took up most of the afternoon. It was soothing and I struggled to remember when I had last done this. Self-care, therapeutic touch–these are important when you are on your own.  I must do this more often. Back at home, my son had made chicken soup from scratch–more soothing than birthday cake. We sat telling stories and ideas while I imbibed in too many margaritas. Mark that down in the older but not wiser in all things column.

Today, day 54, I had a hangover and nobody to blame but me. I put my grey-streaked hair in braids, added some BB foundation and went grocery shopping.  I bought some groceries for my son. It’s not my job and I kind of regret it. Sigh.  I napped and avoided any progress on the house but I did put a name to what’s stopping me in that room.  And I am actually going to write about that here tomorrow.  The best part was writing thank you 63 times to friends and family who had wished me a happy birthday. What a gift. What a future? What a Present!

 


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Dust Bunnies, Coyotes, & Repairmen

Days 46 & 47 – Let’s just say the past couple of days have been about a little more and less talk and definitely more action.

I am finding some of the planning parts of this exercise in practicing contentment frustrating.  I made a great list.  And what I can tell you is that in the unseasonable warmth I got a lot done–just not items on the list.  Some of them are half done and a few of them I have already reviewed this morning and wagged a mental finger at myself about.  Here’s what I’ve learned over the past couple of days:

  • Dust bunnies beneath furniture, like the bunnies wintering in my shrubs, procreate.
  • I sometimes need to remember to stop:  In order to keep my son on my insurance, papers needed to be run around to offices so that representatives from KP could write out information already in KP’s computers to confirm to other members at KP that conditions still exist. I tried to fix this.  Every door slammed shut as they reminded me that he’s an adult.  I nervously handed the paperwork over to my son and he got to spend about 2.5 hours of his day off driving from office to office until someone relieved him of the paperwork.  It’s not my job anymore.
  • It drains every bit of my energy to deal with money-snatchers.  I spent about an hour with a garage door repairman in this conversation:
    • You quoted me $219.00 on the phone.
    • Well, this will cost about $675.00
    • You quoted me $219.00 when we discussed this by phone.
    • Well, I could do it for $459.00
    • I don’t want to waste your time. I thought this would be $219.00.
    • Well, I could do this for $250.00.
    • Does that include taxes and the trip fee?
    • (Eye roll) Yeah, okay.
  • Pushing past my comfort zone is not as uncomfortable as it might appear once I start seeing some results.
  • We all move at different speeds; even slow motion is forward motion.  I have a neighbor whose husband died nearly 3 years ago. She has been surly and rude. She has kept her dead spouse’s truck like a shrine in front of her home. On Friday I dared to speak to her because, to my surprise, she has adopted a dog–a blind dog.  We talked for a minute or two and she actually said something resembling a lighthearted remark. A part of me danced on her behalf.
  • As soon as I sort of figured out how to shop for one, my son started spending more time here.  My groceries have vanished.
  • It is both good to have a tribe and okay to allow yourself to lean on them once in a while.  Around 4 AM I woke up to whimpering and howling.  It took a few seconds to realize it was a pack of coyotes somewhere on the mesa talking to the moon.  I looked at my dogs.  They were alert with faces pointed toward the window and in a single motion simultaneously swung around, ran from the room, and quieted the neighborhood.  They returned as a pack and surrounded me once more. I thought about how easily the world would turn if we as people could come together like a retriever, a boxer/pit and a miniature dachshund, recognizing that we are all part of a tribe no matter our differences.