Into who you thought you'd be

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'Cause when you live in a world
Well it gets into who you thought you'd be
And now I laugh at how the world changed me
I think life chose me after all

-Dar Williams

I've been thinking a bit about how much different life is than how I'd imagined it would be 10 years ago, or even 5 years ago. Ten years ago, I was 16. It was the summer between my junior and senior years of high school, and I was spending it waiting tables, swimming, and thrift shopping. I was spinning my wheels, anxiously awaiting the passage of another year and then getting the hell out. Out of Elkton, of high school, of the holding pattern. I didn't yet know where I was going to college, but I knew I was going. I didn't think much beyond that. I don't know that I ever really even considered what life would look like with 30 on the horizon, as an honest-to-God grown up. In general terms, though, I knew that I wanted excitement, romance, travel, a fast-paced, urban life full of brilliant, sexy people. Whatever was anti-traditional, anti-small town, anti-everything I grew up with, that's what I had in store for me.

Even five years ago, just post-college and setting out on my own for real, with a troubled, embryonic relationship weighing me down, no real job, and dangerous instincts, I still had a similar vision of eventual fame, money, drama, unsuitable men and illegal drugs. I still had an idea about being someone stuck in my head, and a very specific and not particularly suitable idea of what "someone" is.

If I'd been given a magic mirror at 16, or at 21, that showed me what my life would look like now, I'd have been disappointed. I'd have been making a plan on how not to end up where I am.

And I'd have been wrong. Because what I have now, where I am now--it's not where I intended to be, but it's where I should be. I haven't ever really been the type to dream about being safe and secure, but that doesn't mean it's not a good thing to be. And the types of bigshots I always imagined myself being...I don't know if I could have done it/still could do it or not, but I do know that as I get older, I see the appeal of smaller changes. I might have been convinced 5 or 10 years ago that the only way to make my mark was to become a star journalist, or a trial lawyer, but I now know that there are lots of ways to make that mark, and that the less fantasty-fueled ones matter more.

I'm going home for a visit tomorrow, which always gives me the impetus to do some sort of inventory of my life, and doing that inventory, I'm pretty happy with what I'm finding. I'm now where I expected to be, or, probably where my friend and family expected me to be. But where I am is good.

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Ronaldo Redux

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So my fat friend? Broke the all-time World Cup scoring record today. Put that in your fatphobic pipe and smoke it.

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Introspecting on introspecting

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Some fool in the American Spectator (bastion of quality writing that it is) wrote a piece about how bad writing on blogs is. I'm not going to link to it, but I found it at Echidne's if you are interested. Fool says that blogs are a bad way to expose our valuable natural young people resources to writing and reading, because they are illogical, jumpy, stream-of-consciousness exercises in narcissism rather than quality writing.

On the whole, I don't disagree with Mr. American Spectator. Or at least not with his premises. Blogs are narcissistic. They are mostly exercises in memoir and autobiography, by definition narcissistic genres. Blogs are quite often train-of-thought, though some bloggers (Echidne among them) do take the time to construct concise arguments that follow logical patterns and are even fact-based (note that I am not one of these bloggers). One can, as Mr. Spectator makes such a point of saying, jump through many subjects and opinions in a few mouse clicks, all by following blog links.

What I fail to see is what is wrong with any of that, and what about any of it translates to poor quality writing? Narcissism? Tell that to Faulkner or Joyce, who wrote thousands of pages basically about themselves. Stream of consciousness? Dostoevsky and Proust will be thrilled to hear that. Or is it the ease with which we can read other people's opinions, across a broad spectrum, that bothers Mr. Spectator so much? Is he afraid learning might come too easily?

If the point was to warn readers that a critical eye is necessary when garnering information from online, or remind them that all of us self-publishing bloggers are beholden to no editor and can say pretty much whatever we want, however we want, then Mr. Spectator's article would have been a reasonable thing. There is a danger in forgetting how to sort information, evaluate sources, etc. when it's so easy to put something permanently into print. However, this doesn't seem to have been Mr. Spectator's point. Rather, he's concerned with us illogical, jumpy, narcissistic plebians getting our own little bit of space, space that should, I guess, be reserved for his likeness. And he's even more concerned that someone might be reading us. But I don't think it's the figurative or cultural literacy of our youth that's really keeping him up at night.

I think he's afraid we might take over.

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Sympathy for Ronaldo

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RonaldoLike much of the world, I've got World Cup mania and have been watching as many matches as I can for the past couple of weeks. Soccer is a new passion for me, though, so I didn't know much going in about the sport, the teams, or the specific players.

Which is why, I guess, I was so startled last weekend when I watched the Brazil match and the commentators kept talking about how much weight Brazilian star Ronaldo has gained. I mean, they wouldn't let up on it. Every other comment was about how fat and sloppy and slow he was. And it really bothered me, but also felt really strange, like I was missing something.

Then I figured it out. They were talking about him like he was a girl! Like his weight was a measure of his character. They were connecting weight gain to a host of other character flaws--laziness, egotism, greed. And anything he did that they felt was wrong, from a missed play to an unpleasant expression, came back to his weight. His name could hardly be mentioned without "fat" somewhere in the same sentence.

