Crazy, Fragile Life

drop of water danist soh

Photo by Danist Soh

On Thursday night, March 19, I had dinner with two dear friends. Friday morning, I took the dog for a run, and got some decent writing done. That evening, I met two other friends for a glass of wine, then had a lovely “date night” dinner with my husband. During those two days, I also got some quality time with my kids, chatted with my mom, and caught up with a few other friends over email and the phone. The long, seemingly relentless, New England winter was finally coming to an end, and things were looking up.

So when I awoke on Saturday morning, March 21, with a stomachache and vomiting, I assumed it was food poisoning or some sort of virus. One more little “storm.” But the pain lingered after the vomiting stopped, and by late Sunday afternoon, it’d really intensified. I told my husband I needed to get to the nearest emergency room.

After doing blood work and an ultrasound, the ER doctors felt extremely confident that the problem was my gall bladder. They admitted me to the hospital, saying I’d have one more test in the morning (a HIDA scan), and if their beliefs were confirmed, the gall bladder would come right out. With some luck, I’d be home Monday night.

Not what I’d expected, but it sounded fairly uncomplicated. Laparoscopic surgery and a brief recovery period. I went to sleep peacefully—protected from pain by medication.

The following morning, however, I was awakened quite early by the surgeon, who examined my belly and told me he wasn’t sure the problem was the gall bladder. In fact, he had a slight suspicion it was my appendix, or maybe something else. “Of course I can’t tell just by pressing on your stomach,” he said, “so let’s see how the test turns out.”

I admit I felt slightly aggravated. I wanted a simple answer and a simple solution.

When the test was complete, several doctors spoke with me, all of whom agreed that the gall bladder was the problem. Late in the afternoon, I was informed by my nurse that she’d soon be getting me ready for gall bladder surgery. At what time? Well, the surgeon was at another hospital, but soon.

My husband and I sat together, talking and joking on the phone with family and friends. Then we were told that the surgeon wanted one more test: this time a CT scan. Just to be sure. I should mention that I was on my third day of not eating (first there’d been the vomiting, then the lack of appetite, then fasting for tests and surgery) and now I’d need to drink barium sulfate and have a scan. Seriously?

“Please trust the surgeon,” said my nurse. “He’s very thorough, but very good.”

Afternoon passed into evening, and the CT scan happened. More waiting. Finally, around nine p.m., the surgeon called, explaining the delay. He said he was so glad he’d ordered the scan, because he could see that my appendix had already ruptured. I was needed in the operating room immediately. Oh, and I’d begun to run a fever.

Everything changed right then. In the OR, the surgeon met somewhat frantically with my husband and me, diagramming in pencil the various procedures he might need to perform, based on what the scan seemed to indicate. I won’t go into detail, but some of the options were quite frightening. The doctor wouldn’t know how bad things were until he could look inside.

Now I’ve had a few surgeries in the past—an ovary removed, several breast lumps, a melanoma on my back—but never have I signed consent papers with the same level of anxiety I felt that time. I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t have much time to worry, because I under anesthesia moments later.

The procedure took almost three hours. When I awoke, I was kept in the recovery room for over six hours because of low blood pressure. I had peritonitis, and would be on strong antibiotics for a couple of weeks. A nasogastric tube was draining poisons from my stomach, and two surgical drains were protruding from my abdomen, pumping out fluid and pus.

The following day, as I sat in bed hungry and draining, the internist from my floor came to meet with me. He said he was so glad the surgeon had insisted on that CT scan, and then said, “I think if you’d gone two more hours, something very bad would’ve happened.”

I cried then, knowing what he meant. As a parent to teenagers, I’m constantly telling my kids they’re not immortal, but hearing someone tell me I’d been that close to the end—and with very little warning—was overwhelming. It still is.

After five nights in the hospital, I’m home now, and feeling much better. I took a little walk in the snow yesterday and let it all sink in. It’s a cliché to say that your perspective shifts after such an event, but it’s also true. Everything—every laugh, every hug, every snowflake—feels a bit more real. I realize I’ll never be able to thank that surgeon enough for what he did–and for his very existence–but I can try to “pay it forward” and be a better person. And yes, I wore big sunglasses, so the people I passed wouldn’t notice the occasional tear rolling down my face.

