A Sermon for White America: Dyson

After Saturday, I felt happier than I have felt since, oh, about Columbus Day Weekend–– and I didn’t even march.  But I felt like I did. Tom and the kids went to Boston, and my parents marched in DC. Or rather, they stood. No one actually marched because it was too crowded. I was terrified that someone was going to get hurt, trampled, bombed, or (in the case of Tom) stung by a bee. (He is allergic. In my apocalyptic state, I’d forgotten bees aren’t around in January, even on 50 degree days.) But no one was hurt. Bored, maybe; frustrated at not being able to see or move, but completely unharmed. (The cynic in me wonders how peaceful the police would have been if the crowd hadn’t been so white and female.) Katryna and I did not march because we had a show that night in Connecticut, and I am learning that in order to do my job, I actually have to not do other things. (Most people with real jobs learn this by my age. I am a little slow.)

It paid off to rest before we sang. I wanted all my strength for the full house of Connecticut folks, many of whom had marched in Hartford earlier that day. The show felt part rally, part homecoming. We started our band in the Hartford area, and there were people in the audience who had been coming to our shows since the early 90s. We sang two brand new songs–one by Katryna and Dave called “Gonna Need a Boat” and one by me and Katryna called “Tyrants Always Fall.” We also sang our updated version of “America the Beautiful.” Afterwards, many folks thanked us for coming to sing and not cancelling so we could march. I guess we were in the right place after all.

But there will be a part of me that always regrets not marching on Jan 21, 2017 in the same way I know people from the generation just above me regret missing Woodstock. What a day it was. It fills my heart with delight to see the aerial photos full of the color pink. To witness my kids becoming activists. To see all strong, hopeful faces in different cities all over the world. To feel not so alone with the grief. The grief, of course, is collective–and on Saturday, we all got our marching orders. From my kitchen, I live-streamed Michael Moore’s speech, and then caught Ashley Judd’s. To our audience, I repeated the number MM told us to call daily, after brushing teeth and coffee and walking the dog–202-255-3121. Five days a week: Monday-Senator. Tuesday-other Senator. Wednesday-Congressperson. Thursday- State Senator. Friday-State Congressperson. Let’s take over all the swing districts. Did you know Elizabeth Warren’s seat is far from secure in 2018?

About the dog that I walk before I make calls. He’s great. Did we mention that Katryna adopted his sister? All is mostly well, but he doesn’t seem to understand that we don’t pee on the carpet. This got so bad that we rolled the carpet up and put it away. So far, no more accidents–but it’s only been about 5 hours. Any advice on housebreaking a puppy is most welcome.

I have two acquaintances–women I went to high school with–who voted for Trump. I am not friends with them, but they are on my Facebook feed, and it occurred to me to check out how they were feeling about our new Emperor. One posted that in her “rainbow-flag covered neighborhood,” someone sent their “young child over to vandalize” her Trump banner. She was outraged. I can sympathize. Folks have vandalized my Hillary banner, and stolen my Black Lives Matter signs. Vandalism is never OK, in any event. What I found interesting, though, was the amount of push-back she got from her friends. One offered, “Trump’s own words and actions do not engender or support those beliefs. Again, vandalism is not OK. And neither is promoting the division, negativity and hatred for the ‘other’ which made that family believe it was ok to vandalize that flag.”

I explored the other acquaintance’s page. It turned out she’d actually gone to the inauguration, and in a post in which she was asking for advice about what to wear, I was amazed to see how many of her friends were horrified by her support of Orange Man. A few were in same-sex marriages and worried in the comments that their basic rights would be overturned. I just checked back on her page and saw a heated but civil discussion about abortion rights. It heartened me to see, in both cases, that these people I knew were being challenged; but also that they tolerated friends with different opinions. That is better than I can do. I am not proud of that. I hate confrontation, even on social media.