I don't think I've ever seen a man treated quite the way before. For women, it's common. Thin=virtuous. Thin=in control. Thin=good. We've all had that drilled into our heads practically from birth. But for men, even though fatphobia certainly exists, the scale has always seemed much different. For one thing, you have to be a lot fatter as a man before anybody is going to say anything. For a woman, any extra weight, or often even a moderate weight, can and is seen as fat. For a man, the standards generally aren't so exacting. Which is one reason the Ronaldo thing is so weird--he's just not that big. He may have gained a lot from some starting point I'm not, as a new football fan, aware of, but he's not that fat. If it hadn't been mentioned 100 times, I never would have thought of him as any heavier than most of the other players I've been watching. What's even weirder, though, is the conflation of fat and all of these negative qualities. Because the disgust with fat Ronaldo has nothing to do with how physically attractive he is or is not. Nobody cares about Ronaldinho's buck teeth. It's not about being a sex symbol. It's about more than that. Nobody has a problem with Ronaldo's mythic weight gain because he's not cute now or something. They have a problem with it because they connect it to him being a lesser soccer player, and a lesser person.

Which gets me to thinking about a chicken-or-egg question. Did Ronaldo really gain a bunch of weight and it has affected his efficacy as a player and that's why people are pissed? Or did he stop playing as well and people just use "fat" as a proxy for what they're really saying--that he is declining? Is fat literal, or is it just stand-in for whatever else is wrong?

Either way, it's bullshit. Nobody, man or woman, star or plebian, needs to have international commentators (and, I hear, their country's president) comment on their weight even once, much less ad nauseum. As a soccer player, Ronaldo is subject to criticism of his game, and I think that's fair. But the weight and the game are separate issues, much as people conflate them. Fat is a physical descriptor, it shouldn't be used as a metaphor.

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Rules of Responsible Dog Ownership

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In talking with a few people about Take Your Dog to Work Day, and about dogs in public in general, it's become clear that a lot of people who have issues with dogs in public places or work places really have issues with dog owners who don't act responsibly. And I can understand that. As I hope I made clear before, I think it's a necessary part of dog ownership to make sure your dog isn't a PITA to other people, at least to a reasonable degree. I also think it's part of the responsibility of someone like me, who wants to see the places for dogs in our society expand, to show how that can be done without inconveniencing anyone. In that spirit, I decided to start a list of rules for responsible dog ownership. Please feel free to add other rule suggestions in the comments--this list is a work in progress.

Rules for Responsible Dog Ownership

1. Keep your dog on a leash in public places. With the exception of places that are explicitly leash-free, like dog parks and private yards, I believe dog owners, no matter what size their dogs are, should keep their dogs leased when they aren't at home. Even if you completely trust your dog to stay right with you and you're only walking through the neighborhood, I still think the dog should be leashed. This is both for the dog's protection (particularly from cars) and for the peace of mind of anyone you encounter. Because the truth is that no matter how trustworthy you know your dog is, someone out there is going to be afraid of him/her, and it's going to freak that person out to see the dog without a leash and not under your physical control. People don't need that.

2. Accept and respect that some people don't like/are afraid of/are allergic to dogs. And that your dog, no matter how great you think s/he is, is not an exception to this rule. People should not be forced to interact with your dog if they don't want to, no matter what their reasoning is. Do not assume people want to interact with your dog without asking them, and if they say no, respect that. This goes for the street, the work place, and anywhere else.

3. In this spirit, don't let your dog approach people. People should approach your dog (and as a sidenote, they should ask before doing so, even though a lot of them won't). No one should be put in a situation where s/he is forced to deal with your dog if s/he doesn't want to, unless it's at your house and you've made clear that dogs are part of the package at your house and they shouldn't come visit if they can't deal with that. And even at your own house, anyone who has to be there for a job (delivery person, work person, etc.) should not have to deal with your dog. Ever.

4. Do not expect your dog to train itself. Dogs have to be taught how to act in a given situation. They don't pick up on social cues, at least not human ones, and they can't read your mind. Train your dog to behave properly (not jump on people, not bark, whatever) BEFORE you take him/her in public. Start with safe situations, move up to more challenging ones. It's not the dog's responsibility to figure out what constitutes proper behavior and adapt, it's your responsibility.

5. For God's sake, don't let your dog jump on people. I don't care what kind of dog you have, if it weighs 5 lbs or 150, it should not be allowed to jump up on people.

6. Or lick them.Same thing. A lot of people don't appreciate dog kisses, and your dog shouldn't put its tongue on people.

7. Do not allow children to mishandle your dog. I think this is really important. Even if your dog is the most mellow creature on Earth and kids could do whatever they wanted to him/her and s/he wouldn't mind, you still shouldn't let this happen. While I don't think kids should learn to be afraid of dogs, they do need to learn to approach them with caution and not mishandle them. Just because your calm, well-trained dog will allow kids to stick their fingers in its mouth and pull its tail doesn't mean all dogs will, and we don't want anybody to get hurt.

8. Take care of your dog's health. Obviously keeping your dog healthy is part of dog ownership for the dog's sake, but since I'm focusing on dog-people interactions, it's also vital for people's sake. A great number of attacks by dogs are attacks by sick dogs. If your dog has an untreated medical condition or is in pain, in may act in a way it otherwise would not (just like many people). Don't let that happen.

9. Pick up the poop. This really ought to go without saying, but apparently it doesn't. When your dog shits, pick it up and throw in a trash can. Even if nobody saw it happen. Duh. Similarly, don't let your dog urinate on people's flower beds, or walk through them or dig them up. Or pee on their tires. Or display any other nasty potty behavior.

10. Maintain control. This is really the bottom line rule. If you can't control your dog's behavior and make sure that the people around him/her are safe and not bothered, then you need to work more with the dog before you take him/her out of your own space. Dogs are a privlege; they come with responsibility. If you don't take this responsibility seriously, you shouldn't have a dog.

A good start, I think. More?