I was still feeling weepy as I stood on the sidewalk, preparing to cross a busy street. When it looked safe, I stepped into the crosswalk and started walking, but just then, a car came speeding along. Who knows? Maybe the person was texting, or adjusting the radio; in any case, they didn’t see me. I jumped back, and the car continued on its way.

At that moment, I understood that despite the drama of the past week–and despite the fact that my life was spared–it could end just as easily today. Or tomorrow. So I guess all we can do is make the most of our time here. I wish I could say something more profound, but as I sit here typing—and feeling darn grateful for that ability—it’s about the best I can do.

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THE OBOE AND I: #MusicTuesday Guest Post by Judith Works

Today’s post is shared by the wonderful Judith Works, and it’s about a somewhat unusual musical instrument: the oboe. I must admit that I shed a tear at the end, but also thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhat the heck is an oboe? Well I can tell you: it’s a torture device in the form of a musical instrument. One of the more difficult instruments to learn it was instrumental (pun) in my giving up on ever being a musician.

My mother was musical – both a professional ballet dancer and an expert piano player. A grand piano filled most of our living room. My father was tone deaf and never knew the meaning of the word “rhythm.” He could neither dance nor sing. Unaware of the recent finding that most genes are inherited from one’s father, she was determined that I would follow in her footsteps. When my piano lessons came to an untidy end she pressed on, determined that I play in the grade-school orchestra. I caved in to her demands and joined the class. Shy and wanting to be anywhere else but the music room I awaited the assignment. The only instrument that interested me was the flute. I visualized standing in front of an appreciative audience as I played lovely trills and melodies. Maybe even being interrupted by applause and cheers.

But the flute players had already been selected. They waved their silver tubes in my direction with smirks on their faces. I was handed what looked like a skinny clarinet. It was an oboe the teacher said. The oboe has an almost Oriental sound but my efforts sounded more like the squealing of a pig meeting his end. How school music teachers survive the screeches and wails of aspiring musicians I’ll never know, but they deserve gold medals for patience.

While I had no ability to make a pleasing sound I had no problem at all ruining the reeds. Reeds were expensive and I continually got them caught on my front teeth causing the reed to split and become unusable. But even the problem of reordering (they had to be shipped from New York) didn’t deter my mother. I went through dozens. One time I put a packet in the sleeve of my blouse in case I ruined the one on the instrument and managed to ruin all of them at once when I pulled them out to check if they were still there.

My career in music ended the evening when each student in the orchestra had to play a solo at the annual school music event. I had practiced diligently on Song of India, not the jazz version by Glenn Miller but the original with its high, wavering and mournful melody. As I was endlessly wailing away I caught the conductor’s expression. He signaled for me to quit, first giving me the eye and then resorting to a chopping motion. I finally got the message and stopped in the middle of a phrase with one note hanging in the air over the audience of ever-hopeful parents. After a moment’s pause the surprised and relieved audience began to laugh before they remembered they were supposed to applaud instead. I slunk back to my seat, humiliated. But there was one positive result: I never had to touch the instrument again.

In City of Illusions Laura sees a copy of an ancient flute player in a shop window. The salesman tells her the original was found in the ruins of Pompeii. She begs Jake to buy it after telling him that she got stuck with the oboe when she wanted to play the flute. He reluctantly gets out his wallet, and the statue becomes her talisman in the story. I have such a statue myself and see it every day. It always reminds me of Italy and my ill-fated adventures with the oboe.

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Judith Works, a graduate of Lewis & Clark Law School, is retired from the United Nations, Rome, Italy. She is the author of a memoir about Rome, Coins in the Fountain, available as an e-book, and City of Illusions, published by Booktrope. She writes travel articles for on-line publications as well as blogging her adventures. Her work has been published in a literary journal. She is currently on the steering committee for the literary conference, Write on the Sound, and is also on the board for Edmonds Center for the Arts and EPIC Group Writers. She is a member of several other writer’s groups.

