Monday, September 29, 2014

Interview with two cats

A while back, when Y first got her cats (we'll call them B and V, they can decide whether they would prefer to reveal their full names), Sancha talked about possibly interviewing them to get a sense of the feline perspective on things. Sadly, that interview never happened. Y asked if Chip would be up for it, but as discussed in the previous post, Chip is not ready for journalism school. His main line of question involves: "Can I gnaw on  your legs?" and really, he just goes ahead and does it, he doesn't ask first.

However, I was rummaging around in the boxes I still haven't unpacked despite living in my current house for over a year, and I came across a notebook. I didn't recognize it as one of mine, so I opened it up and found, in rather shaky but still legible script, Sancha's journal! More of a commonplace book, really--collections of recipes she wanted to try or liked, some doodles, ideas for blog posts, and . . .

a list of preliminary questions for the B and V interviews!

I'm not sure if these would have been the final questions she planned to ask or if this was a rough draft, but barring further notebook discoveries, I thought I'd copy them down here and let B and V respond. So, from beyond the grave, Sancha asks:

1) Dale and Y are imagining that this interview will be about the dog vs. cat perspective on the world? But do you identify yourselves primarily as "cats"? Or are there are other elements of your identities that you feel are more important to you? Has your identity been stable over time or has it changed (and if so, how)?

2) What do you like to eat? How do you like to eat it?  I cohabited with a cat once and it was the strangest thing--she was used to having her food out in a bowl all day and she would just nibble a bit here and there. And I was supposed to let a bowl with delicious food sit on the floor unsampled. Does that make sense to you? Can you explain it?

3) You two are siblings and have always been together. I left my litter as a wee pup and have never been particularly fond of other dogs. What does it mean to you to live together? How do you relate to each other differently than you relate to Y and B? Also, as someone who is very attached to a single human, I am curious what it is like living in a two-human family? Do you relate differently to Y and to B?

4) You two, from what I hear, don't go outside much. Are you curious about what's beyond the front door? If you could have a day free to do anything you wanted outside, what would you do? Anything you'd like me to investigate and report back on?

5) Describe your perfect day.

6) What do you dream about?

There are some more, but Chip beckons...

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Sancha and Dale and CHIIIIIPPPP

There have been many changes since I last blogged. Or one change, really.

As you will note, he looks a lot like Sancha. Which explains why I adopted him upon sight and why I did not stop and ask myself important questions like: do I want a puppy? does this dog have any training whatsoever? is this dog compatible with my lifestyle? will this dog enjoy blogging?

A month and a half later, I would say the answers are: too late now, a little bit, time to change your lifestyle, and not even close to the required attention span.

Chip looks like Sancha...and the resemblance stops there. Let me give what I think is a representative example. When Sancha saw a pillow, her instinct was to curl up on top of it and go to sleep. When Chip sees a pillow, his instinct is to drag it around the house and if possible remove its stuffing. His incredible ADHD is actually his saving grace, because he can't focus on anything for long enough to actually destroy it. And he is quite responsive to "No!" He just can't remember what provoked a "no" for more than 5 minutes. Somewhere Sancha is laughing hysterically.

I confess that for the first few weeks (or mostly weekends--he is in doggie daycare during the weekdays and I can get some work/me time, but weekdays he requires pretty constant stimulation/attention), I was missing Sancha pretty fiercely. But I've started to appreciate Chip for who he is (although don't get me wrong, I'm still counting on him calming down some once he reaches a year!) And this is what I've learned:

Absolute Joy.

When Chip is happy, which is 99% of the time (I like to think he registers some not-happy feelings when I chastise him, but he certainly doesn't dwell on them), he is SOOOO HAPPY. If the guy for Dos Equis is the Most Interesting Man in the World, then Chip is THE HAPPIEST DOG IN THE WORLD. He is also the friendliest dog in the world. We go to the dog park every day (which has to be the greatest invention of the 20th century) and he loves everyone. Big dogs, little dogs, dogs that don't like any other dogs, dogs that want to play fetch, dogs that want to hump, dogs that want to be humped while playing fetch....he plays with them all. He can do up-close wrestling playing. He can do long-range running playing. And when I am done (because he is never done. The other dogs get tired. He does not) and want to go home, HE IS THE HAPPIEST DOG GETTING HIS LEASH ON.  And THE HAPPIEST DOG DRINKING WATER. And THE HAPPIEST DOG GETTING INTO THE CAR.

I don't think Chip will be blogging any time soon. First of all, literacy is a long way off. But even if we could get an app that translated his thoughts to a blog, I don't think he's been doing a lot of philosophical reflection. Y had a quote from her stepmother (stepmother-in-law? Y's family is complicated!) on her Twitter that says more or less "If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are in the now." I'm not sure I agree with this 100%, but it is true that I am a historian and I tend toward melancholy and I would guess that most philosophical thinkers and reflective personalities do. Chip is so "in the now" they could rename the now after him, call it being in the chip. When I think of being "at peace" I think of calm and serenity, and that is not Chip. But I think he has his own ecstatic peace. Not good for blogging, but a good thing to have as a model in my life.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Bright side of grief: for Y

There is something lovely about cross-blog dialogue with friends...

Y, who lost her father this spring, posted recently on her blog (to which I cannot provide a link cuz she's all private and stuff. She's probably one of possibly 3 people who will read this anyway) about the "upside of grief." Something I've been thinking about--what follows is the rough draft of a stream-of-consciousness meditation. Don't expect conclusions or convictions.

Maybe there are two kinds of grief.

Every life naturally includes death and loss, even unexpected death and loss. But (as Donald Rumsfeld would have it), there are expected unexpecteds and then there are unexpected unexpecteds. We will, in the natural order of things, lose our grandparents and then our parents. Teachers. Mentors. We will outlive our pets, unless we own turtles. It doesn't hurt any less at the moment of loss to know that this is the natural order of things, but I think it means that there will be a natural arc to our grief, and it will emerge into an "upside." The upside may be nothing more than the human tendency to learn from experience. What does not kill us makes us stronger precisely because it did not kill us. We get through it, we are reflective beings, we look back on how we got through it, and thus we gain in self-knowledge and emotional depth...and hence, we are stronger.

But you never hear someone say after losing a child, or their entire family in a bombing raid, that it made them stronger. There are deaths that, because they invert the natural order of who-dies-first, or because they pile on top of each other and fresh grief interrupts past grieving, never get processed into stages of grief, or narratives that dip down into dark places and then emerge into upsides. The privilege of living away from war, away from mass urban violence, protected from disease epidemics and the immediate impact of natural disasters, is not that we will never know grief, it is that we will only get to know the grief that we will be able to make sense of.

I write this as I work on a chapter of a book dealing with the first century of Spanish colonization of Mexico. In the annual kerfluffle over Columbus Day, or when Mel Gibson made Apocalypto, it is inevitably suggested that the Spanish conquest wasn't all that different from the Mexica (the group ruled by Moctezuma, commonly referred to today as Aztecs but that's an anachronism) conquest of the ethnic groups of central Mexico in the century prior (or the Inca conquest of the Andes during the same period, or the Maya in Southern Mexico and Central America centuries before). It is true that the indigenous Mexicans practiced ritual warfare and sacrifice; the Spaniards certainly did not introduce warfare or violent death to the peninsula. But --- steel yourself, huge leap here --- these wars, which fit into a religious narrative and had set codes and calendars--made sense to the participants. Families surely grieved for lost loved ones. But it was a grief that made sense, that you worked through and processed and found an "upside". That "upside" may have been quite distinct from the personal narrative of self-discovery and inner strength that Y or I might find today from the deaths of our father or dog. But the point is, the Spanish conquest (especially because of the introduction of epidemics) was that other kind of grief--the kind that "unmade the world," that didn't fit into a "natural order of things" (in quotes because what seemed "natural" to the indigenous Mexicans might in no way seem natural to us now) and thus provided no opportunity for natural recovery, natural resilience, natural narratives. There certainly are, even today, indigenous communities in Mexico that have preserved their language and customs (and, it's worth mentioning, there are historians who challenge the unmaking-the-world narrative of the conquest). But I don't think you'd find too many that look back to the conquest and find an upside.

So the Tigers traded away Austin Jackson today for David Price. Ajax wasn't my #1 favorite player (that would be Victor Martinez, on the current roster) but he was in the top 5. Time will tell which kind of grief this is.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

RIP Dekker

Crazy crazy sad coincidences.
I was halfway through a Sancha adventure post I started yesterday about taking her to pick out my mom's fancy schmancy new puppy over Xmas (her Xmas/60th bday gift from me and her husband). The story was mostly about Sancha's adventures with said puppy's food the day after, but now it will have to wait.

