Thursday, January 26, 2006
Who's the Alpha Now, Dog?Just to get us all clear from the start: I won. I prevailed. This fight went to me. The human. The one with opposable thumbs and a credit card.
But it wasn't always clear that that would be the outcome. Yesterday morning found me waking up, eager to embrace the new work day, vowing to get to work a full hour before a conference call meeting, show them that I was a diligent worker, an engaged member of the team, that I cared.
I wake up early. I have a routine now. I've had Sam for two weeks. My obsessively organized nature has once again created order where there had been chaos, has slowly but inexorably gotten me back on track after the burglary.
Yeah, there are some new things to navigate. Like the alarm system. And the fact that I have to remember to open the garage door so I can get into the garage to pull the car out before I close the interior garage door and then lock the back door so I can edge out of the kitchen (with the puppy inside) and then erect the barricade that will keep him in for the day until Spencer comes home, from there picking up the pile of laundry (that I have to have remembered to leave by the front door so I can put it in the washer before I pull out the car) AND my cell phone, blue tooth, bag of paperwork to take care of during the day, my purse and (when I think of it, which I usually don't) my jacket or scarf or whatever. Thus armed with laundry and work and clothing and communication devices, the dog properly barricaded behind the pile of chairs and boxes that serve to keep him safely in place, I then have to remember to CLOSE the front door, ARM the alarm system, and then get me and everything out before the alarm goes off and the SWAT team comes hut-hut-hutting in drop-and-rolls from the sky to mercilessly kill me. I then go into the garage, drop the laundry into the washing machine, put the work in the trunk, holding the cell phone devices in my teeth, and get into my car, ready to navigate traffic and start my day at work. Things like that. Things that I've worked into a smooth, flawless system that really doesn't take that much thinking any more. With kids it gets a bit complicated, but we can manage that too.
The day BEFORE yesterday, Spencer came home to find the dog had gotten out. He had defecated all over Taylor's room, emptied out the bathroom trash, neatly placed all the shoes in a row, and was sitting happily in the living room when Spencer came in. So I knew we had a security breach, but I didn't know how bad it was until yesterday morning.
I thought I would fix it by just piling more chairs across the barricade. But when I did one of my first circles between house and garage I came back to find Sam what? Sitting happily in the living room.
Damn, dog. That was fast.
I put him back in the kitchen, pile up a few more chairs, turn around to get something and WHAM. He's out again.
The WHOLE time this is happening he's yapping. Not barking, not doing anything cute. But YAPPING in a way that is incessant, repetitive, shrill and absolutely crazymaking. It's the repetitive part that starts to get to me in very short order, like Chinese water torture. YIP!!! YAPYAP! YIP!!! YAPYAP! YIP!!! YAPYAP! It's making me insane. And then whenever I have to tear through the kitchen, he jumps at me, nips at my clothing, overjoyed with happiness to see me, humping my leg... it's beyond infuriating.
I start barricading up the doorway more and more and he gets out within 2 seconds, a happy proud look on his cute little face. I put him back in, build it up more, and out he comes, heading right for Spencer's room where I find him happily eating Spencer's favorite stuffed pig.
I start losing it.
I throw him outside and assess my barricade. Obviously it sucks. It's too low, I finally decide, so I put a table on its side and put the box on top of it and now we're down to a 6 inch gap for him to get through.
I put a wire mesh screen to close the gap, hoping that will deter him.
I finally pull out a bulletin board, prop it against the inside of the doorway, block it with a table and my kitchen island (which really works better when moved 180 degrees and the contents of the top rearranged, which I do), prop up the box and two tables and a speaker on the other side of the doorway, and let the little fucker back in.
The yapping continues. The humping continues. I squirt myself from head to toe with bitter apple spray, which makes me smell like a fumigation tent. I am face to nose with him, holding his cute little muzzle and I'm SCREAMING at him. I'm YELLING at the top of my fucking lungs. QUIET!!!!!!!!!!!!! SHUUUSSSSH!!!!! NO!!!!!!!!! My eyeballs are popping out of my head, I can feel the blood rushing to form god's own best headache. And of course I can't now get OUT of my kitchen because I have the great wall of China built between it and the living room, so I have to shove the dog inside, lock the back door, go through garage and back into the front door, all the while hearing the frantic YIP!!! YAPYAP! YIP!!! YAPYAP! reverberating through the whole San Gabriel Valley.
