Always wear your velvet side out.

It was black velvet.  With a deep, thick, shiny nap.  The softest dress I had ever felt.  Of course, I was only about three or four years old at the time, so my experience with dresses of any material was rather limited.  And yet, out of my sense-memory, I can still feel it beneath my hands – glossy, smooth, incredibly luxurious.  I loved my black velvet dress.  I loved its sparkly buttons and its ties at the gathered neckline and its two patch pockets on either side of its skirt.

I wanted to wear my black velvet dress inside out.  I wanted the beautiful softness of it to be against my own skin, where I could feel it best.  I didn’t want to waste all its loveliness on the side facing away from me.  It made perfect sense to my three-or-four-year-old self. more “Always wear your velvet side out.”

AI won’t be hatching my eggs

“It is either thrilling or terrifying and a bit of both, I suppose.  And it is inevitable.  We have already opened that door – and irrevocably closed it behind us.”

Almost exactly five years ago, I wrote the above paragraph in a column about the advancement of AI (artificial intelligence) into the reality of our daily lives.

I suppose I am a bit surprised that it has taken less than five years for it to actually move in.  But bidden or unbidden, AI has already taken a chair in the room, vying somewhat stealthily, with questionable maturity and motivation, for an actual seat at the table.  more “AI won’t be hatching my eggs”

On the other side of the mirror.

     Once upon a time, I lived with a cat named Katie.  Katie came into my life during a freezing cold blizzard one winter in Indiana when she was around six years old; she left it on a warm summer night sleeping quietly under the stars in South Carolina when she was about 21.
     Katie was a beautiful, long-haired calico who spent those 15 years with me providing a vast amount of affection and entertainment.  She was loving, funny, loud, opinionated, and scatty as a bat.  Especially as she got older.
     In her later years, Katie used to sing at the top of her voice to music only she could hear, with a sound that could peel wallpaper.  This was typically in the middle of the night (a rather startling way to be awakened).  She would often take naps in the dogs’ food bowls.  She would only drink water outside (rain puddles, bird baths, and water hoses were her favorite sources).  She would only eat the right half of her food.  She constantly forgot that she lived with dogs and other cats and was startled (albeit pleased) whenever she noticed them.
     But her most mysterious habit was to sit for hours on top of my dressing table peering deeply into the mirror – at “the room on the other side.”  And she would try repeatedly, with great determination, to enter it.  She’d poke at it with her paws, press her nose hard against the glass, make loud vocal calls into it.  No matter how much I tried to gently show her that it wasn’t real, that is was only a reflection, she persisted.  To Katie, it was another, entirely separate, reality.  A reality she wanted rather desperately to cross into.
     Now there is new-dog Liam – a rather large brown hound mix, fresh from the orphanage.  And he has brought with him ghosted messages and memories of Katie and the mirror images.  More poignant, more complex, perhaps.  But no less reflections of reality.
     Liam suffers from a sort of PTSD.  I don’t know the cause.  But it’s connected to humans and triggered by strangers.  And it has left him with debilitating fear and anxiety.  Typically, he runs away from his discomfort.  He ducks behind bushes, or bluffs his way out of scary situations with frantic yet empty barking.  He watches faces and studies body language.  He refuses to be touched by anyone but me.  He crouches low and turns away.  He leaves the room.  He misses opportunities.  He hides from possibilities.
     I understand that kind of fear.  I see startling mirror images of my own sensibilities in him.  Different causes … different triggers.  But an undeniably shared intensity of feeling.  With frighteningly similar outcomes.
     Like images in a mirror, our fears tend to put hard edges and enclosures around each of us – woeful limitations that entrap our lives.  And it creates a unique kind of emotional claustrophobia.  I see Liam pressing his nose hard against it.  (Just as I try to press my will against it.)  Sometimes he hesitatingly takes a step forward, reaching out over the gap, and then he immediately wants to retreat back to safe ground.  (I often accept the kindness of invitations to “go with,” to “join in the dance” … but then I immediately want to change my mind, and I leave the party early.)
     Liam sees a long stick or a folded newspaper and fears he’ll be beaten again.  I feel a new lump or an unknown ache and fear it’s cancer again.  He cannot trust.  I seem to trust with my fingers crossed.  He’s quite sure that someone or something will break his heart when he isn’t looking.  I have my own shards and sharp edges lying in wait.
     Our fears and insecurities are both real and not.  Our reasons are both rational and not.  But they’re ours, our realities – perhaps just too raw or too scarred or too interwoven with the fear of what might be to allow us to be fully present for the truth of what is.
     Author Jack Canfield said:  “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.”  And I’m beginning to suspect that fear may be rather like a mirror – a turned-around reflection of the truth.  Perhaps Liam and I are on the wrong side of the mirror at the moment.  And we’re both trying to gather up our vulnerabilities and break free, trying to step across that claustrophobic barrier into the reality we want to know.  The selves we want to be.
     Perhaps Katie, in her quirky, infinite, animal wisdom, had it right all along.

more “On the other side of the mirror.”

A gift of sticks and epiphany.

The first time she came to my home, she brought with her – as a hostess gift – a vase of sticks.  The sticks were a wonderful mix of lengths and thicknesses and colors.  Some were frosted with grey lichen.  Some were bent and twisted from wind and weather.  Some were still green and supple with youth, others dark and aged and wizened.  Each one was its own life history.  Each one was chosen especially on its individual merits to create this unique bouquet.

