Friday, February 28, 2014

Welcoming an Old Dog

Tajji guarding pumpkins
My husband, fellow writer Dave Trowbridge, and I have languished in the condition known as Dog Withdrawal. Our wonderful old German Shepherd Dog, Oka, died last April from leukemia at the august age of 12 ½ (GSDs typically live 9-12 years), and the lively puppy who bounced into our lives later that spring went to find a new home (on a ranch owned by rodeo ropers) when I was out of the state for almost two months, caring for a dying friend. After that, we decided to give ourselves time to properly grieve both losses, an act of faith that the universe would present us with the right dog at the right time.

The way this works is you have to give the universe a helping hand from time to time. So both of us spoke of the “German Shepherd Dog-sized hole” in our lives. As it happened, a musician (French horn) in two of the bands Dave plays in (bass and soprano clarinet) is married to a blind man whose seeing eye dog was nearing retirement age. Seeing eye work is strenuous for dogs, both physically and mentally. It requires constant alertness, lightning reflexes, and the strength and speed to instantly pull an owner out of harm’s way. After some discussion, they brought their dog over for a visit. We got to meet Tajji (which means “my crown” in Arabic, her owner being Egyptian), a lovely, sweet-tempered German Shepherd Dog. She’s 10 years old and in good shape for her age with beautiful, strong conformation. Coincidentally, she is a sable (sometimes called “gray” or “Grau”) like Oka. In fact, except for the difference in their sizes, she looks like a feminine version of him.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Clear Vision

Recently I’ve been having trouble with my contact lenses. I’ve worn them so long – over 50 years –
that most of the time I don’t even think about how different the world looks when my vision isn’t corrected. Like many people, I’m extremely near-sighted, and I also have astigmatism. So what I see before I put my lenses in is not only generally blurred, but consists of overlapping images of different sharpness. My hard contact lenses (Rigid Gas Permeable) deal nicely with these problems. For decades, I waltzed through life without having to wrestle with how clearly I can see.

I’d heard about the importance of looking away, blinking, or even using lubricant eye drops while working for long hours at the computer. Apparently we don’t blink as often as we normally do when we’re staring that the screen. That “tired eyes” sensation is not due to fatigue but to dryness. In my case, this was made worse by the natural drying-out of eyes with age (and the hormonal changes of menopause), and made even more worse by the number of hours I normally wear my lenses. Wearing them daily – washing my hands and putting them in every morning; washing my hands, cleaning them, and leaving them to soak every night – had become so much a part of each routine, I never thought about it. That’s one of the good things about habit – I reliably got my teeth flossed and brushed, my night time medications taken, and all the other daily self-care things. The down side of such habits is that they’re hard to break or to modify. So when my optometrist advised me to take them out for a couple of hours in the middle of the day, I blithely and optimistically agreed. I set out to do so with all the good intentions in the world. The problem was that there was no time in my daily routine that I could easily and automatically add this contacts-lens-break.

The other problem, perhaps even more of an obstacle, was that although I do have a pair of back-up spectacles (I’m wearing them now), the prescription is old and my vision has changed, so they don’t give me good correction. In addition, the lenses are so thick, they distort objects, the most disorienting being the keyboard of my piano, which appears to be bowl-shaped! So, naturally, all my good intentions went by the wayside.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

A Very Special Dedication

One of the true pleasures of this writing life is encouraging younger writers. Sometimes they are
younger in the sense of career development, not years. Sometimes it's both, but the difference is more of life experience and craft technique -- high school and college students, for example. Yes, they're young enough to be my children (as you can see from the gray hairs in my pic), but they have all or most of their formal education behind them. Someone else taught them how to read and write a reasonably coherent sentence, as well as the foundations Western history and civilization, hopefully a second or third language, and basic math and science, not to mention the arts.

Every once in a while, life hands me a treasure in the form a child brimming with curiosity and dreams. I don't want to take the place of parent or teacher, but one thing I can do is let that child know they can become a writer (or an artist, or a musician, or a dancer). I can show them a book with my name on the cover and say, "You can do this, too."

Sometimes, kidlet rolls eyes in disbelief, but sometimes...sometimes I see the "penny drop." The spark ignite.