It holds him.
HAH! I yell, trimphantly. I GOT YOU NOW!!!
So while he's barking he head off I gather my stuff, go in and out through the garage several times, get it all together, arm the front door, drop in the laundry, dump the work in the trunk, and finally FINALLY pull out of the garage. I am covered with hair and dog spit, I smell like insecticide, and have a really good headache on, but damnit... the house is armed, the dog is secure, my stuff is in the car, and I'm on my way to work.
I'm 6 minutes late to the meeting that I was planning on being an hour early for.
This is war, I mutter to myself all through the conference call. This aggression will not stand, man. (Thanks to the Big Lebowsky for that quote.) I have superior intelligence (uh, admittedly not in high evidence at the moment I was screaming at a 12 week puppy a few hours earlier), I have... I have opposable thumbs! I can construct something that I can open that the little demon Houdini dog cannot. I can do this.
I talk to friends, I look online. I call PetSmart and ask for the biggest expert on gates that they have.
I talk to Matthew in the gate department. He reassures me. This is just a phase, what the dog is going through. I need to make sure Sam knows I'm the alpha in the pack. He will settle down when he's "fixed." (A term I'm really fascinated by and would be rather offended by if I were a man.) It will be OK. Right now it's chaos, out of control, hysteria ("Oh, you were there this morning?" I ask). But it will get better.
In the meantime, there's a gate. It's pretty good. I can get it for only $109. It will keep him in.
I have a dinner party last night with some good friends. Because they're good friends, I make them work for their dinner and they install the gate while the kids and I cook. The gate... well... it's not really a hundred bucks worth of solidity, but it's ... okay. It will probably hold up for another week or so, buying me more time to figure something else out. And then I can sell it on eBay or something.
At one point during the evening Sam is doing the yapping jumping humping thing to one of the kids. I lean down and say an emphatic and emotionally dripping NO to him, reminding him in subtext of the armageddon we went through that morning, reminding him in subtext that I am bigger, I have opposable thumbs, I have procured and installed a gate made of METAL that he can not chew out of, jump over or push over (yet). I remind him in subtext that I pay for the food, I control his environment, I am the source of his love, his shelter and his sustenance. With all that NO I tell him all this.
And he immediately sits down and shuts up and looks at me.
"Whoa," says Spencer, to Sam. "Welcome to MY world."
By the end of the night, after playing with two new people and two kids and running around while we barbeque the chicken, after a drive downtown to drop my friends off, after dealing with gates and hysteria... my little dog is tired. By the time we get home, he is happy to slog his tired little paws to Spencer's room where he thunks down on the floor with a little puppy sigh.
I hoist the crate over the gate and put it in Spencer's room. Sam goes in without complaint and immediately conks out.
I look at him and smile.
It's not a nice sweet maternal smile.
It the smile of victory.
I go into my room, raise my arms to the sky like Rocky Fucking Balboa and I do a little happy dance. I do this for about 10 seconds and then I sink into my bed with a little human sigh and totally pass out.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 11:39 AM 3 comments
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
Driving Across the Bay Bridge - 1976Standing on the train platform tonight, the rush hour cars hurtling by on either side of me, I have my iPod plugged in and I'm listening to a radio show that my friend Scott put together for me. He compiled and played up on KDRT in Davis awhile back in honor of my finishing the book.
The mix is called "Kathy's SF Mix" and it's a collection of songs that are powerfully evocative of San Francisco in the 70's. There's the entire Jefferson Starship album of Blows Against the Empire, some David Crosby, and a lot of Jerry Garcia. And even though I hadn't actually even heard some of the tracks he found, the entire thing is so me, it's pretty scary.
I'm standing on the platform and it's cold. The freeway is a mad river to either side. I'm on this concrete island in between and through my ears are sounds of a city I loved intensely so long ago.
I feel a wave of fear. The edginess of being cold and so near to the speeding traffic, the wind blowing my hair. And I am thrown into a vision, a memory, just a piece of some larger picture that like a dream has faded away, leaving only one fragment.
