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Posts Tagged ‘reflection’

Hi, Everyone

I guess it’s been a while since I’ve written anything here. How quickly three months can go by.

My last post was written in a blaze of triumph. I had completed my novel! I had found a new job! Was there anything in life that I couldn’t accomplish?

Two months into my new job, I am very happy that I made the move. There are many wonderful things about my new job, and many wonderful things about the place I now work. For example: today I got to have a Cinnamon Crunch bagel from Panera Bread. It was so amazing that I seriously can’t stop thinking about it.

And there are other good things, too.

But though I knew it would be hard starting a new job, I didn’t realize exactly how challenging it was going to be. I came from someplace where I knew the basics of just about everything. I went to someplace that is much larger and more complex, where I still feel like I don’t know anything! When I was going through the interview process, I felt so confident about my ability to do this new job well. That confidence took a major hit when I started and felt absolutely clueless. I want to do my job so much better than I am doing it now–but I’m not there yet. My co-workers are very patient with me, but I am not very patient with myself.

From huge success to gross incompetence–that has been my last three months. And staring down one own’s inabilities, while trying not to fall completely behind in a job in which one’s performance doesn’t seem to exceed beyond subpar, is exhausting. Literally, physically, bone-achingly exhausting. There have been more than a handful of nights when I have climbed into bed at 6:30, and many more when I have wished that I could go to bed by 6:30.

But last week, I had coffee with my new boss, and I told her how I also really enjoy writing, and that I wrote my first novel last year (even though it is terrible). She reminded me that there is nothing stopping me from writing now. It was an important reminder.

So, here I am, back again. Until I get distracted again, as I inevitably will. Or until I fall into a diabetic coma from eating too many Cinnamon Crunch bagels.

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Benson

There is a new dog at my house.

Benson was actually adopted by my mom from a shelter, but for complicated reasons, he has wound up in my sister’s and my custody. He is somewhere around a year old. He is a Bichon Frise, like Felix, but my sister is pretty sure he also has some terrier relatives. He’s full grown, but he’s about half the size that Felix was.

Benson is very different from Felix. Where Felix would bark and growl, Benson will jump and lick your face. Where Felix did not want to be touched, Benson will curl up in your lap and snuggle against your arm. Where Felix was old and tired, Benson is full of energy and enthusiasm. Where Felix hated strangers, Benson welcomes them into the home (after a few initial warning barks). Where Felix would destroy dog toys in a matter of minutes, Benson will happily play with them for weeks. Where Felix was so smart he stayed anxious all the time, Benson is happily dumb.

I miss Felix.

After Felix died, it was initially so strange and sad to be in a house without a dog, yet the idea of having any dog other than Felix seemed abhorrent. Then, as time passed, the idea of having another dog seemed possible, even desirable. But my fear about getting a new dog was that I would unfairly compare the new dog to Felix, and have trouble bonding with the new dog in the midst of lingering sadness.

And that’s pretty much exactly what has happened. Benson is a great little dog, even though he can’t figure out that we don’t pee on the carpet. But much of the time, being around him just makes me miss Felix. It is so strange to have a dog in my house who is not Felix. Though Benson has been with me for over five weeks, I still hesitate every time I call his name, because it’s “Felix” that’s on my tongue. More than once, I actually have called him Felix. (And when I do, I feel bad about it, because I feel like I’m insulting Felix’s memory.)

When we first took Benson to the vet, everyone at the office was sort of amazed that we had a nice dog for once. For over 16 years, we had come in there with a dog who hated the world and hated being bothered. Now, we had a dog who will wag his tail no matter what you do to him. Our vet said, “You’ve had Benson just a few weeks, and he’s already better than Felix was!”

Oh, that stung. I know that it was hard for others to love Felix, when he so clearly had no love for them, but I still forget that not everyone could see how special Felix was, at least, to me. Even though Benson is a “better” dog than Felix, in that he doesn’t bite strangers, he honestly can’t compare in my mind. Benson is a sweet guy, and I like him a lot. Felix was a lot more than that to me.

But, I go through the motions. And it is really, really nice to have a dog in the house again. It makes it a lot less lonely. I am sure that I will love Benson a lot one day. It’ll just take some time. Time is what I had with Felix, and Benson just needs, I’m sure, his chance.

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College-Ruled

When I was getting ready to move out of my childhood home, I got rid of a lot of stuff. I was a panic about moving into a house with limited storage space (and moving with my sister, who keeps everything), that I purged a huge amount of stuff I had been holding onto for sentimental reasons.

One of the things I disposed of were my college notebooks. During college and grad school, I bought a brand new five-subject Five Star notebook for each semester. Each class got its own subject in the notebook. It was a beautiful way of organizing myself, and the end result was 11 thick notebooks, crammed full of quizzes and tests and papers, and pages covered in notes, written in complete sentences with a black ink pen, that stretched from one edge of the page to the other. We don’t need MARGINS in COLLEGE!

