Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Explaining the afterlife to my dog...

 The other day, my dog asked me what happens when we die.  Gulp.


I look at Jasmine and think dammit.  I didn't think dogs knew about mortality, which is why they're so cheery all of the time.  But maybe she knew all along, or maybe she found a note or the body of a hiker in the bushes that tipped her off.  At any rate, here we are. She knows.

"Oh Jazzy, you aren't going to die for a long time.  You take good care of yourself, and eat the kibbles and go on so many walks every day and tend to your relationships and take a lot of naps, and you wear your mask when we go out and you try not to drink too much."


She stares at me and I realize she won't be placated like a four year old.  She is six, after all. If it weren't for the Coronavirus, she would be in first grade.  Instead, she's "homeschooled".  I put that in quotes because it's mostly home and very little school.


How much should I tell her about death right now?  She's isolated from her peers for the most part, which is hard.  Her job as a lab assistant has slowed way down.  But on the other hand, truth is always a good plan.  So I dive in.


"No one actually knows for certain what happens when we die," I begin.  "It's something that so far, can't be determined using the scientific method, so people just pick what they think happens and believe that.    Some people believe we go to heaven (UP) or hell (down), based on how we behave in this world.  Up is for the good creatures, and down is for the bad ones.  


Some people, like me, believe that we die and most of it ends.  There's no re-uniting with the puppies that were taken away from you when you were practically a puppy yourself, etc.  Your heart stops beating, you stop breathing, and soon, stillness takes over and your mind quiets and that's it.  The end.  Your family either incinerates you and sprinkles ashes in beautiful places (or, in my dad's case, you live in a can in a suitcase in the basement storage locker of a retirement community; I'm not sure why that is but I guess that's how we do it in my family), or they bury you, or set you up with a mushroom suit, and what was once you is gone.  


Some people, especially those who make movies, believe that when you die, you hover around near where you died or near the people you loved or hated, and almost communicate with them.  You can sort of drop things and make noise and watch while your person falls in love with a living creature, and so on, but you aren't nearly as effective as you were when you were alive.  Like, in your case, if you died and I got another dog, maybe the other dog would sense your presence and growl inexplicably.  Eventually, in a good movie, you move on and rest on a pillow in heaven and the new dog takes your place.


One area that remains a question mark for me is what happens to the brain waves and creative force.  I'm not sure how much I even believe in that, but I know there is uniqueness to each being, something that sets each one of us apart.  Like you, for example, have that towel fetish.  When you go into a house, you beeline for any towel you can find and grab it in your teeth and roll in it until someone asks you to stop.  What happens to that impulse?  Is it floating around out there, waiting to land on another creature?.  All of that tail-wagging, all of that towel-grabbing.  Where does it go?  Does it live on in the hearts and minds of your loved ones?  Will I become a person who honors you by stripping off my clothes, heading for the bathroom, and rolling in the towels when I go visiting, in much the same way that people make grandma's sheet cake?  Or is that impulse magically transported into a being that's about to be born, who arrives on earth with some hazy memories of your life?


We may never know, Jasmine.  In the meantime, enjoy your days.  Keep wagging.  Oh, and if I go first, and we're home alone for a week before anyone notices, please try not to eat my face right off the bat.  

Monday, September 14, 2020

Finding Your Voice in Pandemic Times

 


Well, my friends, 

Here we still are, in the pandemic, no end in sight.  

I would like to offer this:

A writing workshop.  Most of us don’t need help with our writing; we just need encouragement and inspiration to write.

Someone said that teachers tend to offer what they need, and this is what I need.  I need someone to gently remind me to sit down each day and write, even if it’s just for a few minutes.

I need someone to say, “STOP refreshing the covid death numbers.  Stop checking the news. Just write, and here’s what to write about.”  I need that because I know that when I write, I feel better and can think more clearly.  And with practice, I know I’ll become a better writer. And who knows, I might write something along the way that helps someone else feel better or understand something, or laugh out loud.

I’m not a great writer, or a particularly dedicated one, but I do believe in writing in the way we believe in our unshakeable things: humans are basically good; art matters; we should do our best to live each day filled with hope; writing can change lives.  That’s what I believe.   

