Addie Bundren is dead (As I Lay Dying)

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as i lay dying coverI'll come right out and admit it: I'm a fan of Oprah's book club. Not only do I think it's a good idea in theory, and not only do I think it has been a help to a number of virtually unknown female authors, but I have also really liked quite a few of the books I've read (yeah, most weren't great literature, but a couple were, and most weren't crap). Anyway. A few weeks ago, I heard quite a bit of hoopla about Oprah's Summer of Faulkner. The upshot of her plan, if you don't feel like bothering with the link, is that she has picked three William Faulkner books for the club's summer month selections: As I Lay Dying for June, The Sound and the Fury for July, and Light in August for August. At first, my reaction was simply continued dismay that she is now highlighting dead white male authors who are already famous, rather than current female authors, as she was doing in the first few years. Then I considered that my exposure to Faulkner has been limited to three books, two of which were for school (Absalom, Absalom and As I Lay Dying) and one of which I tried to read on my own and got frustrated with and didn't finish (The Sound and the Fury). This fact, in combination with the fact that I have a Faulkner-obsessed Masters-in-Literature office mate, as well as my general brain atrophy, led me to decide that I was going to enroll in Oprah's Summer of Faulkner.

Other than just offering a reading list, Oprah has quite a bit of information available on her site--there is a new lecture posted every week, given by a Faulkner scholar and pertaining to the book that is currently being read. These lectures are not extremely academic, and they are not very long (about 20-30 minutes each), but so far they've been pretty good. The site also offers reading notes, Q&A, and a quiz on the book (I got 90% for As I Lay Dying!). Regardless of whether you love or hate Faulkner, it's not the easiest stuff in the world to read, especially when you aren't used to it, and these resources have definitely helped me get a lot more out of the book. As I mentioned, I'd read As I Lay Dying before, and I both liked it more and understood it better this time. Whether that should be attributed to my not being 16 anymore or to the resources I don't know, but it was a good experience either way.

So I'm looking forward to starting The Sound and the Fury, which is the one I didn't get more than a few chapters into the last time I tried it. And then I'm going to write a letter to Oprah and ask her if she wants to do James Joyce in the fall...

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My mother does not call

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My mother does not call very often. She's just not a big phone person. So when she does, I can usually count on it being bad news from home. Usually, someone has died.

This time wasn't any different.

The man who has died was in his mid-50s. He had a wife, for whom I used to work and who I like very much. They had four children, between the ages of 17 and 10, for whom I babysat not all that many summers ago. I taught his oldest daughter to read. She just graduated from high school, and a few weeks after her graduation, her father was dead.

There are no words for that kind of grief.

Suddenly, all of the things I have been so distraught about are so very small.

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Addendum

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Going over what I wrote last night, I realize I've barely scratched the surface of what I wanted to say. That is what happens when I try to post with the television on and Mark yammering at me. :)

First, I don't know if I made my feelings about my dog clear. I do not think Chance is a person. He is an entirely different species, with completely different needs and capacities. He does not understand logic, he cannot be reasoned with, he has a prey drive, he will never be able to use a toilet...the list goes on and on. But even though I don't think of Chance as human or humanesque, his life is worth as much to me as a human life. Yes, you read that correctly. My dog's life is worth as much to me as a person's life.

I've never gotten involved in the debates about whether "parenting" a pet can be compared to parenting a child, mostly because I don't see what good it does to argue about it, and also because I don't have a child, so I don't think I'm a fair judge of what the similarities and differences between the two are. I also think it's very person-specific: some people do not feel the same way about their companion animals that I do about Chance (some people also don't love their kids). What I can say is this: I am more committed to my dog and love my dog more than I ever would have thought possible. The way I feel about him isn't really comparable to the way I feel about the human beings I am close to, because the relationships are a totally different sort, but if I'm forced to quantify, then I'd say that he is more important to me than most people. That's simply the way it is.

This is why I find the whole topic of breed specific legislation so very troubling. The idea that someone could take Chance away from me--break up my family--just because of generalizations that have been made (wrongly, in my opinion) about his breed(s) is both terrifying and infuriating. And it doesn't have to happen to me to make it wrong--why on earth would I assume that there are no people who love their pit bulls like I love Chance?