I've had the privilege of encouraging two children of a dear friend, also a writer. I can't in any way claim credit for how great these kids are turning out -- that's all their parents' doing. But I did just get this note that brought tears to my eyes:

Dear Deborah, 
I am writing poems for Young Authors, and I am dedicating my book to you, because I think you are very special to me.

There is indeed hope. The future is in good hands. 

The painting is by Swiss artist Albert Anker (1831-1910)

Monday, February 17, 2014

Mystery Critter Drama Continues...

Today's update: there is still something scrabbling up there above our bedroom. Dave has advanced the theory there were two squirrels, looking for a nesting site. We're still on schedule for the pest control folks...

Stay tuned.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Mystery Critter Revealed!

Today's check on the humane trap revealed the culprit:

The fluffy stuff is the insulation he (or she, I can't tell) clawed up. It was extremely annoyed at being confined. The moment we released it, it scooted up the nearest tree, one of our beautiful old California oaks, flipping its tail and chittering its opinion of our hospitality "in our general direction."

As you can see, the squirrel suffered no visible ill effects from incarceration. We are still in the dark about how it managed to get in the attic space, so we're keeping our "free inspection" with the pest control people tomorrow.

The squirrel population around here goes in cycles, in part dependent on how happy the oak trees are, and therefore how productive of acorns. When there's a bumper crop, the next year there's a population explosion. They have plenty of natural predators, everything from great horned owls to bobcats to coyotes and cats. And automobiles. I kid you not; I've hit one that made it to safety and then reversed course in a stellar Darwin Award performance.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

On Our Way to a New Dog!

Today we embarked upon a courtship with a potential new dog. Tajji is a Seeing Eye Dog, a gorgeous sable German Shepherd Dog, who is now 10 years old. (GSDs typically live 9-12 years.) Seeing Eye work is physically as well as mentally demanding, so her owner is looking to retire her to all the delights of "just being a dog." Today we met her and her family (actually, Tajji's mommy plays in one of the bands in which Dave is also a member, which is how we heard about her).

Oh. My. What an amazing and wonderful dog. Dave and I have been looking at one another and wondering how we lucked out. She's got all the intelligence and intensity of a working-line GSD, coupled with sweetness of temper and focus on people. Compared to our old guy, Oka, who was quite aloof, she's outgoing and sociable with people she's just met.You'd never guess she was 10, she moves so freely.

So she'll come to stay with us in just a little bit while her owner travels abroad to places he isn't comfortable taking her, during which time he will make arrangements for a new dog. If all goes as planned, Tajji will just visit us forever.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Springtime Mystery Critter

We live in a rural area. Or maybe semi-rural, as we can see our neighbors but we're close enough to
forest to enjoy regular appearances by wildlife. Deer, of course (AKA rats on stilts -- yes, I know they're cute but they can devastate a garden in no time flat), raccoons, oppossums, skunks, bobcats, coyotes, various rodents that live in the ground, various non-rodents that live in the ground, various reptiles usually benign but occasionally of the rattle and poison persuasion. A few mountain lions live in the vicinity. They're solitary creatures requiring a large territory, and they generally prefer to leave humans alone, so we don't see them this far "down from the mountain" too often. (There was a recent sighting, so be sure to lock up your cats and dogs at night if you don't want them to become tasty snacks.)

Something has apparently worked its way under our roof, most likely through the heating ducts, and makes loud scrabbling noises. Our house is pretty well critter-proofed after the Great Skunk Mating Stinks (see below as to why I think our new visitor is not a skunk, besides that skunks aren't awfully good climbers). So it's unlikely that anything larger than a mosquito got past our barricades. We have an appointment with a pest control person on Monday. Meanwhile, the cats have become Very Interested in those noises. And we are concerned that the poor thing might perish of thirst. And die. And putrefy. And stink.

Okay, the stinks.

Some years back, the local skunks decided that the crawl space under our house -- under our bedroom, to be specific -- was a dandy place to meet and tussle over who got to mate with whom. The routine goes like this:

squeak! squeak! squeak!

This got old fast. Really fast. Hence, barricading any and all Ways Under The House. Since there have been no repeat performances, but plenty of skunks in our garden and neighborhood, I conclude we were successful.