I knew right then we were going to be great friends.  And so we have become.  And, for her last birthday, I gave her a basket filled with the long, ruddy-red and fawn-colored curls of bark that had fallen from my Crepe Myrtle trees, gathered one-by-one, according to shape and size, color variation and personality. more “A gift of sticks and epiphany.”

The cup doesn’t matter.

Perhaps there is a lingering scent of bird wings and honey bees and butterflies about it.  Perhaps the nutty paws of squirrels have left remnants behind.  And there might be the dusky tang of fallen leaves within it, too.  

It is an old, worn, cement-rough bird bath that stands to one side of my front yard.  And throughout the seasons I see a variety of creatures hanging out there – resting, drinking, bathing, refreshing, all sharing it with one another.

All spring and summer, I try to tip it out regularly, spilling its used contents and filling it up again from the hose or watering can.  But come autumn and into winter, I tend to neglect it woefully, letting the sun and wind and rain have their way with it.  But none of this seems to matter to its visitors.

Even cat Tuppence will often balance on its edges, drinking from it.  Dogs stand on tip toes, dipping their tongues in and out, lapping away.  They all blatantly ignore the fresh water bowls placed throughout the house and on porches and paths (where I seem to think animals ought to drink) prefering instead to indulge in the often dark, murky year-round pool of communal participation and left-behinds of the birdbath.

I supose there must be some natural wisdom for this intriguing practice.  Although it may be just the simple act of sharing that’s important.  But I’d like to believe that within its shallow pool – through the unique shared experience of it  – the visiting creatures somehow “taste” the very lives of each other.  Perhaps it even helps create a sort of belonging to one another. more “The cup doesn’t matter.”

Just like that.

Just like that my house smells like dog again.  

I brought him home from the orphanage on the first day of my last week of cancer radiation treatments.  It was an added sixth week of radiation, thrown in at the last minute.  They called it a “boost.”  But I was already right at the edge of my ability to bear it, and a boost, I thought, could quite possible become a “push” right over the precipice into a very dark hole.  And so, just like that, I decided it was time to adopt another dog.   more “Just like that.”

Tying terror into knots.

The terror comes undeniably and entirely from within myself.  

There is no pain during the radiation treatments for my cancer.  No stinging sharpness, no thundering jolts, no stifling enclosures.  I’m even allowed to listen to music that I choose, and a nearby fan creates a soft breeze across my body.  Everyone is polite and compassionate.

But I am excrusiatingly claustrophobic. And the room is dark and hard-metal grey.  And I must lie perfectly still, completly alone, on the stiff and narrow, unforgiving table, with my feet sometimes bound together.   

And there is – for my particular treatment – a specially fitted mask fastened very, very tightly across my face and head.  It is made of a hard wire mesh that has been shaped to encase my face exactly.  The technicians have kindly cut slits in it across my mouth and eyelids and throat.  Yet it is utterly unmoving when attached to the end of the table, holding my head perfectly immobile – critical for the radiation to be focused with absolute precision on the place to be healed.

I understand.  My intellect understands.  But my terror still overwhelms me.  It fills my body with ice and lead; it bleeds and blanches into my head and heart and arms and legs and belly and back with a surging desire to plead for it to stop, to lash out, to run. more “Tying terror into knots.”

The grace of yellow gladiolus.

It was the first morning after my cancer diagnosis.  It rather intrigues me how we tend to say “my cancer,” as if we are claiming it personally, rather than “the flu” or “a cold,” which we happily share with the universe.  Cancer is personal.

It was that first morning, not quite a month ago now.  Still early.  Quiet.  No traffic.  Not even any dog-walkers in sight.  Nothing to remind me that the world itself had not changed.  But my place in it had shifted significantly. more “The grace of yellow gladiolus.”

Living in Season

“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.” – Henry David Thoreau
There is a reason I sleep in one particular bedroom throughout the warm-weather months.  The bed in that room is level with two old side-by-side oversized windows that take up most of one wall, and it is so near their threshold as to be almost touching them.  With the windows wide open, it’s rather like sleeping outdoors.  Stars are visible from my pillow.  Trees and night creatures rustle and whisper small secrets.  Old roses lean against the screens.  The night itself literally breathes across me, scented with lavender plants and damp moss.
I have been purposely and purposefully living primarily with open-wide widows instead of air conditioning – although I do use overhead fans with abandon in every room.  I think I started to do this in an effort to live more “green” as well as more cost-efficiently.  But what I discovered was the hidden joy of living in season.  Not just with the seasons … but in them.

more “Living in Season”

Quincy: The relationship.

Looking back on it, I rather suspect that when I signed the animal shelter adoption papers for Quincy the dog on that cold December day in 2017, Quincy would have viewed it more as a “pre-nup” – or a sort of roommate agreement.  From the day we found each other until the day we said goodbye a few weeks ago, Quincy always believed it was all about the relationship.

Perhaps it’s because I live without any other human beings.  Or that Q. and I went through the Covid shut-down together.  Or perhaps because he was already eight years old when we met.  But, to him, that relationship dynamic was one of absolute commitment … and one of absolute equality.  Not long into it, even I had to admit that it had evolved into a bond where we repeatedly experienced embarrassingly human “old-married-couple” syndrome.  A sort of dependent independence. more “Quincy: The relationship.”