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Writers and Hollywood Dreams

hollywood

Photo by Florian Klauer

As a writer, I can’t help dreaming about having one—or more—of my novels made into a film. And I know I’m not alone. Just go on the Listopia section of Goodreads and you’ll discover that one of their most popular list is “Books that Should be Made into Movies.” Because let’s face it: almost everyone writing today has been influenced by movie culture, and although many writers are shy and reserved, lots of us have big, glamorous dreams. Imagine being asked by a movie director what actors you envision playing your characters. Your characters: those people conceived in your mind, growing to larger-than-life proportions and commanding silver screens across the country—maybe even around the world.

Therefore, a few years ago, when I heard that director David O. Russell was filming a major motion picture in the Boston area, and that a local casting company was seeking extras to do background work, I jumped at the opportunity. Not only was I star struck—I’d heard through the grapevine that some of the film’s stars included Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, and Christian Bale—but I also secretly hoped I might be able to slip a copy of my recently self-published book (Living by Ear, which is now published by Booktrope Editions) into Mr. Russell’s hands. After all, I could totally see Amy Adams playing the role of my protagonist, Boston musician-turned-frustrated-housewife Christine Daley. And wouldn’t Christian Bale be perfect as Chris’s gorgeous, talented, long-lost lover, Curt. So I filled out the forms on the casting company’s website and had my daughter take some head shots. I didn’t expect anything to happen—as I had zero acting experience—but the opportunity was irresistible.

So imagine my surprise when I got the call! The timing was especially interesting, as I was at a local animal shelter, adopting a dog. Our family had wanted a dog for years, and then—just as we were finalizing our decision to take Spencer home—my cellphone rang and it was a casting director. Could I go in for a fitting the following day, then be on set for two days the following week? I wasn’t sure what to say, but my amazing husband told me to go for it. He said he’d work from home on the days I’d be busy, and would make sure the kids and new dog got the help and attention they required. I was so excited. As I got ready to go to work on my first day, I made sure I had a copy of Living by Ear in my purse.

So what happened? Well, as you might’ve deduced, the film was American Hustle, and as an extra, one of the first things I did was sign an agreement, stating that under no circumstances would I fraternize with, or speak to the stars or the director. Any violation of that rule would result in instant ejection from the set. So much for slipping Mr. O’Russell a copy of my novel.

I will say, however, that I was very lucky, because on the days I was selected to be on set, most of the major actors were there as well. In fact, there was one scene—most of which ended up on the cutting room floor—in which I got to spend several hours in close proximity to Mr. Cooper, Mr. Bale, Ms. Adams, Ms. Lawrence, and a few other A-listers. That was extremely surreal, and a memory I’m sure I’ll carry with me forever.

As for the work? Well, first of all, I learned that acting—even as an extra with no lines at all—is difficult physical work. I’m sure you’ve heard that said before and perhaps have your doubts, but it really is. And I’m a pretty active person. I jog a couple of miles every day; I keep the house clean; I do the laundry; I walk the dog; I handle most of the food shopping and all the cooking in our house; I run errands; I transport the kids to their various weekend and after-school activities. Oh, and I write books too. But after two twelve-hour days on the film set—in three-inch spike heels, no less—I could barely move, let alone think. I have no idea how other parents manage to do that type of work, but plenty of my coworkers during those two days—both famous and non-famous—were parents.

I also got the tiniest sense of the psychological challenges film actors must face every day. After all, movies are all about projecting images, which—by nature—aren’t real. So all day long, an actor is required to be someone he or she isn’t. Not to mention that there are seemingly endless touchups to hair and makeup, hundreds of wardrobe adjustments, and ultimately thousands of attempts to make everything look and sound perfect. And then, after the final cut of the day, the actor walks out the door, and goes back to his or her normal life. Again, this may seem pretty obvious, but in my case, after spending twelve or more hours in evening wear—with a glamorous hairstyle and makeup, surrounded by Hollywood A-listers—it felt extremely strange to change into jeans, get on the T, and return home in time to get the dog out for a late-night walk.

