Dead Flies Tell No Tales

It may be an act of rebellion, my way of raling against the light speed at which words hurl across borders and continents through cyberspace, but the fact is, I still use a postage meter in my office. I love it for its obsolescence. Though sleekly modern, with a curvaceous control panel and software brain, its underlying, barely necessary utility reminds both sender and recipient — far more than any PDF file could ever do — that there still exists something tangible in this click-open-click-delete culture: the envelope. A number 10 and its contents — folded, licked and sealed, and containing enough DNA to convict the sender of a serious felony — is something substantial that passes from human hand to human hand, regardless of where those hands have been.

Perhaps it’s my nature that makes me love things that others discard as past their usefulness; it would explain both my love life and my obsession with pens and stationery. I was once at one of those big box office supply stores, ordering a new chair for my office, when the woman helping me mentioned that I looked familiar. I have one of those faces, I explained; I always look like someone’s cousin or sister or some unnamable actress. She shook her head. Then her face lit up with the spark of recognition. I know you, she said. You’re the one who lingers in the pen aisle. I imagined at once all of the employees in the break room, talking about “the regulars”. You know, the one who sits in every chair in the store like Goldilocks but never buys one. The guy who buys a single packet of neon green Post-It notes every Wednesday afternoon. Mortified, I silently nodded, admitting I’d been made.

Admittedly, I have the ability to go almost completely paperless in the office and would gain over 15 feet of wall space currently occupied by 15 full, five-drawer filing cabinets of papers, but it terrifies me to think what I would do without hard copies of my work. Were I to even dip a toe into that netherworld of record keeping; the back-up to the back-up to the back-up would most certainly fail and me, in short order, thereafter.

It’s a fact that I don’t trust my computer. Anything that hides behind a veneer of usability and does things I don’t ask it to do is too much like the ex-boyfriend that was harder to dispose of than my previous computer and about as toxic to the environment.

Say “Okay Boomer” all you want, but the faith I have in the U.S. Postal Service illustrates an undiminished child-like wonder of a world in which I so obviously no longer fit.

My generation still viscerally recalls mimeographed quizzes in grade school, the way each of us lifted the purple paper to our noses to inhale that unmistakable aroma as soon as the paper fell upon our desks. I wrestled with carbon paper in typing class, never quite mastering it before its successor, the copier, arrived, which, while more congenial, sacrificed personality for function. In college, the university computer was a building the size of a football field, and spoke in languages as alien to English as Martian. The predecessor to the over-friendly little paperclip guy was a grumpy computer science major who instructed you how sort your three hundred, hand-punched keycards of data and told you when to retrieve the 20 pound mound of paper with the holes along each side.

In my first job, there was a tele-type machine over which you could send and receive brief bits of correspondence overseas. Memory typewriters replaced Selectrics, then were made obsolete by word processors, followed by early mainframe computers until we arrived at personal computers in all their configurations. Today, if I wanted to, I could simultaneously receive a phone call, an email, a fax, a text message and surf the Web on a device smaller than a full deck of cards, although I am now too old to read any of it without my reading glasses, thus making this miracle of technology rather beside the point for anyone over 42.

I blame fax machines for sparking the frenzied way we now conduct business. No sooner would a facsimile finish sliding through your end of the connection than the phone would ring, the sender wanting an answer to a question you hadn’t had time yet to read.

On the day we all got email, it signaled the end of face-to-face conversation. Even a complete idiot can master emailing, and almost all of them did. And forwarded it to me, with subject lines like “You Know You’re A Redneck When..”, or “Send This To 25 People And Your Wish Will Come True.” People will say things in an email they would never say to each other in person. And though we all worked in the same office, most of us only saw each other coming or going from the bathrooms. Somehow, asking “how’s it going?” at those brief encounters seemed, well, unseemly.

Of course, almost none of this explains the dead fly.

When I opened my own business, my first office was squeezed into the spare bedroom of the house I was then renting. How I also fit a part-time assistant, a copier, two desks, a few file cabinets, a printer, a fax machine, two computers, and two chairs into a room slightly larger than a hotel elevator, I can’t imagine today, especially given that I have a fear of both clutter and tight, enclosed spaces.

