Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Friday, November 11, 2011

Guilt, Greed and Good Intentions

I am in the process of trying to find a new(er) home for my yellow lab puppy Eowyn. I have wanted a dog since I can remember. For years it was impossible because of my city digs and erratic schedule. Then, once I started working regular hours, my landlord wouldn't allow it. Now, with a place in the country and the passing of our ancient cat, I thought "this is the time."

I filled out an application with the local humane society. I was approved and they began to work with me to try to find a dog that would be a good match. The biggest obstacle was that I am away for 10 hours a day, which is a lot for a dog. Mrs. Beckett, a teacher, works longer hours than me, leaving earlier, returning later.

Then a coworker showed me a pic on her cell phone of a gorgeous little yellow lab pup. My coworker's friend's god daughter was trying to find someone to adopt her. I was all over it. Perfect! Labs are good-tempered, smart, good with children, good with animals, considered far and wide one of the best family dog breeds.

Mrs. Beckett was cool to the idea. She has never owned a dog and was worried about the effect on our cat. But I knew also that she loved dogs when she got a chance to be with them and that she would probably melt when she saw a pic. Indeed, she did give in to me. We picked up the puppy last saturday. She was scared and low key that day, not all that rambunctious.

My plan for the pup was to let her roam the lower level of the house while we were at work, leaving wee-wee pads for her until her bladder was developed enough to handle the day. It wasn't much of a plan, but I had faith I'd figure it out. That night, she fell asleep and I carried her up to her crate in our bedroom.

Sunday was the Eowyn show. I tried to give her as much attention as possible, knowing that I would be leaving her all day Monday.

Monday I woke up an hour earlier than I normally do to take her out and give her some play time. She went out for a pee and was back asleep in short order. When I got home all was well, she had used the pads and had destroyed nothing.

Tuesday (which state workers get off), I took her to the vet. He asked if I was crating her and I told him that I couldn't do it during the day because of the amount of time she was left alone. He didn't like this at all and asked why I would get a puppy and, ashamed, I said "I didn't think it through." He suggested I remove the partition in the crate that only allows her room to lie down to give her the ability to sleep on one end and mess on the other.

"Isn't that cruel?" I asked? "What's cruel?" he said, "you decided to get a puppy when you wouldn't be home."

So I started looking for someone to come in during the day. I contacted a pro who would cost 360 a month to come for an hour once a day. I put an ad on craigslist. Then I talked to a neighbor who agreed to come once a day for $150 a month.

Problem solved! Except Eowyn has been wearing me out. I cannot keep up with her needs. Part of the deal with Mrs. Beckett is that I am responsible for the dog, not her, and we've already had some friction with me needing her to watch her while I do something else. Yesterday, Eowyn was up and very active from when I got home at 5:20 to around 11:00. She rested for about an hour in the middle. This has got to be because she is getting too little stimulation during the day. She just does not have enough activity while I am gone, even with the efforts of my neighbor, who took her out twice yesterday.

I talked to a trainer who said the current arrangement will not meet Eowyn's needs. She said if I got someone to come 2x a day, say once at 11 and once at 2, for 45 minutes or an hour each, this would be doing right by the pup.

Indeed, she is already showing signs of separation anxiety. Yesterday, when I tried to put her in the crate for a few minutes so I could make dinner, she went ballistic, which is out of character for her. And she can't tolerate me being out of her sight. To make matters worse, I find myself unreasonably angry with her. Tire out already, will you! I want to spend some time with my wife! Why would you pee on the floor?!! Again?!! Of course, she's a puppy, and she's acting like one.

You might be thinking, "well what did you think having a puppy would be like?" and all I can say is that (1) my heart sometimes moves faster than my head, and (2) contemplated labor is never as difficult as actually doing the work. I am exhausted and both Mrs. B and I are emotionally worn out. I can't spend four or five hours a night with this dog.

And she is a lovely lady. She came to us knowing "sit," and it did not take her long to learn "down." I've also been working with her on "give it." She loves to fetch and shake the life out of her toys. She loves a good tummy rub. She likes best to sleep next to me on the couch, as she is right now. She sleeps through the night in her crate and will not come out until I get her, even though I leave the door open at night. When we first got her she hated the leash and collar and would not walk. Now she will happily walk far and wide.