The Bay Bridge. It is 1976 and we are driving a bird-shit green Ford across the Bridge to go to Coit Tower. I am in the company of the street people who are my current friends. They are junkies, or occasionally junkies, and it isn't the drooling in the corner stuff that you always read about. They do heroin occasionally (I never actually see it first hand) and we panhandle by day. We choose our corners on Telegraph and sit around collecting "Spare Change for the Free Clinic," which is, basically, us.
There is a girl there named Doretta, a fleshy blond whom I like but don't trust. There is the guy who I guess is sort of my boyfriend, even though he isn't and I will in short order be so wronged by him that he becomes, and remains to this day, a person I would easily and without remorse kill on sight (if he's still alive which I'm sure he isn't). He has long dirty blond hair, plays the guitar so beautifully it brings tears to my eyes, lives in Albany with his mom, a 75 pound junkie who hates my guts.
It is his car. A rambler or something. Someone has stolen his gas cap and plugged it up with a black bandana. This freaks him out. It is a sign, he says to me with some irritation, as though I should know these things. People want him. In several states. It is a warning. He shows me the .357 under his front seat, wrapped in a brown bag.
The car is a piece of shit but it is the only one we have. So we take it places. To Mt. Tam occasionally. Occasionally to the City.
The City glitters across the bay and my throat tightens up. A place of such complexity, beautiful like a diamond. The facets so deep and endless that you could spend lifetimes and never know it completely. The lights in the highrises glittering in the sharp night. Unknowable people, living unknowable lives.
It is the 70's and there is a movement happening. It is happening in the Height and out in the Park on Sundays. It is happening in Union Square and on the Ave in Berkeley.
It is a time, for me, of extremes. It is back when I'm not always the oldest one in the room. I am 19. One kid is about 16, a little guy with a shock of curly platinum hair. The others are 20ish. With burnt out eyes and souls and the crusty ashy hearts of people who are about to crumble and disappear.
I am in a car with people I don't trust, and they are the only people I have. We are going to Coit Tower to smoke dope and look at the bay. It seems like a fine thing to do.
Doretta yells at the middle aged people as we get off the freeway and onto the surface streets by North Beach. "Hey! You got some smack?? We shoot it in our EYEBALLS!!!" And we all laugh as we wind up towards the tower.
It's not that far away, that moment. I am walking back from the car dealership because my horn went out recently. Yet another aspect of warning, security and defense. All my defenses have been broken or violated recently, and they are being consciously and meticulously shorn back up.
What does this mean? That I am now enclosed in a house of motion detectors, sensors, window locks and a dog. That I have used my horn so much it has had to be replaced. And how does this square with my intense desire to make this a year of greater vulerability, more openness, increased intimacy?
Walking back through my small home town, the music continues in my earphones. I think about the depth and extreme of that night driving across the Bay Bridge. Life was so complex and wondrous and frightening. And here I am, three decades later. Pleading with the universe to not let me slip into the comfort zone of age, fatigue and safety.
No, of course I don't want to live in fear. I have plenty of that and can manufacture even more in the wee hours of the night. But I don't want to give in to a place where the spectrum is constrained by complacency. I love my edges hard, the contrast high. I want to continually be looking at a City of baffling complexity, feeling the excitement of the absolute most present moment, and know that the edge is still available, still magnificent, still a little bit bigger than I can comprehend.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 7:53 PM 1 comments
Saturday, January 14, 2006
What You Ask For
I have a terrible habit of thinking up mottos or goals for the new year. I should've learned my lesson long ago.
I can't remember all of them, but they used to be along the lines of "write more in '84" or "no more jive in '85." They worked pretty well until 1986, when I put forth a ballsy ultimatum - "Live Free or Die" - which was meant to suggest to the universe that I get out of debt. Instead I totalled my car and plunged into a year of being completely unable to work. Not only did I get immediately deeper in debt, I realized that I edged unnervingly close to the dying part of the equation as well.
I think my motto for the next year was something like "No mottos in '87."