But. Now is the time for spirited discussion between friends who disagree. I am reading Michael Eric Dyson’s powerful book Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon for White America, and it’s challenging and difficult to digest. “Beloved,” he writes–-the entire book really does read like an intimate, tender, harsh, fire-and-brimstone sermon––“your white innocence is a burden to you, a burden to the nation, a burden to our progress. It is time to let it go, to let it die in the place of the black bodies it wills into nonbeing.” He painstakingly catalogues the psychology behind our institutional racism, our unconscious clinging to our white status and privilege, in a tone that is in turns patient and exasperated. I don’t know anyone who would call themselves a white supremacist, or even the more PC term “alt-rightist,” but I know scores of whites who don’t understand Black anger, have a completely skewed idea of “equality” and believe that the playing field is level today, even while admitting it hasn’t always been that way.

The playing field is not level, and it will never be level in our lifetime, no matter how many Black presidents we elect. White people have to face that the scourge and sin of slavery has long lasting repercussions, that racism is institutional and endemic, an illness that affects all of us, and that we have huge amends to make. Yes, all of us; even those whose ancestors never owned slaves. We have consciously or unconsciously embraced “whiteness,”–the notion that “white” is normal and good, and that anything other is an aberration at best–– and that this embrace causes great pain to our Black brothers and sisters. We have a long way to go to to make reparations. As Dyson writes, “I want to tell you right off the bat that whiteness is made up, and that white history disguised as American history is a fantasy, as much a fantasy as white superiority and white purity. Whiteness is most effective when it makes itself invisible; when it appears neutral, human, American.” And the calculus that far too many whites accept in trading innocent Black lives for some supposed security by allowing our cops to shoot first and ask questions later is what has caused the dislocation of justice, the complete distrust of the police by the Black community, and much pain and grief for all of us. Black Lives Matter is an attempt towards reparations. Bring it on.

My father was telling our friend Edward, an African American man in his 30s, about being stopped by the cops for speeding.

“Oh, man,” Edward said. “Did they do that thing where they hold a gun to your head after you roll the window down?”

No. That’s not how they treat white men in business suits driving Priuses. But that is how Edward is greeted by cops even when he is not speeding. He gets stopped routinely for Driving While Black.

I don’t have patience for my white sisters who don’t get this. I’d rather do a whole lot of things before engaging with two women I never liked very much on Facebook to try to skillfully and patiently present a different point of view. I would rather write a song, practice piano, knit a pink pussy hat, snuggle my dog, listen to my kids play violin. Let’s get real–I’d rather clean the toilet or declutter a junk drawer. But maybe this is ministry. I am going to pray about it. The fate of the nation might just rest on us not giving up on each other.

Chasing Down a Trump Voter

Puppies and guitars–that’s my solution.

Yesterday, I met my husband and our friend Tony on the corner of Crafts and Main. It was 2pm, and I had Hudson in my arms. He’s a little celebrity, inviting ear scratches and admirers wherever he goes. An African American meter officer stopped to admire him. “He’s like a sweet fur blanket!” she exclaimed. We introduced herself. Her name wasDonna.

“He’s my anti-Trump medication,” I told Donna, stroking his ears. An older white guy who had just come out of Glazed, our donut shop, stopped and stared at us.

“That’s a terrible thing to say about that poor dog! I can’t wait till tomorrow! Go Trump!” And he turned to cross the street to his parked car, near City Hall.

“Wait!” I shouted. “Come back! We want to talk to you!” But he kept walking, waving me off. I ran across the street, puppy in my arms. “Mister!” I said, catching up with him and touching his coat sleeve. “Listen! Trump wants to take down our democracy!”

“Good!” he shouted. His eyes were twinkling, but intense. “This country needs that!”

“No!” I said, “Do you know how many millions of people have died for our country?”

“I know more about history than you do,” he huffed, opening his car door. A woman sat cowering in the passenger seat, gray hair, gray face, gray lips in a tight line.

“No, you don’t!” I said. “Please talk to me!”

But Tom and Tony and Donna were shouting too. “Come back here, Nerissa!” they said, and so I crossed back over, hearing his car pull out and screech away behind me.