When the business survived and thrived, it traveled with me through another couple of houses (and various permutations of assistants) to a five acre horse farm with a spacious barn. I employed two local builders, Special Ed and his partner, Up Chuck, to build a large office space for me in the barn. It was a slow process, but, at the end, I was thrilled with the room and thankful, finally, for a Monday I didn’t have to bail one of them out of the drunk tank at the county jail to get them back on the job. I showed my appreciation to Ed and Chuck by giving them both 12 packs and passing them along to their next customer.

In my new space, of course, I had a place for everything, including a new pine desk and a new part-time assistant. As a deeply compassionate person, it has always been known about me that I will hire the un-hirable. If someone is one small paycheck away from living on the streets or moving back with their parents at age 45, that person met my hiring criteria. An alcoholic or drug addict? Even better. I believed I was giving someone a leg up, that people will rise to the level of the job if only given the opportunity. One need only to peruse the state of my files to see the level of my delusion.

People will often comment on my idyllic situation during phone conversations we are having when those people are working in Los Angeles or New York. Yes, I tell them, I am fortunate to be able to work while watching my horses graze peacefully in the pasture outside of the office window, with my dogs lying at my feet. For people in cramped city cubicles, enduring hours of commuting, I like to tell them, yes, you too can do this, have this, you just have to make the leap and the net will be there. I’m sure they don’t believe me any more than I believe these words as they fall out of my mouth, but it sounds good anyway.

One day, however, my phone rang, and I answered it in my usual way, simply saying my name.

“Are you trying to threaten me?” said an unfamiliar voice.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “but are you sure you have the right number?”

“Is this Lisa Thomas?” the voice asked in a menacing tone.

“Well, yes, it is,” I replied, drawing out the last word so that it lasted about six seconds in a leading sort of way.

“Are you threatening me?” the voice demanded again.

“Do you feel threatened?” I asked, motioning to my then-assistant with my index finger swirling around my temple, in the “I have a crazy person on the phone” manner.

“You are a sick, sick person,” said the voice.

“I’m sorry?:? I have no idea what you’re talking about,” I replied.

“What’s with the fly?” the voice insisted.

“The fly? Really, I don’t know what you’re referring to. Who is this?” I said, just on the brink of putting the receiver in its cradle.

“This is Stephen, in the licensing department. You’ve been sending me letters for six months about some licenses you want, but this one had a dead fly in it. Is that some kind of threat?”

“Huh? A dead fly? In our follow-up letter?” I looked over at my assistant who suddenly busied herself shuffling through papers. “Hang on a minute, will you?” and I put the call on hold.

“Cherry? Do you know anything about a dead fly in a follow-up notice to this guy?” I said to her back.

Silence. More shuffling.

“Cherry? The fly?”

“Well, kinda,” she mumbled. Then she looked up at me from underneath her shaggy blonde bangs like a dog that is anticipating a whack on the nose with a newspaper.

I went back to the phone, took the caller off hold.

“Stephen, I’m terribly sorry. It must have gotten into the envelope by mistake – my office is in my barn and we have flies buzzing around all day. I don’t know how it got into your envelope, but it wasn’t meant to be a threat or a joke or anything. Whenever you can send the documents, we’d appreciate receiving them. Thanks.”

“Well,” he said, “I guess so. It was kinda weird. Sorry I went off on you.”

“Not a problem. Guess we got your attention anyway, eh?” I weakly chuckled before saying goodbye. Then I turned to Cherry, who was now gathering her purse together and tidying up her desk.

“You want to tell me about it?” I asked.

As she dissolved in tears, suspecting that this was going to be her last few minutes in my employ, she explained her system of handling our outstanding matters.

The Hamster Wheel

In biblical times, rivalry between siblings resulted in, at the extreme, murder or being sold as slave to foreigners, or, at best, being shunned and cheated out of your birthright. I suppose it’s good to know the majority of us with problematic relationships with a sibling have evolved to the level where we simply inflict psychological and psychic torment on each other. It’s a matter of the knife in the back being more metaphorical than actual, but it’s every bit as sharp.

My problem sibling is an old sister with whom I’ve never enjoyed a close or stable relationship. We fought as kids, we fought as teenagers, we fought as young adults, and, while we don’t physically hit each other any longer (maybe just because we live in different cities), we still manage to locate those sore spots in each other like radar and poke each other even now in our 60’s.