I actually broke the habit, at least in any kind of conscious sense, until this year. This year I thought I'd follow along with some important conversations I've been having, so I put it out to the universe that I want more space in my life so new things could fill it.
To that end, I did a lot of housecleaning over the holiday break. As you may remember, I got NEARLY to the end of the Master List, the be-all end-all list that was going to clear up all the loose ends of my life once and for all. Once I was at the end of that list I was going to be freed from all past duties and able to pursue new projects, open myself up to some new thoughts, forge some new frontiers.
Then, January 3 happened. The universe apparently decided I hadn't delved deeply enough in my clearing-out activities and (through an agent of evil) literally dumped out all the remaining messy drawers in my life onto the floor. Now, I don't wish upon anyone this brutal reminder that there will always be things to clear out. And the event, besides the shock and the invasion, made my list go exponential over night. I had a pile of ransacked rubble to go through. I had to change all my bank accounts. I put a fraud alert out on my social security number with the credit bureaus. I then had to re-map all the intricate debit and credit numbers we weave together to make our lives "easier." I researched and had a security alarm system installed. I bought the kids some replacement electronics. I started trying to figure out what I wanted to replace my own stolen goods with.
And I bought a dog.
I knew that a dog would be a good deterrant for all the opportunistic bad guys out there who were now waiting to pounce on my house again. The kids wanted one badly. But all I could see was my list going even more exponential. I liked the idea of having another pair of ears and eyes around the house, but the added layers of complexity were endless.
In their lobbying for a dog for this house, my kids saw unconditional love: I saw unceasing guilt. My kids saw good companion: I saw boarding fees. My kids saw happy playmate: I saw fights over poop-scooping and midnight trips to the market to get more dog food.
But as I wandered through the house after the 3rd, on the nights the kids were gone, I felt a new absence. An echo that could be filled with another presence. I also accutely felt the solitude of living in my particular house. For the first time in a long time I felt alone. And I walked through the house with my knife in my pocket and my ax handle always at hand.
Once I accepted the possibility that I might get a dog, I decided that I would do this the intelligent way. I would research breeds, I would make lists. I wasn't going to just get any old dog; no, this was going to be a sensible decision I could maybe actually live with. It was the only way it would work.
I decided that what I wanted was a young adult female Wheaten Terrier. I researched, I wrote the Wheaten rescue contact for Southern California. I sent out messages to the friends I have who have Wheatens.
And then one day last weekend, we went out to Subway for lunch. It was an innocuous little run. Subway is by the pet store. Great; we'd go get crickets for the praying mantis while we were there. I knew the windows were filled with roly poly little puppies, but I knew my heart was sufficiently hardened to the cute-factor of puppies. Again: my kids saw cute, and I saw puddles of urine. My kids saw fluffy: I saw chewed up sofas.
But there was this one. Fluffy. Cute. The usual puppy characteristics. I off-handedly asked what its breed was. A "goldie poo" the pet store guy answered. A tall guy, probably gay. A WHAT? Jesus. A "goldie poo." Hybrid between a golden retriever and a poodle.
Well, golden retrievers are cool. I had to admit that. So I asked the most pressing question on my mind: does it shed? Nope, it doesn't. The poodle part doesn't shed. The retriever part is mellow, the poodle part is smart and doesn't shed.
I wanted a medium dog. About the current size of this "goldie poo." How old is this dog, I ask. Oh, 10 weeks.
This dog is a good sized lap dog. Ten weeks?
It's going to be large, I say, feeling my life already spiraling out of control.
Yes, the guys answers. It's going to be large.
What is it? I ask. The guy holds it up and reveals its little puppy genetalia. A boy, he announces somewhat proudly.
Oh brother. A male puppy. So much for getting some female energy into this house.
I knew my fate was sealed when I asked to take it out. Of course, the kids went nuts. Who wouldn't? Mom was in a fragile emotional state and was going to cave. They knew it. I knew it. I asked the price and I won't tell you what it was no matter how hard you beg. It was beyond ridiculous.