I wrote one thing once that got published, about my then-teen age daughter’s struggle with finding her way toward adulthood, and how scary and disorienting it was to be her mother at that time, and how much I loved her and wanted the best but, as they say, the die had been cast.  She was her own person and I could merely stand on the sidelines and cheer her on in the ways I knew.  All I could think of was to put a poem in her shoe each morning.  It felt helpful to write about it, even the scary parts.  And now, five years after that was published, I still get occasional notes from people who are watching their own teens struggle, thanking me for offering a tiny candle on their path.  To think that words and stories can do that.  They can provide comfort or inspiration, to ourselves, to others.  That’s what we all need now.  

Life is challenging and different now; the water temperature is changing quickly, and its helpful to write about it.  And I believe that everyone is a writer.  Everyone has a story to tell, an idea to share, grief to process, a silver lining to discover. 

Here is a sample.

Dates:   October 5 – November 7

What:  

  • Daily prompts available each day, October 5 – November 7; 
  • Zoom meetings, October 11, 18, 25, and November 1, 4 – 5:30 (Sunday afternoons)
  • Each person enrolled in the class will create a final essay to share at an online reading on November 7 at 7:00 PST.  (Time will be adjusted if needed to accommodate needs of participants)
  • Optional critique of essay drafts
  • Final reading!
  • Laughter, fun, writing!

Sign up here:


Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Dear Future, Are you out there?


I wrote a little thing for the local historical society about how it is now.  A letter to the future!  Yay, there's a future out there!
Anyway, read it here if you like.

I hope you're all staying safe out there.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Advice Column

Hi Everyone,
I hope you're all doing okay out there.  Also, with her extra time, my dog has started an advice column.  Feel free to write with any problems you might have.  (No medical questions or political diatribes though.  She doesn't have any expertise in that stuff.)


Stay well.


Saturday, February 22, 2020

Trying to understand the bernie supporter

Please help me understand the cult of Bernie Sanders.  First, let me say that I’ll gladly vote for him if he becomes the nominee.  But these are some things that trouble and confuse me:
1.  It feels like the Bernie culture is a little rabid, you’re either a supporter or an idiot and lacking either ideals or information.  I don't like conversations that goes that way.
I consider myself a lefty/progressive, if that’s the term for people who believe that the role of government should be to help to level the playing field, create opportunity and fairness for people born into less privilege than some of us, protect natural resources, take care of the weakest among us, work to solve some of the most challenging problems of the day, offer a framework for civilized debate, and maintain an unbiased, fair legal system.  If that's what left is, yeah, count me in.  I want to pay taxes to support all of that.  (I don't want to pay taxes for the stupid new fire station that cut all the trees down but that's not the topic, people!). But I don’t understand the Bernie Culture -- supporters imply that he is the only path, in the manner of other religions or cults.

2.  The Bernie fans seem to be -- and please know that I’m not trying to lob accusations, but merely to understand – almost as blind to his weaknesses as the trump supporters are blind to trump.  (I'm not saying their weaknesses are measured on the same scale -- one's a corrupt narcissist out for his own gain, and Bernie is none of those things. But Bernie is not the messiah.).  

While I hear debate and discourse about other candidates, there seems to be a closed-mindedness by Bernie fans.  If you aren't for him, you're wrong.  In particular, the question, “but is he electable?” seems to be taken as an indicator of lack of integrity on the part of the asker.  "Of course he’s not going to get elected if you’re too chicken to vote for him!"  

But I think its a valid question.  There is a monster in the white house, and we need to throw everything we’ve got at getting him out, and be strategic about it.  Sometimes, when you’re sick you get to be a purist and use sleep and natural remedies to get well, but sometimes you need chemotherapy or surgery.  Those aren’t anyone’s first choice, but when you’re fighting something awful, you don’t always get to do it in the most pure way.  Is that wrong?  Is someone who could capture the vote of people in Florida and Pennsylvania, who's not a corrupt self-serving monster, so bad?  

3.  I’m a fan of most of the positions that Bernie supports.  I’d love to see health care for all; I’d love to see more equality in the distribution of wealth.  I don't understand why those positions are considered radical left. But, his positions are seen as a huge swing, way over to the left from the center mark, and my instinct is that putting him in the White House won't heal the country, and that's what we need now.  We need someone who seems normal and in charge and can help restore order.  I think there is more than one candidate who could do that.