Edited to add more rules:

11. Don't leave your barking dog out all day/night. Dogs bark. It's part of what they do. Fine. But if your dog barks all day or all night if you leave him/her out in your yard, then s/he probably shouldn't be left out in your yard. Constant barking will annoy the hell out of your neighbors, and it's likely a sign your dog isn't having a very good time either.

12. Don't breed or buy while shelter pets die. I know people disagree with this, but this is my list, so I'm adding it. I don't think buying or breeding dogs is responsible behavior given the plethora of wonderful dogs who are killed every year in shelters. And that's all I'm going to say about that, since I've blessed you all with that particular rant before. More than once.

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Take Your Dog to Work Day

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This Friday, June 23, is the 8th Annual Take Your Dog to Work Day. I'm fairly certain I'm not going to be able to participate (though I am going to inquire about bringing Leo in), but I think anybody who can do so should. I'd love to see it normalized to take dogs to more places--I think it's good for dogs and good for people. And yes, I realize there are problems with it (allergies being the biggest one and dog phobia falling close behind it), but I think those issues can be negotiated if dog owners are willing to be reasonable and responsible.

So heres to reasonable and responsible pet ownership, and to the increases in employee satisfaction and productivity dogs can bring to work places!

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My life in dog years

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I was asked recently by an acquaintance what precipitated my interest in and love for dogs. I gave her a fairly brief answer, but the question got me to thinking about the long answer, so I thought I'd have a go at it here. An illustrated history of my life in dogs...

Boston TerrierChapter One, the Boston Years

I was born into a dog loving family, though as far as I know, neither of my parents had a dog at the time of my birth. My mom's parents, with whom we lived briefly right after my birth, had a Springer spaniel whose name escapes me now. My dad's parents had a whole passel of Boston terriers. Dad's dad bred them. These Bostons are my first dog memories, and I remember them as vicious, yipping, nasty little things. For a long time, even after I started loving dogs, I really disliked Bostons. He named all the female ones ridiculous things like Beauty and Princess and Darling, but they were still mean and ugly, to my little girl's mind. He even gave one to my mom and me (my parents weren't together), but she ate the furniture and nipped at me, so she didn't last long. Twenty-five plus years later, my grandfather is gone, but my grandmother still raises Boston terriers. And though I've come to have some appreciation for them, they still are not my favorite breed. I'm irrationally scared of them, to be honest. Guess they make me feel like I'm two again.

Airedale TerrierChapter Two, an Airedale's Sweetheart

My mom married my stepdad when I was four, and we moved into his house. At that time, he had a dog, Sissy. Sissy was a gorgeous Airedale. I remember her as being quite large, but I think that was probably due to my being quite small at the time, as Airedale's aren't huge (breed standard is only 45-55 lbs). She was a gentle, wonderful creature, and she followed me around the yard when I played and protected my every move. She was really shy and refused to ever come in the house, but she had the sweetest temperament in the world. That's all retrospective, of course, because by the time I was four I had decided that I didn't like dogs, and I found her to be quite the pest. I missed her after she died, though. My parents have recently started talking about getting another Airedale, and I hope they do.

HuskyChapter Three, Sheba and Shiloh

My stepmom and my dad had different attitudes than my country-living mom and stepdad about dogs. They are both unmitigated dog freaks, and their dogs lived in the house. In my early childhood, these dogs were Sheba and Shiloh. Sheba, my dad's dog, was a Husky mix of some sort (he said she was part wolf, but I don't think she actually was). Shiloh, my stepmom's dog, was some sort of hound. A Black & Tan Coonhound, maybe. Though I don't remember him having the floppy ears. Both were good sized dogs. I couldn't stand either one of them, but I think that had to do with my dad forcing my step-sister and I to pick up their shit in the back yard. Sheba got out one day and was hit by a car and killed. I can't remember what happened to Shiloh, but my guess is that he was sent to live with my grandparents when my dad and stepmom moved to an apartment in Portland when I was in third grade.

Rat TerrierChapter Four, the Terror of Terriers

After Sissy died, my mom and stepdad wanted to get another dog. And so a succession of terriers began. The terriers ran away. They chased cars. The first two or three didn't last. Finally, however, we got a Rat Terrier who was christened Spike. Spike was neither an attractive nor an intelligent dog. He chased cars no matter what we did to dissuade him, and he was hit more than once. He was impossible to bathe. He was one of the dumbest animals I've ever seen. I think my parents had ideas of working cattle with him. Yeah, right. He did, however, live to a ripe and incredibly stinky old age of 13 or 14. I can't even remember exactly when we got him, and he didn't die until I was in college.

AkitaChapter Five, Japanese Dog Royalty

The dog fancy that runs in my dad's family hit his little sister, Kathie, the hardest. I never remember her not having a dog. The first dog I remember specifically, though, was the giant hairy beast she came home from college with one year. His name was Baloo, and she said he was some sort of Japanese royal dog, an Akita. I was ten or eleven at the time and thought that sounded romantic. Male Akita breed standard is 100-130 lbs, and Baloo was every bit of that and likely more. He was huge. He was also the best behaved dog I've ever seen. In his entire (long) life, I never saw that dog do anything he wasn't supposed to do. He was a beautiful, affectionate, amazing creature. It was unsurprising when Kathie said she was going to breed him. And breed him she did. I've seen countless litters of Baloo's children and grandchildren grow up (she soon after got a female, Katai). Baloo died quite a few years back, but Katai was just put down last winter.