I walked around, with a nervous frown on my face. I stood in the corner, looking at dog books, trying to think it over. The clerk asked me what my fears about it were. Besides the money, the responsibility, the next 14 years of my life being wrapped up in another being, the emotional overhead of loving a body that could be stolen, squashed by a car, die of some weird disease, come down with hip dysplasia, break our hearts, eat our shoes, and be totally FAILED by me because I don't have the emotional or financial resources to take care of YET ANOTHER BEING? Besides that it was just too much to add to a life that had just been ransacked and thrown into total upheaval? Besides the fact that I didn't want a dog, don't much like dogs, and have no patience for dogs or dog people? Besides all this??? GOD, I just didn't want a dog.
I tried to convey this in a few short sentences, mainly boiling down to the money.
He told me that he loved his dogs and they gave him a reason to get up in the morning and he loved that.
I told him -- because he, ah, obviously didn't and would never -- that I had kids and I'd like to sleep in once more in my life.
I told the kids we couldn't do it.
They looked at me sadly. They knew I was going to cave. I knew I was going to cave. Why go through the charade?
The dog had to stay at the store for a few days to be observed, get his shots, and otherwise just be checked out. So I had a few days to watch the train coming down the track and wonder why I was so unable to move.
I dealt with my anxiety the way I always do: I complained incessantly to everyone. They all said it'd be fine. I knew they were all smoking crack. It would not be fine, never would be fine, my life was over, this is why women have menopause because there really is a time and place to NOT have any more babies, of any species, and this was one of them. I get cranky if I have to get up to pee in the middle of the night and can't get back to sleep for five minutes. I LOVE my sleep. I LOVE my yoga in the morning. I LOVE going out of town on business. And hey, I love my money, what was left of it after the deductible, the alarm system and the mountain of electronics I still have yet to buy.
The next day, I came back to show the puppy to my friend Carol and her son. Carol said my body language and face still looked like someone was injecting something poisonous into my blood stream. "Anxiety" is not a strong enough term. It was more like abject and fully conscious fear of how radically I was about to change my life.
My kids kept telling me that it'd be OK. I kept telling them that the pooper scooper has their name all over it. My oldest son said he'd take the burden, would take the dog out in the middle of the night and clean up the messes. I told him that I was really going to be relying on him. That we're changing the dynamic here for good: he's someone I am going to depend upon to help me through this. He insisted on stepping up to the plate. I was forced to acquiesce; I need another person in my life to help me.
I've had the dog for three days now. He has accomplished something that no one has been able to do in years: today he's made me STOP. I haven't done anything much since 2 this afternoon when I came back from yoga, taking the car in, and taking him to the vet.
His name is Sam - after Samwise Gamgee, Frodo's faithful companion. He rocks. He's smart, eager to please, and is totally getting the in's and out's of pooping and peeing in the right places. He doesn't shed. He is mellow as can be. When I put on KTWV (smooth jazz) on the radio, he quits whining and grooves with the tunes. He is forcing me to stay home, cook in the kitchen (where he usually hangs out). I did a crossword puzzle today, sitting on the kitchen floor. For several hours in a row I stopped.
So I asked for space in my life to have new things come in. It's the 14th day of the new year and I've been burglarized and have a new life to take care of. I have a new life taking care of me, as well.
In yoga the other day I had a vision that was pretty antithetical to what my anxious little brain has been feverishly projecting. I saw a grown dog, sitting tall, guarding me with calm serenity. This dog was facing out, towards the world. Instead of a list of obligations, instead of a burden of guilt, instead of a symbol of my monumental failure to love enough or give enough, I saw this proud being, taking care of me, my companion and guardian.
Beware of what you ask for. You ask for space, you may have your possessions and your safety and your entire world sucked dry in a second. You ask for new stuff to fill it up with, and you may find yourself outside in the rain at 3 a.m., watching a little dog pee and feeling that curious elation of being in a new frontier, uncomfortable and alive.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 7:03 PM 1 comments
Wednesday, January 04, 2006
What They Can DoWhat they took: my laptop, my backup hard drive, Taylor's Game Boy and DVD player. Spencer's iPod. The broken Game Cube. My brand new printer.
What they did: opened a window, upended all the drawers in the bedrooms, dumped our lives on the floor, threw what they wanted into backpacks, and left. In the process they also ransacked our sense of safety, the sleep from our nights, and trashed countless hours of golden time.
