The Perfect Dog

 

Oh, friends, I am driving myself crazy. And everyone else around me too. All because of a dog.

For Christmas, we told our kids we were getting a puppy. I have been in touch with a wonderful breeder of mini goldendoodles, and over the course of the fall, sent him a deposit for a pup who will be born any day now. Said pup is what’s known as an F1 mini doodle, meaning its mama is a golden retriever and its daddy a poodle. But the whole reason we got interested in the first place was because we’d puppy-sat our friends’ adorable mini goldendoodle, whom I will call Perfect, and we’d fallen in love with her last September. Even Tom said, “Yes, let’s get a dog like Perfect. It’s time. We’ll keep it a secret and surprise the kids at Christmas.” (As readers of this blog know, we once had a dog named George Harrison, a personality-impaired chocolate lab who ate everything including our bananas and his own poop. Then we had Stella, who was fantastic in every way except for biting kids on their eyeballs. Both dogs left us for much better forever homes. Two strikes, right? But one day, we promised the kids, we’ll try again. Three’s the charm, after all. And everyone knows that you should get a puppy if you want to make sure to have an untraumatized dog. Assuming, that is, that our household will be free from trauma, which is a big assumption.)

So I acted on my best counsel, (my own) and proceeded, without completely researching every aspect of this project. To wit: I asked my friend T where she got her goldendoodle, whom I had met once as a puppy. She told me, and I went with that breeder, INSTEAD of going with the breeder of Perfect.  But now, by pure coincidence, Perfect has come to stay with us for a week, between Dec. 23 and 30 while her humans are on vacation. I have been snuggling this sweet puppy, running my fingers through her curls, washing her in the sink, carrying her around the house, going for runs with her, even sleeping with her at night. I am smitten. We all are.

I saw T right before Christmas and casually asked how much her dog weighed, as I haven’t seen her since she was a tiny pup. “30 lbs,” she said. Thirty pounds? Even Stella was 20, and she wasn’t exactly a lap dog. I came home and got on the scale, then picked up Perfect and got back on. My weight with Perfect, minus my weight was…13 lbs. I couldn’t believe it. I was getting a dog twice as big as Perfect. Not perfect!

We surprised our kids with a letter from Santa, cut in two so they had to hold the two sides together to read it. They were out of their minds with joy. But instead of just letting us all have our joy at the dog we would get in the future, as well as the joy of the present moment (Perfect now), I immediately went into full-blown compulsive mode and commenced to ransack the internet with every key word I could think of for “13 lb golden doodle.” (Micro goldendoodle. Teddy bear goldendoodle. Petite goldendoodle. Size of a breadbox goldendoodle.)  I composed a pitch (why we are the perfect family, etc.) and lobbied my husband to agree to flying to AZ if necessary. (He said no. For the price they are charging for this kind of dog, he said, they should fly it to us, AND take us out for steak and champagne.) (NOTE: Please do not leave me comments about how we should rescue a dog, or how elitist we are to be buying a microbrewed puppy, or designer dog. I am about to turn 50. My beloved candidate–who people also criticized me for supporting– just lost the election, and perhaps our nation has lost its democracy. I know what I want: a curly-haired dog who will sit on my lap for hours. I am too old to pretend to do something my heart isn’t in, and it’s no longer in me to rescue a dog from the pound. I have done that four times, plus adopted a retired therapy dog who was labotomized. I am getting the dog I have always wanted. Please leave your opinions at the door.)

But then I discovered that I could not live with myself. I am a bad neighborhood, right now, snapping at the kids who are somehow not eternally grateful for their gifts, furious at the fallen pine leaves from the dying Christmas tree that are littering my carpet, yearning to play music but perversely unwilling to step over to the piano or pick up the guitar. I have internet-itis. Everyone is misbehaving. I keep bursting into tears. Most of it is because of the election, and the news, etc. but somehow it’s all pilling onto the frustration with myself that I didn’t put a deposit down on the right sized dog last September.

I dreamed last night that I met with our new president-elect. To my surprise, he was quite different in person. In fact, he was a teen-aged girl, who spoke like a teenaged girl, specifically Hailey on Modern Family. I began speaking to the president-elect as I would to a girl 35 years younger than me but also to the office to which she’d been elected, which is to say carefully and slowly and with respect but not endorsement. “I have some concerns about how you will handle the economy,” I started, thinking that was more neutral than going straight to the Muslim registry. “It seems that you have some goals that are at odds with each other. Like hiring a budget director who wants big spending cuts while you are advocating a huge jobs bill.”

