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: