A Dog on His Master, by Billy Collins (2010)

Tonight I watched a movie in which Billy Collins reads the poem below. Sadie lay splayed on the couch between me and DH and I cried with simple and complete appreciation.

 

A DOG ON HIS MASTER

As young as I look,

I am growing older faster than he,

seven to one

is the ratio they tend to say.

Whatever the number,

I will pass him one day

and take the lead

the way I do on our walks in the woods.

And if this ever manages

to cross his mind,

it would be the sweetest

shadow I have ever cast on snow or grass.

(from Ballistics: Poems, Random House, 2010)

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A Fool, Her Money, and Matters of the Heart

Early Valve Disease

 

That’s an image on the Veterinary Cardiologist’s website. Scary, no? I sure don’t know what the image means, but I hoped to hell when I saw it that Dub’s heart didn’t look like that.

After more than a week of debating the merits of advancements made in canine cardiology, I decided to bite the bullet and take Dub to the specialist.  His foot — if you will recall he hurt it last week — is mending nicely. And our regular Vet Dr. H -, upon foot follow-up exam, reiterated the urgency of Dub’s heart condition. “I’ve been having nightmares about this one’s ticker,” she said, as she cut the bandage off of his paw.  Nightmares? Really? I began to wonder if perhaps she was suffering some guilt around not having correctly diagnosed our first dog’s cancer early enough for treatment. Not that we would have put our dear Samson through chemo. (Maybe.)

My phrasing, — “I decided” — was very much deliberate, dear reader.  This is because it was all me. DH and I had talked it over at length, several evenings in a row, and we had come to the agreement that it was ridonkulous to take our 5-year old dog to a cardiologist for an estimated expenditure of — are you sitting down? — $545.  I mean seriously.  We already knew that we wouldn’t be taking extreme measures to extend Dub’s life beyond its natural course — no pacemakers, no surgery, etc.  And medical treatment, from what the oracle that is Google had told us, was about treating symptoms, not delaying the inevitable. He had no symptoms, ergo, no need to see a specialist.

So why the change of, um, heart? 

Dub started sleeping with me. Dub’s not usually a lover, but while his foot was hurting and he had to wear the awful cone-of-shame all night, he sought some comfort in the curve of my back.  It would take him three tries to get up on the bed as he navigated the vertical leap avec cone, and then after he finally arrived, he’d slap the cone down on my thigh or my belly, lay down his weary head inside of it and sigh. And in that simple, ludicrous moment, I just needed to know. I needed to know if this dog’s heart was going to crap out on me in the near future. I needed to prepare myself.

I actually snuck him to the cardiologist. I worked from home yesterday and didn’t tell DH my plan. All morning, I steeled myself, vowing to hang tough and minimize the number of tests performed, dollars spent. I will NOT pay a lot for this muffler.

Once we got there, I was feeling pretty damn ridiculous, I gotta say. Dub was absolutely manic, jumping and lunging all over the waiting room and other “patients” there, prompting raised eyebrows of all humans encountered. “Has he been to obedience training?” one woman asked. Said woman had a purse in her lap and a cat in a box. 

“Not so much,” I smiled.  You stupid bitchy cat lady.

“What’s he here for?” asked another skeptic, who held a quivering Bishon bearing only patches of fine white hair.

“His heart?” I squeaked. 

 We finally made it back to the exam room where Dub calmed down:

How ridiculous do I feel now that we're actually waiting for the cardiologist?"

And I read the writing on the wall:

Like any good cardiologist, they provide terrifying artwork.

Finally, finally, we were visited by Dr. S-, who seemed like an incredibly sane person. 100% reasonable. Reminded me of my birth doula in a patchouli-and-clog-wearing, long-grey-haired kind of way. She agreed to forgo the full work-up (cardiac ultrasound), in lieu of an EKG and some extensive stethoscope maneuvers.  After some poking and careful listening and thoughtful questioning, here was her diagnosis:

  • Atypical seizure in August.
  • Systolic click –likely early degenerative valve disease (translation:  he will die someday)
  • No murmur or gallop
  • Sinus arrhythmia, normal finding in the dog (translation: he’s in amazing physical shape so his heart rate slows with his breath)

 No medications needed. OK for normal activity and diet. OK for anesthesia if needed in the future.