“Yeah,” said our president-elect. “That is a bit weird.” She pulled her wad of gum out of her mouth and examined it.

“Also,” I continued, emboldened by her reasonableness. “We’re all a little afraid of tyranny.”

“No need,” she assured me. And somehow, I believed her and woke up feeling a little better.

Anyway, as the day was unusually warm,  I went for a second walk in the dog park with my beloved Perfect. And while I was there, I saw the most amazing thing: a motley grayish standard poodle, and for the first time, I took in the beauty and grace that breed possesses. His owners let him off the leash, and he ran like a deer. I exhaled. There is beauty indeed in large dogs. What do I know? I am capable of loving anything.

It will be ok. The 30 lb dog will be fine. I have fallen in love with Perfect, the way you fall in love with a person, or a city, or a career, or a wedding ring. What seemed slightly strange and off initially becomes the beloved after one has spent time, real time, with her. I can’t imagine loving another dog now that I have fallen for Perfect, but the truth is I will love my puppy, no matter how big s/he gets. And do you know what? Perfect was sitting next to me the whole time I was writing this. Now I am going to post it and put away my computer and just hold her for a few minutes. For right now, I have the perfect dog. Maybe I can trust that will always be true.

 

The Week After

 

 

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Somehow, this week seems harder than last week. Last Wednesday, my bright blue friends in the bright blue town in our bright blue state felt unified. Everywhere I went, people were crying and embracing. My Facebook feed was covered with all my like-minded peeps writing like-minded grief-ridden things, or posting hopeful, inspiring thoughts. We held an impromptu free concert and sing along at Lander Grinspoon Academy last Saturday, and it felt like a wonderful funeral. We cried, hugged, and attempted to lift each other from despair. We all sobbed the next morning when Kate McKinnon did Hillary doing Leonard Cohen–a perfect performance of satire, mastery, sympathy and poignency. Last week, we all floated a bit in that first stage of grief: denial. Maybe the Big Orange Tarp wasn’t that bad. Maybe he would stymie the Republicans. Surely he was just an actor, saying a bunch of fake lines to get elected.

What is the next stage? Anger. Then Bargaining. Then Depression. Eventually acceptance, but I have a ways to go on that. Depression seems more the mood of today, complete with a gentle but persistent rain, thick clouds to cover the supermoon.

It’s the not knowing that is so hard. We don’t know what will happen with a Trump presidency. We can guess, and all of us who were alive in the last century have some PTSD over the post Gore/Bush election, and how 9 months into GWB’s administration we got 9/11, and then the wars. This time around, instead of a laughable clown with bad grammar and a scary right wing cranky Cheney at his side, we have a hateful narcissistic bigot and xenophobe with Bannon in as his chief advisor. What could go right????

We don’t know. We don’t know. This is the mantra I keep muttering as I try to cope with my despair. Here is what I do:

-I fix the broken water filter in the fridge

-I change the batteries in my tuner

-I field emails about my Local Chorus and plan our show for next Sunday

-I practice “One Hundred Names” for my piano recital

-I change my strings for our show on Saturday morning at Flywheel, a benefit for Hilltown Families.

-I send emails to Elizabeth Warren, Ed Markey and Jim McGovern, just to tell them I love them and to fight the good fight in the months to come

-I get on my knees and thank God for the Obamas

-I call my friends and family and plan some music for Thanksgiving

-I wear a safety pin, even though I know it’s an imperfect white-privilegy thing to do

-I write my 16th poem for 30 Poems in November to help new immigrants to Western MA.

-I watch Modern Family with my kids and laugh and laugh

-I send money to Foster Campbell from Louisiana so we can put one more Democratic senator in congress

-Stop the fake news! Don’t post anything without fact-checking. Don’t believe anything without fact-checking.

-I plan to go to a meeting at my kids’ elementary school to talk about how to cope in the aftermath of the election

-I make lists like this, of things I can do to stay positive and connected, because it’s connection that will save us. Here are some more resources.

-I read this poem by May Sarton to my writers:

Take Anguish for Companion

If the one absolute is suffering,
And if the only absolute is doubt,
From these alone belief must be wrung
Or else the bitter poverty found out:
Take anguish for companion and set out…

But if we dare to keep anguish companion,
We feel spring in our throats a living song,
See man leap from the rocks toward the sun,
Refuse to be imprisoned for too long,
His anger storming at the walls of wrong…

For to be desperate is to discover strength.
We die of comfort and by conflict live
Who grow in this knowledge till at length
We find it good, find it belief enough
To be anguish alive, creating love.