I feel like a monster. I try to tell myself we've been good foster parents, that another situation will be better for her. She needs more attention than I can give her. I always looked on people who didn't train their pets properly or gave them up with condescension and disdain. "Don't get a dog if you can't handle one. Sure a puppy's cute, but that wears off once you have to take care of it. Morons. I would never get a dog unless I was prepared to take care of it properly." Maybe others aren't as inept and I am not as masterful as I like to whisper to myself.

Mrs. B burst into tears this morning at the thought of giving Eowyn up. I keep second guessing myself. Even now that the word has gone out and it's a matter of time before someone comes forward to care for this little lady, I think, this can work. It will get better. We can do this, right Eowyn? If I change my mind again, Mrs. B. might just(ifiably?) kill me for building this rollercoaster and strapping us all into it.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Schizophrenia and Nothingness

Earlier, I was listening to a Buddhist priest of a Japanese sect talk about the overlap of Shinto and Tendai Buddhism. He mentioned the practice of praying to one's ancestors (I think this is Shinto, but practiced by a fair number of Japanese Buddhists). A member of the audience asked whether the priest himself did this. The priest confirmed that he did, but in response to some incredulity by the questioner explained that it was a form of contemplation -- a way to address a problem by invoking the wisdom of elders. Or something like that.

Then he said, "It's not that you expect to hear a voice responding to you saying, 'Tell your son the exam answers are A, C, and 28.' If you hear voices in Japan or the United States, you're schizophrenic."

It made me squirm. His answer was a little bit defensive and a fairly natural. "Sure I pray, but that doesn't make me crazy." Crazy, as we all know, means hearing voices. First, point of information, some people hear voices and are not schizophrenic. Some people hear voices and are not mentally ill.

But what really needled me was that in the world of shamans that shinto and perhaps buddhism arose from (according to this same priest), there was no schizophrenia. The shamans communed with the supernatural. Some people could walk both this and the spirit world.

I had a client who told me he was schizophrenic in that he understood why he was diagnosed that way. He considered himself to be in communication with another realm of being and believed that this power of his made it very difficult for him to function in this world. He saw that he was crazy by objective measurement. So he accepted the antipsychotics. But he described himself as a creative schizophrenic and further conversation with him revealed that he did see things other people could not see. Beings in the room, lights, etc.

I wished for him that he could have been born in a time when his difference was not seen by society as a loathesome disease, but a gift. We treat him as if he is possessed by a demon that can only be exorcised by a cocktail of poisonous magical pills.

Once, while I was talking to him, he stopped talking mid-sentence and closed his eyes. I waited as he stood in front of me, a look of peace on his face. I waited for what seemed like minutes as the chaos of the psychiatric ward swirled around me. And then he opened his eyes and continued the conversation. I asked him "what happened there"? He smiled blissfully and said he couldn't really explain it and then said "I think I was levitating." He looked a little unsteady on his feet and explained that it took a lot out of him.

He was in fairly good shape. There are others whose personalities seem to have been shattered and mashed back together with malice. Incoherence, rage without apparent provocation ("Hello" "Fuck you. Get the fuck away from me."), uncontrollable weeping, hypersexuality / sexual preoccupation (Guess what? I'm pregnant. And it's yours!), debilitating delusions (the toilet is angry with me, so I can't use it). The person may have the constituent parts of a personality, but it is wildly out of whack. Sometimes they can tell you about who they once were. Sometimes they really were.

The severe mental illness I'm describing seems like a sort of mind death or at least mind crippling. It illustrates just how illusory the "self" really is. "I'm a nice person" or "I'm an executive" or "I am Joe Smith" might be true right now, but there is no guarantee that they will be true tomorrow.

Which brings me back to my shenpa when the priest made light of hearing voices. This hit me hard because I identify with my schizophrenic clients. They fight battles you cannot imagine. They face the perilous choice of a lifetime of debilitating drugs or a life battling both the voices and the medical establishment, with no clear path to healing. They stagger or fight through the worst slums of this world and the mind. They are often caked with suffering. I identify with the hopelessness, cynicism, outrage, and avoidance they demonstrate.

And I identify with them because I fear mind death. I fear I will lose my self.