Rivalry is the end result of parental favoritism or, as in our case, parental withdrawal, where the need for love, attention and approval is made stronger because it is always elusive. As the second born, I came into a home as the interloper who would steal the love, attention and approval that was in short supply already, and, what there was of it already belonged to my sister. Of course, she would hate me. She would go on to perpetrate her hate by terrorizing and humiliating me to the extent that I ran away from home a number of times as a kid and finally, for good, at 17. But the trauma is still there. Although we’ve both gone on to make lives for ourselves, I think her guilt and shame and my anger and mistrust continue to dog us.

Maybe you have a similar situation. Maybe you had a mother who, on her deathbed, made you swear you would get along with your sister. And maybe, like me, you haven’t found that sweet spot between complete estrangement and a maintainable cordiality that you can live with. It’s something with which I struggle.

I do know this: I no longer have the energy or the time left in my life to running on the hamster wheel that is this relationship. The continuing make up, break up, make up, break up, ad nauseum is more drama than I want in my life, and carrying anger and mistrust is exhausting and toxic. I want to lift it off my shoulders, lay it down, and leave it behind. The trouble is, she is my sister. We are stuck in a pattern of behavior forged in history. It takes two to change the behavior, doesn’t it?

She has already told me she is not open to discussing the past, that she wants to start “right here, right now.” Convenient, but by not acknowledging our history, it remains the elephant in the room and the relationship isn’t really healed. I understand her, and I understand her desire to dismiss our past. I’ve tried to see our relationship through her eyes.

I think about the survivors and family members of the horrible Charleston church shooting, many of whom were able to forgive the killer in order to move forward with their own healing. What do they know that I don’t? Forgiveness is the agent of healing. I am working on forgiving the hurt of the past even though the perpetrator cannot offer or show any remorse or accountability. I might get there in time. But I don’t know, even if I find forgiveness, what a relationship with her might look like or even if a relationship is possible. Perhaps the best I can hope for is that it won’t matter so much.

What do you think?

Hello, It’s Me.

(Blows kiss to the audience and steps up to the microphone) 

I know everyone says they are so surprised when they win an award like this (gestures to small statuette in hand), but, let’s be honest — I was truly the front runner in this category this year.  Actually for the past five years, but who’s counting? (Fakes a humble laugh).  To be named The Laziest Blogger On WordPress is truly an honor, and I’m so grateful to the academy for even remembering that my blog is still here after five years of inactivity.  (The play off music begins) Well, there’s so much for us to catch up on, and now that I’ve deleted my Facebook account (yeah, a little late on that), I return to the blogosphere, where, as we all know, only the best people are found.  I love you all.  💋💋

Where There’s A Willow, There’s A Way

                                                                                 How Could You??

The puppy is now about a year and half old.  She has come a long way from berserk. four pound sheep hunter to wily, seventeen pound combination persistent nuisance to all things and loving, loyal member of our home pack.  She still has miles to go before we all sleep well, but the girl is on a good path.

I know a lot more now than I did “B.W.” (Before Willow).  My two other Jack Russells lulled me into a smug sense of security that time and training would produce a calm, stable, companionable dog in a year.  Willow has dispelled any notion I had that nurture can override nature, sort of like the false security you have that your software will protect you against Heartbleed or some other such insidious virus.  She has a prey drive second only to a hyena with the scream to match, and only another piece of prey can pull off one scent to another. There’s yet to be a cookie invented that can compete with a chattering chipmunk. Perhaps if I rolled myself in raw meat, I might have greater appeal to her, but I have this image in my mind of being taken down by coyotes or bears, or at least every other dog in the neighborhood save mine.

Her recall is spotty.  I don’t chase her any longer.  Long gone are the days when she would take off through out rural area, this mostly small white streak, with me in pursuit (usually in my bed slippers), through horse pastures, cow pastures, pig sties, and chicken coops.  If she leaves the farm perimeter (which is, admittedly, less often) for far-flung fields, that’s her choice.  It isn’t that I don’t care or that I don’t worry:  I’ve simply learned that the less I holler for her and simply take Martha and Gus inside or continue playing with them, the game is over.  She can’t stand not being the center of attention and comes back of her own accord out of curiosity about what she may be missing.  Like the new raw food treats.

She’s also taught me you can put everything you’ve got into a dog, but the dog has to want to meet you halfway.  A  dog makes choices, good and not so good.  Sometimes, you just have to wait until the brain is more mature and just hope the dog survives its less stellar choices.  Willow isn’t Gus, who walks at heel through the forest off leash, looks up for permission to chase a squirrel, and, now that he has the Tasmanian Devil as a little sister, has the patience of Job.  Martha, blissfully deaf and much less patient with Willow’s antics, snarls.  Any resemblance to my own human family life is purely coincidental.  Or maybe not.