Total charge: $265-

Sigh.  At least it wasn’t $545. And I got what I came for; I’m going to be throwing Dub’s slimy Frisbee as long and far as I can for the foreseeable future.

I called DH a few hours later and started with the good news, “hey, guess what? Today I saved almost $300!”

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Going to the Dogs: A Forced Series on Canine Arrhythmia

go to the dogs
Meaning: become ruined, often by excess or neglect

Tonight’s pre-bed pastime has devolved into watching Dub lick himself. He started at the front, working his tongue intently between the pads of his front paw, left then right. He worked his way back to the left hind paw, up his long leg – the dog has hind quarters like a small deer – to the grand, prized space between his legs.

I just had to stop him because he began to nibble at the surgical tape securing a plastic IV bag over his right, rear paw. The plastic IV bag covers a blue bandage that completely encases his foot, and extends up to his knee joint. The bag is there to save our carpet from any excess, dripping blood. “I’m sorry, boy,” I whispered. I touched my nose to his and inhaled his current smell (earthworms and grass). “Try to get some sleep,” I said, and slipped the 15-inch diameter translucent plastic cone back over his head.  

In the park earlier tonight, Dub — who knows how — ripped off a toenail. I swear this dog was born under an unlucky star. He’s not even five years old; we’ve had him with us for five months. So far we’ve had a seizure, a complete blood work-up, and invested in several preventatives. Total veterinary expenditure so far: $600+.

Here’s the kicker: DH called me from the vet while they were fixing up his bloody paw, and reported that Dr. H- discovered a heart arrhythmia. “Severe arrhythmia,” came his voice through the blackberry balanced on my shoulder.

“That can’t be,” I said. “Last vet appointment, after the seizure, they said he had the heart rate of a champion.”

“Dr. H- said these things appear rather suddenly.” I’ll say. His last check-up was only two months ago.

I stomped my slipper on the kitchen floor where I stood washing dishes. “He’s not even five years old.” I vividly recalled in this moment that the last time DH called me from the vet it was to tell me that Samson had an aggressive form of cancer and very little time left. Prior to that, I had been ready to pony up thousands to just make him better before we discovered that there was no such option. And whether I had been driven by devotion or mere dependence, my emotional memory cannot distinguish.  

“She says we need to get him to a cardiologist ASAP,” he continued.

“Could you ask her about his crazy metabolism?” I said. “Tell her how much he eats and his energy level; tell her that he could run all day and eat all day and never gain a pound.”

“Well, sure. But what does that have to do with his heart?”

I don’t know. That’s why I want to ask. He eats a like a horse.”

“Ok, I’ll ask.”

And that was that. I don’t think he asked. DH brought Dub home, along with a prescription for antibiotics and a brochure for Chesapeake Veterinary Cardiology Associates. I wish I could make this funny somehow, but I can’t summon it. Dub’s bumbling around the house in his cone of shame isn’t even amusing; this dog, of all dogs, should not be restrained or subdued. Both current and potential situations are against his nature. There has been no neglect or excess that could have caused this potentially very bad diagnosis. Potentially bad. We don’t know yet. May be nothing? But it may be something.

And at the moment I’m not feeling especially devoted or dependent. Just dumbstruck.

WTF?

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Shifting Into Third. Maybe Fourth.

The other night, at family dinner with Pebbles and Bam-Bam — a feast consisting of leftover bratwurst and steamed broccoli — DH announced that he’d read my blog.

“Really?” I asked.