We saw the litter, but they were too young to take one home  At that point we didn't know which one would be my mom's, but a few weeks later my mom went back and got Dekker. He has been doing wonderfully: happy, friendly, healthy. About a month ago my mom asked if I could take him December-March because she was going to England. So I was looking forward to having a little white floofball in my life...A few days ago, my mom texted me that he was "turning into a real dog. Less work but fewer moments of pure joy." (I responded that we had noticed the same thing about her over the last 15 years, she said to give her 15 more and the childlike wonder would return...)  This weekend my mom and her husband were flying to Cape Cod for her father's bday--it was to be Dekker's  first stay at a boarding facility.

According to the people at the facility, he had a great day...and then this morning, he didn't wake up. The vet confirmed that there was no trauma or any sign of abuse or attack. His lungs had collapsed. No idea why. 8 months old.

On my first night in Chicago, a little over a week ago, I posted about how similar everything felt to my trip here in May, when I got a call the first morning... when nothing terrible happened on morning 2, I thought I had dodged a bullet. The bullet just veered 3000 miles west.

RIP Dekker. Give Sancha my regards and keep her company.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Sancha as process

While helping J transfer books from boxes to shelf in his new place (and I cannot emphasize enough how little actual help I provided, since my need for coherent organizing principles, plus my interest in reading the books themselves, impeded progress in the physical population of the shelves with books. At best, I lay the groundwork for future transference of books to the shelves. I was to the unpacking process what Marx was to the Soviet revolution...) I came upon a bunch of books about something called "process theology." I had never heard of it before, but per J's explanation (and I should emphasize here any fundamental misunderstanding I have of the movement is entirely my own fault and not J's) I get the sense that the main idea is that all life, and all reality, consists of "processes." It sounds a bit to me like Pythagoras's theory of metempsychosis, or the transmigration of souls, although here rather than souls moving from being to being through reincarnation, it would be the minute elements of matter and experience that migrate from being to being. (Side note: Pythagoras' philosophy, or perhaps just in Ovid's parody of it, calls for vegetarianism, on the theory that the soul of the cow you eat today might have once belonged to your grandmother. I was never clear on why it couldn't go the opposite way and legitimize cannibalism, on the theory that the soul of the grandmother you eat today probably once belonged to a cow.)

I was thinking about all this as I sat down at the library Friday because I had finally come sufficiently prepared for the subarctic temperatures of the reading room and had on socks, long pants, and a (fake) wool sweater. I don't have much occasion to wear (fake) wool sweaters in New Orleans in the summer, so I hadn't worn this one in some months, since before Sancha died. It hadn't been in the Sancha sweater box (those sweaters are beyond wearability) but no sweater in my apartment escaped Sancha's effervescent furriness. And as I sat down in the reading room and took stock of my appearance for the first time that day (yes, I should get in the habit of doing this before I leave the house. Yes, my failure to do so has led to some rather hilarious wardrobe errors), I realized that I was covered with Sancha hair.

If any living thing was a constantly evolving, mutating, transmigrating process, it was Sancha. Sancha's hair had the vitality and life cycle that would put the Amazon jungle canopy to shame. I never gave Sancha a haircut and Sancha's hair never grew. She just molted. It was not a seasonal thing--she kept up her furry regeneration all year long, and when she got nervous, she revved into molting overdrive, sometime to the point of disappearing inside a little cloud of Sancha fur. Think Pigpen from the comic strip Peanuts. I almost never had to give her a bath because any fur that got dirty on a walk would have been completely replaced by a new layer of shiny clean velvet by the time we got home.

Sancha was supposed to make this trip to Chicago with me. We would drive in my fur-carpeted car to stay in the dog-friendly Airbandb and we would explore the dog parks and sausages of Chicago together. In the end I came alone, flying in a dog-hair-free plane and only able to stand on the edge of the dog parks and stare wistfully. But as I sat in the library and stared down at the sizeable collection of dog fur on my chest and arms, I realized that in some sense, in the sense of Sancha as process, Sancha had accompanied me after all.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Deja vu

A little over a month ago, I flew to Chicago for a conference. The conference began Thursday and I arrived Wednesday afternoon, so I had time to walk along Millennium Park and the Loop, sit at a café and read a bit, and drink in a beautiful late May day. I bought a stamp at  7-11 and mailed a birthday card to Y (I can't find anywhere that sells single stamps in New Orleans). In the evening I retired to my Airbnb room and watched some of a White Sox game.

Today I flew in to Chicago to begin a month-long research stint at the Newberry. I arrived after the library was closed, but with time to walk around the River North neighborhood, admiring the architecture of the Loop, and sit and read for a bit at a café. It is a beautiful July day. I went to a 7-11 and bought a stamp to send a birthday card to my grandmother. Afterwards I popped into a bar to watch some of a White Sox game, and then retired to my Airbnb room for the evening.

At 6:30 am on the first  day of the conference, I was awakened by the phone call from the petsitter, telling me of Sancha's fall.

I close my eyes with  superstitious trepidation. Friends and loved ones: please be extra careful where you step tomorrow!

Monday, July 07, 2014

Sancha does Madrid

Sancha story time.

My work involves research in Spanish archives, which stubbornly tend to be located in Spain. I went a couple of times during grad school and left Sancha with scrupulously vetted caretakers. I would stay in cheap hostels, work insane hours and travel around, and none of this fit with the Sancha-care lifestyle. However, when I had a semester sabbatical in fall 2011 and a big house to stay in (I was doing a sabbatical swap with a Madrid family coming to NYC), it seemed like a good time to travel accompanied. Plus, my dog is Sancha Panza. How could I not take her to her ancestral homeland?

Around 2003, Spain lifted the non-EU pet quarantine (this seems to correlate with Spain's joining along in the Iraq war experiment, although I can't figure out how. But the next time someone says we got nothing out of the Iraq war, you can bring it up.) I couldn't find any airlines to Europe that would let me bring her onboard, but she had travelled once unaccompanied to LA with Continental Airline's special pet flight program--which may not be different than any other airline's pet flight protocol, but they have identified the endless source of income that is the childless older pet owner and all the buzzwords that prompt us to turn over our credit cards--with success. It wasn't cheap, but there are some things money can't buy...and I was glad that this wasn't one of them.

Not included in the price, of course, were all the vet certificates she had to get in order to be allowed to travel. The usual shots, a certificate of good health (the vets, of course, never miss an opportunity to insist on a full examination, blood panel, stool sample et al, so poor Sancha was multiply poked, pricked, and prodded).  Plus one of the requirements for admitting her to Spain was that she have a microchip, which she did, but it turns out she didn't have the same sort of microchip they use in Spain. I didn't want to turn my dog into a cyborg by implanting her with multiple microchips, so I looked into buying one of the internationally approved microchip readers. The purchase cost was prohibitive, but some company in Texas offered a rental price that was merely ridiculous. So, a lot of hassles and a lot of money, but everything more or less worked as planned and I left her in her carrier at the Continental petsafe area, right by the baggage claim at Newark airport, with people who seemed like competent animal-lovers. And I went up the escalator to check in for my flight.

Eight hours or so later, I was in Madrid. The flight had been in partnership with Iberia  I gathered my luggage (more than I could deal with, but I had figured I'd pick up Sancha and get a cab straight to my place in Madrid. I had expected them to lose my luggage, as has happened on every other Iberia flight I've ever taken, but no such luck). Except there was nothing resembling a Petsafe area by the Iberia baggage claim. I asked around, and nobody had any idea what I was talking about.  I called the number on some of my paperwork and they informed me that she would be arriving in the cargo area of the airport, some 3 miles away from the passenger flights. So I dragged my stuff to the taxi line, waited, only to have every taxi driver refuse to take me to the cargo area (since it meant a measly fare for them and then a return to the back of the taxi line). Meanwhile the cargo people insisted that there was no other way to get there. So I had to feign an uncertain address to a driver until I was safely in the cab and we had pulled away from the terminal, at which point I revealed my true intentions and got to listen to him complain and swear the rest of the drive. But he did drop me at the cargo warehouse, between DHL and the Post Office's warehouses. I went in to a little trailer full of truckdrivers coming and going and explained that I was looking for my dog--the woman was happy to collect some more $ from me, and then she sent me on a bureaucratic journey which involved three of four different office buildings, many pieces of paper, many stamps on the various pieces of paper, and a fresh bundle of euros at each stop. She had agreed only after a great deal of negotiation and desperate pleading on my part to let me leave my luggage in her trailer--it didn't seem to be against the rules, but it wasn't in the rules, and Spanish bureaucrats will do anything short of work after 2pm to protect the rules. I may just have left the boxes and hoped for the best. Meanwhile the clock ticked away toward the hour of doom....2 pm, because God forbid an office at an international airport stay open in the afternoons. At one point I was at the offices of the Department of Agriculture, waiting behind a guy importing 300 turtles for I-don't-even-want-to-know-what. When I got to the front of the line and said I was there to pick up my single 15 lb. mutt, the guy gave me a look that seemed to suggest that he held me personally responsible for Spanish unemployment, the Iraq War, and the decline of Western civilization.  (Which is odd, because Spaniards love their pets. It's not like Madrid isn't full of spoiled, frou-frou pets and the businesses that cater to them. Apparently they just draw the line at traveling overseas with them.)  With the clock ticking down to 2, I made it back to the trailer, my belongings were still there, my stamps were stamped, my signatures were signed, and I was told to go out to the warehouse floor and await my merchandise.