– May Sarton

Kali 2016

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My cheeks sag down
Making me look even sadder than I feel
There are new folds in my eyelids
Pillows under my eyes
Donald Trump wants to fix this.

He will make my face young again
An aging face is a terrible thing
Terrible.
Have you seen her?

Today in my safe town
LGBTQ capital of the nation
A man sneered at my Asian friend and me
“Chicks and Spics,
I can’t wait till you’re all exterminated.”

There are swastikas at Hampshire College
There is graffiti on Mount Tom
The n word

This is not my town.
Has this always been my town?
Whose town is this?

What is a woman?
The Vedas taught that within each, we all have
The three faces of the Goddess

Saraswati Goddess of Creativity,
Lakshmi Goddess of Wealth and Beauty
And of course, Kali the Destroyer

Kali, birth and death
Kali, black-faced, with the necklace of skulls
Kali, whose lolling tongue
Laps up the demons
And ingests them
Makes them part of herself.

Hillary, Hillary
We projected whatever face we wanted onto you
Sometimes Mother Mary
Sometimes Hermione Granger
Sometimes The Devil Kali

But I
See myself. An aging
Imperfect, wrinkled
Striving, laughable
Brilliant, incompetent
Perfectionist, fighter.
Middle aged woman:
Clumsy with the internet
Trying to please everyone
Reinvention at every turn
Plans and lists
Heart broken
But not my spirit.

She gets knocked down
And she gets up again.

Hillary, I want for you
To rise to the heavens
The way you’ve lifted all of us
Shown us what is possible:
To win the presidency
(In any other democracy, your numbers would have given you the prize).
To defeat a bully and a liar
Three times on the national stage.
In your concession speech
You were gigantic
Mama Superior.

I want for you
To sit under a tree with your grandchildren
Like George Washington at the end of his life
Only for you, that would never be enough.
That is not what you want.

What lake is big enough for all the rage of all the women
Angry and aggrieved on your behalf? What
Repository can hold all our tears?

In the Vedas,
The demons multiplied
When we cut off their heads.
Each drop made a new demon
And so finally
Kali came to save us
Put down her sword
Opened her generous mouth
And swallowed them all
And they became a part of her.

We will have to swallow this.
Eventually we will.
But today we fill the lake
With our tears.

Nerissa Nields
Nov. 11, 2016

 

This poem was written as part of 30 Poems in November, a benefit to raise money for Center for New Americans, a Western MA organization that provides welcoming services and literacy for recent immigrants. For more information, or to sponsor me, go here

 

Alfred Hitchcock Plays Our Nervous Systems Like a Piano

There are many kinds of fear.

img_5641Last Friday, I went to my amazing dermatologist to see what was up with this new, ominous black mole on my lower left calf. “Probably nothing,” she said. “But you aren’t supposed to be getting new moles at your age. Let’s take it off just in case.”

Usually, I freak out over any kind of test. I’ve had my share of scares, moles I have fretted over, always to be told they were harmless, skin tags or age spots. That day, I shrugged. Hillary was ahead in the polls, and I was in the studio recording a fresh version of “Jesus Was a Refugee” with Dave and Katryna. Katryna was nailing some gorgeous Katryna-esque vocals, and Tom and I had Date Night at my favorite restaurant and the Dar Williams show at the Academy. It was a glorious day, and I was detoxing from the paralyzing fear that had gripped me for most of September when Nate Silver was putting the Democrat’s lead at only 55% and Hillary was sinking in the Ohio and Florida polls, not to mention getting pneumonia. I was, as I posted last week, convinced that we were marching towards a Trujillo-like regime where we would lose our free press, have to erase our Facebook posts, and stand helpless as our friends were deported. The fear had been exhausting and depressing. I was enjoying a respite.

Halfway through Alix Olson’s opening set, my cell phone rang, and I saw that it was our new babysitter. Anyone else I would have ignored. I walked up the aisle of the theatre and answered the phone once I was in the lobby.

“Um, so, Johnny and I were in the attic, and maybe that’s why I didn’t really know where she was, or lost track of her, or maybe she said she was going somewhere but I didn’t hear, but anyway, we’ve looked everywhere and LILA IS GONE! She’s nowhere in the house!”

I said, “I’ll be right home,” and tore down the darkened aisle. Tom was already on his feet, gathering our coats. We ran back up to the lobby, and just as soon as I told him that Lila was missing, I got a text saying, “She’s in the shower. Never mind.”