A friend of mine just told me that her dog, a half-Pyr, half-Chow, is officially a "Pyr mix." Why? Because she couldn't get home owner's insurance if her dog was listed as a Chow, a dangerous breed. If you can't get home owner's insurance, you can't buy a house. If you can't buy, you have to rent. If you are renting, it's going to be difficult to find somewhere that will let you live with your supposedly dangerous dog. And so you face a choice, basically, between homelessness and getting rid of your dog. That is not a fair position to put people in, especially when the supposed good that comes out of it really amounts to a false sense of safety for ignorant people.

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Treatise on canines

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You know, the best friend I ever had was a dog
It sounds like a cliche unless it's happened to you
Some days that dog was the only reason I even got out of bed

-Dan Bern, "Estelle"

Tonight, I am moved to share my feelings about dogs.

First, a bit of history. I grew up around a lot of dogs. I hated them. I wasn't scared of them (except for my continuing phobia of Boston Terriers, but that's another story for another time), I just didn't like them. They were smelly, they were slobbery, and I just didn't get what was so cool about them.

These dogs came into my life in various forms. The household I grew up in included an Airedale (Sissy) when I was a small child and later was home to a Fox Terrier mutt (Spike) and a Border Collie (Missy). My grandfather on one side bred and raised Boston Terriers. My grandparents on the other side had a Pit Bull (Rowdy). My dad and stepmom had a Black and Tan Hound mutt (Shiloh) and a Malamute/Husky (Sheba) when I was a kid, then later had an Akita (Kuma) and a Rottweiler (Kahn).

Kahn was my stepmom's dog. He was an abused dog she rescued from the city pound when he was about 18 months old. He weighed about 115 lbs. And he was the single most gentle creature I have ever had the privledge of knowing, regardless of species (and certainly regardless of breed). Even though I didn't like dogs, I liked Kahn.

I have been attacked by dogs twice, neither time serious. The first was the meanest fucking Boston on Earth, when I was a little kid, the second was a Chesapeake Bay Retriever when I was 13 or so. Neither of these experiences endeared dogs to me, but neither caused any type of phobia. The Chesapeake was trained to be aggressive towards people; I have no fucking clue what was up with the Boston.

Fast forward a few years, Mark and I meet and fall in love and all that jazz. It becomes clear that as soon as responsibly taking care of one is an option, Mark will be getting a dog, regardless of what I think about it. If I want to be with him, a dog is part of the package. He grew up with two Golden Retrievers who were family members, both of whom died early in our relationship. He loves dogs. So I decide I can deal with having a dog, as long as I don't have to walk it and it doesn't lick me.

So we start looking for a dog. One of my conditions right off, which Mark has no issue with, is that the dog has to be a rescue dog. This is because my core belief is that human beings have absolutely no right to be breeding dogs. I don't think they should have been domesticated in the first place, and since they were, I think we have a responsibility to take care of the ones that are around "accidentally" before we force them to make any more. But more on that later.

The first rescue dog Mark wanted to go and meet was this big-ass black and tan mutt. I wasn't impressed with the picture, but I agreed to go meet him. Whatever.

And that's when I met Chance.

When we met him, Chance's name was Champ. He was estimated to be somewhere between a year and two years old. He had been unceremoniously dumped at the local kill shelter by his family. The explanation was that they had gotten him as a puppy and didn't realize he was going to be so big, and they couldn't handle him. Or something. We later learned, from a fortuitous meeting with someone who had known his first owner and recognized him, that his "life" previous to being dumped at the pound was to be chained in the backyard.

So he came to the pound. A very large (103 lbs at that time) animal with no training and no social skills. That meant a short wait to be killed, as he was considered low adoption probability. Had the amazing folks at Blue Dog Rescue not taken a chance on him, and taken it quickly, he almost certainly would have been put down. The shelter were Chance was "puts down" (just using a euphemism for it doesn't make it OK) 48 animals per day, 5 days per week. A few of these are animals that are very sick, or have what have been identified as unalterable behavioral issues. Most of them aren't.

Having heard this story, I was already warming up to the dog idea before I ever met Chance. Then I met him. He was being walked by his foster mom's 10 year old son. The boy was completely blind. Chance, a huge dog with bully breed markings (he is listed on his papers as a Rottweiler/German Shepard--I don't think that's his exact breed makeup, but it's close enough) and absolutely no training, was leading him. With an amazing grace and perception I never could have guessed possible, Chance stepped out of the way when the boy was going to run into him, he led the boy around obstacles, it was amazing.