I’ve been writing since before I met my husband, 11+ years ago. He has been nothing but encouraging and supportive…as far as he’s concerned. And in part, I absolutely agree with him. He has bent over backwards to give me the space and the lifestyle to write. He paid the rent while I indulged in two years of MFA study in Manhattan. He puts up with my treacherous moods and fits of self-loathing. And he’s so appreciative of my instinct to explore.. from a distance.  But he doesn’t read what I write. Not unprompted, anyway.  Certainly not out of demonstrated personal desire to know what’s what among the squirrels in my brain. 

I try not to take this personally. I mean, all a writer really wants is to be read, right? We want to amuse, entertain, shock, and [insert one of countless possible reader reactions here].  We’re all hoping to spin sentence after sentence that beguiles another human, to apply a literary hand on the back of a reader’s neck and do not look away from the page motherfucker

Needless to say, I don’t think he likes my writing, the subject matter. Maybe it’s the cursing. Or he doesn’t know how to respond. Or my content and tone simply don’t resonate with him. In any case, several years back, about midway through writing my novel manuscript, I pretty much gave up. I know DH loves me. I know that he loves when I”m happy. And I believe he even loves the idea of being with a writer. But something about my writing does not… interest him. In, you know, the same way the Green Bay Packers official website interests him. Not by a country mile.

“Yep,” he confirmed, slicing into another bratwurst. “I read the blog today.”

I nodded.  I coached myself not wait for praise, no matter how badly I desired it. “Well thanks,” I said, swallowing some limp broccoli. “That’s great. Thanks.”

“I think you’re barely out of first gear, ” he added, reaching over with his fork to coax another bite of ketchup-soaked sausage into Bam-Bam’s mouth.

What?

“Pebbles,” I said, “You are not getting up until you finish that broccoli.” I fixed my hot gaze across the table at my sweet Kindergartener. What did you just say to me?

“I think you need to need to really do your thing,” he continued. “You know? Open it up. You’re… idling.”

I stopped. I dug deep into my mental files for some sage advice offered by our former marriage counselor. “Could you get me that bottle of red from the kitchen?” I asked.

“You sure you don’t want me to just hook you up to the bottle with an IV?”  Now he was smiling tha smug-yet-uncomfortable-with-the-words-that-just-came-out-of-my-mouth midwestern smile of his.

“You want to go ahead and get. me. the. wine?” I repeated.

“Is something wrong,” he asked. “Do you not want me to comment on it?”

“The wine?” I asked. I know what he meant.

“The blog.” He handed me the wine. “You know what I meant.”

“Oh no,”  I said. “Of course I want you to comment.  Of course. I mean, You’re the only one who will comment honestly. Who… actually cares.  I need your feedback.” Gears!? What do you know from first or fifth? You didn’t even finish my manuscript 5 years ago!

Then we got into it…. the medium of the blog, my purpose for this blog, my attempt to keep to a reasonably narrow scope. I argued that this is non-fiction, memoir-ish (“I think it’s been well established that the line between fact and fiction is quite blurry,” he countered.) I defended my desire not to seriously or permanently offend co-workers, family, and friends. (You publish anonymously!” he argued.)

And then I finally broke down and admitted how hard it is to be writing a blog at this stage in my life — in what I had imagined would be a much more illustrious literary career. Hell, at this stage I’d give my right arm for a fledging literary career.  There are so very many things wrong with that expectation, especially given the choices I have made,  but there you have it: the truth. ‘Atta girl!  Instead, I focus my work days on ghost-writing content-free executive emails and/or creating complex powerpoint presentations. And I’m blogging at night after the kids go to sleep in order to do something. Because this is the way life goes. And this blog is my little attempt to start again, to pull a thread of an idea, to practice and play, and eventually, turn out a story of merit that is actually published. Or maybe two. Someday.

***

“Darlin,” he finally said, “I’m so sorry.” He put his hand on my left hand, fiddled with my rings.

“For what?” I shrugged, pouring another glass of wine. “For telling the truth?”