In any case, I was quite grateful for the experience, which taught me a lot and altered my perspective for several days. In some ways, being an extra in a movie is like taking a brief vacation from your actual life. You become immersed in a world that exists only to the other people on the set. For example, the American Hustle scenes I was in were filmed in Boston’s Wang Center, but I don’t think anyone walking by the building would’ve suspected that much of anything was going on inside.

But indoors? The various backstage rooms, corridors, and staircases of the beautiful old theater had been temporarily transformed into beauty salons, eating areas, holding areas, and dressing rooms. And, because all the extras were required to wait in line for at least an hour each day to have their hair and makeup done, I got to meet so many interesting people! I also think the nature of extra—or background—work encourages an immediate openness between peers that you don’t find in most other industries. Everyone’s aware that the world they’re currently immersed in isn’t going to last much longer, so why not enjoy the time and have some really good, intense conversations?

Would I do it again? Absolutely. I keep my name on the casting company’s mailing list, and whenever I get a request for availability, I check my calendar and let them know if I’m a potential candidate for work. So far, I haven’t gotten called for another film, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

On the other hand, I have no more illusions about slipping a director one of my books! I think there’s a better chance of a filmmaker finding one of my novels on Amazon or stumbling across my blog! Not only are extras not allowed to speak to the director, but purses and other personal items—including cellphones—are strictly forbidden on set.

Oh, and did I get on the screen in American Hustle? Um…yes, you could say that. Of course I ran out to see the movie as soon as it was released, and was disappointed to find how many of the scenes I was (remotely) involved in didn’t make the final cut. However, there’s a part of the movie when Jeremy Renner (as Carmine Polito) makes a speech about never giving up. If you look at the clip below and pay special attention to the lower left section of the screen from about 0.41 to 0.47–and don’t blink!–you might notice a tall,blond woman in a pale green dress dancing with a white-haired man. That’s me!

Posted in events, film, films, life experiences, living by ear, movie, Uncategorized, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Miracles Happen: #MusicTuesday Guest Post by Anesa Miller

Please welcome poet and novelist Anesa Miller to my blog today. This is a really beautiful post, and I’m grateful to Anesa for sharing it.

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You mean they didn’t fly off the shelves, after all?

butterflies

Way back in a previous era of self-publishing, I wrangled a grant to fund the printing of my grief-themed poetry book. To this day, numerous copies (let me save a bit of face by omitting an exact number) still languish in my garage and closets.

It dawned on me that American poetry books, especially self-published ones, rarely fly off the shelves unless one lives in hurricane country.

So I confronted the fact that self-publishing equals self-marketing. Chief of Sales did not seem a promising role for me, considering that I became a writer to accommodate a tendency toward introversion bordering on agoraphobia. For the sake of my poetry, however, I bit down on the hardest object available—in this case, the hefty tome of Writer’s Digest’s Poet’s Market—and steeled myself for an exercise in self-promotion.

Leafing through the fine print, I compiled a list of magazines that, allegedly, “Accept books of poetry for review.” Perfect, I thought. I’ll persuade a few of these folks to review my lovely book, thereby attracting others to purchase a copy! Of course, sending out review copies and receiving orders with checks enclosed would all take place via snail mail. So quaint—it’s almost as if I were Jane Eyre, posting inquiries for a situation as governess to a good family.

I organized my list into three categories. The “Prestigious” category included fancy quarterlies like Prairie Schooner that printed famous poets in every issue and reviewed books from presses like Copper Canyon and BOA Editions. Although I had already sent many individual poems to Prairie Schooner with much stubborn hope but no avail whatever, I couldn’t resist giving the book a try as well. Next, the category of “Not So Prestigious but Nice Enough” included journals of smaller print runs that published poets I hadn’t necessarily heard of, but that seemed to uphold high production standards like pretty cover art and perfect binding. Here I placed the River Oak Review, Kestrel, and others. That left the “Basic but Still Worthwhile” category, which covered the great many titles that cried out to me from the pages of Poet’s Market: The Old Red Kimono, Earth’s Daughters, Djinni, Medicinal Purposes. This included the hated saddlebacks (stapled booklets like the ones I made at home with my children) and even several tabloids.