I get anxious and horrified and feel disenfranchised when the pendulum has swung so far to the right – and I don’t think electing someone who will create that kind of anxiety on the other side is the way to move forward.  We have a disrupter in the white house now – someone who’s positions are extreme, someone who wants to tear it all down, someone who has an us/them view of the world.  It’s not helping, and I tend to think the white house isn’t the place for disrupters.  Disrupters are important and do a lot of good (or bad!) in the world, and create movements that push the dial.  And I get it, we on the left see the anxiety on the right as misplaced.  No one is really coming for anyone's guns or jobs, healthcare for all would help everyone, blah blah blah.  But if someone enters the white house who is viewed by the majority of Americans as not representing their beliefs, will he be able to get anything done?  

4.  Is an 80 year old white man with heart disease really the best candidate? 

5.  Is this McGovern all over again?  My sisters and I had a lemonade/brownie stand and sent the money to McGovern; I think it was $11 or maybe $14.  Nixon loved having McGovern as an opponent.  Trump would love having Bernie as an opponent.  If I were to do it again, I wouldn't pair brownies with lemonade, but that's besides the point.

6.  Is it heresy to ask these questions?


Ok, I'm listening.  I have a few weeks before I mail my ballot.  Bernie will likely win Washington no matter how I vote, but still....

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Two Things: Good versus evil, and What's for Dinner

Two things:

1.  Does it feel to anyone else like there's this giant, obvious struggle in the world of good versus evil, and it feels like evil could very well win, and we're all just sitting here, holding our breath, covering our eyes and trying not to weep?  I mean, seriously, if you need Alan Dershowitz as your attorney, it's pretty much like saying, I'm guilty AF and I'm going to get off scot-free because I have money.

2.  I saw a recipe for roasted chicken in the NYT the other day, and the pre-ramble to the recipe said,
"My guess? It’s all anyone in your set will be talking about in coming days. I think you’ll want to make it tonight, or on some evening very soon. Go to!"
 That seemed really strange to me.  Like, since when does the NYT say, "Go to!"?  And I haven't heard anyone talking about the chicken, except here I am, talking about it.  But I did make it last night, and it was pretty good.  Let me know if you hear any chatter about the chicken.  It seems plausible that this is code for something.



Monday, January 13, 2020

NYR


I did so well with my NY resolution last year that I thought I'd try it again this year.  I know we're already partway through the year and you're supposed to figure these things out in a drunken moment of optimism on NYE, when you think you're gonna be and do all these things that probably won't pan out, like be healthier and get more exercise and clean up all the time, and make your bed the instant you get out of it, and keep good records of everything filed away in an orderly fashion and keep up on all the paperwork.  Even if the government sends you a notice that you're supposed to get a cat, you promptly fill out the forms and do it. (I don't think that's a real thing but I'm not really sure how people decide to get cats -- there must be some notification from someone?)

Anyway.  I've been trying to come up with a resolution that's realistic, but will actually make my life better, and it finally came to me.

I am going to have a favorite coffee mug again.  I've had favorites in the past, but they eventually break or chip and I'm forced to move on.  It's a quiet grief.  You don't tell people, 'Um, I live alone and I had this favorite coffee cup, and we used to spend mornings together, and it's gone, and I miss it.'  You say that and people are all in for getting you a cat.

A few months ago I noticed that I was down to just a couple of mugs, so I went and bought a bunch at Value Village.  None of them were ideal but they don't have any slogans or dumb jokes on them, and they aren't chipped, and they're all the proper shape to hold 12 ounces.  And yesterday, as I pulled the cobalt blue mug out of the dish drainer, I had that happy feeling, like oh yay, I get you today!  So I think I can do this.  I think I can get attached to another mug, and miss it a little on it's days off, and be super happy when I get to use it, the way you do.

Happy snow day, everyone.


Explaining the afterlife to my dog...

 The other day, my dog asked me what happens when we die.  Gulp. I look at Jasmine and think dammit.  I didn't think dogs knew about mo...