We sheepishly returned to our seats. I gripped Tom’s thigh as I tried to calm myself down and focus on the show, to laugh at appropriate intervals (Alix is a very wonderful, funny poet/comic/activist), and then to enjoy my dear amazing old friend Dar. But I couldn’t fully settle after that scare. My mind kept flitting away from the theatre. How was Johnny feeling? What was it like for him to have been with a babysitter who thought she’d lost his sister? At intermission, I called back and asked to speak to him. I said, “You probably knew she was around somewhere, right?” “No,” he said cheerfully. “I thought she’d been kidnapped or died.”

And my thoughts went to my biopsy. What if it was cancer? What if all the things I generally worried about were about to turn into a tiny pinhole in comparison to questions of MY LIFE AND DEATH????? Also, what if the polls were wrong, and/or all the sane people stayed home on election day? WHAT THEN???

And then I remembered how Alfred Hitchcock had said that he enjoyed playing his audience like a piano. Eventually he hoped to forget film-making altogether and just press levers to manipulate people’s nervous systems. Once we’re in that state of fear, we’re highly manipulable. I had thought I was calm, relaxed about my biopsy and the election, but in fact, I was just a 16-year-old neophyte babysitter’s call away from pure panic. Realizing this, I sat there in the dark Academy of Music and just noticed my nervous system in its heightened state and focused on my breathing. I began to calm down, even smile as I thought of Lila blissfully in the shower, as the sitter called and called for her.

Just as Hitchcock played our nervous systems, so is Drumpf when he talks about Mexican rapists or presidents in cahoots with ISIS. It’s even what Hillary and her gang are doing when they send us apocalyptic emails saying Drumpf’s ahead in fundraising, so YOU’D BETTER GIVE $19 IN THE NEXT FOUR HOURS! And of course it’s what the media does with every single clip and talking head and headline. We are being played. In fact, I’ve participated in this, writing that if Drumpf wins we’re headed towards a fascist dictatorship or at the least the 21st century version of McCarthyism.

So it turns out, a week later, that the mole is a melanoma in situ, which means it has not become invasive. Stage 0, 99% curable. No big deal. It was not the cancer call I spent my life being afraid of, though I didn’t exactly feel jolly afterwards. My doc gave me some clear directions about what comes next (light surgery to clear the margins, rest, no exercise for 3 weeks and avoidance of skin exposure for the rest of my life). I continued to focus on my breathing, and I called a friend who had exactly this kind of situation last year (“No more shorts for you!” she said.)

Dear ones: do regular mole checks. Have your partner or a trusted friend scan your back, or get your doctor to do this. This is not the same sun our fathers and mothers knew. But when you do face the sun, take it in with gladness. This moment is all we have, all we are promised, and in the end, it’s all there is.

And…as Dar says, “it’s the gift of what you notice more…the blessings.” The strange irony that when we get that bad news, we also get that “angel in the streetlamp that blinks on as I walk on a mile.” I felt so close to the angel after I got the news, and the fear did not feel paralyzing, as my election fears feel. A “strange and empty light,” yes. And the gift of perspective, of limits, of gratitude.

My Yes Vote For Hillsy


hillary-intenseMy friend Pam Houston asks the question: who will you dedicate your No Drumpf vote to. She dedicates hers to “my four year-old self, smiling bravely for the camera in her 3/4 body cast, and for every little girl who lays awake at night in her room afraid, and to Hillary Clinton, who has dedicated much of her life to the betterment of girls and women, and who each day puts on her bulletproof vest and stands up for us all.”

While I list below many reasons I am a NoTrump, I am going to take a cue from my friend Kris McCue and make clear why this a Yes Vote. The debate gave me something I really needed: faith in the candidate I AM going to vote for. What our president said about HRC at the DNC kept ringing in my head during that rout of a debate: this candidate is kicking major ass in an arena traditionally dominated by men, and like Ginger Rogers, she’s doing it backwards and in high heels. She is taking on the Donald better than any man could. She is cool, calm, collected and amused in the face of a bullying narcissist. I went from endorsing her with my head to endorsing her with my heart. I want this woman to be my president! So I hereby dedicate my YesForHillary Vote to:

My friend L. who says “God bless you” to me every time she enters my house or texts me. She would be deported under a Drumpf presidency.

My African American friends who are tired of being told, “Why are you complaining? There is no racism! You just had a black president, what more do you want?”

My lesbian and gay relatives whose rights would be threatened by the appointment of supreme court justices who would happily overturn DOMA.

My grandfathers, Republicans both, who stood for so much more than the mean-spirited bigoted fear-based party that has sprung up in the century after their deaths. Their party was one of restraint, tolerance, support of civil rights for all people, not to mention a distrust of the Soviet Union.