“For being hard on you,” he said. “I just want to help. I love you and I want to help. I don’t always know how to express it.”

“I know,” I said. “I know you do.”

“I’m a little bit like my father that way,” he said.

“And I’m a little bit like my mother with the histrionic reactions,” I smiled.

He  poured himself another glass. Took my hand. “Hey. So. I don’t doubt you. I love your work and I react when it doesn’t seem true to who you are, you know? That’s all. I want you to realize that.”

I’ve been waiting to hear that for 10 years! Be it the look in his eyes or my second glass of wine, but I felt brave at that moment. I told him what I’d been waiting to tell him for a week.  “I have some other news, actually. Which — as nice as this chat is turning out to be — may actually further delay my writing career.”

“Yeah?” He put his arm around me and the girls slid away from the table to play quietly with their dolls in the other room. “What’s up?”

“We’re going to have another baby,” I whispered.

When I finally looked up to see his reaction, DH looked like I just handed him the moon and the stars on a platter. He’s been wanting another child for some time and I have been reticent — with what seemed like good reason. But these things happen when they happen, depsite our best efforts at control.  

“Guess we both need to downshift now, eh?” I smiled.

“We do…” He wrapped both arms around me and grinned. “We sure as hell do.” 

***

Everything between the *** never happened and in no way represents the truth or actual conversation we had on the evening in question. (This means I am NOT pregnant, mom.)  Just a little blog experiment, if you will, in blurring those fiction/non-fiction lines.

Idling in first gear, my ass.

Game ON, boyfriend.

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Sometimes Love Really Is a Bitch

I could chase my own tail with excitement!

It is sometimes lovely to be completely unaware what is happening in the world. There come distinct moments of delight and surprise that could not occur otherwise.  I’m sitting here by the fire, googling this cozy Friday evening away, and I discovered that NOT ONLY was an animated feature-film length version of Ackerley’s My Dog Tulip released in early September, but it will be playing at Landmark E Street Cinemas on 11/5.  

Best literary animal work of all time coming soon to my favorite movie theater?  With Lynn Redgrave, Christopher Plummer, and Isabella Rossellini? Did I mention the clever log line, Sometimes Love Really Is a Bitch? And that the E Street theater serves wine?

Oh, this calls for some serious pre-game indeed. Consider getting your own copy and following along….



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Ignorance. That’s…Hot?

There are three things I’ve quickly learned about keeping a blog:

  1. It must be current.
  2. Entries must be brief or approach genius in content and structure.*
  3. It must be current.

Numbers one, two, and three pose a challenge for someone with my daily time constraints — someone who also harbors a competing, deep-seated, and egomaniacal desire show others the world as I see it in a truthful, reasonably intelligent, and thoughtful manner.  Though as long as I hit just one of those in each entry (truthful, intelligent, or thoughtful) I can give myself the ‘atta girl I need to keep going. And oh, how I loves me the ‘atta girl.

The point here (you were starting to doubt?) is that I was working on a new post that frankly was not nearly as interesting to me as a topic I unearthed in today’s NYT.  And since today’s the day (see point #1), I’m quickly, clumsily, switching gears and themes. This post, in the literal sense, has absolutely nothing to do with play or with dogs.

“Unearthed” is perhaps taking too much credit; Maureen Dowd’s latest Op-Ed is on the front page AND currently the most popular emailed and viewed article.  As a general rule, I have mixed responses to Dowd’s theses, but I give her writing two thumbs up for intellect and sass.** And this, readers, is why today’s OpEd today, “Making Ignorance Chic”  trumps my original editorial plan.

Today Dowd contrasts the era of Marilyn Monroe — striving, against all odds as a perceived sex object, to attain a level of intellectualism — with that of today’s (truly absurd) Sarah Palin, “another famous beauty with glowing skin and a powerful current…[who] has made ignorance fashionable.  The comparison, just starting with those respective women’s public roles,  is a stretch, I gotta say. But Dowd’s point strikes a chord nonetheless. Public beauties of the past like Monroe experienced great shame and humiliation when considered dumb. But somehow, Sarah Palin and her ilk, are successfully painting “exceptionalism as suspect.” 