So there I sat, amidst multi-story piles of boxed furniture and appliances, watching a stream of greasy men come and go and get things signed and stamped (and linger around to complain about la crisis). It had probably been 11 hours since I'd left Sancha in Jersey. I waited. Forklifts motored around the warehouse floor, lifting and dropping pallets. I could not imagine how Sancha was going to arrive--inside a washing machine? Driving a forklift? I had plenty of time to imagine because she did not arrive. They started closing for the siesta. No dog. Finally, a truck driver who had come after me and had already received his merchandise took up my case and went in to demand answers. They had forgotten. Mere moments before two, a forklift came rolling in, bearing a pyramid-stacked assembly of large appliances, smaller appliances, and there at the tippy tippy top, probably 12 feet in the air, one little dog carrier. In order to get her down a guy had to go up in a forklift and because everything was tied together with steel cables, he needed a blowtorch to get her off and down from the pallet. So there was my poor little dog, 2 hours in a crate in an airport, 6 hours in the belly of a plane, 3 hours I don't even like to imagine being tossed around by men accustomed to working with refrigerators, and now perched at 12 feet circled by greasy men bearing chainsaws. They got her down. I opened the crate door. And she marched on out like, "Hey! So this is Spain? Boy do I hafta pee!"

Our saga didn't end there because if I thought it was hard to get a cab to the cargo area, it was only because I had not yet tried to get a cab from the cargo area...and don't even get me started on flying home...but while I was a nervous wreck, Sancha showed no signs that it wasn't just another day in the life of a loyal squire. Some days you ride a wave. Some days you ride a forklift. It's all good as long as you've got a bunch of sweaters to curl up with.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Saying I love you

Growing up I never said "I love you" and meant it.

I have always been stingy with love. Perhaps it is because my mother was the only constant presence in my early life (my father was away 10 months of the year until I was 5 and we moved 4 times in my first 5 years, never within a thousand miles of the rest of my family) or perhaps just because she was awesome, but I loved my mom and everyone else was just someone whose company I enjoyed or didn't. I never questioned whether my mother loved me and always knew that I loved her, but neither of us ever said the words. She just isn't that kind of mom. (This is true to this day. When I left Los Angeles for Boston and college, she started saying  "hat, coat, and mittens" at the end of every conversation. At first it meant literally, "make sure you wear a hat, coat, and mittens when you go out into that freezing Boston weather" but she still says it to me at the end of every conversation, even in the summer and with me in New Orleans, so I'm pretty sure it means "I love you." But it's as sentimental as we get.)

My father said "I love you" all the time. Mostly when I had achieved things, which tended to make me think that what he loved was my accomplishments more than any innate essence of me. But he did say it at other times, when he was in a good mood and often in tandem with an affirmation that I was his "best bud." It felt, like every one of his emotional responses  to me, like something completely arbitrary and dependent on his own unpredictable moods and needs rather than to me qua me. It felt like a burden. Him loving me was tied to him having his entire identity invested in me; he said he loved me when he felt good about himself or when he felt good about my performance re-enacting him. It seemed like if he had loved me a little less, I could have joined Girl Scouts and taken naps and read fiction books. It was a burden because every time he said it, there was an aching absence where I was supposed to say "I love you too" in response. And I have never been a good liar (or rather, I have never felt comfortable lying. I think I am reasonably decent at it when I do). I always knew there was something lacking in me, that children with far worse parents loved them unconditionally and would give anything to hear those parents praise them or express their love. But I wanted less praise, and less love, and I resented these forced displays of filial devotion. My desire not to lie conflicted with my desire not to hurt anyone's feelings or cause conflict. He would push the issue; if I didn't respond, he would ask point-blank "Do you love me?"and at that point I'd usually compromise by  nodding or saying "yeah." But I maintained by integrity, and a certain passive-aggressive rebellion, by never saying "I love you."

And then I got a dog. And suddenly love was immediate, easy, uncomplicated, absolute, and unconditional. Perhaps I loved my dog with all the pent-up love that I had never felt inclined to give to family or friends; at one point a therapist suggested that there was some displacement going on. But I don't know, I think if you took an MRI of my brain when I saw my dog (or worse, when I didn't see my dog and missed him terribly) and another when I saw any other member of my family, things would light up in entirely different hemispheres. Dog love is easy because you never have to worry about reciprocity. Your dog loves you. Your dog shows you his love every time you come home, every time you feed him, every time you get the leash, and he would do it whether you loved him or not, whether you treated him well or poorly. Also, a dog is totally indifferent to the words "I love you" (unlike "walk" or "leash"), and Sancha and Sola doubly so, as they both went deaf. Dogs are like Jews rather than Christians--it's about practice, not faith. My dogs have shown their love in slightly different ways; MacBeth loved everyone and as a puppy had been known to escape from the front door and join the neighbors in their house, as happy to be a part of their family as ours, but the promiscuity of his affections in no way tempered their genuineness. Sola had been abused and had to be taught to love, she was the least demonstrative of my dogs but if she loved anyone, it was me, and I confess (back to that "dark side of love" post I keep promising) that I valued this love even more, since it was singly bestowed upon me. Sancha was somewhere in between. But I loved them all and could say I love you as much or as little as I pleased--  I don't think I said "I love you" very much, but I never once doubted that I did.
     (Anecdotal interlude: the last words I said to Sancha before she fell were "I love you." I only know this because I was leaving her with her petsitter and as I walked to my car I said "I love you" and the petsitter, who must be well-conditioned by his wife, started to respond reflexively "I love y..." and then he caught himself and we laughed and I said "Not you, Jason. I mean I like you a lot but I meant Sancha." Knowing this makes me happy.)

    Many only children grow up longing for siblings, but I never did. I only babysat occasionally, and I didn't enjoy it. I much preferred earning $ explaining algebra to my peers to playing wallaby for hours (this was the preferred pastime of my only regular babysittee). So it was to my great surprise when a fellow graduate student had a child and simultaneously had her marriage fall apart, and of all our friends, I was the one who feel deeply, unconditionally, inexplicably in love with her daughter (soon my goddaughter). I said I love you to her all the time although the reasons changed over time. At first, it was a simple outpouring of how much I loved her, I loved her so much that it built up pressure in my brain and the only way to relieve that pressure was to say it. Later, when she was old enough to understand what I was saying, I said it because I wanted her to hear it over and over and over and know that it was true, and that she was the loveliest thing not just in my world but in the world. She loved me and was not shy about showing it, but this was icing on the cake. I never expected her to say anything back or would have been hurt it she didn't. I knew that when she was older it would become burdensome or embarrassing to say, and there would be times she did not love me at all, and that was fine with me. Parents and godparents have an obligation to love without expecting love in return. But it never felt like an obligation. It just was, like a mathematical fact.

With human partners on the other hand, I never got over the insecurity of not being loved/loving equally. Romantic relationships, unlike relationships with dogs or children, don't start from a point of love, which means someone has to say it first. I never wanted to be the one to say it too early and not hear it returned. I never wanted to say it and feel like I was asking to hear it in return. If I said it and heard it in return, I never knew whether it had been offered freely or out of a sense of obligation. I never knew how long it lasted, how long one should go before it was acceptable to request re-affirmation. And often I didn't know if I did love the person; I didn't want to exaggerate affections that might have been crushes, or diminishing. I spent the last 6 months of my last serious relationship trying to get out of it, and every "I love you" felt like it might be held against me at the end as deliberate misrepresentation. And above and beyond all of these considerations, the words just didn't come easily to me. It didn't occur to me to say them and when I tried to, they knotted up in my mouth. I felt about saying "I love you" the way most white people feel about saying the N-word, if those white people felt equally uncomfortable saying "the N word."

And now. I truly love someone. I have a new feeling, not so much the pressure-valve need to say it but a sense that there is no other way to express what I feel. Or that there are other ways but they would require lengthy explanations and it would be like saying "I perceive a ray of light on the visible spectrum between 620 and 680 nanometers" when I could just say "that is red." It feels like we invented terms like "red" and "love" for precisely this experience and that's why I should use them.