Border CollieChapter Six, Missy, Head of Ranch Security

After it became clear that Spike was never going to be a cattle dog, he was joined by a Border Collie runt pup we got from a neighbor and called Missy. Missy was as smart as Spike was stupid. She learned everything, including human-speak, the first time it was thrown at her. However, it's not just legend that Border collies need a job, and Missy never had enough steady work to keep her properly fit and entertained. So she started amusing herself by seeing how many times a day she could get fed, and how much of Spike's food she could steal, and soon she became a much too fat Border collie to do any work even if there was some to be done. And she still is. She's got to be about 12 by now, and she's still hanging out under my parents' porch, looking like a furry pot-bellied pig. Greedy and quick-witted, she's the first dog I remember being actively fond of, though I certainly wouldn't have admitted it while I still lived there.

RottweilerChapter Seven, a Rott by Any Other Name

One of the things my stepmother hated the very most about the series of apartments she and dad lived in when they first moved to Portland was the lack of dog. So when they finally moved into a dog-allowing house, it didn't take her too long to adopt Kahn. Roofus Kahn was a year-old Rottweiler adopted from the local Humane Society on the first birthday of my niece, Karla. He was a breathtakingly lovely dog, with the slimmer, less bruiser-ish Rottie physique, and a fantastic personality. He went everywhere with Nana, riding in the backseat of her car and claiming biscuits at the bank drive through and the coffee stand. Dad loved him too, but he was Nana's dog. And after getting to know him, I just wasn't afraid of dogs anymore. In the early-mid 1990s, when I met Kahn, Rottweilers were pretty much what Pit Bulls are now--everyone was afraid of them. What possessed my tiny and ladylike stepmother to choose a pound Rott as her next dog was and is beyond me. But she was right. He was an incredible dog. He had to be put down a couple of years ago, and my stepmother has not recovered. Currently, she doesn't have a dog, though she is a fantastic grandparent to my pack.

AkitaChapter Eight, When Royalty Goes Bad

Kahn wasn't an only dog for very long. A bit after Nana adopted Kahn, Kathie got word that one of the people who bought one of Katai and Baloo's puppies, Kuma, was at his wit's end and about to get rid of the dog. Kuma had grown into a 175 lb dog, and he was ill-behaved. Akita's aren't known for the solidity of their temperament, and Kuma was out of control. So Kathie took him back, and embarked upon her brother, my dad, to give him the firm hand he needed.

And so began the saga of Kuma. Kuma ate every piece of furniture in my dad and stepmom's house. He ran through their plate glass front window to get to a dog on the street. He terrorized Kahn. He was awful. But my dad fell in love with him, so he stayed. And stayed. He's gotten more mellow in his old age, and lost some weight (down to 160 when I last heard). He was diagnosed with bone cancer and given three to six months to live nearly three years ago now. He's still living with my dad and his girlfriend, and he's doing well, all things considered. My dad has no plans to keep him alive once he's in pain or not getting joy from his life, but reports that he's still eating, playing, and walking (though slowly). So it goes.

mastiffChapter Nine, Barley

By the time I got to college, I wasn't vitriolically anti-dog. I just didn't want one personally. Then, post-college, I started dating Mark. And Mark is a bona fide dog freak. I was told, not asked, that once it became possible with our living situation, we'd have a dog. I figured it was something I could deal with when it was an actual possibility, so I let it go. But then I met Barley. Barley belonged to some people in the neighborhood where Mark and I hung out and ate a lot in Portland, and we ran into him and his people several times. Mark being Mark, willing to talk to anyone about dogs, we learned quite a bit about Barley and his breed. The mastiff.

Mastiffs are huge dogs. Barley, when we met him, was under two years old and weighed about 150 lbs with no extra fat. He was a beautiful brindle mastiff with a massive head, his eyes nearly twice as far apart as a person's. And he was clearly a baby. A big, gentle, baby. His people told us that he slept most of the time, loved to cuddle, and was nearly un-excitable. There was none of the hyperactivity and senseless love I'd seen from so many of the dogs (damn terriers!) in my past. I loved Barley--and the breed--on site. And I still do. I feel sure we'll have a mastiff some day.

ChanceChapter Ten, Taking a Chance

After we moved to Austin, it was clear that Mark and I would be getting a dog sooner rather than later. He found a dog that appealed to him on a rescue website and set up an appointment to meet him. I didn't think much of the dog from his picture, but figured it wouldn't hurt, so off we went. Off to meet Chance.

Chance, whose name was Champ at that point, had been a pound puppy from Day 1. Some people adopted him from the local kill shelter as a pup, but a year later he was back at the shelter, having grown much too big and hard to handle for the folks who adopted him (I am honestly amazed that people actually do that, but whatever). Someone at Blue Dog Rescue saw him at the shelter and thought he was too good to pass up, and so he was rescued again. He'd been in foster care with them for a few weeks when we met him. About a year or a year and a half old, about 100 lbs, he was a stunning creature. His parentage was unknown and the rescue listed him as a German Shepherd-Rottweiler cross, which was as good a guess as any. He was lithe and graceful, yet goofy. He was friendly but not outgoing. He was amazing. And he just felt right. We'd not been there five minutes before I was motioning to Mark that this was it, I was done. Chance was the dog for us.

So we went home and bought some dog stuff and tried to think of a name (briefly he was called Che, before we settled for naming him in honor of UT's then-quarterback, Chance Mock), and he came to live with us the next day.

I've written here before about Chance's various behavioral problems, so I won't go into it again, but suffice it to say he was not an easy first dog. He was very dominant, aggressive towards people and other dogs, and required a ton of training. For the first several months or even year we weren't sure we were going to make it with him. But we (and really, mostly that means Mark) put in the time and the effort and the money, and he was worth every bit of it. I learned to like dogs before Chance, but Chance taught me to love them. Chance taught me I could and would love them as much and more as people. He was both Mark's and my best friend, and he was what made us into a family. There are no words for what he meant to us.