Was my attitude snobbish and deluded? Go ahead—you be the judge.

I mailed out thirty copies of my book: ten for each category of my list. I enclosed a personalized letter to the review editor of each magazine, along with a self-addressed postcard so he or she could let me know how quickly to expect the review of my book to grace their pages.

Out of thirty postcards, three came back. One bluntly stated that grief is a fitting topic for the world’s greatest poets. It behooves the rest of us to hold our tongues to spare intelligent readers our sentimental clichés. Another informed me that the magazine was ceasing publication. And the third offered a balm of compliments (“What a lovely and deeply spiritual book you have produced!”), while explaining that they had stopped reviewing books due to limited funds and space. God bless Kathy DiMeglio of Kalliope, wherever you may be today!

Thank God for the tabloids and saddlebacks! One of these finally published my only review. It wasn’t actually a litmag from my list—just a regional newspaper for the New York Finger Lakes resort towns that ran short poems as filler. Truth be told, they offered to print a review of my book if I paid for an ad, which I did. I came up with something irresistible like: GRIEF POEMS FOR YOUR LOVED ONES. JUST $6.95 ppd.

The review duly appeared, but I can’t find a copy in my records, even though I’m a notorious saver of everything. I think it ran about 20 lines and said some nice things. But despite my ad that appeared on the same page, I never received an order from the Finger Lakes region or from much of anywhere. Like the majority of poets throughout history, I sold a handful of books to people who already know me. Once, at a street fair, a woman stole five copies for reasons unknown. She slipped them under a hand-woven poncho and hurried away before I realized what she was up to. Dismayed at the time, I thank her today: five less books in the garage!

Like I mentioned above, these poems concerned grief and healing. I wrote many of them in response to my husband’s harrowing experience of the death of his teenage daughter. Others reflect losses in my own life. So it befits these themes, I think, that we wound up giving away many dozens of copies of the book. For a time, I was mailing them out to any locale where I happened to read of young people dying of illnesses or in unfortunate events. When we visited Denver, I took copies to all the churches I’d seen mentioned in the news in connection with memorials after the Columbine shootings.

I was pleased to receive an occasional note of thanks. Still, the excess boxes were beginning to molder.

And then, at one point along the years, a miracle took place.

My husband is a well-known scientist who attends a number of professional conferences. I tagged along to one such meeting and happened to get acquainted with a kindly older gentleman who owned a sales and distribution business for books related to alternative medicine. My husband persuaded him to accept my poetry book for distribution. Naturally, I was thrilled, imagining that someone would now take over marketing for me.

But that was only a minor part of the miracle.

The distributor sold five copies of my book in five years. At the end of that time, I received a form letter from the kind gentleman’s successor. They were terminating our professional relationship due to a “poor fit” of content areas. And they were charging me $45 for five years of storage fees, plus postage for returning my “unsold stock.”

All of that was irritating at the time. It is nothing, however, in light of what soon happened. Because one of the copies the distributor managed to sell came into the possession of a very special person.

One morning, my husband received an email from a woman asking permission to set a poem from my book to music. She explained that she was a music therapist and had picked up A ROAD BEYOND LOSS by Anesa Miller from the sales table at some nearly forgotten meeting. Now she was preparing to move house and had been sorting through her shelves, disposing of unneeded stuff. When she came across my book, something made her pause before tossing it in the giveaway box. She half-remembered opening it a year or two earlier and thinking she really should take time to read it more closely. Sinking down on a chair in the disarray of moving boxes, she opened my book again. She read the first stanza, and something remarkable took place: A fresh, beautiful sound welled up around her. She read on, and the sounds flowed and changed, then flowed on again.

She heard music. 

Jane's pictureThe woman’s name is Jane Click. She had never composed music before, but the words and rhythms of my poems inspired her to try a new path. Eager simply to capture the melodies born in her mind, she promised not to seek profits, or to share them with the poet (me!) should any proceeds unexpectedly result.