For classes that were too easy for me, there were notes written using my left hand. For classes that were taken with friends, there were notes written by others about how Eisenhower and Khrushchev were lovers during the Cold War. For blow-off classes (and I did take just a few), there were a handful of pages of notes, followed by blank sheets of paper. The notebooks were the story of my college experience.

Even at the time of my purge, I didn’t want to get rid of my notebooks. But I told myself it was silly to keep them. I had no use for pages of notes on the nineteenth century immigrant experience. I told myself that I was keeping all of my books, and papers I had written, to say nothing of my diplomas, so keeping all of my notes was excessive. I told myself that I was desperately trying to hold onto a part of my life that was over, and that even though it was the best part of my life so far, it was pathetic to keep hanging on to these pointless symbols of my glory days. I was like a worn-out, fortysomething football player and the notebooks were the high school letter jacket I still wore every day.

So, I not only got rid of the notebooks, I destroyed them. I ripped them to pieces, ostensibly so I could recycle the paper and throw away the non-recyclable materials. However, I think that if you wanted to read into my actions, it’s possible you could infer something about anxiety and anger regarding goodbyes to the joyous carefree days of young adulthood.

When it comes to personal life decisions, my gut is pretty reliable. It’s when I don’t listen to my instincts that I get myself in trouble. Last summer, my gut told me that I wasn’t ready to throw away those notebooks, and I should have listened. Those notebooks are at the top of the list of things I regret not bringing with me.

Increasingly, I feel like my brain is atrophying. I feel like I am getting stupider every day. This is tough, because for most of my life, my one point of self-esteem was that I have always felt fairly intelligent. These days, it doesn’t matter how many books by David Foster Wallace I read or how quickly I can recall detailed information at work or how many silly blog posts I write about The X-Files, I feel like all the cells that knew stuff good are melting.

Those notebooks represented the blood, sweat, and tears of my smarts. They were the work that came out of showing up to almost every single class and reading almost every page of the assignment. And as long as I had them, there was always the feeling that I could go back and re-read my notes and re-learn the things I had forgotten. All would not be lost!

Somehow, my gut knew that I was still going to need the security blanket of having my notebooks. If only I had been smart enough to listen to it!

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There is a writing challenge taking place, which was proposed by author Laurie Halse Anderson. The challenge is to write for 15 minutes a day, every day, during the month of August. It seemed like a good opportunity for me to get back into the writing habit.

I like the challenge’s approach to write for just 15 minutes. Fifteen minutes isn’t very long. It’s not enough time to think about word choice or to spend much time debating about whether the subject matter is interesting. It’s a bit like National Blog Posting Month, which I did last November, except, to me, it feels like there is less pressure to write anything coherent. I think that, sometimes, lack of expectations to write something cohesive helps nurture a writing spirit more than anything. After all, what really can you come up with in just 15 minutes? It’s taken me two minutes to write what I have so far, which means I have THIRTEEN MINUTES REMAINING.

(Note: I don’t believe the writing challenge is encouraging people to ONLY write for 15 minutes, if they should want to write for longer. But it is late, and I need to go to bed soon.)

Ready… GO!

I have continued with my re-watch of The X-Files. It’s been an extremely interesting experience to watch episodes of a television show that I watched repeatedly and obsessively ten and twelve years ago. When I see certain images on the show, I sometimes say out loud, “I REMEMBER THAT.” But at the same time, I won’t have any memory of how the episode plays out. In the episode I just finished watching, “Redux II,” I was struck with how vividly I remembered the musical theme that accompanies Scully while she is in the hospital. I could hum it as soon as it started. At the same time, I couldn’t remember how the issue of Mulder having killed a man got resolved. (Which seems like a much bigger detail, as far as details of the show go.)

Memory is freaky like that. It’s odd how the brain holds on to some things, and lets go of others. It’s odd how the brain invents new layers to go on top of memories, and in doing so, buries what was true. Radiolab, one of my absolute favorite radio shows, did an entire episode on memory and how faulty it is.

Another example of my own faulty memory is relates to the movie Vertigo. I first watched Vertigo when I attended a day-long program as a prospective student for an MFA program. I had never seen the movie before, and I absolutely loved it. (In fact, I had always avoided Hitchcock, because I am very easily frightened by typical horror movies. The twistedness of Vertigo, however, was totally my style.) After the movie, the group had a discussion about different interpretations of the film and its ending.