The anxiety about reciprocity  is still there. I wonder how long you have to be with someone before you don't fear that anything you do or say could cause the loss of their love. Or worse, that one day they'll just wake up in a slightly more lucid frame of mind and their love will be gone. But I feel like I have, for the first time in my life with a human being, got the saying side of the equation down. Baby steps. Puppy steps.

Monday, June 30, 2014

There you are!

After a month of floating in the great beyond, Sancha finally arrived in a dream. It was a very unremarkable guest cameo--my dream self didn't notice that she had died, or perhaps my dream self is over a month younger than I, and she wasn't the main character in the dream. I don't really remember it--this post would have a lot more details if I hadn't waited 12 hours to type it out--but somewhere between my usual repertoire of being naked in public, unprepared for class, and overflowing toilets, I distinctly recall a Sancha. I hope this is the beginning of a recurring guest role.

And while I'm on the subject of Sancha: I was often tempted to buy one of those doggie DNA kits that match your dog's sample against a breed database and inform you of all the branches on your dog's family tree (or of all the dog's that have peed on the family branch?). Yet I never went through with it, partly because I would cringe every time I drove past a homeless person knowing that I had spent $80 on a doggie DNA test, and partly because I believe in the American dream (in theory) of casting off all that Old World ancestry baggage and making your own tribe. Cada uno es hijo de sus obras, and all that. Also because, as with a striptease, the fun is in guessing what is only half-revealed. When I first adopted her we were guessing Chihuahua-kangaroo; later she seemed less kangaroo-ish (until she was in the hospital, sitting upright but the casts on both back legs making them stick straight out in classic kangaroo pose) and more Corgi.

But now I have a new theory: Chihuahua-Fennec Fox.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

RIP Frosty the Snow Goat

When Sancha's back legs started to go bad, and then when she broke them after the fall but it looked like she would recover, visions of Frosty and other mobility-enhanced creatures danced through my head. I imagined Sancha going all-out New Orleans, with a fleur-de-lis-festooned, glitter-encrusted, black gold and pink little wheelie cart.

Alas, it was not to be, for Sancha or for Frosty. I think Chris P. Bacon is still going strong.

Monday, June 23, 2014

In the unlikely event that today is your b-day


Today Sancha would have turned 15. Or rather, today I would have celebrated Sancha turning 15. It is unlikely that Sancha was 15, and very very unlikely that she turned 15 today, but when you adopt an adult dog, you have to pick a story and stick with it. Which, in fact, I didn't do either, as Sancha's birdthday was over the years a movable feast. Like Easter, if Easter had at some point been moved from April to October.

I adopted Sancha on January 23 and the shelter estimated her to be 3 years old. For a few years we celebrated her birthday on successive January 23s, but then we (I) decided that for a girl whose favorite activity was a long walk and who did not enjoy the cold, January 23 might have been a lovely birthday in Perth or Buenos Aires, but in New York it was a crappy day for a birthday. Plus what were the chances that I had adopted her precisely on her birthday? So somewhere around 2007 I moved her birthday 6 months ahead, which happened to land on my grandfather's birthday and thus made it easier for me to remember that too. Except that what with summer research trips, or rainstorms, for most of her life June 23 ended up being an inconvenient day for a birthday, and so we would move it back and forth a few days or weeks as needed. When I made the switch I had the option of advancing her a full year in 6 months or letting her remain the same age for 18 months; I chose the former because a vet who had looked at her teeth after the adoption said he thought she might be older than three. But then in 2011 when Sancha was getting all of her various check-ups and exams prior to accompanying me to Spain,  a different vet said Sancha was the youngest-looking 11-year old dog she had ever seen, so I considered revising her backwards a year, but then I liked the idea that this was another thing we had in common--at 36 I still get frequently mistaken for an undergraduate--so I left it alone. The last chapter in the mystery of Sancha's birthday occurred posthumously, as the pet cremation people, when they were confirming her info with me to make her little death certificate, had somehow acquired an entirely different date and year for her entry into the world. I have no idea where it came from, unless Sancha had in her youth acquired a fake ID to get into doggie clubs or something. (Now that I think of it, her being conveniently "3"--i.e, 21 in dog years--when I adopted her seems a bit suspicious).

Birthdays, hers and mine, were a relatively chill affair (a walk and a tasty treat), and age, hers and mine, have always been a subject of much confusion. (One year in college theater I was cast as 8 year old boy and an 80 year old demented granny. The week of my 36th birthday I was pulled over for looking too young be driving and received an AARP card.)  In any event, I remembered to call my grandfather to wish him happy birthday, and hopefully somewhere wherever you are, Sancha, you are enjoying a walk and a meat product and aging gracefully.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Bright Side of Love

Romantic love is really underappreciated. Like, why doesn't Hollywood make a movie about that?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

And now, some pictures

The closest we got to a professional photography shoot produced this:

And from last Xmas, in LA. Not a good picture of me, but a lovely pic of my mom and Sancha looks ready to play her part in the Nativity crèche (she had in fact attended midnight mass the night before. No crèche, but the choir director brought his poodle.)

Me, watching myself react to 90s pop

I don't know where I  read this, or whether someone told it to me, but an editor at some publishing house said that a good 50% (60? 75? Remind me not to tell this story when I'm a guest on Late Night....) of fiction manuscripts were blatantly autobiographical stories that the author thought he/she could pass of as fiction by changing first person to third. These manuscripts went straight into the reject file, although I don't know if the implication was that you shouldn't write about yourself or just that if you're going to write about yourself, admit it.

I often have the opposite reaction: I will read a first-person account of some experience and I will think: that might be good for a novel, but there is something presumptuous in thinking that the world will find your experiences revelatory or exemplary. Great fiction is filled with bad relationships, I would never tell Tolstoy otherwise. But why should the world care about Elizabeth Gilbert's boyfriend troubles?

So if I start minutely examining my own emotional reactions (or lack thereof) to a departed dog, it is with full knowledge that this for me, myself, and I. That nothing I say here will be more interesting or profound than anything you (you, dear reader who is not me and may not exist) have observed a million times, or read on the back cover of a grief self-help book. I'm gazing at my navel online, watching myself breathe in...breathe out...

(Side note: Did all of my writing follow the This American Life structure--seemingly random anecdote leads into theme, approached from 3 angles--- before I started listening to This American Life?)

As I have written earlier,  I went through an initial and very brief "proper" grief stage. During this stage I was a raw wound. This was the stage of tears, the stage where clichés became truth. Then I  scabbed over, as I do. Everything that had briefly moved to the emotion part of my brain retreated to its usual home in the reason quadrant. I am somewhat ashamed by how quickly this happened, it doesn't feel appropriate to how deeply I love(d) Sancha. It doesn't even feel appropriate to call it grief. I'm sure I didn't have my passport stamped at each of the 5 stages.

But, there is one little square of sensitivity, a spot that hasn't fully scabbed over.

Backtrack: I am not a person who is particularly "into" music. My tastes are horrible, completely out of alignment on the avant-garde spectrum with my tastes in literature and film. (If you made a Venn Diagram of Abbas Kiarostami fans and Eminem fans, I would bet the overlap would be fairly small). I like things you can hum in the shower or dance to, although I neither hum in the shower nor dance (and I definitely don't dance in the shower, I'd kill myself). I like angry drug-addicted guys accompanied by electric guitars and drums, although I am neither a guy, a drug-user, nor prone to anger. Like most everything else in my life, it's a secondhand emotion---I like to listen to people having (pretending to have) emotions, rhythm, sex appeal, style.

My relationship with Sancha had exactly zero: men, anger, dancing, drugs, sex appeal. If my relationship with Sancha had been a movie montage, the soundtrack would have been Enya. Or Mozart.

Enya and Mozart do nothing for me. But  create a Pandora Third Eye Blind channel (Offspring, Oasis, Green Day, Linkin Park etc etc ) and damned if I don't get all weepy. (Semisonic "Closing time/ Open all the doors and let you out into the world....I know who I waaant to take me hooome" Jimmy Eat World "It just takes some time/ Little girl, you're in the middle of the ride/ Everything will be all right/ Everything will be just fine" WHO KNEW ALL THESE SONGS WERE ABOUT DOGS?)

Partially it's because these songs are about love and loss. But what songs aren't?  I think it's no coincidence the songs that get me came out in the 90s, when I was in plena adolescencia, maxima vulnerabilidad y crisis emocional. In fact, I only listened to these songs, and listened to them over and over and over, during the two hospitalization stays that bookended the 1990s for me (at home I listened to Bach and Zeppelin). So for me they are like a portal to the two times I have had to feel intensely and constantly. Times that were hell, but a hell for which I am prone to feeling nostalgia.

I guess I should count my blessings that the hospital radio wasn't set to Kenny G.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Where oh where has my little dog gone?

