Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Finding a happy place

Today was a rough one. This whole week has been really. Between students coming back from Spring Break, modifications to lecture (topic was quantitative genetics, for anyone interested) leading to more modifications to problem sets and staff meetings. All this on top of the first week of a new job for Grey, which means new daycare for the Beats and a new commute. Add in fighting about condo business.

And yeah.

By 2 pm, I was looking for a distraction. Which I rapidly found through prepping for lecture on Thursday.

Warning: skip the last minute. It's a massive infertility trigger. I like Kim, but that one made me cringe.

But it lead to me finding this and looping it throughout the day

Grey is definitely rolling his eyes over all of this. But I've found my happy place.

Monday, March 20, 2017

#MicroblogMondays: Door

Not sure what #MicroblogMondays is? Read the inaugural post which explains the idea and how you can participate too.

"You are much too big. Simply impassible
You mean impossible?
No impassible . . . nothings impossible."

~Lewis Carol; Alice in Wonderland.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

For a small black dog

I'm terrible at eulogies. At finding all the right words to say when remembering someone beloved who's passed. So for the past week I've been putting this off; holding onto all the thoughts and feelings. It's time, though. Ms. Sofi deserves her due.

I met Sofi on a typical indian summer morning after an atypical move across the country. It wasn't what one would consider the kindest of welcomes, with her barking at me and the Beats, but boundaries were clearly defined about being in her space and respecting her limits. Over the course of the year, we would get glimpses of her as Grey, the Beats and I began getting comfortable with Martha, Bert and her. The understanding was clear: Sofi was to be greeted but not touched. We were not considered part of her inner circle.

All that changed over the summer as Martha's garden began to bloom. Daily trips down to water plants turned into picking adventures for little hands. Particularly with the cherry tomatoes. One night Martha asked me about making sure that some stayed on the vine as Sofi was fond of tomatoes. And so one uneventful night, after the Beats had picked some of these oranges orbs off the vine, I collected them from little hands and proceeded to roll them in the direction of this small black dog.

3 weeks later, Martha gently asked me to stop as Sofi was now jumping out of bed at 5:30 am upon hearing me move upstairs with He-Beat, barking for her offering of cherry tomatoes.

Though I held off with the morning offerings, continuing to cheat occasionally and rolling a few her way, a bond had formed. And the conversations began, leading to lessons that I needed to heal. To the outside world, these seemed trivial, with her barking at me as I would walk past Martha's door and me stopping so she could come out to look me in the eye and give me an approving grunt. But these were more than that.

Sofi kept me honest.

It's easy to eulogize those that fit into the ideal. The popular ones that check off all the right boxes, giving the imagine of a life out of a storybook. We hear about how they were kind, how they excelled in certain areas, how they made an impact on the lives they came into contact with. All in a manner that makes it seem almost flawless.

But the truth is we all have our flaws and faults; our skeletons we wish to hide from the world. Some do a better job than others of hiding this, going so far to project a world that appears fantastic, but the truth is never fully erased. In addition, some of us have some gnarly-looking scars that run down to our bones. Hiding these scars is next to impossible, even though they scare so many.

To the outside world, Sofi was unforgivably flawed. Her aggression and short-temperedness made her impossible to love, resulting in her being isolated. But the truth is Sofi was insanely protective of and loyal to those in her circle. Like the rest of us, all she wanted was to be loved and to love in return. Hence the snowball that came as many didn't have the patience to respect her boundaries.

What Sofi taught me is the importance of healthy boundaries. Of not pushing back when those boundaries have been established, or giving in to outside forces, simply because the other party didn't understand them. The giving in was something I've long failed with, assuming that by not doing so I was reenforcing a truth about being irreversibly flawed. But that's always when the problems would arise as those who pushed usually had their own issues that most often lead to some public (in one case very public) blowup. Sofi taught me that it was okay to have those boundaries. That those who were worthwhile would respect them.

Hence she showed she wasn't flawed. She was just tired of being hurt by an ideal that she never felt applied to her.

Martha recently shared with me the story of how Sofi came into her life. As the legend goes, they first met when two guys she knew were looking for a dog sitter. The concern was that their dog was aggressive, but Martha assured them she could handle it. So she babysat, spending the weekend with a high-energy small black dog that barked a lot and was quick to snarl. But Martha noted that she was also fun to watch, having lots of bouncing energy, a fast walker and had a trademark of digging deep claw marks in the dirt to show other dogs she had been there. The babysitting was a one-time event and this could have been the end of the story.

But two years later, things changed. And Martha tells this better than I ever can
I am working on my computer on a Saturday morning  - deep into Photoshop - and I hear a voice - an actual man’s voice saying “You are going to get a dog today”. I knew it was odd to hear a voice like that, but I didn’t freak out…I had never heard voices before, but what the heck. 