So the priest's joke disturbed me because it reminded me of the inevitability of my death. It was as if someone failed to pay the proper respect to my ancestors.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Peace Alights Instantly

Cat cries.
Motorcycle roars.
Crow croaks on.
Jet tears sky,
Fathoms resound.

. . .

Even enforest from concrete and metal work, klaxons blurt emergency.

Once my heart grew strong with your love.
Now (is it heart, soul, mind?), it is ineffably stricken.
Its cry boundless, point snapped, object dissolved.

Not for your love I treasure.
Not for God I can't believe.
Not for control.
Not for control.
I ball my fist.

. . .

Even today, aimless in stifling Taconic mist,
I may mount a minor summit.
Peace alights instantly.

enough, frail fraulein

October falls to November
Almost try again
The Coarser vows in December

Ramparts in winter; in fall surrender

Lest you forget:
Deer beside blacktop
lunatic on platform
Grass in gutters
Babies wrapped tight

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Pine Sol Shining on and on

I hate cleaning. I clean about as regularly as I post to this site. Unlike those saintly fools who delight in cleaning and fancy nothing more than mopping the floors and scouring the grout, I spend my cleaning hours in a time sink in which my frustration ebbs and flows but never quite dissolves.

I wait for a day when I have something to do that I want to do even less than clean.

I begin with a mixture of faint hope and grim determination like I am sojourning from Rivendell with the Fellowship.

For weeks I have fooled myself into thinking "it's not too bad in here." Wipe down the counter, stack the mail in a pile once every couple weeks, a real clean won't be too bad.

So I begin by telling myself without much conviction that I will be done in an hourish. But as I proceed I realize what squalor I have been living in. After an hour passes and I have just managed to vacuum the rugs, I understand that this task will not be completed today or, indeed, likely ever.

What is the stuff on the floor that I have to scrape off with a knife? When did I let that drip on the floor and blithely leave it there? Is the wood turning black along the baseboard? Is it in the grain? Can I even get that out? And where does all this hair come from? Why does every pass of the sponge come back with a strand of hair? ARE WE GOING BALD IN HERE?

It seems as I clean that, impossibly, everything is getting dirtier. I am sliding down the hill I set out to climb.

This is how I find myself windexing the glass windows of the cabinets at 12:30 in the morning. As I typed that I looked up at the recently windexed glass and saw that it was all streaky, and so had to get up and DO IT AGAIN.

Do you know how much time I spent mopping the floor? I must be the most inefficient, incompetent floor mopper in the history of OCD.

(On a side note, I have never found a mop that I really like. They all seem to push the water around without doing much scrubbing. I need a mop that grinds dirt off the floor like a belt sander.)

I don't have time for this shit. How do people with kids not suffocate under their own detritus? I didn't clean the whole house. I vacuumed 2 rugs, cleaned the kitchen counters, mopped the downstairs floors, and cleaned the downstairs windows, and it was like four fucking hours. I have yet to clean either bathroom, straighten up all the papers and crap that are inevitably covering every flat surface in the house, clean the wood floor upstairs, clean the upstairs windows and then jump out one of them.

It feels like a super-human effort to keep the place at non-toxic. I used to sort of accept that I was a slob. But being a slob sucks. Living in filth is uncomfortable and a bit embarrassing. Like we're not fully capable of handling simple grown up tasks like keeping the windowsills from turning black.

I just got up to get a glass of seltzer and on that little 10-foot journey to the fridge I noticed that I had forgotten to clean the side door window. When I opened the fridge, I looked down and realized that there was crap on the floor that I had missed during my cleaning session because I hadn't opened the fridge door while I was cleaning. What WAS I thinking? I actually managed to ignore the crud on the floor (which is how the floor gets to be such a shitshow to clean in the first place), and windexed the damned side door window.