I am hoping one day, in our dotage, to be glad after all that I brought her home.  I want to look back and, like labor, not really remember how the early days of our lives drove me to the brink of psychosis.  I want to be able to buy good sheets again without resigning myself to the holes that will be chewed in them.  And I would like to answer the front door like a normal person, not hiding behind the tiny crack like a hoarder, with dogs snapping at my heels to charge the unseen intruder.  I’m certain at this point, we’ve been removed from the Jehovah’s Witness visitors list, and I must admit, I miss having someone to talk to occasionally.

The Pride Of Frankenstein

My mom died.

I needed to step away from everything after my mom’s death.  I don’t have to explain that to any of you who have lost your parents at any age.  All the times I pleaded with them to “just leave me alone.”  Now they have.

I needed to step away from the blog and writing and try to find a voice in images.

So, I did.  Or I tried.

And I picked up my camera, went to the Wyoming Badlands for a bit this summer and photographed cowboys and horses (and cowgirls).

Wyoming.  The ranch life, the Badlands, the landlocked cocoon of the wide open, windy spaces took me outside of my life.  I felt invigorated and refreshed.  I got up before dawn to shoot sunrises on an incredibly different landscape and stayed up to learn how to photograph star trails.

This Is What I Did Last Summer Report (the short version).

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and

kate

and

Spencer

And dozens more.  I had a great time and met some fine people.  I didn’t want to come home.

I didn’t want to come home because I knew I have to face the fact that home isn’t home any longer.  That it never really has been.  That I have a lot of to-the-bone truths to work out, including the fact that no matter where I go next, I will be taking myself with me.  How dreadful.

Wouldn’t it just be brilliant if Dr. Frankenstein (that’s Franken-STEEN) had perfected his art, and you could have elective surgery to replace your funky brain that misfires with a better one that was more optimistic and talented, less turbulent and prone to bad thoughts?  And, if it’s not asking too much, maybe a little off around the middle-age waistline and a boob lift?

That would be work in which the good Doc could take pride.  I wonder if that might be covered under my ObamaRama Plan?

And In The End The Love You Take

If there is one truth that all parents must embrace sooner or later, it is that no matter how much they love their children they must learn to let them go. Eventually, children must learn the same thing. When a parent dies, children do not say goodbye as much as they release them.

On February 18th, we released our mother in the early morning, as the deep indigo sky released itself to rising dawn, and soft pink and yellow light streamed through half open blinds into her hospice room, across the blanket that covered her, and quietly bathed her still face with a diffused glow.

We released her from our continuing need for her love and confirmation. We released her from our ambivalence — of her successes and failures as a parent — and of knowing that the perfect parent could not exist, for no child could stand them nor get free from them. All parents hurt their children. We vow to not make the same mistakes with our children. But we do, or we make different ones. And hope they have the capacity to forgive us. The miracle is that, somewhere in the process of releasing our mother, forgiveness became reflexive; there was only love.

Her death was not easy. She suffered hallucinations, physical and psychic pain. It was nightmarish. Yet, there were quiet moments in which she knew we were loved ones, even if she may or may not have known we were her daughters. I think there was comfort in that.

Here’s the thing: the mother of whom you can say loved you unconditionally; gave you a sense of purpose and possibility in life; and showed you what it means to live faithfully, to age courageously, and to die at peace with herself, is all the mother any child could hope for.

We had that mother.

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However Long The Night…

Eglon Beach Sunrise 2

I admit that I have been cycling downward for a while. Up, down, up, down, and occasionally, there is middle ground. When I’m in an upswing, I tend to get a lot done, or at least I start a lot of projects. Like three-quarter sleeves, however, I never quite make it all the way down to the wrist before the energy dissipates. When I’m on a downward trajectory, there isn’t much I can do but hunker down and ride it out. Because this is what I know — everything is fluid. Happiness, sadness, come and go like tides.

You don’t fight the beast nor do you give in to it. You meet it. And know it is impermanent. There is an African saying: “However long the night, there will be another dawn.”

I was there for this one.

The Astounding Free Range Horses of Patagonia~

I simply can’t come up with one sound reason why humans would want to slaughter anything so glorious.