Of course, I gave permission for Jane to set the poem to music and share the resulting song with whomever she wished. Less than a week later, she emailed again. Her project had expanded—each poem in the book had inspired its own melody. She would like to write music for all the poems and arrange instrumental lines to go with the vocals.

My mind was boggling: In spite of all the frustrations with publishing and marketing, in spite of the boxes in the garage—one copy of my book had found its way to the hands of An Ideal Reader. And she was a reader who not only perceived the feelings I’d hoped to express but extended them. A reader who found a use for my words beyond my wildest dreams.

As I got acquainted with Jane, it came as little surprise to learn that, like my husband, she is a bereaved parent. Her path to becoming a music therapist later in life was a winding one that helped her move beyond her own grief at the loss of her son to a drug overdose. She understood every milestone described in my poems. With a group of musicians at her church, she recorded the songs she wrote, created a CD, and produced a booklet of sheet music. She sold at least a dozen copies of my book and sent me a check for the full amount.

These items are available here.

The following summer, Jane traveled from her home in Tucson, Arizona, to visit me in Ohio for the first time. She played her music for me on the piano. She said, “Your words are so powerful, everybody cries when they hear them.”

I broke down, too, and cried in her arms.

Jane held me around the shoulders on the piano bench. “It’s okay,” she said. “Everybody cries.”

Everybody: from the world’s greatest poets to all the rest of us.

If you would like to listen to a sample of Jane’s music, please email me ( mary <at> pocomotech <dot> com) and I’ll send along a couple of files Anesa has shared. One of the songs is called “Guess Who.” The other is “A Year Gone By.” They’re both very lovely.

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Anesa Miller is a recipient of a Creative Writing Fellowship from the Ohio Arts Council. She studied writing at ​the University of Idaho. Her work has been published in The Kenyon Review, The California Quarterly, The Southern Humanities Review, and others. Her debut novel, Our Orbit, is a story of cultural conflict set in Appalachia in the 1990s. 

 

Posted in #musictuesday, music, music tuesday, Uncategorized, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

What Kind of #Dog is That?

stole my seatTwo years ago, my family decided to get a dog. The kids were getting older and more responsible—they’d promised to walk, bathe, and clean up after the animal—and I’d wanted a dog for years too. Which is a good thing, because I take care of the mutt at least ninety percent of the time. But that’s a blog post for another day.

Back to the mutt, with an emphasis on the word mutt. We all agreed that a rescue dog would be the best choice for us. We’d read books and watched TV shows about various dog breeds, but felt we wanted to adopt a pet from a shelter instead.

Our requirements were pretty basic: a mellow, medium-sized dog who liked being around people and didn’t attack cats. At the time, we had two cats, one of whom was elderly and sickly (and has since passed over the rainbow bridge) and one who has only one eye.

At the animal shelter, we were introduced to several dogs, but one struck us as perfect. Spencer. He was medium-sized, friendly but mellow, playful, and had a slightly lame back leg. Apparently another family had almost adopted him, but decided not to because of his limp. Which only made us love him more. He’d been rescued from the woods of South Carolina, infested with all kinds of parasites. He was thin, brindle-colored, a bit mangy, and about year old; the shelter believed he’d probably been stray for most of his life. Of course, nobody knew what breed he was, but on his official paperwork, someone had written “boxer mix.”

Good enough for us. We took him home and the cats let him know right away not to mess with them. A day or two later, we hosted a family party, and everyone marveled over what a sweet dog he was. The vet liked him too, although the first thing she said was, “This is no boxer mix.”

“Oh,” I said, wondering about Spencer’s breed for the first time. “What do you think he is?”

She had no idea. She said DNA tests were available, but they’re expensive and often inaccurate. I said we didn’t really care what kind of dog he was, but were concerned about his leg. And so was the vet, after a full exam. His left thigh was a full inch smaller than the right, meaning that he may have suffered a serious injury in the wild, or perhaps been born with a bone or muscle disorder . X-rays would be the first stop in determining what was wrong, and what the treatment might be.