Months later, I got my sister to watch Vertigo with me. I was very excited to watch it again, in part because I loved the big twist at the end of the movie. Without spoiling anyone who may not have seen Vertigo, I will simply say that when the movie was over when I watched it that second time, I turned to my sister in shock. I had had a very vivid memory of how the movie ended. And my memory of it was completely false. It was likely a confabulation that developed as I continued to process the movie and the discussion among the MFA students that followed it. It was unsettling, though, that my mind had developed a version of reality that it regarded wholly as the truth, when in fact, my memory was completely false.

This is also a theme that’s dealt with a lot on The X-Files. Mulder’s quest for the “truth” is really, at its heart, a quest to remember accurately what happened to him and his sister when he was 12 and she was 8. In order to regain those memories, he undergoes all manner of hypnotherapy and highly experimental procedures. But nothing is ever a faithful memory. No memory he is able to conjure up can be trusted as fact–in large part because depending on the circumstances, his memories conflict. When he questions people about what happened, they also give conflicting stories. Is it because they wish to deny him the truth, or is it because they simply can’t tell fact from fiction?

How reliable is any truth when by our very nature, we are so prone to invention? And when we are so ignorant of our own lies?

(And stop! That’s today’s 15 minutes, folks, and I need to get some sleep! I stayed up too late watching X-Files. Man, I love that show. Just like I remembered that I did.)

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Scars Eight Weeks Old

It’s been eight weeks since my dog died.

In the days immediately surrounding my dog’s death, I experienced three incidents that affected me physically.

On the Wednesday before he died, I pulled (or possibly tore) my hamstring during my dance recital. On the Friday before he died, I had two moles removed by a dermatologist–one on my back and one on my wrist. On the Sunday after he died, I burned my hand on a toaster oven.

Eight weeks later, nothing is completely healed. The muscle in my leg is still just as sore as it was the day after I injured it (likely aggravated by the fact that I refused to stop taking dance classes over the summer). The spots on my wrist and back from where I had moles removed are plainly scarred. The scar on my hand from the burn is starting to fade, but still visible. And I still miss my dog.

Because all of these injuries occurred within a period of five days that will forever be defined by the loss of my dog, I can’t help but associate them with his death. In my mind, they are inextricably related.

I can’t help but be soothed, in some ways, that none of these physical marks have completely healed. It’s as if it’s my body’s way of telling my mind that some things can’t be fixed in just eight weeks.

And because the injuries are so connected with the experience of losing my dog, I can’t help but think of them as my “Felix scars.”

I have actually gotten used to him not being in my house anymore. I don’t expect to see him when I go home, and I’m not surprised when his bed is missing from my room. I don’t have to stop myself from setting out food for him in the mornings. Strangely, the scars are some of the best reminders I have of what it was like to have him be part of my life.

Given that, do I even want to be fully healed? I’m not sure I want to give up these reminders of the last time I ever spent with such an important friend. I do wish that my leg would not be so uncomfortable, but I’m not sure I’d ever choose for my three Felix scars to fade. I know I’ll never forget him, but somehow the scars make it easier to remember.

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Felix

When I was eight or nine, someone broke into my house. We had so little of value that the would-be robber didn’t actually take anything, he just rifled through our things and left. The police officer told my mom that she shouldn’t be living in a house alone with two kids. “You need either a husband or a dog,” he told her.

First, my mom tried the husband. That was short lived. So then she tried a dog.

At the time, if you had asked, I would have told you that getting a dog was all my idea. I very much wanted a puppy of my own. I did my research and discovered that there was a hypo-allergenic breed of dog–the Bichon Frise–which would be perfect for me, considering my allergies.

My mom found a woman who was selling Bichon puppies, and we went to take a look. Almost all the puppies were, of course, rambunctious and adorable, but there was one very quiet little dog who was keeping to himself. Thinking that his calmness meant he would grow up to be a very even-tempered dog, we picked him. And he became Felix.

After a couple of years, we realized that we had confused “quiet” with “shy and socially anxious.” Rather than growing up to be a calm, sweet dog, Felix grew up to be a nutcase. It was as if Felix knew that my mom had gotten a dog as an extra source of protection, because Felix was determined to protect us WITH ALL HIS FURRY MIGHT. Felix would protect not only against robbers, but against ALL strangers. And friends. And family. And squirrels.

Felix was afraid of the world outside of me, my mom, and my sister. He was afraid of the dog house we built for him, and he was afraid of his dog bed. He hated water. He hated when people touched his paws. He hated cats. He hated other dogs. He hated when someone dared walk on the sidewalk in front of our house. Most of all, he hated when men dared come into our house, especially carpet cleaners or repairmen or the like. He bit a couple of people–some who had irresponsibly provoked him, and at least a few who were doing nothing but minding their own business. He barked and lunged and growled at strangers.

At the worst times, my mom thought that we weren’t going to be able to handle him. I remember, after one particularly bad incident (and I can’t even remember what the incident was, now), sobbing and pleading with my mom not to send Felix to the Humane Society. He was so much trouble, but he was so wonderful and so perfect, and so worth the trouble.

