That’s Just the Writer in Me.

An excerpt of a story about a middle-aged woman who visits her old college in an attempt to settle the obvious midlife crisis/crossroad she’s living through:

The coffee tastes like shit, yet I continue to drink it. Writing and coffee always went hand in hand. At least I no longer smoked. I visit the old college I attended when I was a fresh-faced eighteen year-old. Maybe it will help me become more creative as I sit in a place that reminds me of my younger days, when anything seemed possible.

One of the perks of writing here is the coffee costs 75 cents, a monster savings compared to Starbucks, but like I already said, the coffee tastes like shit and I’m on my fourth cup.

I’m sitting at one of the tables in the lounge. There is a young woman, maybe nineteen, at the table next to me, face deep in a text book. Her long hair is dark and carelessly messy, but in a stylish way. She looks like someone I would have had a crush on. She wears jeans with holes at the knees, a black graphic tee, leather studded boots that capped at her mid-calf. Kind of grungy (do kids today even know what grunge is?). Maybe she’s a bit rebellious in a dark, mysterious, Kristen Stewart, kind of a way.

Her attire shows she might be of the “alternative” lifestyle. I remember looking for that in girls I met at college in 1995 because I was incredibly desperate to meet girls who were like me. I expected everything to be so much broader than the restricted Catholic high school I went to, and in some ways they were, but probably not broad as I had wanted, or needed, them to be.

I wonder if what I’m experiencing is a mid-life crisis. I probably wouldn’t feel this way if I felt I had accomplished something in my life. The fact that I haven’t done anything depresses me.

Did I know I would do this? Did I know I was going to spend so much time looking back? I wonder if I’m capable of anything more with my life. It’s so hard making it as a writer and I fear I may not even be any good at it. (Pause. Takes another sip of coffee. Yep. Still tastes like shit, even more so now that it’s cold.)

Two girls sit on a couch across from me. They are very affectionate and playful toward each other, despite the fact I’m only a few feet away from them and another boy sits at a near-by table. But they don’t seem to notice either of us. I watch as people pass in the busy halls, and barely look at the two girls sitting closer, now holding hands.

Their interaction isn’t tacky, nor is it an in-your-face display of affection. The two girls appear to be in love, lucky to be living in a time when they could be like this in public. Definitely not something I would have expected to see when I walked these halls very frequently, 21 years ago – though I wish I had.

I think about leaving, but decide to stay. I watch. I write. I sip my bad coffee. I sit and observe other people, like a spectator in life.

I suppose that’s the writer in me.

 

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Photo courtesy of freedigitalphoto.net

 

 

 

 

 

Life Gets Better…Thanks Sandy.

Two years ago this month I started volunteering at an animal shelter. The first dog I bonded with was a Collie mix named Sandy. Sandy was an owner-surrender. I don’t remember the exact circumstances of the surrender, but Sandy was very depressed. Her sadness showed in the way she moved – slow and heavy. Her body weighted, not from the extra pounds she carried, but from the confusion I suspect she felt when the shelter became her new home.

I’ve been told that for a dog to go from a home to a shelter is as much of a shock as a free-living human-being waking up suddenly in a prison cell. Although the animals at my shelter are loved and well-taken care of, it doesn’t compare to a home once an animal’s lived in one. The confinement of a kennel, even one attached to a dog run, is jail to an animal accustomed to having free-range of a home.

Animal shelters, no matter how well-tended to, are loud. Dogs who are nervous bark. Dogs who are scared bark. Dogs who are anxious bark. And dogs who are just tired of being somewhere (we’ve had animals who’ve waited a year or longer for homes) bark. So when a dog like Sandy comes to the shelter, and is greeted with chaos she is not used, depression often sets in. Adjustments need to be made and these are abrupt for animals who knew a better life.

My fellow volunteers at the shelters love the animals they care for, and talk sweetly to them, but we are strangers to the dogs. And the ones who had an owner, and faithfully loved that owner and lived in a stable home (for at least a little while), being in a place with so many different hands touching you, no matter how gentle, can fill a dog with stress it never knew before.

Sandy wouldn’t eat, and as weeks went by her weight gradually dropped, but she still moved slowly and wasn’t enthusiastic about anything. There were special notes on her cage and on the dog’s track sheets that Sandy was only to be taken out in the grassy yard, and not the cement and pebbled ones, because all Sandy wanted to do was lay down. I’d lay with her in the grass, pet her, and take her head in my arms, and promise her that things would get better. She’d look at me with sadness in her eyes so deep and profound that I’d challenge anyone who dare say animals don’t have a soul.

I felt close to Sandy and bonded quickly with her because she resembled on the outside exactly the way I was feeling on the inside. I had been laid-off from my job a few months before and battling an illness that was threatening to flare-up again, and I was scared and lost in such profound hopelessness that I desperately searched for any sign that promised better days ahead.

“You’re gonna be okay,” I’d promise while kneeling in front of her and holding her head in my hands. “We both are.”

I kissed her a lot, comforted and reassured her, the way I needed someone to reassure me.

Soon, Sandy was adopted. Her life was going to get better and I was so happy for her. She gave me hope that my life would get better, too.