Lucky puppiesChapter Eleven, A Plethora of Puppies

A bit more than a year into our relationship with Chance, I upped our dog ante. By quite a lot. I happened upon a man on the side of the road, attempting to sell seven four week-old Lab puppies. They were sick, skinny, flea-infested, with bloated wormy tummies. It was horrible. And over the course of a few days, with methods I won't disclose, I managed to liberate all of them. Having no place to liberate them to, however, that meant they were all at our house. Suddenly, we'd gone from one dog to eight, and seven of them couldn't feed themselves.

While Chance turned me into a dog lover, the puppies, named Monday through Sunday, turned me into a dog advocate. Into a person not only willing to use whatever tools were at her disposal to save dying pups, but to then spent two months taking care of them, including midnight feedings and cleaning up endless amounts of worm-ridden puppy poop. A person who carefully screened each potential adopter before she let her puppies go home with him or her. A person who still thinks about those puppies nearly every day and does her damdnest to keep in touch with their adoptive families. The puppy rescue was quite possibly the most difficult and trying thing I've ever had to do. It was also the most worthwhile. And now I know, without a doubt, that I am committed to dogs.

LeoChapter Twelve, The Old Man

After we lost Chance so suddenly last summer, Mark wasn't sure when he'd be ready to adopt another dog. I, on the other hand, was ready immediately. I knew I couldn't replace Chance and didn't want to, but I felt very strongly that we were capable of giving another dog a good home, so we should do so. I also couldn't stand living without a canine present. My house and heart felt empty. It was horrible. So I started looking on Petfinder for possible contenders. Something I could tempt Mark with. And it didn't take me long to find Leo. Leo was an Irish Wolfhound/Great Pyrennes mix. Mark had long admired Wolfhounds when we watched dog shows, and they are almost unheard of in rescue. This could be my opportunity. I pushed and pushed, and Mark agreed we could go pick Leo up.

When we first got him, we were quite worried about Leo. He's old, though nobody sure just how old, and he has arthritis. He was in terrible shape at first, barely walking, and we thought he might only have months to live. But he slowly got better, with good food and medicine, and now he's better than ever. We still keep in mind that Leo is not a young dog, but we're not expecting him to get sick every day like we used to be. It seems likely now that Leo's retirement at our house will be measured in years rather than in weeks or months. And that's as it should be.

I loved Chance to death, but Leo is my dog soul mate. Leo is the dog I had in mind when Barley was described to me. Gentle and mellow and shy and affectionate, he's my perfect dog. After he came to live with us, Chance's death made more sense. The short lifespans of dogs made more sense. It all started to feel OK, or if not OK, at least bearable. It's painful to love them and know you're going to lose them, but loving them is so worth it.

AtakanChapter Thirteen, The Anatolians

We got Leo in July. By Christmas time, Mark was adamant about a second dog. I didn't think it was all that good an idea, due to not having sufficient car space to carry Leo and a second dog, but we started looking anyway, with vague plans to buy a bigger vehicle. Then a funny looking big white dog showed up at a kill shelter near here. He was listed as Pyrennes, but having made the acquaintance of some Pyrs, neither Mark nor I thought that was quite right. So we went out to take a look. And what we found was Ata. Called Zeus by the shelter, he was sickly skinny and terrified. When they let him out of his pen, we came directly up to us and leaned against our legs, begging us to get him the hell out of there. And without any knowledge of his background or behavior, or even if he was house trained, we did. Again, at my insistence. It had become a pattern, my being uncharacteristically willing to take chances when it came to dogs.

And again I was right. Zeus was renamed Atakan, which is Turkish for "ancestral blood." We chose a Turkish name because it was pretty clear after seeing him that Zeus/Ata was not a Pyr, or at least not much of a Pyr. He looked an awful lot like an Anatolian Shepherd, which was another breed we'd admired at dog shows but not seen much of in real life. After he got cleaned up and started gaining weight, it became clear that Anatolian was all Ata is, and he's pretty much a perfect representation of the breed. It also became clear that our new dog was quite young. At this point, given how much he's grown since January, I'd doubt Ata was more than a year old when we adopted him. Which gives me great pleasure, as it increases the chances that he'll be with us for a while.

Not to long ago, a second Anatolian popped up at a kill shelter, and after contacting the National Anatolian Rescue Network about her, she came to live with us as a foster dog. Bridget has been a bit of a handful, with dominance issues and potty training problems, but she's turned into a fantastic dog. She's sweet and gentle like all my favorite dogs have been, and she's more affectionate towards people than any dog I've ever met. I feel sure we'll find her an excellent family soon.

And then? Then we'll get another dog to foster. Mark and I agree that three is capacity at this point, but that it's best if only Leo and Ata are permanent, since we are going to have to move in the semi-near future. Who knows if that will actually happen. I'm sure if we got a foster dog we thought would fit better with us than with someone else, we'd keep him/her. I am hoping that we'll be able to afford more space wherever we land next so that we can foster more than one, and maybe have more than two of our own. That may well make me the crazy dog lady, but so be it. There are worse things to be.

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Days late and dollars short

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At some point whilst I was reading Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin over the weekend, one of the featured characters said something about the most scary words in the English language for a writer being "no ideas."

Well I hear that. Because that's what my problem is, mostly. I have no ideas. I used to write a lot more than I do now, and I've blamed various things (including blogging) for that, but the real reason is that I have a lot fewer ideas than I used to have. Things used to interest me more. There was more that seemed worth exploration, or at least a good rant. Making up stories seemed like a good way to fill time. Now I'm not sure I could make up a story if I tried. It's been years since I've even attempted fiction, and longer than I'd like to admit since I've written any non-fiction of substance either.