Donna shook her head at me. “Honey. I love you. I don’t want you to get hurt. There are a lot of people out there right now whose passions are huge. Be careful, girl.” I looked into her kind face. And as angry and shaken as I was, I did not fail to take in the glory of this moment. The white guy ran from the police, an African American woman, who protected me not with guns or the law, but with a kind words. I fell into her arms and she hugged me, then laughed. “Take care of that puppy, now,” she said going back to her job (her other job–metering. She was totally doing her job by hugging me).

“Yeah, well, I have to go feed my meter before you give me a ticket.”

Donna laughed and walked down the street. Tom scolded me for endangering myself and our dog. “It’s good you aren’t marching with us Saturday, you’d get us all killed,” he said.

******

As I mentioned in my last post, I have been reading autobiographies of musicians. I finished Bob Dylan’s Chronicles in December, and next up is Keith Richards’ Life, which inspired me to buy my friend Jay Pasternak’s 1964 Gibson guitar (mahogany beauty, my first acoustic Gibson; anti-Trump strategy #2 is to learn Keef’s five-string G-tuning). Today I finished Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run. I am so glad I read this big fat 500+ page book. I have always loved The Boss, and now I know why. What a huge heart the guy has, and what a thoughtful person. And even though he is a multi-platinum millionaire legend, and I am a folk artist whose fan base was about 20,000 at my prime, I completely relate to much of what he writes about. The writer contracts, at the beginning of this kind of memoir, to reveal to the reader his mind. This he says, at the end of the book, he has done. And what I see is an incredibly hard-working artist, who is fully aware of his limitations–a less than pristine voice, for instance–and who when he compares himself to his heroes, Elvis, the Beatles, the Stones, Dylan, he comes up short. But, he says, he knew he had to work for it. And so he did–he eschewed drugs and much of the stereotypical rock and roll lifestyle for the sake of the Holy Grail–his music. His dedication to music borders on religious fervor, and it’s contagious and inspiring to read about him. When I was in my 20s, I wanted to write political songs, but I couldn’t do it. Bruce taught me how. I think he’s actually the best male political songwriter of his generation.

The last day of my retreat, I wrote my song, called “Tyrants Always Fall.” It’s the first in a long time, and it feels like the beginning of our next album. In truth, it’s a co-write–Katryna came up with the lines for the chorus and some of the structure. I channeled my inner Bruce and tried to write an anthem for our times. Tuesday, at my reading for Pantsuit in the Back of the Closet, I ended with it and got the audience to chant/sing the refrain: “There are more of us than there are of them.”

The reading was gratifying. My poems are meant to be read. Like songs, they don’t really live on the page. I was blown away by the writing and presence of the other women I’d invited to read with me; Sarah Buttenwieser read a piece on listening to your children during this strange and fearful time. Naomi Shulman wrote “No Time to be Nice,” a reflection on the so-called “good Nazis” in 1930s Germany. Sarah Sullivan wrote a poem about wanting to hide from the news, and Miliann Kang exhorted us all to stay present, fight for our democracy and trust that struggle will make us stronger. Lisa Papademetriou MC’d the event and contributed her beautiful Click Workspace for the event. We raised over $300 for the Women’s Fund of Western MA on an icy January night, and I got to sing my new song.

I promise not to chase down any more Trump voters, though I do crave real conversations with them. This is the whole problem–we walk away from each other, and we are afraid of each other. I pray that tomorrow the marches are peaceful, that all are safe, and that we listen to each other. Though I don’t know exactly what I am going to do next, I do know I am in the right line of work. In fact, I have rarely felt so well-placed. For now anyway, providing space for folks to feel seems like our main job. To that end, Katryna and I are doing a show Saturday night at a venue in Granby CT (near Hartford, near Bradley Airport) for those who marched in Boston and just want some more, or for those who couldn’t march and just need some Spirit.

There are more of us than there are of them. Don’t forget it.