The kids I have taught whose bodies don’t work like most kids’ bodies. The mothers of those kids who would live in fear of their president saying something horrible and caustic about their child on national TV, giving permission to all the bullies on the playgrounds to do the same.

My friend F. who taught me about Islam, showed me what a peaceful and beautiful religion it is. All the amazing Muslims I have known since.

But ultimately, I have to dedicate the vote to my kids. Because it’s their world that will be affected the most by a Drumpf presidency. I know some Hillary-haters who have made the argument that it would be better to have the country suffer four years of Drumpf than to have what they see as Business As Usual. But this assumes that Drumpf would govern as just another Republican president, and I have no confidence that he would do so. He is famously ignorant (prides himself on his know-nothing-ness of American history) and my greatest fear is that he will simply bulldoze forward with his Let’s Run The Country Like a Real Estate Empire modus operandi, and pass laws willy nilly to change how the country works. No, say my reasonable friends. The Republicans won’t let him. But why would the Republicans stop him? How would they stop him? They couldn’t for the past year; what makes anyone think they’d succeed if he actually got elected by a majority of Americans? Plus, Republicans know which side their bread is buttered on. They will have just had their seats saved by Drumpf’s ascendency. They will vote for whatever he wants. And if folks don’t get out the vote for the Democrats, that will be all three branches of government under his command—don’t forget that open seat on the SC he will fill with an Antonin Scalia-clone under his Republican-controlled Senate. And along the way, he will silence the journalists who criticize him, just as he revoked the Washington Post’s access to him. I fear for my children’s very civil liberties, for their freedom to express themselves, for their freedom to be who they are.

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Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton represents everything this country has always stood for: courage, doggedness, tenacity, compassion and self-sacrifice. She will most certainly not be business as usual. Anyone who is actually awake can see empirically that for a woman to become president in this country would mean such a revolution—the world turning upside down—that we as a people are seriously considering hiring someone uniquely and completely unqualified in her place.

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Let’s not do that. Should we fail to elect this brilliant, compassionate, flexible woman, I fear that

-Every beautiful lake, mountain, river and plain will be exploited for its capital-potential.

-Any meager progress we have made over the past decade in terms of climate change will be lost. Drumpf does not believe in Climate change.

-I even fear for our savings. Conventional wisdom holds that if Drumpf becomes the president, the Dow will crash by 1000 points the week after election day. Wealthy liberal New Yorkers are discussing at what point they pull their money and stick it in foreign real estate. Speaking of which, I fear all the people I love will abandon this country and move to Canada, New Zealand, the South of France, Sweden, Amsterdam.

-I fear that Drumpf will be a petty dictator in the model not so much of a Hitler (though of course I fear that too) but more like The Dominican Republic’s Trujillo. Where Hitler scapegoated the Jews, along with anyone else who was different (homosexuals, the disabled), Trujillo particularly persecuted women, purportedly raping a different girl every night. In this narcissistic brand of leadership, the only attributes that matter are strength and wealth and power. The leader will go to any lengths to protect that power, and he will use the bully pulpit to bully those who disagree with him. “When authoritative masculinity is believed to be the only quality necessary for real leadership, daily misogyny is the most powerful way to exercise and practice that all-important ‘skill’. Men who value masculinity above all have to be misogynists. Control and abuse of women is never a by-product for men who believe in masculinity with such faith.” Anton Piatigorsky

Young people: Please check in with your elders about what happened in 2000. We had a boring dude named Al Gore who was totally from the Clinton administration and certainly business as usual running against George W. Bush. Meanwhile, sexy Ralph Nader entered the race as a third party candidate.  On the issues, my friends and I all preferred him to the woodenly predictable Gore. But the race was close, so I cast my predictable Massachusetts ballot for Gore, and I went to bed happy because CNN had told me Gore had squeaked by. The next morning, we all learned otherwise. What followed was a month of stomach aches, head aches, confusion and eventual heartache. Bush actually lost the popular vote, but he won the electoral college because of some hanging chads in Florida. If Nader had not run, both New Hampshire and Florida would have easily gone to Gore, and Gore would have won the electoral college (and therefore the presidency) 296 to 242.

Gore was not perfect. But he predicted Climate Change 20 years before the flooding. He would not have taken us into Iraq after 9/11. And, arguably, if he’d been elected in 2000, we would not be looking at a potential Drumpf presidency today. The Clintons are not perfect. But how could you resist this?????

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