Needless to say, I left feeling disheartened. We weren’t able to schedule the x-rays for several weeks because of the vet’s schedule and ours, so during that time, my family walked Spencer and gave him lots of love. And every time we’d take him out, someone (at least one person) would ask, “What kind of dog is that?”

We’d always just say, “A mutt,” but we were starting to wonder a bit more, as Spencer began to show a few signs of aggression toward certain dogs and people who visited our home. Meanwhile as he grew more familiar with us and his new surroundings, he started looking sleeker and nobler. All of which made us more curious about his history, and his breed too.

“Definitely some pit bull in him,” some people would say. Others would suggest that since he’d been found in the wild, he might actually be part wolf or coyote.

Then he went for his x-rays, and we were thrilled to learn that his leg had gotten much better. Both thighs were now almost the exact same size, and the images showed no indication of a serious injury. We started to let Spencer run around off-leash, and were astounded by his speed. Yes, he still limped, but he also flew! Very few dogs could catch him, and he caught and killed at least one rabbit.

“He’s part greyhound,” said a greyhound enthusiast who owned two greyhounds herself. “You can tell by his lines.”

Other people have contested that he’s “mostly Dutch shepherd,” or “part shepherd of some kind,” or “at least part Australian cattle dog.”

Still others have told us that they don’t believe he was in the wild for very long at all, and swear he’s a product of a breeder. “He’s not just a random mutt,” said one person. “Someone bred that dog for hunting.”

We’ve also heard that he’s “some kind of fancy Egyptian dog,” “a type of dog bred only in Georgia,” “most likely a Puerto Rican sato dog who somehow ended up in South Carolina,” “a herding dog, for sure,” and “a mix between a terrier and a hound.” I should also note that most people who comment on Spencer’s breed do so with quite a lot of authority.

All of which leads back to the question: why should anyone care? He’s a dog after all. A pet. A friend. A good friend, most of the time. (We don’t need to mention the couch he destroyed, or the rug, or the pillows, or all the shoes, right?)

One man I’ve gotten to know through dog walking has gotten so tired of people asking what kind of dog his rescue mutt is that he’s started making up breeds. He doesn’t do it to be cruel; he’s just sick of saying, “I don’t know,” over and over again. Some dog owners also feel that it’s a little like racism to ask a perfect stranger what type of dog they have. After all, you wouldn’t walk up to a human on the street and ask about their ancestry.

On the other hand, I’ve met so many interesting people that I never would’ve met if I didn’t have Spencer. And it seems as though asking about a dog’s breed is the most typical ice-breaker. I also don’t really buy into the racism thing, as dogs don’t know what we’re talking about, and if they did, I don’t think their feelings would be hurt if they knew we were discussing their heritage. Yes, certain breeds—mainly pit bulls—often get a bad rap, and there are people who avoid pit bulls on principle, but for the most part, people are just curious.

Some days, I wish I could say, “He’s a blah-blah-blah,” and end the conversation right there, but I think I’d miss out on many of the joys of dog ownership if I did. And on days when I really don’t feel like chatting, I’ll just smile and say, “He’s a really good mutt.” Nothing wrong with the truth, short and simple.

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Treble in Paradise: #MusicTuesday Guest Post by Lori Myers

I love today’s Music Tuesday guest post, not only because I learned a lot from it, but also because it’s about an instrument most of us have never played: the accordion. Many thanks to Lori Myers for this unique piece.
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LorionbenchheadshotIt’s tough being an accordion player. While the names for other musical instruments, such as viola or cello, convey grace and refinement, the synonyms for accordion sound like it’s on the receiving end of a bully’s rage: groan box, squeeze box, stomach Steinway, wind box.

Also, the accordion isn’t a popular instrument like the piano or violin, nor is it visually appealing. It’s heavy, squared, awkward, and after you’ve labored to remove it from its case, hauled it up like an Olympic weightlifter, then strapped it onto your chest, you’re still not done. For one note, one simple note, you press the treble keys on the right, the black buttons on the left, while compressing and expanding the bellows in the middle. Talk about multi-tasking. Running a half marathon in 90 degree heat doesn’t come close to the calories burned when playing an accordion.