 

A Puppy is the Solution to Pretty Much Everything

Somehow, getting this new puppy has lifted my depression and made me optimistic about the future. I can’t tell if this is just delusion, or a real lifting of the veil. It’s very difficult to be in that anxious, wheels-spinning place I have lived since last spring (as Drumpf seemed more and more likely to be the Republican nominee) when one has a little fur-ball of unconditional love on one’s lap, or on the carpet chasing his tiny curly tail, or barking at invisible squirrels on the ceiling. Animals live in the present moment. There might be some body memories they carry–certainly I have known dogs who were clearly traumatized by some man in a uniform––but they certainly don’t have a fear of the future. Not this little guy, anyway.

More and more, the election seems a bad dream from which we must, eventually, awaken. When? I don’t know. But I have lived long enough to know that what goes up must come down. How is it that we have this repugnant person as our president-elect? Do you know his approval rating is at 37%, the lowest of any incoming president in history? How can he govern that other 63%, those folks who don’t like him? He can’t. We will be ungovernable, as my friend Jo says. What keeps coming to mind is that image of the Berlin Wall coming down. Hundreds of people scaled it, hurled their bodies over. Apartheid ended in South Africa. The British left India. At some point, the 99% will join together and overthrow the 1%. The Drumpf voters will have buyer’s remorse. The question is: when.

For the first time in years, I do not have a project to work on. My novel is with my agency, my poetry book is published, I am between records. I have some song ideas, but they seem far away, not urgent as they do when they are about to be born. I am reading autobiographies of musicians: Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Keith Richards, Patti Smith. Part of me thinks, “Why should I write another album? We have enough albums.” What does anyone want to hear me say, anyway? I am said-out. Someone else can have a turn. I want to sit back and play with my dog. I felt this way when I first became a mother. I have a deep desire to turn inward, keep house, play pieces on the piano that have nothing to do with my repertoire. Listen to my kids make their own music.

Time will tell what comes next, and I don’t feel worried about it. My guess is that this is a winter of creativity, a season not unlike the one we are all experiencing–in between administrations. Creativity ebbs and flows, as do social movements. But it is an odd feeling to come to the page empty. Someone at my retreat today said, “Passion needs developing.” This is my experience. I need to do the footwork to put myself in the stream of creativity in order for it to awaken in me. I need to pick up my guitar, sit down at the piano, and start by writing some bad songs. Bad songs lead to good songs lead to great songs. I have to give myself permission to be a beginner again. A puppy is a good model for this, both as itself–a newcomer to Planet Earth–and as its puppy mama–a not-inexperienced dog owner who still could learn a few new tricks.

Here is what does not help:

-interrupting my sanctioned writing time by checking my email to see if my agent has written me back
-interrupting my writing time by checking the polls to see if Drumpf’s unfavorables have dropped even more
-comparing myself to Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen or Patti Smith (OK to compare self to Keith Richards, though.)

Here is what helps:

-Showing up.
-showing up to the piano every day
-writing morning pages and really doing it–3 pages, hand doesn’t leave page.
-read whatever interests me–I call this the Hansel and Gretl effect. The trail of breadcrumbs leads, inevitably, to inspiration. So whatever seems shiny  and sparkly seems that way for a reason.
-cuddling dog
-cuddling kids
-cuddling husband
-getting enough sleep
-refusing to listen to the bad voices
-remaining fiercely on my own side.

Update on Day 2

I have a little more of the song. It’s all potential now, which is the best. So far, it’s an idea in my head, and it’s perfect. I just have to go slowly. if I write it too fast, I will kill it. But actually writing the song…well, I always forget this until I am doing it. There is nothing more wonderful that just being in the flow of new life. I have my Martin 018, a computer that works, my songwriting notebook and my little gold puppy. At this moment, I feel completely content.