He was similarly gentle and fantastic when we took his leash. We were sold. We had our home visit the next day, and Chance stayed at our house for the weekend for a pre-adoption "trial."

During our trial period, things were mostly great. And then Chance bit Mark. He was chewing on a bone, Mark walked too close to him, and he bit him. It wasn't much of a bite--it didn't break the skin, it was a warning, not an attack. But we were scared. So we called Lisa, the woman from whom we got him, and told her.

She told us she'd come get him immediately and that he was no longer an adoptable dog under the rescue's rules. They would take him back, but if we gave him back, he'd be put down. It was that simple.

Well, I couldn't do that. So we enrolled in an obedience course, stopped giving him chew bones, and hoped for the best.

And he was good at obedience training. He learned to sit, to stay, to lay down, to shake hands. For a few weeks, it seemed like things would be OK.

Then one morning I was walking him, and out of nowhere he charged a pedestrian. He pulled the leash out of my hands and ran at a man walking towards us on the street. He did not hurt the man--the guy fell down backing away from him, scared shitless (and I don't blame him), but Chance never even touched him. As soon as he fell, in fact, Chance came right back to me. But a passerby called the police, and it was quite the ordeal. A few days later, he barked at a small kid that came up to pet him. Again didn't touch her, but scared her plenty.

So, as responsible dog owners, we had to do something. It was either get rid of Chance or try something a bit more intense than a Humane Society obedience course. And even though at this point I honestly was scared he might hurt someone, there was no way I was going to give him up to certain death. So we went to a behavioralist. And started training. And worked really fucking hard for about a year, spent a shitload of money, and broke him of the antisocial habits he learned from his first owners.

Technically, and even in the eyes of the Austin Police Department, who have him on record due to the day they were called, I have an aggressive dog. I have a dog who, by virtue of his size and how he looks, makes people cross the street on a regular basis. I have a dog who most probably keeps people from visiting my house. I also have a dog who is a certified Canine Good Citizen and a dog I would trust completely with any child (and do trust with my favorite child). I also have dog who is my best friend on earth, who I know would lay down his life for me at any moment. I have a dog I would do anything for. I have a dog I prefer to most people. I have a dog who is a part of my family--more than that, a dog who made my family.

It is feasible that breed-specific legislation could apply to my dog. It probably wouldn't, as Pit Bulls are the horrible dogs de jour and Chance resembles a Rott, but it's not infeasible. It's not infeasible that the government could tell me not only that I have to carry liability insurance on my dog, or that I can't live in a school zone because of my dog, but even that I just plain can't have my dog. Not because of anything he has done, but because of his breed.

No, that's not OK with me. It's not OK with me on a personal level, as I'm not giving up a member of my family because some small-minded people have decided he's scary; and it's not OK on a political level, because dogs (ALL breeds of dogs) are creatures that we created and we have a responsibility, as a society, to take care of them. Getting rid of them (which, let's be honest, means killing them) if and when they become inconvenient for us is not morally acceptable.

I'm not saying that the specific animals who attack people should not be put down. By the time a dog attacks a human being (I'm talking a real attack here, not the warning bite Chance gave Mark), it quite often is to late. But here are the facts about dogs attacking human beings:

1. It doesn't happen very often. There are approximately 20 fatal dog attacks per year in the U.S. Approximating 20 deaths per year in a dog population of 53 million yields an infinitesimal percent of the dog population (.0000004%) involved in a human fatality (http://www.fataldogattacks.com/). For purposes of comparison, approximately 73 people per year are killed by lightening strikes (http://www.crh.noaa.gov/product.php?site=JKL&product=PNSJKL.0506201442).

2. Breed is not a good identifying factor in dogs that attack. What are good identifying factors?

1. Function of the dog - (Includes: dogs acquired for fighting, guarding/protection or image enhancement)
2. Owner responsibility - (Includes: dogs allowed to roam loose, chained dogs, dogs and/or children left unsupervised, dogs permitted or encouraged to behave aggressively, animal neglect and/or abuse)
3. Reproductive status of dog - (Includes: unaltered males dogs, bitches with puppies, children coming between male dog and female dog in estrus)(http://www.fataldogattacks.com/)You'll notice that these things are all under human, not canine, control.