My kids discovered it first. I had asked Gloria, our friend and the kids' caregiver, to watch them last night while I was a guest at a book group in Simi Valley. They entered the house; Gloria went to the kitchen to make dinner and the boys went to their rooms.
The situation was immediately apparent.
The kids went into hysterics, called me at the book group. I made hasty apologies and left Simi. En route home I called everyone I knew. The men were either busy or too far away. The women who were home dropped everything and came over.
Bridget, Skye and Cindy swooped down to my house like the Powerpuff Girls, each with their super power.
Bridget was super-mom, enveloping the kids into her sphere of compassion and infinite heart.
Cindy immediately commandiered the physical space and took the security detail. She talked her way into OSH after closing, bought a dozen window locks, and proceeded to lock down the perimeter.
Meanwhile, Skye was taking pictures, dispensing hugs and digging through the debris in my room to find the sage, which she lit and carried from room to room, cleansing the air and the vibes.
Our brains say it's just stuff. Our brains remind us that the pain we feel at our beloved objects' loss can be fixed. But the pain can't be diminished yet. The violation I feel at the thought of someone else using my laptop is beyond my ability to express. My LAPTOP. The thing I carried for months while writing the book. The seven-pound item that was as much a part of my body prior to the birth of the book as my belly was when I had my kids. The thought of someone in there, touching the keyboard, reading my email, deleting my unsaved words, makes me woozy with anxiety and pain.
The kids feel it, too, with their beloved objects: The camera that Spencer carried to Europe with him (the pictures safely loaded onto his laptop, that he thankfully had with him), Taylor's portable DVD player he got last Christmas, the Game Boy, the iPod that Spencer begged for and loved more than anything ... beloved objects, saturated with hours of happy trusting enjoyment.
My brain again tries to tell me it's just stuff. Replaceable. And it's right. But our hearts still yearn. Not only for the beloved object, but also for the happy trust we once had.
They took that happy trust. Our lives are now about worrying and watching. We will get an alarm. We may get a dog. We will light up our perimeter. We will put locks on the windows.
Can they take the beloved objects? Yes. Can they rob us of our sleep and peace of mind for awhile? Yes. Can they violate us at a level that will take much time to heal? Sadly, but honestly, yes.
What they can't take aware are our memories of Paris. The image of Cindy checking the torque on the drill. The warm nest of blankets on sofas and floors at Bridget's, a haven that she created for us when it was apparent we were too freaked out to stay in the house, still strewn with belongings and the smear of violation.
They cannot take away Skye and her camera, appearing at our door. Or Gloria's tears as she feeds the kids.
They can't rob me of the constant phone calls I received today, full of love and concern. They can't rob us of this story, that will go down in our collective history as one of hardship and triumph.
They can't erase our moment tonight, walking slowly with burning sage, picked flowers, a small running fountain and a candle (air, earth, water, fire), slowly touching all points of our property... first counterclockwise to release the bad, and then clockwise to seal in the good ... the oldest son going first, holding the smudge stick, then me with the water and flowers, and then my youngest son with the candle glowing in his hands. They can't erase that sense of ownership and sadness and reverence a ritual can provide. They can't erase the deep symbolisms and strange mysticisms that change a place and a participant, regardless of your level of belief.
What they did not take: the deep skeins of love that bind us all together, the experience of community that a well-met emergency creates, our sense of family, the sense of joy that will come despite the loss.
What they did not do: break us, make it impossible for us to ever trust again, stop us from breathing once again, eventually recover.
Whoever you are out there -- you have our beloved objects, but we are still rich with belief that happiness can still exist outside of them. You think the Game Cube gives you the same feeling that belonging to a tribe of true and great friends does.
It does not.
You think my computer, stolen from beside my bed, will give you the intense richness of experience it has given me.
It will not.
You think the thrill of breaking into a house inhabited by two kids and a woman can give you a high that obliterates the pain of being young, male and alive.
It cannot -- and only makes the pain worse.
The pain is worse going out the window than it was coming in. Why? Because you have done wrong. Because you have violated. Because you are living so far from the running river of life that you are lost and bereft and capable only of making children cry.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 6:35 PM 0 comments