 

Our Silver Lining Puppy

Thanks to my last post, we found our puppy, 6 weeks ahead of schedule. Friends saw what I’d written and suggested I contact a breeder of something called Australian Labradoodles, just over the border in NY–very near our beloved Falcon Ridge Folk Festival.  I spoke with the breeder the next morning, and sure enough, he had a litter of pups, and the smallest one was still unclaimed. “The litter was born on November 8,” the breeder said. “So that’s what I was doing that night.” Our silver lining pup.

My daughter and I went on a dog tour of the neighborhood, visiting Doodles of all shapes and sizes, including two who came from this particular breeder. I think Doodles must be the official dog of Northampton MA. Now that I know what they look like, I see them everywhere.

The kids and I drove out there on the second to last day of December. Already, I was feeling better. We’d seen photos, but I wanted to hold that little guy–an Australian Labradoodle who wouldn’t grow to be more than 20 lbs. We found the place way out in the middle of nowhere. It’s a stand-alone tiny clapboard called the Puppy Pagoda, and inside were about twelve pups and several fully grown dogs, and a wonderful singer/songwriter/journalist turned dog breeder named Curtis. I liked and trusted him immediately, and when the tiny cinnamon-colored pup was placed in my kids’ arms, I knew we’d come to the right place. The kids were sure. They named him Hudson, and a week later I returned with my friend Rosie and her 9-week-old puppy Tallulah and we brought Hudson home.

We almost named him Haji, because he looks exactly like a stuffed animal Katryna had when she was a little girl. She’d named the stuffie Haji after a character on I Dream Of Jeannie. Haji, upon further investigation (Wikipedia), was the most powerful and evil genie of all Baghdad. It’s also a slur. (What an enlightened show that was! Where to even begin???) I felt sad about dropping the name, because I love its original meaning–a pilgrim to Mecca. I felt like finding this wonderful little dog was the culmination of my own haj. But it just wasn’t OK for a WASPY American like me to name a dog Haji. So we went back to Hudson.

But in between meeting Hudson and his homecoming, I’d made another kind of pilgrimage. My best college buddy’s husband flew me and her other bestie down to New Orleans for her 50th birthday–a surprise. For 36 wonderful hours, I was immersed back in my college world, only better–three women who were all approaching a half century of life, with some scars but mostly boatloads of gratitude and amazement. We may as well have been in North Dakota–we holed up in a hotel room and hung out in our pjs, staying up late to talk, read each other poetry, sang, did yoga and meditated together. It was grounding and reorienting and a great way to begin the new year. This new year feels like a fresh burn that you try not to touch, but sometimes it hurts without any external stimulus.

A puppy connects with something profound inside you. Especially a young one. He is so open and vulnerable and tender. So innocent. So wobbly. So eager to please. Before we picked Hudson up, we’d met with Northampton’s Dog Whisperer, and she’d warned us not to sleep with the pup on his first day. Crate training is a must. We got several crates and I made myself a nest on the kitchen couch. We did everything you are supposed to do (I’d re-read all the New Skete books on the airplane), but when it came down to it, after 45 minutes of his crying in the crate, I gave in and put him onto my chest And there he has slept for the past three nights. When I finally confessed to the Dog Whisperer, she wrote me back immediately: “UGH! Nerissa, you did exactly what I told you NOT TO DO! Now it will be almost impossible to undo the damage!”

The older I get, the less I realize I know.  Or maybe what I mean is, the older I get, the more I understand that what I do know is minuscule, and becomes more so with each passing year. And as the year turns and we approach this new epoch, what I have taken to calling the New Reality, I have a clear focus. I might not know what the future will bring to our country, or what kind of a record I am supposed to write next, or whether my novel will get published, or whether my kids will have terrifying problems as teenagers, or if my parents will get sick, or who we will lose this year. I don’t know what is right for my friends to do. I don’t have answers anymore, or solutions, or even any really good ideas. But I do know that when my little dog squirms I should take him out to pee. I know that when he falls asleep next to me, I feel at perfect peace. I know that the look on my son’s face when Hudson follows him around is worth any amount of money. I know that it’s possible my daughter’s deep happiness at finally having her own dog might just be what I was put on earth to do. I keep saying, what are we for if not for this? What can we do? Write a poem. Plant a garden. Have a baby. Reconnect with an old friend. And whenever possible, protect the vulnerable, speak out against injustice and, of course, sing.