3. Nearly all cases of of fatal dog attacks could have easily been prevented with responsible dog ownership.

Why am I only talking about fatal cases? Well, mainly because that's what I could find stats on. Stats for attacks in general are notoriously untrustworthy, as only a small percentage of dog attacks are reported, and attacks by small dogs (yes, those happen!) are almost never reported. I think this sums it up pretty well:
A study performed by the American Veterinary Medical Association, the CDC, and the Humane Society of the United States, analyzed dog bite statistics from the last 20 years and found that the statistics don't show that any breeds are inherently more dangerous than others. The study showed that the most popular large breed dogs at any one time were consistently on the list of breeds that bit fatally. There were a high number of fatal bites from Doberman pinschers in the 1970s, for example, because Dobermans were very popular at that time and there were more Dobermans around, and because Dobermans' size makes their bites more dangerous. The number of fatal bites from pit bulls rose in the 1980s for the same reason, and the number of bites from rottweilers in the 1990s. The study also noted that there are no reliable statistics for nonfatal dog bites, so there is no way to know how often smaller breeds are biting (http://www.healthypet.com/library_view.aspx?ID=16&sid=1).

Regardless, more and more places in the United States are passing breed specific legislation (you can check and see if there is any in your area here). Why? Ignorance and fear. Will it help? No. Will it get more dogs like Chance killed? Absolutely.

So what is the answer? Some people think Good Dog Laws are sufficient. I don't. I think that using the impetus the occasional, media-hyped dog attack fatality brings to actually deal with this problem at its source is a great idea. The source I think should be dealt with? Breeders.

In all but a very few cases, dogs that attack are dogs with irresponsible owners. How do these owners get their dogs? More often than not, they get them from breeders. Reputable dog rescue organizations take the time to make sure their animals are going to a good home before they adopt out--and why wouldn't they, as they have no financial incentive? If you are using your dogs for profit, though, you lose this impetus.

As I may have already mentioned (yep, this is getting long...), I don't think intentional dog breeding should be legal at all. I think we should deal with the dogs that are here unintentionally before we go encouraging them to make more. But that's a hard sell. What may be an easier sell, and what I think would ultimately help with the issue of aggressive, human-attacking dogs, is making unlicensed dog breeding illegal. If you had to be licensed to breed and sell dogs, and breeding for aggression or selling to people who are going to train dogs to be aggressive were punishable (by fines and loss of license, say), there would be a financial impetus towards responsible ownership.

No, this would not solve the whole problem, but I am firmly convinced it would do more to help that any breed ban (besides being a fuckload more humane, both towards the animals themselves and towards the people who love them).

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New cool toy

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I got this from Squid, and I think everyone should try it.

I got 76%. Not too shabby.

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Cleaning out the closet

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I'm a bit of a clothes horse. Not in the sense of designer clothes or anything like that, or even department store clothes or boutique clothes. No, mainly in the sense of secondhand clothes. Regardless, though, my closet has been full-to-the-brim for at least the last ten years, no matter how much closet space I have.

Due to my rather constant rate of clothes acquisition, as well as my equally constant change in tastes, I do regular closet purges--I'd say I do one every three months or so. This keeps things under control. I also store out-of-season clothes in Rubbermaid tubs under the bed. Still, I rarely have extra hangers or rod space.

Well, I now have all the closet space I could need. Why? Because last night I did a purge not just for what is out of season or no longer in favor, but I also removed everything that doesn't fit. I've done this before, but never with as much stamina.

And now there are very few clothes left in my closet.

Actually, there are lots of shirts, there are just hardly an bottoms. There is one pair of jeans, there are two pairs of cropped pants and two pairs of regular pants. There are about half a dozen skirts. That's it. Not unworkable, but a small fraction of what I am used to having. Pretty much everything that was fitted and/or didn't have a drawstring waist has been removed.

The last time this happened, it was to a far lesser degree, and my response to the situation was to run out and spend several hundred dollars on clothes that were a size bigger. Actually, make that the last two times this happened. I really don't think I can justify doing that again. I also don't think I want to do it again. Going up one size every two months just isn't a tenable long-term plan.