One of the advantages of being an agnostic is that, since all scenarios for the afterlife seem equally (im)probable, you can choose the one that you would like to imagine to be true. (At first I wrote "that you would like to believe in" but of course if I could really believe in it, I wouldn't be agnostic any more). I have heard lots of suggestions for where Sancha might be and what she might be doing right now. At some point a few years ago I started hearing people talk about pets crossing "the rainbow bridge" and now it has become the go-to scenario for pet passing. Even when my cliché valve was open as far as it could go, this struck me as too goopy. Unicorns may cross the rainbow bridge, but if Sancha was going to cross a bridge, it would be a nice, sturdy one. Probably the George Washington. We used to like to walk up there.

Most of the scenarios take it for granted that she, or her spirit, is somewhere up above, and the question becomes what she is doing with her time. Eating a lot, undoubtedly: hot dogs and chicken bones and Trident gum with xylitol. Does she shed now? I am imagining clouds covered in Sancha fur. She would be burrowing into a massive cumulus formation. Can she hear? It would seem cruel not to restore her to top form, but in truth she seemed to be more mellow without the distraction of noises. I do imagine that her back legs have recovered their youthful spring, and she can jump and run with ease. Although she was always more of a "el camino se hace al andar" kind of girl. Is she with other dogs? My aunt, whose dog Samson passed away last year, suggested that they would be hanging out now, but I kind of doubt it; Sancha was, with a few exceptions, not that into her fellow canines. But I don't want her to be lonely. And, let's face it, if the scenario I'm choosing is based on what gives me comfort, then I want to believe that she was happiest with me. And that even surrounded by frankfurters and pillows and nubile Corgi studs.... she would miss me.

So I would rather keep her a little closer. I would rather she was keeping an eye on me. I think about her a lot, but more and more I am directing my thoughts--my never-ending internal monologue of emails and conversations and letters to the editor--to her.  What I most wish is to see her in my dreams, but so far I'm still working through the usual repertoire of teacher nightmares, breaking teeth, and naked-in-public scenarios (sometimes all 3 at once). Apparently when you consciously choose the afterlife you prefer, your unconscious isn't automatically informed. I can wait. In the meantime, I am going to imagine her reading this blog.

So, Sancha, first this blog was you writing, occasionally about me. Then it was me writing about you. Maybe now it will be me writing, about anything, but to you. Feel free to leave a comment.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Remembering Images

Rather than go to a therapist, I spend a lot of time trying to make sense of myself. I would rather be thinking about more productive things, but it's where my mind wanders to. I guess it's the subject I think I have the greatest likelihood of actually mastering, although so far most of my theories have been disproven. But I mention this to explain why many of my posts here do not seem to be about Sancha, or if they end up being about Sancha, they take a tortuous windy road through my childhood, dreamscape, and reading on the way there. This post will be no different. ´

I was very good at math in high school. Correction: I was very good at high school math in high school, and was under the impression that because of this, I was very good at math in general. High school math went up through a first year of calculus. Calculus was a little harder than what had come before because you had to think in three dimensions sometimes, but there were enough rules to follow and ways to translate three dimensions to two that I made it work. When I went to college, I enrolled in the logical next class, which was Multivariable Calculus. In retrospect, I take issue with this name. I mean, if I buy a "multicolor" shirt, I expect to get a shirt with four or five colors, not a shirt with an infinite number of light wavelengths. Pre algebra had been 2 dimensions. Calculus was 3 dimensions. I had a reasonable expectation that I would be gradually introduced each year to an addition dimension or two. Nope. When counting math-style, apparently it is okay to go 1, 2, 3, n. And then n +1, which just adds insult to infinity. I was lost. I studied. I got tutoring. I even enjoyed it, which was the strange thing. But it was all for naught--I got a very generous C- and thus ended my career as a mathematician.

What I learned from this experience, aside from empathy with my future students who tried as hard as they could to learn a new language and could not get it, was that my mind does not do more than 2 dimensions. I think primarily in language, but I don't have an entirely non-visual imagination: it's just that my visuals are photographic rather than cinematic or 3-D. My head doesn´t spin. This is true when I think about people as well. If I try to imagine what a particular person looks like, even if it´s someone I have recently seen in person, I almost always imagine a photo I have seen of them. If I haven´t ever seen a photograph of that person, it´s hard for me to get an image.

And here is where we come back to Sancha. Even though I saw her pretty much every day for 11 years, in my mind I saw and see her as she was captured in the various pictures I have taken and used as my avatars, screensaver, etc. When I visited her in the ICU, even when I thought she was going to recover, I very deliberately did not take any pictures, because I did not want to remember what she looked like all tubed and shaved and drugged. The worst image was after her heart stopped the first time, and they inserted the breathing tube, and she was stretched out on a table and in so much pain. There is sound associated with this image--she was bleating, making a noise that reached directly into my heart and made me not want to live. It didn't last that long, they gave her drugs and she went under again. But they told me that she had been "vocalizing" (vocalizing? Are you fucking kidding me?  Humming in the shower is vocalizing. Baby gurgling is vocalizing. She was screaming) every so often. So in my mind I knew that it had not been just that once, and that thought is almost unbearable to me. As images and sounds go, it´s not as bad as the one her poor petsitter is dealing with, which is her jump, but it was an image I didn´t ever want to have to see once, and definitely didn´t want to ever see again.

So this is why I´ve been so obsessive about getting photos of her, and staring at her sleepy image, her surfing image, her smiling image. My understanding, based on the kind of science that filters into NPR shows like Radio Lab or Science Friday, is that each time you remember something, you activate the same neurons that light up in the original experience of an event. I stare at this:

to crowd out that other image, to make my neurons forget how to produce it, to make it like it never happened.

Sunday, June 08, 2014


One of the recurring themes when I reflect on my life with Sancha is the question of our sameness, and whether we were two peas in a pod and that's why we chose each other, or whether we mutually molded each other in our own image. Either way, for at least the last 10 years I would say that neither of us did anything that the other hadn't already anticipated.

But I would be lying.

Backstory: Sancha was a resolutely non-aquatic dog. She didn't need to be bathed often, as she was pretty delicate about dirt and puddles and her fur had a preternatural self-cleaning (i.e, massive shedding) function, but when she did: she did NOT enjoy it. She would submit to the torture, but it was always with her patented ASPCA look and surreptitious escape attempts when I relaxed my guard. Over the years she got better about doing her business in the rain, but she was very clear that once her business was done, she wanted back in a dry, warm sweater box. And while I don't think I ever tried to take her swimming, her body type did not suggest she would be aqua-dynamic. I am not a swimmer, but it never occurred to me that I was projecting my own water awkwardness onto her.

In summer 2013 I spent 10 days doing research in Spain and Sancha stayed with her amazing petsitters. I think it was the first time. They posted frequent pictures on their Facebook page of the dogs in their care, and although I felt guilty/paranoid about checking Facebook in the National Library of Spain, I legitimately had nothing else to do while I waited for my books to be disinterred and delivered from library's inner recesses. (It's not an open stacks library.) So while archivist gnomes hunted for my demonology guides and histories of confessions, I glanced around to check that no Franco-holdover guards were patrolling my row, and when the coast was clear, headed over to FB. Dogs playing. Dogs eating. Dogs on couch. Sancha on couch. Very cute, absent mother's mind at ease, just about to click away....and then I saw:


I don't think I have ever been so surprised in my life. I nearly fell off of my chair. Was it photoshopped? Did Jason have another dog who looked just like Sancha? When I had recovered the use of language, I wrote a quick email to the petsitters. Nope, Jason replied: that was Sancha alright! Apparently she not only surfed, she swam like a little "furry torpedo."

As soon as I got back home I tried to recreate this experience on my own. I didn't have a surfboard, but I took her to the exact same spot and prepared to launch my furry torpedo. Furry torpedo behaved exactly as I would have expected had I not seen these pictures. I.e, she gave me the "Do I look like a dolphin?" face and paddled desperately to shore. I tried once again a few weeks later and had the same results.

I have never really figured this out. Jason's theory is that it was a pack activity, and since I didn't bring along 5 other dogs, she wasn't into it.  My suspicion is that there are some things a girl will do when a hot guy in swim trunks is encouraging her that she just will not do with her mother.

And that I can relate to.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Passing Love

This perhaps falls under the "dark side of love" topic I mentioned in previous posts and haven't gotten around to following up on, but it wasn't what I was thinking of when I wrote that.