 

 

Stella’s Happy Ending

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My seven year old has lost exactly half of his four front teeth–just the ones, curiously, on the right side of his face. He is the kind of kid who hangs on to teeth, while his sister takes pains to pull out the wiggler. Johnny won’t eat an apple for fear of knocking this tiny little baby tooth off its shaky foothold in the gum.

Speaking of teeth, Stella, our little husky mix Dixie dog, bit him a few weeks ago, right when we got back from the Adirondacks. As usual, she didn’t clamp down, but she nicked him with her tooth, right near his eye, as she had done before to many people. Johnny howled and cried, and I came rushing over from the sink and threw my arms around him and cried too, and I said, “We can’t keep her anymore.” Lila, who was sitting on the rug, cried as well, and she nodded. And suddenly, it was clear. After a year of thinking we could live with Stella’s erratic mouthing, we knew we needed to find our sweet little dog a new home. After a long search for a permanent family for Stella, someone connected us to a young woman who is a dog trainer and works at PetCo. She lives in the neighborhood, has a big fenced in yard, her parents have acres and fences and dogs galore, and we just handed over the leash, so to speak. We watched the young couple load her into their shiny new truck and watched them take her away. We all clung to each other and sobbed.

These thin spots, these places where I feel that closeness to danger are strange portals into a future world. I was surprised at how easily both my kids accepted the decision to let Stella go, as if they suddenly had the gravitas of adulthood. We had spoken to several trainers who were clear with that it would not be possible to train away Stella’s behavior, her tendency to nip on the face, especially around the eye. When I called Dakin Animal Shelter to see if they would take her back, they told me they would only do so to euthanize her. My kids were with me when I had this conversation, and they watched my face crumple up and heard my voice choke as I spoke with the woman. I think in seeing how broken up I was about losing Stella, about my fear that she would have no future, they both grew up a little. They saw me less as the authority figure and more like a family member who loved the same dog they loved. Anyway, the two of them circled me, leaned in and held me as I cried. And then I did the same for them. We are going to miss Stella. I hope someday we have a new dog, a dog my kids aren’t afraid will bite their friends. But there will never be another Stella.

 

In one of my writing groups, one of my longtime writers read a piece that brought to mind a song I wrote in 1995, a song called “Gotta Get Over Greta”; a song about the painful, private heartbreak that marbles so many female friendships, starting in kindergarten, and continuing in various guises through into adulthood, if my own experiences are any indication. My friend wrote about an intimate friendship with a woman that inexplicably went dead, and the subsequent confusion, questioning, hurt feelings that go with such a loss. It got me to thinking. My Greta was a friendship forged in the fourth grade–the age my daughter is now. Greta was a revelation to me; I had never had a friend before who was so clearly a soul mate. She introduced me to so many aspects of myself–from music to fashion to politics to the Greek goddesses; and because she was my first real best friend–my first love, in a sense–when she suddenly dumped me for another best friend, the pain was even worse than subsequent heartbreaks, almost as bad as my divorce. In a way it was worse than my divorce, because at least then (as with any broken romantic relationship) friends and family swoop in to console. In the case of a lost best friend, or even the loss of a close female friend, the heartbroken one often has a hard time articulating to others what has happened. There are no support groups for those who are grief-stricken when a friendships ends, or changes. There is no couples counseling for these things. People don’t nod sympathetically in the grocery store when you respond to “How are you?” with, “Well, I’m going through a friend break-up.” (And who would even admit to that, anyway?)

In my case, at the tender age of eleven, I was filled with shame at being passed over for another. I was quite alone with my heartbreak. Who could I tell? No one. So I sat in the bathtub and sang “Hopelessly Devoted To You” from the movie Grease. When my parents suggested I invite Greta over, what could I say? The truth–that she was busy with her new best friend, Raquel–was too painful, and so I withdrew to my room, read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn for the fourteenth time, and kept my shameful secret to myself –that I was not good enough, lovable enough, interesting enough, cool enough –that I had lost Eden.