To be fair, skunks are nice neighbors when they aren't stinking up your bedroom. They aren't destructive and they tend to discourage things that are. One hypothesis for the absence of gophers in our garden is the presence of skunks. They dig nice holes that aerate the soil. They munch on pests. You just have to be vigilant about letting the dog out at dawn and twilight as skunks tend to be most active then. For some reason, getting squirted doesn't deter dogs from going after skunks again.

Banana slugs are another matter entirely. We have tons of those, too. Apparently, a single encounter will put a dog off the notion of chomping on banana slugs for life. It's the gooey gluey mucus, I suppose...

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Cancer Sucks, Thoughts From My Friend Connie

I've written before about my friend Constance Emerson Crooker's memoir, Melanoma Mama: On Life, Death, and Tent Camping, the "death" part being her ongoing tussles with Stage 4 melanoma. Stage 4 any-kind-of-cancer is majorly bad news, but melanoma is particularly nasty. Connie has, in her own words, won the lottery when it comes to treatments, but her future hasn't always been rosy and for all I know, is not now and never will be. During a nasty reversal, she wrote words that amaze me with their honesty:

When I imply my days might be numbered, people sometimes say, "None of us know how long we'll live." As if we're all in the same boat. As if I'm supposed to agree that it doesn't matter to me that I've been diagnosed with an incurable, life-threatening disease, because, after all, life is sure to end for all of us. Sorry, but I can't be so sanguine about it. I'm not saying this to garner the sympathy vote, but having Stave IV melanoma is not the same as knowing, generally, that all living things must die. It just isn't. Knowing that I can theoretically get crunched by a speeding train or knocked on the bean by a meteorite is not the same as the day-to-day realization that there's an enemy lurking in me that loves to suck my blood and grow out of control in all kinds of inconvenient places. I don't like it. I hate it.

It's not about not having lived yet. If there's some pleasure, licit or illicit that I've missed out on in life, I honestly can't think of it. I'm a fiend for sucking up life, rare and juicy.

It's not about not having contributed enough good yet. Of course I could do more, but I'm proud of my accomplishments.

Here's what it's about. Being sick just plain sucks. It's like being trapped on a nausea-producing carnival ride that won't stop to let you off. It's about feeling helpless in a cruel, cold universe that wantonly wipes out whole species, and doesn't give a flying fuck about one struggling human.

I'm reminded that the most loving and most powerful thing we can do for someone we care about who is living with cancer is not to cheer them up. It's to listen.

I highly recommend Connie's book, especially if someone you love has a serious disease like cancer. I wouldn't go so far as to give copies to everysingle friend and family member I know, but if her words have spoken to you, do check it out.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Deadline Burnout Burbles

Last night I sent off the revisions for The Heir of Khored , the final book of The Seven-Petaled Shield trilogy. Am feeling very pleased with it. That wonderful feeling of reading your own work and thinking, "Wow, I really nailed that scene!" So, elation but also exhaustion. As you can tell from my (well, partly deliberate) sentence fragments.

What do you do when you've been working on a project for what seems like forever (7 years) and it's finally done. Out of your hands. Fini. (I still have to do page proofs, but the essential work is done.) Some writers go on vacation. Kick back, get a massage or twelve, watch all the seasons of Eureka, go out to dinner, etc. Others sit around and mope, wondering what to do with themselves. One very fine writer of my acquaintance gets depressed until she starts the next project.

Me, I have a list of things I've put on hold during the crash and burn deadline period. I've written out a few things, pinned the paper to my bulletin board. I stare at it, my mind bereft of ideas as to how to accomplish the tasks. I think that state of blankness is about par for the course. The thing is, when we pour ourselves into a project, particularly one with a a deadline so it's not only all-encompassing creatively but in terms of how many hours it eats up every day, and then it's over, it's as if we've been pushing a very large, very very heavy object and it suddenly slides out from under us. Falls off a cliff. Disappears into another dimension (aha! PublisherLand!) I feel like a cartoon character staring into the void where my book used to be.

As much as I want to dive into the creative projects I set aside because of the deadline, I also need to take care of the void inside of me.