I told the voice, no, that I wasn’t going to get a dog that day. That I was busy.  

The voice repeated itself and I told it again that I wasn’t …I didn’t have time…that you need
to buy at least a dog bed..etc.” No more words from the voice but I saw a small
black dog run across the inside of my head.  I thought nothing more about it - being
really busy and slammed with deadlines.

Then….Thursday evening of that week..I get a phone call from my friends. They say that they are putting Sofi to sleep the next day. She has bitten everyone. She has gotten multiple tickets from animal control because she barks so much and can be heard from the street.  Neighbors complain. They keep her confined to the kitchen in a small bed because they are afraid she will go down the hall
and bite their girlfriends. One of their sisters has a new baby and has forbidden them to visit if they are bringing Sofi.  So….they have been wracking their brains to see who would ever want her…and they remember I baby sat two years before and said that I had experience with aggressive dogs. Did I want her?  

I immediately remembered the Voice from Saturday morning and told them that yes, I would be right down… that she had announced herself to me a few days before -- letting me know she
was headed my way next. I drove right down to their house and picked her up.

Before I did…I checked with Mr. Bert who I knew would have to help me walk
her sometimes.  I called Mr. Bert and asked him if he remembered Sofi and that she needed a home immediately and was he up for it. 

He said “yes” real fast and I questioned him “why?” He answered “Like me - black, homeless, island.  He saw the similarities between the two of them and was willing. 

And so their life began together, building trust and a routine. Martha confessed that those first couple of years were rough, ultimately they all became family. And Sofi was the glue. She still is.

I mentioned that Sofi kept me honest. But not in the way most assume. Every morning as she would bark at me on my way out the door, I would make a point to stop and acknowledge her. And in that moment as I squatted down to greet her, she would waddle towards me while looking me dead in the eye and give me a gruff. Occasionally she'd get so close that she would brush against me, causing Martha to hold her breath in worry. But each time the message was clear.

Be honest. Be who you are.

And though that may seem so simple, the power behind that daily reminder has given me courage to advocate for myself and my family as we've gone through some very hard times. It's also allowed me to make less than popular decisions about asking for space and time. Something that I normally fail at as I'm usually racked with guilt.

For the past 2 weeks, I've missed those daily reminders. I feel like something so precious has been lost and though I know she was old (13 yrs and 9 months to be exact) and so sick, the hole that has come from her not being here anymore has left an undeniable ache.

Because the truth is, Sofi saw something in me that I've been so very afraid of. She saw I was broken too. But she reminded me it was okay.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Muscle memory

Don't worry
Your wings still remember how to soar
Even when you can barely lift them up
Just let them breathe and steal the wind
~Brenda Busuulwa

It's hard coming back, reestablishing a routine. Originally the break in writing was meant to be temporary; a hiatus to focus on all the turmoil. Coming out of that required more activation energy then I anticipated.

So what has been happening? Where to even begin with that. I could tell you about surviving a semester of managing a course, finding new and exciting forms of high-conflict personalities and living through two minor snowstorms that left us once without power (and had me shaking my head at the locals) but still had me trekking in for classes. I could tell you about the promising job interview Grey had followed by an awful follow-up with the CTO (who was a jerk), the depth of depression that followed and the fear of free-falling back into debt and looking into food stamps.

I could tell you about the phone call to Martha, having to tell her Sofie died. How I missed Sofie passing by only 2 mins, finding her on curled up on the couch with Bert. How even though we knew it was coming, how heartbroken I am to not see that little black dog every morning.

But I could also tell you about my students. Our students, actually, as I have a coworker who is proving to be an amazing ally as we navigate this semester. And how these students remind me daily why I love what I do. I could also tell you about the phone call that came a couple of days after the asshole interview with Grey's dream job. How they hadn't forgotten about him and how eager they've been to bring him into the company. And how he starts a new position, one beyond what we even imagined possible, next Monday.

And I could also tell you about the Beats and how much they have grown during all of this. How they also start in a new school next Monday. With so many tears from me as we are saying goodbye to trusted teachers and friends. But how now we are all commuting in together.

I could also tell you that through all of this, I've thought a lot about this space and this community. About how the decisions of a few can change the lives of so many. But of also how echo chambers have a very negative side-effect of shielding those in the bubble from the painful realities of others. How sometimes it takes throwing bricks to shatter those walls and make everyone aware of the work we all need to do.

So I'm back. Flexing muscles that haven't been used for awhile. But muscle memory is an interesting thing. Even when you're still trying to figure it all out.
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