I have unsupported and unsupportable deep convictions about how the world works sometimes. How my world works, anyway. This is the mostly pleasant residue of my nightmare OCD year (age 11), when I thought every word I uttered or step I took was essential to keeping disaster at bay. Now that direct control fear/fantasy is mostly limited to determining the fortunes of my Tigers, but I also retain a broader belief about cosmic balances of good and bad, success and failure. In a nutshell: life never lets you--or perhaps just me--get too many bad things, or too many good things. I have one year of almost uninterrupted disaster per decade, but that opens onto 9 years of good fortune. Even in the good decades, though, I can't have it all. Job, love, economic security, health, friendships: I get to bat .750 or so.   I have little control over how and when the substitutions and compensations occur (in that way, it's the opposite of the OCD/Tiger fan delusion of control, but they share a belief in a sympathetic connection between events that has no basis in logical thought)

I'm not going to trace out how this principle has worked throughout my whole life, just its relevance with respect to Sancha. I adopted her in January 2003, as a long-term relationship ended. I can't say she nursed me through the breakup, because I was the breaker-upper rather than the breakup-ee, but in my view of cosmic compensation, she was the love and companionship that I was meant to have, in place of the human kind. I didn't miss dating or a sexual relationship--on the contrary, I had broken up with M because it became clear to me that I wasn't cut out for that kind of intimacy with another human. 10 years passed without me noticing its absence. But about 3 years ago I decided to go back to the pool (the pool I had sent M off to, so full, I promised, of  other fish). It had been 10 years of academic success, good health, relative freedom from my "issues," good friends and family relations. Lacking: human love, of the maternal and conjugal variety.

Cue disaster year. A child (not my own, but como si fuera) and a love were gained and lost.  Job, self-esteem, home, and important family relationships got wiped out as well. Through it all, the one constant was Sancha (Sancha and a few dear friends). If before Sancha had been the counterbalance to M,  now her little furry figure was the only thing left on the good-things side of the see-saw, holding her own against a pile-on of shit.

The year passed. New job, new home. Sancha walked me through the transitions and the change (we always knew who was walking who). A new life, new self-esteem, new contentment, new routines, same old Sancha. And left on the bad side of the see-saw: a profound belief that I was too odd, old, inflexible, unattractive, unloveable and worse, unloving, to ever find human intimacy.

In March I met someone who feels right. He met Sancha once. She didn't exactly invite him to move in, but she seemed to give him a tacit lack-of-bark of approval. I had them both for just enough time for the handover of fortune to occur. I will never relegate Sancha to the status of a bridge between men. If I could go back, I would reverse the exchange. But Sancha, I do have the sense that there was a hand-off. And a week later, I want you to know--although I suspect you already did--that I think you delivered me into good hands.*

*Obviously, it's still very early. But as you will recall from our meeting January 21, 2003, I have a good record with first impressions about love.

Fun Walking the Dog

Since you were a deaf dog for your later years, Sancha, I doubt you would much appreciate being memorialized through music. And even in your hearing years, I don't recall you expressing any musical preferences, aside from a profound dislike for emergency vehicle sirens. (At least I think it was dislike. You sang along, but not in a getting-down-with-the-groove kind of way.)

If I were to make a Sancha soundtrack, it would be all clicks and jingles and snuffly sighs. Given all the times I talked about the wonderful peace-infusing power of your snuffly sighs, I wonder that I never recorded them. Regrets.

But although you couldn't have heard it when you were here, and most of me is convinced you wouldn't be able to hear it now, I wanted to dedicate a song to you, Sancha. I was working on...the things I work on...and I put Pandora in the background. I don't know why it loaded immediately to my "Fun" channel, as it is not first on my list, but it did, and the song it chose, which I had never heard before, was peppy and optimistic and catchy and I liked it immediately. And when I opened the Pandora window to express my encouragement via thumbs-up, I saw that it was this song:

I think they wrote it for me. For you, for us. You too were peppy, optimistic, and catchy. And nothing was more fun than walking you.
If you could see me, whoever I am
It's not like a movie it's not all skin and bones
so come on love (come on, come on, come all and go)
nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah
I will not let you go
nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah
I will not let you go

Monday, June 02, 2014


It has come to my attention from my one (known) human reader that she is unable to comment on posts. This is very mysterious, as Sancha's posts had comments from multiple canine readers. I am looking at the settings and see no option to enable or disable comments based on the species of the commenter. Perhaps it is the BlogSpot settings equivalent of a dog whistle.

The good news is I may have a guest dog for a bit (just for a few sleepovers; I know I will get another dog at some point but it is still too soon) who could hopefully be convinced to guest blog and guest de-activate block on non-pawed commenters? Alternately, I know that my human reader has two adorable cats, perhaps one of them could type for her?

Friday, May 30, 2014


I lost my phone a year ago and with it many of my Sancha photos. Most of them were identical shots of Sancha curled up in my laundry, as each evening I would be struck that this was the absolute cutest image ever, and only later came to realize that this was both true and false (in the way that everyone is unique in their own special way, and other paradoxes of comparative superlatives). But I asked people to send me any photos they had of Sancha that I might have emailed them, or perhaps photos they had on their own cameras, and folks have sent me many lovely and wonderful pictures. Among the emails, however, came this "photo of Sancha" from my stepfather.

That is most definitely my mother, but that is NOT SANCHA.
Many questions are raised. I don't know who you are, cute little dog, but welcome to my blog.
Russ (stepfather) -- nice try, but time to go back to doggie identification school.

Why write

Everything is related:

In my academic work, I am thinking about a bunch of texts that do not seem to have been written for anyone but the writer. Not diaries as we recognize them now, with their ordered chronological structure, but mostly incoherent accounts of prayer regiments and mystic experiences.

I often reflect on why we write. Lately it would have been more appropriate for me to reflect on why I do not write, as not a lot of writing was getting done. Sancha's death has opened up a textual floodgate. It feels good to write; it is something to focus on, the words come predictably the way that tears and comfort don't. I haven't written like this in a long time: without editing, without re-reading, without footnotes. Without readers. (There may be readers. Obviously I entertain a fantasy of readers because I am putting this online and I have sent the links to a few people. But I am not writing for readers. I am writing to write.)

A dear friend who has also recently lost someone dear to her sent me a link to a new blog (an old blog brought back to life), and she expressed a similar sentiment. Writing about pain, writing through pain, writing transforming pain. Mostly writing to write...but not wanting the words to fall into the abyss.

Part of me is glad to have spent approximately 33 years writing (My Book About Me, my autobiography from age 3 3/4, was largely dictated, but does feature a few lines done in my own hand) such that it is now so second nature that it is a comfort. I don't drink, run, or paint, so it is good to have something. But part of me thinks: how solipsistic. In the end, it comes down to telling stories about me for me. Like I have finally completely closed the circuit of myself and made myself extraneous, utterly excisable from any human or cosmic community.


My mother found this photo and I think it captures  my relationship with Sancha  (as well as our exciting exciting lifestyle) pretty perfectly. Who is leaning on who? (Update: scroll down, the post was originally just this note and the picture, but I came back and got Proustian)

I had assumed this was in my mother's bedroom in Los Angeles, but my crack reading public of one has identified this photo as one I sent her titled "Alabama." Now it is all coming back to me: this was from the road trip I took with my mom moving from New York to New Orleans. I have always loved cheap, anonymous, middle-of-nowhere, truckstop motels (I was into them before Foucault)--, and when I was 12 and we moved from Arkansas to LA, stopping in Washington DC and New York for the summer, after what had been an unremittingly awful year that culminated in my mother trading in our beloved car Eleanor without telling me the day of the trip (a sweet, loyal, gentle, little old white sensing a pattern here), my only solace was the prospect of a week of anonymous hotels with cable TV. Until I was betrayed again by 6 out of 7 nights being spent at my mother's friends' houses along the way. (The one night we stayed at a hotel featured one of my favorite memories of my mom and one of the stories I make her tell me over and over, but I will set that aside for another paragraph, as this one is one anecdote away from derailing entirely). I hold grudges. So in early 2012 I flew from NY to LA for less than 24 hours to attend my stepfather's surprise birthday--I couldn't come early because it was a surprise and I couldn't stay because my mom and stepfather were heading off for a romantic getaway. I demanded in return (no such thing as a free surprise birthday attendance) help in moving to New Orleans and a commitment to spending each night on the road in the no-starriest, truck-stoppiest of motels, watching at least one full episode of a law/forensics/cop show per evening.

So this is from a roadside motel in Alabama, probably between a Chevron, a fireworks store, and a 100% transfat buffet, probably after hours of watching Forensic Files and The First 48. Sancha was the most adaptable dog ever. I will eventually post about her trip to Spain, in which she did to adaptability what Ripken did to consecutive games, but it really didn't matter where I sent her or how we got there: as long as she found something soft to lie on, she was set. I wish I could say this was another thing we had in common, but in this case it was something I admired because it is a quality I lack entirely. We are (fuck. were) both creatures of routine, but she could recreate her routines in the midst of a chaos of change, whereas I demand exact repetition, stability, and monotony in order to feel at ease.

Of course the problem now is that Sancha was one of the essential elements to my routine. My stuffed raccoon is a good backrest. But he's crap to take on walks.