So. It's back to the dieting. I could try to call it something else, but dieting is what it is. And it's dieting with a size goal in mind. I don't give a shit how many inches I lose or have any pound goals--I just want to be able to get the clothes out of the underbed boxes.

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My opinion on Kos

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My opinion on Kos has never been high. In fact, I don't read it, cuz it pisses me off. But like other women in the Blosphere, I have to point you to this, if you haven't read it yet. Damn right.

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Post Secret

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Jesus. This is incredible.

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Greatest American update

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Of the top 25, there are 3 women. Three. Rosa Parks, Oprah Winfrey, and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Bah.

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Another meme I ganked from Frog

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1) My uncle once: won a national 40-and-over caber toss.

2) Never in my life: have I been off the North American continent

3) When I was five: I had the world's worst haircut

4) High school was: not as bad as it could have been.

5) Fire is: hot?

6) I once saw: a herd of elk from about 10 feet away.

7) There's this woman I know who: has no pigment around/in her lips.

8) Once, at a bar: I got kicked out for complimenting the bartender's ass (not my finest moment).

9) By noon I'm usually: wishing I had different job.

10) Last night: I stayed home writing a product proposal and watching decorating shows.

11) If I only had: more willpower.

12) Next time I go to church: will probably be someone's wedding.

13) The best thing about my last relationship was: I learned a lot and was exposed to a lot I wouldn't otherwise have been.

14) What worries me most: is complacency.

15) When I turn my head left: I see closet doors and a collage art calendar.

16) When I turn my head right: I see the Reef Blue wall.

17) You know I'm lying when: I say I'm not scared.

18) What I miss most about the eighties: um...naps? I was in elementary school.

19) If I were a character written by Shakespeare, I'd be: Beatrice.

20) By this time next year: I will have better eating habits and I doable exercise routine.

21) I have a hard time understanding: math.

22) You know I like you if: I'd ever rather be with you than be by myself.

23) If I won an award, the first person I'd thank would be: my mom.

24) Darwin, Mozart, Slim Pickens & Geraldine Ferraro: have nothing in common that I can think of.

25) Take my advice, never: start drinking Pepsi.

26) My ideal breakfast is: ice cream.

37) If you visit my hometown, I suggest you go to: my grandmother's house.

28) Why doesn't everyone: try to be nice to each other?

29) If you spend the night at my house: help youself to whatever you'd like, but pick up your goddamn towel.

30) I'd stop my wedding: if there was any mention of obeying.

31) The world could do without: superpowers with facist governments.

32) My favorite blonde is: a Labrador.

33) If I do anything well, it's: organize things.

44) And by the way: I still love my new house.

45) The last time I was drunk, I: was surrounded by women I had only just met. And felt totally safe.

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Update on my amazing willpower

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As you are faithful readers who hang on my every word, I trust you remember a little bit back when I lined out three goals for myself. In case you don't, I'll reiterate:

1. Stop biting my fingernails.
2. Learn to live on a budget.
3. Get control of my diet and exercise (and yes, lose the extra weight I'm carrying).

I originally said I was going to tackle all three at once, then it was pointed out to me how stupid of an idea that is, so my plan was to take them as they are listed, from least to most difficult, and start one upon successful completion (as much as you can have completion with any of these) of the one before it.

Well, my fingernails are grown out. It actually hasn't been tough at all, I've just kept polish on them, which is the same strategy I used last time I quit biting them. The problem comes when I start getting lazy and not polishing them regularly--then I start biting again.

So, now that I've beaten Goal #1, at least for the moment, I need to move on to Goal #2. Goal #2 is exponentially harder than Goal #1. I have a shopping problem. It is an addiction. It gets worse when I work long hours (like I have been recently). I have recently been closer to out of control with my spending than I have been in a long, long time. I've made some large purchases (new computer, plane ticket), but the bigger problem has been a lot of smaller purchases (lots and lots of bags/purses, books, CDs, and bath products). I think I've bought something online nearly every day the past couple of weeks. It's bad.

So that's the goal I am moving on to: living within a budget. But I am not going to make a strict budget this time, or keep a spreadsheet, or any of that. Why? Because I think that my pattern when trying to deal with this issue has been to focus A LOT on "how" I should do it (this budgeting software, this allowance, etc.) and not focus at all on simply not. fucking. shopping. Or at least not shopping unintentionally, recreationally. My very wise friend Frog told me quite some time ago that to get this spending thing under control, I simply need to stop shopping for fun. And much as I really, really hate to think this, she's right.