This is all very depressing to me. Partially because I've really learned to love the non-fiction personal essay as an art form and I'd like to be writing them, and partially because I remember when writing used to bring me a lot of joy and that joy hasn't really been replaced by anything else.

There's also the laziness factor. On the rare occaison I do think of something I'd like to put on paper, I am generally too lazy to do it justice. I write stream of conciousness and don't' edit or spell check (as you know, if you've ever read this blog before). I don't fully think things out. I babble. Before I'm through the first paragraph, writing whatever I'm writing starts to feel like a chore rather than like something I do for fun.

And I want to know what happened. When did I stop liking to write? When did writing stop liking me? What was the last piece of fiction I wrote? Was I ever actually good at this? I honestly can't remember. Looking back on my life is like looking back at a movie I saw while really high--I remember bits and pieces, but actual plotline and themes were completely lost on me. I know that there was a time when I journaled every day, not because I felt obligated, but because I couldn't not journal. When I wrote on scraps of paper and napkins at restuarants. When I had multiple novels running in my head. When I wrote short stories. When I (gag) even wrote poems. What happened to that?

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Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin book coverby Marion Meade
Nan A. Talese, May 18, 2004

As hard as it was to pull myself away from the television this weekend (six soccer matches! eight episodes of Gilmore Girls!), I did also read a book. A non-fiction book, even. This book, Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin, which is a mixed autobiography of four American women writers from the 1920s, Dorothy Parker, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Edna Ferber, and Zelda Fitzgerald.

You'd think that with subject matter like that, you couldn't lose. Unfortunately, you'd be wrong. This book is just not very good. It portrays all four women, to greater or lesser degrees, as pampered, marginally talented, mentally ill, alcoholics. Which, in some cases, is likely true, but it's not very interesting, particularly when all four of the female protagonists, who were, to my knowledge, quite different, are treated interchangeably.

I started the book knowing very little about any of the women it portrayed, and I think I ended it knowing not much more. The accounts given in the book seemed very surface level, artificial, and doubtfully well-researched. And more lines and thought seemed to be given to the male characters who should have been out the outskirts (especially the fairly repulsive F. Scott Fitzgerald) than they were warranted. All in all, I found it disappointing. It did peak my interest in these women (particularly Edna Ferber, about whom I previously knew nothing) and this time period for American female writers, but it did nothing to hold it. Guess I'll have to look elsewhere.

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Get with it, Gilmores

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So I'm currently obsessed with Gilmore Girls, as I've made clear. But I have to tell you, Rory and Loralei pissed me right off today. As did Luke. I just started the third season, and in one of the first episodes, the vingnette at the beginning features Loralei and Rory sitting in Luke's cafe while he complains about a messy, loud table with kids that doesn't buy much. OK, whatever. Then one of the women at the table starts breastfeeding her baby, and Luke goes apeshit about how that's gross and she's exposing herself and women should go in a barn or a cave or something to do that. And Loralei and Rory don't say anything to correct him. They even chime in on the grossness factor. Bad, bad form.

It was a bit of an a-ha to me, because most of my conversations on the subject of breastfeeding have been with people who are all for it, and I honestly didn't really think that "ew yucky breastfeeding!" was still the popular opinion, at least not among the generally fairly women-friendly (among whom I would count the Gilmores and Luke, and yes, I know they aren't real people, I'm just making a point). Guess I was wrong.

I'm not going to stop watching the show or anything, but if I were watching in real time, instead of many years after the fact, I'd be firing off a nasty email to the creators and the station and everyone else I could think of right now. And I hope someone who was with it enough to watch the show when it was on originally did just that.

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Woman's Best Friend book coveredited by Megan McMorris
Seal Press, March 28, 2006

This is a book of short pieces from a variety of female writers (mostly journalists), all about dogs. I've been slowly reading it for several weeks now, and just finished it the other night.

A few of the women featured in the book are ones I've read before, most notably Pam Houston and (the late) Caroline Knapp, both of whom have other work I much admire. The dogs featured are a motley bunch, from Pam Houston's herd of Irish Wolfhounds (how I envy that!) to a couple of dauschunds. They are personal pets, dogs of friends and family, or neighborhood menances. Some of them are already gone, but most are still alive. And the essays in the book explore several angles of the human-dog relationship. Or, I guess, more specifically, the woman-dog relationship. There are good dogs and bad dogs, and relationships that are more and less fulfilling. Which is exactly why I liked the book as a whole--it portrays the relationships between women and their dogs as something more than a simple idea of unconditional love or, worse yet, surrogate children. It portrays these relationships as complex, organic entities. Which is what, in my experience, they are. As books about dogs go, I'd rank this one up there with Knapp's full length work, Pack of Two. And that's saying something.

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Another perspective

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Ata curled up picture

As you can see, Ata is really quite tiny.

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How cute!

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I feel sure that pictures of my dogs will improve your day. Or, you know, just improve mine.

dogs lyng around picture

Bridget in kennel picture

Grace and Ata picture

Grace and Ata picture

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Gosford Park

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Gosford Park movie posterGood: Clive Owen. Yummy, yummy Clive Owen.

Bad: Everything else.

Actually, it really wasn't bad, per see. It was just really, really boring. Most of the acting was good. The costumes were very cool. But I couldn't tell the "above the stairs" men apart (again, once you've seen one rich old white guy, you've sort of seen them all), and the plot thudded along at a pace suited for someone much more patient than myself. I sat through all two+ hours of it, thinking it would get better,and it did improve ever so slightly in the last 30 minutes or so, but not enough to make it worth sitting through.