Eventually, the vet prescribed a daily dose of diazepam to help calm some of Felix’s boundless anxiety. While the diazepam did calm him some, his energy was unstoppable. Felix was notorious for running in large, impossibly fast circles in our backyard. He would chase his tail, then catch his tail, and then gnaw lightly on it. Any sort of stuffed dog toy we gave him would be destroyed in short order.

There were plenty of things that Felix loved. He loved going for walks more than anything. He loved sweet potatoes and potatoes. He loved treats so much that he didn’t get them too often, because he easily slipped into bad begging habits. He loved having his belly scratched.

And we loved him. Felix was almost always sweet with us. How can you not love someone who is so hell-bent on protecting you from the threats posed by mailmen, cats, and close friends? With us, he was nothing but a typical, excited, faithful friend. He was a constant presence. On the rare occasions when he had to go to the groomer for the day, the house was strange and sad and empty without him. A cliche, sure, but the house wasn’t home without Felix there.

He was a constant during our turbulent teenage years. He was company for my mom when both my sister and I went off to college. When I came home from college, I struggled with the adjustment. Being in school gave me an identity, and without school, I felt lost. During that time, Felix and I both latched on a little closer to each other. Even when my days felt pointless and I felt like my life was going nowhere, I still made sure that Felix got his food and his medicine and got outside, and he made sure that every night, he curled up next to my bed and kept me company. He was my pal, my buddy boy, my baby, and an excellent conversationalist.

I loved his doggy smell, and I loved how he snored, and I couldn’t help but feel loved when Felix wanted to be wherever I was. I could never feel completely lonely when Felix was there. I could never feel completely worthless when he needed me to take care of him.

The past few years, Felix calmed considerably. Did he have a stroke that caused a personality change? Was he so blind and deaf that he didn’t know what was going on around him? Did he finally understand that the world wasn’t out to get him (or us)? Was he just too tired to care? We don’t know. But instead of the crazed protector, he became the calm, quiet version of himself that we saw as a puppy. We took him off the diazepam. I could have small groups of people over to my house, and he would barely blink an eye.

Felix would have turned 17 on September 2. Despite his age, he always seemed to be in great health. I knew, intellectually, that he was aging, but maybe because I saw him every day, I didn’t realize how much. I thought he had another year. Maybe two years. Maybe more. Dogs live to the age of 20 all the time, right?

In the past, whenever we tried to have Felix sleep on a dog bed, he would do nothing but bark at it and try to attack it. When I moved into my new house, we tried again, knowing that ceramic tile would not be comfortable for his old joints. For a few days, Felix thought his new dog bed was the biggest and best toy from the pet store. He tried to throw it around and play with it. Finally, though, we taught him that it was a bed, and it was not for playing, and he came to love his bed. Throughout the course of a day, I would move his bed all over the house, so he could be close to me, and still be comfortable.

Felix had to have a minor surgery a few weeks ago to remove a benign cyst from his head that was draining and causing some problems. He did very well during the procedure, but afterward, the strain of being under anesthesia was too much for his tired heart. We went back to the vet and discovered that there was fluid in his heart and lungs. We brought him home from the vet with medicine that was supposed to try and clear some of that fluid out. Then, I laid him down on his bed, and with my mom and I sitting by his side, he died.

He lasted a lot longer than that husband did, and he meant a thousand times more to all of us. Thank you, Felix, for being a best friend to me for almost 17 years. I miss you every single day.

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Day 30

Today is the last day of November, which means that National Blog Posting Month has reached its conclusion. I am proud that I stuck with it and actually did post every single day, even when it was difficult.

I have heard that it takes 30 days to create a habit, so I am hoping that in posting every day for 30 days, I have at least a foundation for a blog-posting habit.

And of course, I have learned some things thanks to NaBloPoMo. What are those lessons?

It’s hard to write every day, and I have a pretty laid-back life. I really only have to take care of myself, but even still, sometimes I really just want to go to bed and forget about trying to post in the blog. However, the time to write does exist, so long as I commit to it.

It is difficult for me to write something not about myself. When I try to talk about something other than me (Lost, Chicago, New Moon), it ultimately becomes a post about my experience of that thing, not the thing itself.

I should try to use fewer words. My habit is to use many more words than are necessary. I also enjoy starting sentences with the word “and” more than is appropriate.

It is hard to try and come up with something interesting to say every day.

However, no matter how blank my brain feels, I always can find something to say, even if it is stale or uninteresting. Is it worth it to write that down, just in the name of writing it down? If my goal is to become a better writer, maybe it is worth it to write just to write. That was supposed to be the purpose of this blog, anyway.

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