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?