So there you have it. I waited a long time to watch this movie. Should have waited longer.

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Fire, Earth, Water

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Water movie posterFire(1996), Earth(1998), and Water(2005) are three films by Deepa Mehta. They are referred to as a trilogy, but actually don't share characters or storylines, just themes and a few actors. All three of them focus on taboo subjects in Indian society, and specifically on the ways in which women get fucked over in India. These are beautifully shot and well-acted movies, dealing with interesting, important subjects. They're also incredibly hard to watch and don't leave as much room for hope or redemption as the viewer would like.

The first of the films, "Fire," is set in modern-day New Dehli and deals with the blossoming of a love affair between two sisters-in-law, Sita and Radha. Both Sita and Radha are in bad marriages, treated poorly by their husbands. Over the course of the film, young, newly-married Sita draws Radha out of the shell of a life she has created in her lengthy unfufilling marriage, and the two fall in love. This is a particularly taboo subject for an Indian film, as homosexuality is looked down upon to the point of not being acknowledged in Indian culture (one of the film's characters points out that there is no word in their language for what Sita and Radha are to each other). Taking on the subjects of lesbian relationships and how poorly Indian wives can be treated, Mehta's objectives in this film are bold, and they were met with a lot of resistance in India and Pakistan, where the film was banned for being anti-religious.

The second film, "Earth," is not much less controversial than the first, and it's much sadder. It takes place in 1947, as the British are leaving India, after dividing it arbitrarily into two countries (now India and Pakistan). The story centers around a little Parsee girl, Lenny, her nanny, Shanta, a Hindu woman, and the group of men attempting to court Shanta. The men are Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh. As the story unfolds, ethnic/religious tensions grow, as do potential romances between Shanta and two of her suitors, both Muslim. I won't give away the ending, but suffice it to say that it's heartbreaking.

The final movie, which is in theaters currently, is "Water." Water is set in mid-1930s India, and it tells the story of women living in a Brahmin widows colony. It begins with a child bride who is widowed at seven and sent to live at the colony, then details her relationships with the women who already live there. The film is very critical of the cloistering of widows, and again it ends tragically.

All three of these films take a lot out of you. They are hard to watch, heartbreaking, and infuriating. The male characters are nearly all bad, and the female characters are nearly all in terrible situations. It's not light viewing. Still, it's worth doing, both because of the amazing cinematography and the ruthless way in which Mehta has the nerve to look at these taboo subjects.

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June giving

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I just realized I'd been remiss in changing my May "Give" selection for June, and here it is the 9th already. For June, Mark and I gave to two local dog rescues, Blue Dog Rescue, and Lucky Mutts Rescue, both linked at left. In return, they kindly listed Bridget, our foster dog, on their referrals page. And now I just wait for the phone calls and emails about her to come pouring in...:)

Anyway, support your local dog rescue this month, if you have the inclination. They're doing good work, and they could use your help.

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Values

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I started my morning with raised blood pressure, as Bill Frist was on NPR in the car on my way to work, talking about values. Nothing gets me madder faster than hearing a conservative talk about values. They use many of the same words I'd use, if forced to talk about my values, yet they mean something entirely different. There's something sinister and even evil about it. And I feel like people are snowed by it. Like they hear these buzzwords--family, responsibility, safety--and they think they know what is meant by them, but that's not what ends up being valued at all.

I'm the type of liberal who strongly believes that it would do what passes for the left in this country a world of good to take values rhetoric back, and not in a chickenshit "we're Christians too!" way, but in a real way. To insist that these words, which hold so much power for people, be redefined. Not to pretend to share the values the Republicans are spouting, but to take back the language they are using and be more specific about what valuing those things really means.

For example, I very much value family. I agree that families are the bedrock of society. However, the next jump that Bill Frist and his ilk make, that this means that heterosexual married couples are the essential building block without which society will crumble, and must therefore be "protected", and that this protection should come with infringed civil rights for gays and lesbians, is not at all the direction I go with this value. What I value is the right of every person in this country to define his or her family in the way that best suits that individual. It may be made up of genetic ties, it may not. It may or may not include people of both genders. It may or may not include children. When I say I value family, I don't mean just families that look exactly like mine, like Mr. Frist does. I mean everybody's family. Furthermore, I believe this is a legitimate description of what valuing "family" means, and it's one that should be presented more clearly by the people who serve as leaders for the Left (and if you happened to follow the horrific anti-gay marriage amendment debates, you'll see that it wasn't).

Like Mr. Frist and his fire-breathing colleagues, I value responsibility. I'll even go with them in saying I believe people should work, if doing so if physically and mentally possible for them. But what I mean by work and what they mean by work are very different things. My definition of work isn't dependent on making a profit for someone else. In fact, it isn't dependent on money at all. Much of the most important work people can do isn't paid. And I'm not just talking about raising children here, although it's certainly a good example. Caring for other beings (children, the eldery, even animals) is work. Creating art is work. Responsibility doesn't mean taking any job you are offered, regardless of the consequences for yourself and your loved ones, so that some legislator can say the welfare rolls were reduced on his watch. Responsibility means taking care of yourself and those who depend on you to the best of your ability. It means doing what you say you are going to do. And those are things Mr. Frist doesn't seem to know a damn thing about.