I know all this first-hand. I studied (I use the term loosely) for four years – from age 7 to 11. I sympathized with my accordion teacher who painstakingly listened to my bad notes, offered half-hearted advice, then collected his pay as he ran out the door. While other little girls were playing dress-up, I was struggling with scales; later, when they were batting their lashes at cute boys, I was practicing “Autumn Leaves” for a recital. At my brother’s bar mitzvah, my parents looked on with pride as I, dressed in white lace, my new shoes reflecting light from the room’s chandelier, played a tune for them by heart.

My accordion was finally put to rest when I approached my teens and other pursuits took up my time. It collected dust in a corner for awhile until a house fire forced it to sing its final swan song.

But my accordion years did give me some special gifts: A love of all sorts of songs, the ability to read music, and the bragging rights when I tell those pianists and violinists of my unique musical background. Yes, indeed. I do believe they’re jealous…

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Lori M. Myers is an award-winning writer of creative nonfiction, fiction, essays and plays. Bronx-born and New Jersey-raised, Lori currently lives in Pennsylvania but will be relocating to New York soon. Music has helped her find the rhythm and beats in her articles and stories, particularly the dark fiction that she loves to write. Her book, Crawl Space, will be out later this year. You can find out more about Lori on her website www.lorimmyers.com 

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#InternationalWomensDay–a Post in Honor of my Mother & Grandmother

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Photo by Cas Cornelissen

Today, I’d like to celebrate two special women in my life: my mom, Joanne, and my maternal grandmother, Mary. My mother discovered she was pregnant with me the day of Mary’s wake. Hence, I was given her name, and believe (or hope, anyway) that some of her spirit found its way into me.

Mary—a second-generation Irish immigrant—had a difficult childhood. Her family was very poor, as her father had been killed in an industrial accident, so Mary was sent to work in one of the Lowell, Massachusetts textile mills as a teenager. She wasn’t able to go to high school, as the money she earned was essential for the feeding and clothing of her family. And yet, she was highly intelligent.

I’m not sure how she met my grandfather—a child of Irish immigrant parents whose family had a history of alcohol abuse—but the two married and raised five children (four boys and a girl), the youngest of whom is mother, Joanne. My grandfather was a strict, no-nonsense man, and a firefighter, and the family struggled but was reasonably happy.

All of that changed one night in 1949, when my mom was ten years old. Her oldest brother Joe—a WWll veteran who was getting ready to attend college—was killed in a terrible car crash.

According to my mom, her life turned upside down after that. Her mother and father were beyond devastated, and yet, they did their best to be good parents to their surviving children, especially my mom, who was still a little kid. Less than a year after the accident, they took her to New York City, hoping she’d have a good time. I have no doubt that this trip was Mary’s idea.

Unfortunately, not long after that, Mary, still grieving miserably, suffered a stroke that left her paralyzed on one side, and she never walked again. Her days were spent bedridden, and the two older boys soon went off to college. My mom and her brother Bob—the only two children left at home—took care of their bedridden mother, but my mom did most of the work, especially changing the bedpans and other unpleasant duties.

Mary wasn’t able to attend my mother’s wedding, but there’s a beautiful, sad picture of my mom in her wedding gown at Mary’s bedside. Every time I see that picture, I cry. Mary has a corsage pinned to her nightgown, and she’s smiling a glorious smile.

As I mentioned earlier, she died about nine months before my birth, but I feel incredibly proud to be the child and grandchild of two such strong women. Their lives were marred by tragedy, but they kept fighting and smiling. My mom—who lost a baby in 1977, and her husband (my amazing father, Jerry) in 2001—is still smiling today. Yes, there are times when we all cry, but she’s helped me to learn that you can get through the worst of it if you try to appreciate the good things in this world.

**This post was updated on March 12, 2015, as my mom read it and corrected a couple of things!

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