Paying for the end

Darla Landry and Jason Lotz, the petsitters who took such great photos of Sancha and were with her at the end, have started a FundRazr campaign to help with her vet bills. I had some money saved and am not in dire straits, so please don't give if you need the money for your own family or self. But if you are able to donate a little bit, it would help and I appreciate everything so much.

Sorry for the ugly link but I can't figure out how to embed this more artfully:

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Buried Treasure

So I will return to more indagations (is this an English word? Spellcheck thinks not...) of the dark side of love soon. But for now I wanted to follow-up on yesterday's post about Sancha's spaces. But first a transition, by way of seemingly unrelated anecdote.

After my father died (2002, suddenly and unexpectedly), my mother found a locked safe in his closet. My parents led very separate lives (my father had converted the basement of their house into his own gym and study), so it is entirely conceivable that my father could have skeletons in his closet (literally) and my mother wouldn't know about it. Anyway, my mother didn't know the combination, so they had to call a safe-breaking company to come blast it open. This takes a while to coordinate, and in the meantime, there was much speculation and anxiety. What was in that safe? Porn? Meth? Jimmy Hoffa? In the end, it turned out to be guns and survivalist/paramilitary catalogs. All legally registered (the guns, I don't think you have to register catalogs). My dad was ex-military, and he liked to go shoot for target practice, but he was also very pro-gun control and not a Unibomber type at all. So this was his dirty little secret/hobby/little-boy fantasy.

So, back to Sancha. As I mentioned yesterday, she had in the last year occupied my Target tub of sweaters. I resigned myself to never wearing those sweaters again (fortunately they aren't too necessary in New Orleans) and that was her space. Sancha never showed any interest in toys or balls, but she loved a good rawhide, and I always had some in store to give to her when she seemed interested. I often saw her devour them to a gelatinous stub, but I do admit noting that the outlay of rawhides often exceeded the gelatinous stubs discovered around the house. I didn't really pause to think about what she might be doing with the rest, just assumed she chewed them when I didn't see. Going through her sweater box today, however, I found some decidedly non-sweater objects buried like ancient indigenous potsherds at various levels going down to the bottom. Here is the result of today's archaeological dig:

I wonder if she forgot about them, or if it gave her comfort to know that they were there. As I look at my bed, I note a laptop, a stuffed raccoon, and three books. We had a lot in common.

Canine organization

A young dog fills your day. Play, walk, feed, train, clean, shop, be surprised, recount, repeat.

An old dog doesn't actually require that much of your time. But she still structures your days. She bisects them in at least five: morning bathroom run, morning food, mid-day walk, afternoon food, late night bathroom run. Nothing away from home can last more than 6 hours. Even when you are away from home, you have a little internal clock that goes off after about 5 hours and beeps "Check on the dog, check on the dog." You occasionally resent this 6 hour bungee cord tethering you to your home, but when it's off, you find there's nothing you really want to do for more than six hours except hang with your dog anyway.

Dogs also structure your space. Sancha and I were both creatures who nested, and we were both creatures of routine. So we had our designated nests and our routines around those nests. Each move required a re-configuration, but generally there was the bed: top half reserved for me, bottom half available for Sancha, (but always under a hefty supply of blankets.) This wasn't an imposed demarcation, she just preferred the bottom half, and especially the crook in my knees as I lay on my side. She needed her own space, though, and that was currently the plastic tub I used to store all my (formerly) nice wool sweaters. The tub was resting at the side of the bed, where it could conveniently serve as a step up when she decided to switch resting spots. Sancha's other space this last year was under our house (raised, because New Orleans). I have no idea what she did under there. My friend L suspected she had a home office and was filing and catching up on e-mail. Pretty much every day she would disappear under there ---I could always hear the little jangle of her collar so I didn't worry--and emerge 10 minutes later, giving with no clue as to her activities. One time she got disoriented and went under the neighbor's house, and I had to crawl under and drag her out, but other than that I didn't ask questions. It was her space. Kind of like the time my mother came to my apartment in Brooklyn to help me move and I had been charged with cleaning up beforehand. I cleaned up everything I could think of, but when my mom stepped in the first thing she saw was dog toys everywhere all over the floor. "I thought you cleaned!" she protested. I did...but it hadn't occurred to me to pick up things that didn't belong to me. The floor was pretty her space too. It only seemed fair, as she was so close to it.

 Life in the house was a repeated choreography: dog from sweaters to bed, Dale from bed to fridge, dog from bed to fridge,  Dale and dog from fridge to bowl, Dale from bowl to bed, dog from bowl to sweaters. A frenetic hip-hop dance moment when Dale came from outside to door: wild figure eights, jumps, usually extended to the back yard, back in, and then to the leash and out for the walk. My neighbor who sits on a chair on his porch all day every day and observes the world would  joke when I came home from work that he'd see me in 30 seconds. With a dog you never come home once. Our other routine was the bathroom: if I went to the bathroom, the rule was I left the door open, Sancha came in, put her paws up on my legs and I rubbed her tummy. This was pretty much the only access I ever had to her tummy, as she was a very low-center-of-gravity girl and she did not like rolling over.

Last semester I had both my undergrad and graduate seminars on Friday, which meant leaving her for a long afternoon alone and, if I had a faculty meeting in the morning, leaving her at doggie boarding. So we developed a new Friday afternoon routine: get dog from house or Zeus's place, go to McDonald's drive-thru, order a hamburger and a large soda. Soda was my treat (I've stopped buying them), wait a few minutes until the burger cooled and then give it to her, bun with pickles and mustard for me. I am a vegetarian and pretty much vegan, but Sancha is emphatically not. And then home, to the weekend.

Dogs structure your interactions with people. Most days I took Sancha down our street to the coffee shop on the corner (about 3 blocks down), where I would offer her water from the bowl they keep outside, she would refuse it (she was very particular about only drinking from her bowl), I would tie her leash to one of the outside tables,  go in and order my same small medium roast (I don't even have to order it anymore, on occasion both baristas have independently had it ready for me when I come in), untie her, and we would proceed back. There are several retired/self-employed/unemployed guys who live along that route, and one house that always has somewhere between 2-4 kids playing outside, and the conversations at each as I went by were always pretty much the same. One of the little girls had seen a movie about Chihuahuas and was quite the expert, she always came running out screaming "Chi-huaaa-huaaa!" and the two girls would pat Sancha delicately, the two boys would pretend to be afraid of her and touch her and then run screaming, they would all ask to take the leash and walk Sancha a few steps (Sancha was always so patient with little kids, although I had to walk too or she wouldn't go with them), we would chat about dogs or the Chihuahua movie for a moment, and then I'd go on my way. The raeggae musician who lives across the street from them would always say "Going for a walk?" and I would say "Yup". Obviously no information was being exchanged here, it was just the thing we said to show that we were neighbors and it was a nice day. Call-response. Sometimes I walked to the coffee shop to work inside and wouldn't bring Sancha; invariably the raeggae musician would say "Where's the little one?" and I would say "Inside taking a nap." Today I walked down the same block, managed to avoid the little girls but the raeggae guy was out and asked "Little one taking a nap?" and I had to explain, and then the barista peeked out the window and asked where my dog was... It's like I'm dancing without a partner. A tango. And you know what they say about tango.

I have a ton of things I should be doing this summer, but I don't have to teach, and the deadlines are flexible or self-imposed, and the days and the house and the world just looms like a formless, unstructured void.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Sweet, sweet sap

Have you ever ventured into the Grief section of the Hallmark display and lamented how clichéd and treacly all the cards are? Have you ever looked at the poems people write about loss  and wondered how anyone could find the slightest bit of comfort in such tired, formulaic sentiments?

Well consider yourself lucky. These are sure signs that you are have not recently lost anyone.
There is a valve in our brains that opens up when we are in wells of deep emotion and pain and it magically makes every singe one of those poems and cards meaningful and personal.

I look forward to a future when the valve closes and they are once again trite clichés.

The dark side of love

It is hard to find a dark side to my relationship with Sancha. I know I am not nostalgically sugar coating anything when I say that 99% of our time together brought out the best in both of us. But in reflecting back on my time with Sancha, it has struck me how there was something of a dark side to many of my most joyful experiences with her. Not a dark side in the Dr. Jekyll Mr. Hyde sense. More an ethically complicated side. Perhaps  I am just by temperament given to deconstruct and over-analyze everything, to refuse to acknowledge bliss when it licks me on the nose. Or perhaps there really is no such thing as a free lunch or a morally pure emotion.