I don’t want to pin this on my sex, but I don’t see these same kinds of fraught emotional relationships among men. My husband has many dear close male friends, and he maintains them all. But men don’t seem to lean in to each other in the same way women do. After Greta, I was very careful about giving my heart so completely to another female. I got close; I revealed the way girls do to build intimacy. I talked for hours on the phone with my girlfriends. And I watched as the friendships waxed and waned, and I never really questioned why they never lasted more than five years. Women get in deep with each other. I am no exception. But once I get in deep, it is hard to get out. Once I see something in my friend that I disapprove of, I get afraid to confront it, so instead of getting into a conflict, I keep my mouth shut and try to reset the friendship button to an earlier time, the easy time, before the judgments and disapprovals created weight, too heavy to carry. In many of my friendships today, I set the ground rules to prevent (or at least attempt to prevent) this kind of wear and tear. I am quick to text, “No problem” when they break lunch dates with me. I am guilty of the same. I adhere to the usual hierarchy: children first, partner second, aging parents third, pets fourth, work obligations fifth and female friendships sixth or seventh–after the workout, of course. I have been very clear with my female friends about my own hierarchy. My husband and kids come first. Then family, then work, then my obligations to our community. I rarely have coffee with friends. I almost never go out to dinner with another woman. I wish I did. I wish it were different. I yearn for a sisterhood.

But maybe I am wrong, and boys/men do have this same issue with intimacy; it might just come out another way. Because maybe intimacy is intimacy, and just as we don’t want to get bit in the eye by our lovable but erratic dog, we all shy away from whatever that thing is that is too painful to live with in the Other and choose to move away rather than to move towards. I have a great life with very few regrets. One of them, though, is that I don’t have richer, better relationships with women.

On the other hand, it’s not true that I never again opened my heart to a woman. Of course I did. I have built a long, trusting relationship with the person I most feared and hated back when I was eleven—my sister Katryna! It is with her that I have done the icky, unromantic, clumsy work of relationship building, of screwing up and apologizing, over and over again. And through that work, I have learned how to be a friend to others. Having a family takes a huge amount of time and love, and while love is an abstract idea—yes, I love everyone, I love the world, blah blah blah—in practical terms, love takes time. Some would say, love IS spending time. It’s spending focus and energy. And while a person has infinite stores of love, she only has so much time and focus and energy. I have chosen to give mine to my kids and partner first and foremost. Maybe that’s why it didn’t work out with Stella. I wanted a dog who was easy, which was why we didn’t get a puppy. I wanted to leapfrog over that first puppy year, leapfrog over the house training, the chewed furniture, the sweet heartbreaking puppy-crying-in-the-night for its mama. Stella was three when we adopted her. But those years we leapfrogged over carried a mystery that can’t be ours to solve: what is the trigger that makes Stella snap? What causes her to be so afraid that she lashes out at a person’s face, their very eye? In the weeks and months leading up to our giving her away, I berated myself. We should have hired a trainer. We should have done the clicking thing with those clickers CMoore gave us. I should have spent more time with her.

But my time was taken. It was taken by my kids, my beloved partner, my work, our house, music, our community–and yes, my friends, those sweet snatches we steal to catch up with each other even if just via voicemail or Facebook or text. My heart was broken in ways that were permanent back when I was eleven. Stella’s ticks and triggers were set sometime in those three years when she wandered around Texas before boarding a truck that brought her up to Massachusetts, where we found her in the shelter. My son’s little tooth is going to fall out—probably this weekend—and will be replaced by the tooth that was always meant to be there, and who knows what that tooth will look like? If it’s a bit crooked, we’ll do some orthodontic magic to get it straight. We’ll make it work. And we will accept the straight and crooked paths our lives take. And bid our dog adieu.

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