Now that the inside of the window is nice and clean, I can see so much better all the filth coating the outside of it.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Bug and Man

After deciding not to, my squeamishness overcame my scruples and I washed a big black bug down the drain (making me less fit, happy, and productive). Though I caused its death (somewhat against my own will), as it struggled and then went under, it could not have had any conception that it was murdered by a more powerful being (to the extent that it has any "conception" as we think of it at all). At first I thought perhaps, just as I was a sort of God to this bug, smiting it capriciously, perhaps a God exists beyond our human consciousness. Then I realized that this thought made little sense. I think, rather, what the bug demonstrates, is that there may be power/force beyond our conception. It is error I think to then assume that this unknown is, in fact, a lot like us. (I really like Stanislaw Lem's "Solaris" and "His Master's Voice" because they challenge our assumption that an alien being will be like us. Instead, he imagines that even the most basic communication may be impossible. They may well be so "alien" that we can't even quite understand how to describe them or whether they're "alive" or "think.")

It's easy to see that over time, God's realm has shifted as our understanding of the world has increased. So too has our conception of God changed as our conceptions of ourselves have changed. Old Jehovah was kind of a capricious king. He acted like a human. He was irrational, pissy, played tricks and jokes on people seemingly because he was way stronger than them, and demanded blind obedience to the death. (Which makes him a lot like the Greeks' and Romans' primitive gods.)

God has evolved to become more civilized. He understands who you are. He is love. He cares about your feelings. He is not into dominance for its own sake. He just wants righteousness to prevail the world over.

Forgive me this gross oversimplification. I write only of the Christian God and ignore the fact that there are myriad interpretations of God's personality. But I'd wager volumes have been written tracking how the persona of the Christian God has shifted along with culture, just as many surely have spoken of how God appears to be a projection of humanity's hopes and fears into the void.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

80 MPH

brilliant, morning sharp,
doe's plush ruff flat compresses crash wall
feathery fur yet warm

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

He did not answer the question she posed

Closer she crept
The bulbs of her thighs perched on the stems of her calf, balanced on the balls of her feet
She poured her hand onto his shoulder
Splayed black bright strands over his chest

He made no visible move

Outside nothing changed
No sound sustained
Two feet of snow lingered under depthless blue and searchlight moon

He gathered her hair into his fist

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

When the Hoover Dies

What will happen when California can no longer rely on the Hoover Dam? How quickly will our standard of life fall when severe rationing/rolling blackouts cripple the state's economy? Do we have the ability anymore to undertake so massive a project? Will we ever be able to create work on such a scale again? Or are we in imperial decline where we have lost both the will and the knowledge to achieve as the generations that preceded us?

The last great leap in infrastructure followed the Great Depression. We have been through a long economic crisis and infrastructure improvement has been a talking point, but a Hoover Dam-type project is out of the question. We can't even agree on high-speed rail. The political discourse is almost totally irrational and preoccupied with perception. Our bridges are failing. Our oil is limited. Our supposed leaders sold their votes to their party bosses and corporate donors long ago.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

How Does One Make a Good Choice with Limited Information

I may have an opportunity for a job about an hour and a half from where I live now. It's a good job for me. It's secure, it involves litigation, and it's public service. I think I would really like this job. That's all well and good. But I don't KNOW that I'll like it. I can't know that. And unlike my present employment, it's a permanent gig. In a remote city. It's a serious commitment. What if I take it, hate it, and can't find anything else? What if I end up stuck in the middle of nowhere with no way out? This FEELS like the kind of place I could stay for the rest of my career. That's awesome in the fullest sense of the word -- as in it is amazing to behold and makes me cower.

It boils down to having to decide whether to take the job based on impressions from my interviews and online research. But I can't know the future or whether my wife will be able to find a job in a new city. I know I'm happy where we live now, but if I take this job, we will have to move sooner or later.

So, to the title of the post: decision-making with limited information. It's like buying a used car (something I may be doing very soon). You can check it out, you can drive it, you can have it inspected by a mechanic. But you can't know whether water damage is eating away at the electrics or the timing belt will snap next week. You can't know that your mechanic did a good inspection. You can't know that you won't wreck the car the day after you buy it. All you can do is put the hours into checking buyers' guides and finding a mechanic with a good reputation and a car and seller that "feel" right. And in the end, that's what makes or breaks it: the feel. Do I trust the guy? Does the car feel good to drive?

This seems unsatisfactory to me. I should come to grips with the uncertainty inherent in all decision-making. I should remember that, just as I make a choice to take a job, I can make a choice to leave a job.

I hemmed and hawed about this a couple years back and took the right job. Can I do it again? Should I just be grateful that I have a choice at all?