I spent my first year in New York without a dog, per roommate insistence. I had had dog(s) since age 10 at home, and then lived with my childhood dog my year off of college (mid-sophomore year) and then he rejoined me my senior year. And the years at college I didn't have MacBeth I worked as a dogwalker and dogsitter. So I was desperate to have a dog again. And when the roommates moved out after my first year, I was rarin' to adopt. I recall applying with various private rescue organizations and having them turn me down because I didn't have a fenced-in backyard. Also small young dogs are at a premium in New York. Hundreds of pits and pit mixes languish in the shelters (or rather they don't languish, they get put to sleep), but a good poodle/terrier mix is hard to find. Anyway, I was visiting Animal Care and Control (the kill shelter in NYC) to check on offerings and I remember riding up the elevator with a family that was straight out of a 50s sitcom (a Dominican 50s sitcom anyway). Mom, dad, adorable gap-toothed approx. 8 year old little boy, all excited about getting his first dog. (You can hear it now: "I promise to walk him" "I will call him Fluffy and we will build a clubhouse and he will be my best friend.") Lovely people, and I totally saw my 10 year old, about-to-get-first-dog self in this little boy. They also wanted to a smaller dog. Anyway, we parted ways in the shelter, and although I was dead-set that I did NOT want a Chihuahua, because I DO NOT LIKE Chihuahuas, because Chihuahuas are anxious, shivery, not cute and climb all over you, I saw this dog labeled "Chihuahua" and she was affectionate, and seemed poised, sturdy,  adorable, weighed a solid 15 lb., and she beamed at me from her cage, and I WANTED.

She had just been spayed, and couldn't be adopted yet. I don't remember why I was unable to "reserve" her, but I filled out some initial paperwork and the shelter just told me to come back in 2 days and that as long as she was still available, I could start the adoption process then. As I left, I saw the Dominican-American family taking her out for a walk. And I forget if I overheard a conversation there or maybe we re-encountered each other in the administrative offices, but I somehow knew that they also had their eye on the soon-to-be-Sancha.

Anyway, fast forward two days. I got to the shelter at 9am sharp, to make sure nobody beat me to my dog. And sure enough, as I was entering the elevator, I saw the same Dominican family, just entering the building. And I can see it slo-mo: the kid's hand reaching out saying "hold the elevator!" and ...I am not proud of this but I started pushing the "Close door" button frantically, and the family drew nearer, and the doors began to close, and I pushed more, and the doors shut, the elevator engaged and began to rise...and the rest is our story.

 I never saw them again. I hope they found their own Sancha. I suppose I feel bad. But I would do it again every time.

Tell you a story

Dalewithoutsancha here.  I thought I might co-opt this space and ramble about Sancha for a while.

When I was a kid, there were various adult characteristics that I worried about never being able to acquire. How did grown-ups live without sucking their thumbs? Would I be the only grown-up who still sucked her thumb as she drove, or attended board meetings, and did other grown-up things? Crying was another one: I never saw grown-ups cry. How would I learn not to cry when I was sad or angry? Also handwriting. I worried I would always have inconsistent spacing between words and trouble keeping a straight line.

Most of these things resolved themselves on their own. The thumb-sucking "cure" was fairly traumatic, but the other transitions just happened gradually, without me noticing. But one thing that never changed, no matter how old I have grown, is loving to be told stories. Not new, exciting adventure stories, but the same stories, over and over again, usually of events  that I was present for to begin with. The responsibility of telling...and retelling and retelling these stories has fallen entirely on the shoulders of my mother. When I was littler, I mostly enjoyed hearing stories about myself. The little narrative narcissist me worried about becoming a mom and having to be the tell-er and not the tell-ee. I felt bad that there was nobody to incessantly tell my mother stories about her ....but not bad enough to offer to tell any. Anyway. I don't know exactly when it shifted, but for probably the last 10 years, I have shifted to wanting to hear over and over the stories of my pets. I call my mom 3000 miles away, we chat about adult things, and 17th century literature things, and then my inner 4 year old emerges and I ask her to tell me again the story about when it briefly appeared that her best friend's golden retriever had eaten MacBeth, or the day we first saw Sola in the shelter, or how the cat would flip out whenever my mother put a sweater on Sancha. Part of the ritual is that my mother is a terrible story-teller, and so I intervene and correct and embellish as much as I listen. (And now as I write this...I'm realizing that maybe I made that growing-up transition more than I realized. Insofar as my pets are the closest I've had to kids, and I usually end up telling most of the stories. But it's still me who demands the telling. Sancha never seemed particularly interested in hearing about the cat's reaction to her sweaters.)

Why am I going into all this pop self-psychology?

Since Sancha died, all I want to do is be told stories about her, and tell stories about her. I have so many, and every object in my house and around my neighborhood reminds me of something we did together. Never momentous things, just moments. One of the reasons she means so much to me, and her loss is so hard, is because we were the only two peas in our pod: but this also means that most of our moments were experienced by just the two of us. With the exception of a few disastrous weeks of boyfriend-cohabitation shortly after I adopted her, it's been just the two of us. Most of the people we interacted with as a pair were other dog people, and our relationships were of the dog-park-casual kind. I never knew their last names, and generally forgot their first names (we were all happy to be known as Fluffy's Mom and Schnitzel's Dad.) So all this means that there aren't very many people who can tell me Sancha stories. And while everyone is being wonderful, I can't really expect them to be too interested or emotionally invested in my Sancha memoirs. But it's all I want to talk about, and think about. And unlike most of my grief impulses, it seems healthy and it makes me genuinely feel better.

So this blog was originally named Sanchaanddale, but the authorial ratio of Sancha: Dale has always been very high. I figure that, now that Sancha is gone, I could step in and hold up my end, and use this space to tell stories of Sancha. The impressions that don't even reach the threshold for stories. I know I could just do this in a journal. But I like to think that someone someday might stumble across this page due to a typo and discover the most wonderful dog ever.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Sancha: ? (1999?)- May 26, 2014

RIP -¡Ay! -respondió Dale, llorando-: no se muera vuestra merced, señorita mía, sino tome mi consejo y viva muchos años, porque la mayor locura que puede hacer un hombre en esta vida es dejarse morir, sin más ni más, sin que nadie le mate, ni otras manos le acaben que las de la melancolía.

Sanchaanddale is now just Dale. I love you my sweetheart, I am so sorry you suffered at the end, I hope you had a good life and you knew in every moment how much I love you. Thank you for everything.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Dog Days

Random thoughts as Sancha battles in the ICU:
I adopted Sancha on January 23, 2003. She went into the hospital May 22, 2014. 11 years, 4 months: (365 x 11) + 3 (leap years) + 119 days = 4137 days.
I left her with my mom for one 3 month research trip to Spain. - 91 days.
She stayed with sitters for 3 4-6 week research trips-- approx. - 105 days.
Approx 15 days of conference or vacation travel per year post-grad school (2008-) - 105 days

So I think of the last 4,137 days, 3,836 have featured:
      at least 3 trips outside with Sancha, one decent walk around the neighborhood: weather permitting, often a long walk including a stay at a park or coffee shop
      Sancha sleeping with me, either curled up in the crook of my knees or in my laundry pile or recently, my box of sweaters, not just at night, but all day as I work and read.
Sancha following me every time I get up to go to the fridge or the bathroom
      At least one exuberant, unconditionally blissful Sancha welcome upon return home, featuring figure-8s, frenetic tail wags, and levitation
      A soundtrack of dream sighs and snuffles, barks, nose-pushing-empty-supper-bowl-across-floor, and the clackclackclack of nails on wood floors.

I challenge you to find two living things who have been closer. My house is so empty. I miss you,

Sancha. Hang in there.

Prayers for Sancha (prayers for Dale)

If you happen upon this page, please say a prayer for Sancha. To the deity/ether/principle of your choice. I've heard that this guy is a specialist in these sorts of things:

Saturday, March 08, 2014


So I recently returned to this blog in search of a post I thought I had written about penguins needing turns out that in fact my mother had written about it in an email (I get us confused sometimes), but in the process I ended up reading a lot of my old posts and I'm relieved and surprised to find that they hold up pretty well. It's always terrifying to go back over old writing, especially if they were things you were happy with at the time. There is nothing more humiliating than finding that you, a mere two years ago, began an essay with "Since the beginning of time" or used "symbolize" where you meant "is." Or that the notes you took in the margins of books are inane or inaccurate. Not so much because you might have at one time written such things, but because it reminds you how subjective your own self-judgments are, and that self-confidence is less a sign of achievement than of poor judgment. When I was a pup, I found that my opinions of my writings changed every few months (of course, that's over a year in dog years). In young adulthood, it stretched out to a year or so. Now I am happy to see that posts from up to 8 years back stand up (and sit, shake, and roll over) pretty well. I guess that's the supper-dish-half-full side of getting old. You don't progress and grow at the rate you once did, but you can look back at more of your life without condescension to a former self. Oh, and while I'm here, apparently the penguins need sweaters again.
I'd give them mine but it has two leg-holes too many.