Well that’s, like, totally gross right? What does it mean for our culture when the majority doesn’t actually WANT someone smarter and better educated than… well… the rest of us, in the lead? Don’t we want to look up? Have we stopped aspiring to something better than what we can affect in our own back yards?  To be fair, I think a lot of us do. (We’re out here, Ms. Dowd! Raising daughters, blogging our little ideas, and wishing we could be smarter about all of it!)  I find it disheartening even that so much attention is paid to today’s flailing politicians, who cannot present themselves and their ideas is a manner befitting the positions of great responsibility that  they seek.

The article is worth a read, I say, (as do thousands of other people emailing NYT articles around tonight). 

And a final note to Ms. Dowd, with all due respect: Seriously? Palin’s a “famous beauty?” Let’s never forget what our mothers told us over and over again: pretty is as pretty does. 

* Total word count for this piece: 520. Seems long.

** I also really like her hair. (And thank Christ for that, what with Ann Coulter running from one Fox studio to the next with all those nasty split ends whipping every which way.)

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Pretty Thoughts for the Season

Yesterday was a glorious fall day in the DC Metro Area. DH usually does morning walk duty with Sadie and Dub, but yesterday I bolted shamelessly from my side of the bed to volunteer. And by shameless, I mean that I muscled through the shame I felt to get what I wanted. On days when I don’t have to be anywhere, playing with the dogs out while DH makes breakfast for Pebbles and Bam Bam is a mouthwatering luxury, and DH knows it. Add an overpriced cup of coffee, and the minivan practically drives itself to the dog run.

Right. I drove them to the dog run. It undermines one of my primary excuses for getting the dogs (to encourage exercise) but supports the other – the play side.

Nothing marvelous or extraordinary occurred while we played. Dogs sniffed and were sniffed, Frisbees were caught. But my three-dollar coffee tasted SO good between chucks of Dub’s slobbery, muddy tennis ball into the glinting sunlight. And all while Sadie mosied about sharing the love, as she as wont to do whenever friendly strangers are in her midst. Sadie is the Blanche DuBois of dog run visitors.

"I've always depended on the kindess of, well, you know..."

With all the unmitigated quiet in my head, I had the presence to ask myself why I loved this moment so much. I didn’t used to love this moment. Not with giddy enthusiasm, anyway. When we lived in Manhattan with Samson, and DH was traveling for work, I could be positively grudging as I buttoned my coat up to my nose while waiting at the coffee cart with our first Brittany. I’d spill half the coffee down my sleeve and curse a blue streak while I trudged to the run at Riverside and 105th. Then I’d drink what was left while Samson poked his nose through the iron fence and pointed squirrels on the other side. Feeling guilty for having a hunting dog in the city, I’d let him out of the run (after checking carefully for park police) to chase local vermin, and then inevitably, he’d gallop away and I would spend the next 15 minutes running about in a tearful panic, hoping he didn’t make it all the way to 96th street and try to cross….   

That was the worry of my life in those days — Samson getting creamed by the cars turning off of West Side Highway onto Riverside Drive. I was getting my MFA, and one memorable morning, Samson’s self-guided hunting expodition made me nearly late for a seminar where I would get to meet Arthur Miller, up close and personal. I thought I was going to KILL him. (Samson, not Mr. Miller. I almost leapt across the table and kissed Mr. Miller on the lips, so brimming with life and creative potential was I on that fall day…)

As I picked up a steaming pile of poop before we headed home yesterday, I drew the somewhat reluctant conclusion that Sadie and Dub inspire nostalgia for more carefree days. Once I got them loaded into the back of the minivan, I edited that thought. They help me be more care-free today.

It’s pretty to think so, anyway.

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