Last summer I took my dog to a fundraising event for animal shelters. There were all kinds of doggie-themed tents there and as I made my way toward one of them, I stopped near a spectacle of people surrounding a closed-off area. I found a spot and watched as dogs performed tricks and ran through obstacle courses with their trainers, or owners, by their side. The happy dogs circled cones, ran through large cylinder-like tubes, slid down little slides, jumped over rope, and maneuvered across small teeter-totters.

One of the dogs looked a lot like Sandy, but i knew the dog now running excitedly through an obstacle course couldn’t be the same sad dog who ignored the toys scattered in the shelter yards and only wanted to lay down, or the over-weight, depressed dog who moved so slowly I often had to take half-steps when walking beside her. It couldn’t be that dog, and I was ready to walk away believing it wasn’t her, when a man holding a mic said, “Let’s give a big hand to Sandy!”

It was Sandy! My Sandy. And I was stunned. I couldn’t even move. The transformation was incredible. She was a completely different dog.

I couldn’t get to her. The crowd was too big. But I wanted to reach her and pet her again and look into the eyes I was sure showed no more signs of sadness.

I wanted to tell her that I was happy her life was better, and let her know that mine was too.

Sadness doesn’t have to last forever. Life can, and will, get better.

“A Dog Loves At All Times”

Hug your dog. He/She deserves it. They give so much, but ask for so little. IMG_20140616_134429

No matter how sad, frustrated, or upset I may be, when I walk into a room and see my dog, Phil, stretched out on his back, legs bent across his chest, his front paws relaxed over his face while flashing me an upside-down smile, I can’t help but laugh because he looks so silly. And we need a little silly in life to make us smile.

 

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I’ve realized that in many ways I need to be more like him.

Phil’s a great listener. He never leaves me, even as I drench his fur with tears, he stays right by my side, and listens to my sad tales no matter how many times he’s heard it. I need to be a better listener. No more interruptions. I will listen to your side of the story, from start to finish, even as you tell it for the six-hundredth time.

He’s patient and patience is a virtue that often eludes me, especially since I started sharing my home with children. But no matter how comfortable Phil may be curled up in his favorite spot on the couch, once those kids barrel loudly into the room and trample on the cushions he was peacefully sleeping on, he jumps off.  He doesn’t bark. He doesn’t growl. He doesn’t bite. He simply leaves the room without appearing too upset about it. Maybe it’s because he knows  he’ll find some other quiet place in the house and be grateful for it, even if it’s on the floor.

The kids have tested my patience like this before, when I’m quietly reading a book or practicing yoga, only I don’t usually handle it nearly as eloquently as my dog. I argue that I was there first. I stubbornly fight for my spot and when I do finally admit defeat, I leave the room in a huff, hardly ever grateful that there’s another quiet space somewhere in my home waiting for me.

I rescued Phil from a shelter and although he’s a pitbull, there were no signs that he was involved in dog-fighting, but there were major signs of neglect. He was found as a stray roaming the streets of Chicago. He was an abandoned dog, without a home, but he was also a survivor.

Painfully, I force myself to imagine him cold and hungry, lost and alone, wandering around with no place to go. I think about all the people who saw him but did nothing. I get upset, but then I imagine those who fed him scraps of food or offered water to get him by. It wasn’t much because when I brought him home, he was all ribs, but it was enough to give me a chance to find him. I’m so grateful that I did.

But no matter how badly he’s been treated or how many times his heart’s been broken, he is so willing to love and it doesn’t take much to win him over. A pat on the head. A stroke underneath his chin. A kiss on his nose. He knows how to heal. He knows how to forgive. He knows how to let go.

He also knows how to love.

He loves with all he has, without holding back. When I open my arms, he comes to me without hesitation, undeterred by the risk of being turned away. My baby lays it all on the line and I don’t plan on letting him down…ever.

My dog gives me hope. He lights up my darkest days because I know he has suffered to end up here, in a pretty good place, with a mommy that loves him so much. He survived his battles and won. I will too, and so will you.

A picture hangs in my room with the saying “A Dog Loves At All Times.”

Can anyone disagree?

 

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Getting Back

I think I was a better person when I was younger. I was less judgmental and more accepting. My mind was open and clearer. I welcomed new adventures without expectation because whatever happened I’d believed was meant to happen. I just went with it. I was less moody, less irritable. I was optimistic. I took each day as they came as though time would never desert me.

Now, I make presumptions I never used to and turn away from situations I don’t know, don’t understand. My mind is foggy, cloudy, hazy… every last inch of it. Optimism has turned to pessimism and a once open mind, now over-run by an over-analysis of everything. I look at the clock as if time were a girlfriend, packing her last suitcase, ready to say goodbye.

If this is life catching up to me, then I need to run faster because I’m only 38 years old and I want to live to be 100 without turning into Ouiser from Steel Magnolias. 

I meditate. I do yoga. This helps to bring me closer to myself. Everything around me slows down, almost disappears, and it’s only me. Me. Me. Me. And that’s not the way I live. I live for others, not for myself. Meditation and yoga has changed that and forced me to concentrate only on myself. This is hard, especially when you find out things about yourself you’d rather not know.

Ignorance is bliss for many, but I don’t want to be ignorant. I want to figure out how I’ve changed and why. And when I find the reasons I want to smash the blippity blip out of it so it never resurfaces again. Life took me away from me for a little while and I got lost.

Now, I need to find a way to bring a little of my younger self back to me because it’s been a long time and I kinda miss me.