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The free ranging wild horses of Patagonia are called criollos. They were brought to Argentina in 1535 by Spanish settlers and were bred from Andalusians. Hundreds now roam wild on the Patagonian Steppe and are considered native to Argentina.
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My husband and I were out exploring one day deep into the steppe on a dirt road when we faced a herd of oncoming traffic moving at great speed.
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We stopped the car and I got out as the criollos streamed around us and I got these shots. It was a thrilling sight!
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The criollos have the best long distance endurance of any breed next to the Arabians.
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They are hardy and able to live in harsh conditions and withstand the severe Patagonian winters.
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By nature they are said to be tractable, intelligent and sensible.
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We saw herds of them all over the steppe, sometimes at great distances. It was wonderful…

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Rescuing Ruby

Happier Days

Happier Days

This wasn’t what my mother had in mind for her dog when she had a mind.

In the same way we believe that nothing bad will ever happen to us when we are 18 and immortal, when Mom adopted Ruby, she never anticipated she would get Alzheimer’s. Mom never thinks she’s old, either, but that has more to do with vanity than the deterioration of her cognitive and motor skills. Mom was about 79 when she adopted Ruby, who was two. In fairness to my mother, none of us argued with her desire to have this little dog. We all thought it was a great fit. In that moment. And so it was for several years.

But no one asked what might happen to the dog as my mother aged. No one thought to make a plan for Ruby in the event Mom died. Or worse. And worse happened.

If you read my post from September about Mom and Ruby you will think that my mother’s sad story had a happy ending for Ruby. My nephew wanted to take her into his family. On paper, great. In the real world, not so much. Ruby doesn’t do well with 4 year-old boys whose love is expressed in an exuberant, physical way. She snapped at the boy, the boy’s mother (rightfully) nixed the deal, and Ruby came back to my sister’s house. With her two Yorkie Poos. And Ruby doesn’t really love other dogs. She snaps at them, too.

She wants what she was accustomed to — her human, her home. What she has is confusion and a lot of time in a crate right now. She has my stressed out sister who has a hellish schedule. What she must be thinking.

When my mother lived near me, both she and Ruby spent a lot of time at my farm. After my mom fell ill, I took Ruby for extended periods. She did just okay with my dogs (BP — Before Puppy). She has an autoimmune medical condition that requires daily meds for the rest of her life, and she is not a spring chicken herself. Flying her back here is not an option any more.

The upshot of this is that Ruby is going to an Italian Greyhound Rescue Organization foster home, maybe for the rest of her life. I am as horrified and heartbroken and guilt-ridden as I am grateful and relieved that these fine people are so dedicated to their volunteer mission that they are doing for Ruby what we cannot. I have never surrendered an animal in my life. If my mother knew the truth and understood it, she would be shattered. My sister and I decided it was best to lie to her and tell her that Ruby was going back to California to live with the cousin that gave her to Mom in the first place.

I know a little about where she is headed, having checked out the organization and spoken to the foster family, a retired couple who have been in rescue over 20 years. I tell myself to have faith that Ruby will find happiness and love there. And permanency. Faith is something that doesn’t come very easily to me. Lose your husband, your best friend, your father, your health, a few dozen friends to the scourge of AIDS in the space of a decade, and you begin to understand the point of view of the Pharoah a little bit when all the plagues were raining down in Egypt. Still, when all the other options are spent, faith is what is left.

When I had a health scare years ago, I made a will and a trust. I put all of my animals in as property in my trust as well as a fund for them. At the time, I had horses, so it was more elaborate than it is now. Like kids, each of my dogs has a guardian who has agreed to take them for the rest of their lives. It’s unlikely that I will bring any more animals into my home (or at least I won’t go out searching for any). Willow (if she lives as long as Martha has) and I will be old ladies together (I’m still on the fence about her chances of staying out of that much trouble but with age, hopefully, comes wisdom). Going through this with Mom and with Ruby has taught me that a part of our responsibility to our pets is also knowing when not to have them.

Gratitude

I want to wish everyone who has visited my blog, liked and/or commented since I began this year a very happy holiday season!!

While Willow licks the electrical outlets in my office as I type this, I’m sure she, Angus and Martha join me in sending our very best to you all in the coming year. 

Let us all do one thing in 2014 to make a difference (small or large) in the lives of those around us or around the world. 

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Oh, and WordPress?  I would be grateful if your mobile app stopped crashing all the time.  I like to take you all with me wherever I go.  Bless you, too, tiny programmers.