So...that's the new goal. No more recreational shopping. I am going to start keeping a list of things I want to run out and buy as I think of them, and I think it will be totally reasonable, at some point, to pick a thing or two off that list and buy it for myself, intentionally. But for the next little while, cold turkey is the way to go. There isn't anything I need to buy, so I won't buy anything. Seems like it should be simple, doesn't it?

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Also by way of Frog

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A list of music I have seen live in concert, in the order they pop into my head. To be edited many times, I'm sure.

Ani DiFranco (somewhere around 12 times)
Dar Williams
Dan Bern
Adam Brodsky
Kris Kristofferson
Willie Nelson
Bitch & Animal
Hamell on Trial
Maceo Parker
Paul Revere and the Raiders
Leanne Rymes
Allison Krauss and Union Station
Emmylou Harris
Eliza Gilkyson
Toshi Reagan
Sweet Honey in the Rock
Holly Near
Utah Phillips
Dave Carter and Tracey Grammer
The Cherry Poppin' Daddies
Faith No More
Carolyn Wonderland
Ruthie Foster
Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irian
Dale Watson
Michael Franti
Laura Love
Hole
Marilyn Manson
Blues Traveler
The Dave Matthew's Band
Lenny Kravitz
Ladysmith Black Mambazo
Peter Wilde
Katie Henry
Greg Brown
Billy Bragg

Curious about the circumstances under which I saw any of these folks? Please post in the comments--I love to tell concert stories!

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I'm it!

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Frog tagged me!

List your six favorite songs and tag six others to do the same.

1. Me and Bobby McGee, Kris Kristofferson
2. Pancho and Lefty, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings
3. School Night, Ani DiFranco
4. As Cool As I Am, Dar Williams
5. Bridge Over Troubled Water, Simon & Garfunkel
6. Ruby Tuesday, The Rolling Stones

Who's it now?
Scand, from Sweat Equity
Melinda, from Drinking Coffee, Playing with Scissors
Nyarly, from Nyarlathotep's Miscellany
The Princess, from The Flooded Lizard Kingdom
Portia, from The Winding Sheet
Dana, from Dana, Shameless Agitator


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Arlo's church

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I have a big, fat, depths-of-my-soul post to make, but I'm not quite there with it yet, so in the meantime, I wanted to relate a story I heard last night:

S. and I went to the Sierra Club's Songs to Save the Seashore benefit concert last night. The show was great--Eliza Gilkyson, Carolyn Wonderland, and Ruthie Foster all played and are worth seeing. Dale Watson was there, and I am now in love (real country music! YES!). The story I want to tell, though, came from the set played by Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion. Sarah Lee is, as the name indicates, Arlo's daughter, and this story is about him.

***************************

About 15 years ago, Arlo (and I think some other folks) bought the church made famous in Alice's Restuarant Massacre. Not long after they bought it, Arlo was hanging out there, sweeping up the floor. A local preacher came by and knocked on the door. Since the door was glass, Arlo couldn't pretend he wasn't there, so he answered the door.

"Arlo, what are you doing here?" asked the preacher.

"Well, I'm sweeping up the floor," Arlo replied.

"No," said the preacher, "I meant what kind of church is this going to be now?"

Arlo thought a bit about that. He hadn't really considered it. He had a lot of plans for the church, was going to do a lot of great things there, but he hadn't thought much about what kind of church it was going to be.

"Well," he replied, "I guess it's a bring your own God church."

************************

Indeed.

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From Clare to here

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I had a dream last night about my daughter. My daughter, who has never been born, or even conceived, or even really considered, and yet I could see her so clearly. She was maybe 3, with curly blonde hair. Skinny, gawky, but beautiful, and so smart. Her knee was skinned. I was wearing a suit in the dream, and I sat on the floor to play with her. We were in a room with good natural light and stacks of books. I could hear her laugh, and I could feel the love and the impatience I would have towards her.

Where is this coming from? Not only is it weird for me to think about having a kid, but it's doubly weird for me to think about a girl--when I do imagine this, I ALWAYS imagine a boy. But this wasn't like I was imagining, it was like I was remembering.

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