Safety is a favorite value for politicians (of any stripe, reallly) to trot out when they're trying to make friends with the folks who elect them. They pound their pulpits about how concerned they are for our safety as a nation. Our porous borders and threats from terrorists keep them up at night because they're so worried about keeping us safe. Well, I value safety too, and I think they're looking in all the wrong places. I'm not worried about migrant workers, or even terrorist bombers. I'm worried about crossing parking lots at night. I'm worried about the one in five change I--and every other woman--will be sexually assaulted. I'm worried about the erosion of my rights to choose what to do with my own body. I don't need to be protected from outside invaders, Mr. Frist. I need to be protected from you.

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Dar

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Dar Williams pictureThere's the wind
And the rain
And the mercy of the fallen
Who say they have no claim
To know what's right
There's the weak
And the strong
And the beds that have no answers
And that's where I may rest my head tonight

-Dar Williams, "Mercy of the Fallen"

Despite being in pretty bad physical and emotional shape this week (the headache that never ends, among other things), I went to see Dar Williams play at the Cactus Cafe on campus on Tuesday night. And she was great. Actually, she probably wasn't, by an objective standard, great, but it was great fun to see her anyway. It's a very small room, and I got there early, so I was in the first row, only a few feet away from her, which was excellent.

She did a few songs I hadn't heard her do live before, including one of my very favorites, "I Had No Right," which is about Jesuit priest Daniel Berrigan and his work for peace, and is a great song, so hearing her do that was a thrill. She also did favorites such as "The Christians and the Pagans" and "When I Was a Boy," and even did "Southern California Wants to be Western New York" by request, which was great.

While watching the show, I started thinking about my penchant for music driven by heady lyrics and performed by tiny women with big guitars. Who would have thought, in my heavy metal-transitions-to-grunge youth, that I'd end up so comfortable in a folk club, watching a performance that consists completely of a woman, her guitar, and her words. It's such an intimate experience (particularly from the first row). It feels so good, so honest. So like something I can relate to. When did that happen? When did bands become to loud and distracting? I've always, to a greater or lesser degree, liked singer-songwriters, but now they're generally the only people I care to see live. And I am more and more unwilling to sit in large venues and watch concerts that seem more like plays. The natural, flowing, personal nature of the shows I've seen at the Cactus Cafe, though--Lucy Kaplansky, Eliza Gilkyson, and now Dar--they are worth leaving the house for.

Once again, it leaves me feeling old. But not necessarily in a bad way. This is what I like. And there's nothing wrong with that.

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Good writin'

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Read Flea's It's a Picnic post. It will make you feel better. Or at least it made me feel better.

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XIII

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XIII movie posterI'm not a comic book person. In fact, I don't think I've ever actually read a comic book in its entirety. And I've never been much into superheroes or supervillians or really anything in graphic novel form. Or movies taken from any of the above.

Except X-Men. I LOVE X-Men.

I've still never read the comic books. But I really enjoyed the first two movies. Like every other miscreant in the U.S., the mutant idea resonates with me. Different=good. I can get behind that. Besides, they were fun to watch, reasonably (Halle Berry notwithstanding) well-acted, had fun costumes, etc. And the second one even had Alan Cumming. Which is a definite plus.

Bet you know what I am going to say next.

The new, third, final one is ass. It's nonsensical, anticlimactic, depressing, the best characters are taken out at the beginning of the film, and there is way, way too much Storm. Kelsey Grammer's turn as The Beast was surprisingly well done, but the rest of it was just unmitigated crap. And it didn't need to be. The premise--the creation of a mutant "vaccine"--was a good one. But it had none of the socio-political sensitivity that could be found in the previous films, and the action scenes weren't even as good!

The thing that bothered me the most about the third film, though, was not that it just wasn't as well done, or that Jean Grey turned into a psychopath with uncontrollable powers, or that I missed Nightcrawler. The worst thing was that it wasn't as unmitigatedly pro-mutant as the previous films. So many of the characters, both good and bad, both willingly and by force, lost their powers via the "cure"--Mystique, Magneto, Rogue. This seemed to somehow negate the freak-positive messages in the other films, making it into just another comic book, and leaving me wondering why I'd ever liked it in the first place.

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Blogging for GLBT families

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blogging for lbgt families iconToday is the day to blog for GLBT families. In support of all of the GLBT families out there, and particularly the ones over on my blog roll, I wanted to put something up to acknowledge that.

I thought quite a bit about it, and decided that the best thing I can do is to hit it from my perspective, which is that of a functionally heterosexual woman (i.e. a woman in a different sex relationship--we've been over this ground before) watching what is happening to her gay and lesbian (well, just lesbian, to be honest) friends and they families they are creating.

And what I see happening is a lot of bullshit. I see amazing women building great families, with or without children, and not having those families recognized in most basic ways by the state. I see these women having to fight, litigate, and make awful choices just to get the recognition that those of us who are not in same-sex partnerships take for granted. And it really, really sucks.

It seems to me that the right to create families and have those families recognized is a basic right of citizenship in this country, or even a basic human right. Even when we strip away someone's citizenship rights, we don't dare take away someone's family. We don't tell a prisoner, for example, that s/he has no legal or social ties to his/her partner, parents, or children anymore. We would find that too intolerably cruel. Why, then, is it OK to do it to someone based solely on the her gender being the same as her partner's? What kind of logic is that?

Given the very basic level at which these injustices strike, it's hard for me to imagine how much they must hurt--to have people who know nothing about you or your family make arbitrary distinctions between whose baby your child really is, or who serves as next of kin to your partner--it's unthinkable. And I cannot express how much admiration I have for the gay and lesbian families all over this country who are doing the hard work every day to create the families they need and demand recognition of those families, one painstaking piece at a time. I really, really wish it were easier for all of you, and I know it will be some day.

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