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Monthly Archives: July 2015

The Dance Recital

The Dance Recital

I didn’t even know that my niece was taking dance classes. All year I’d been hearing about a final show at her gym, where we’d finally be allowed to see her doing gymnastics full out instead of jumping off couches and risking life and limb doing back tucks in the living room. We asked every few weeks, when would it be, where would it be, but no answer. Finally, on a Friday afternoon, we were told she had her dance recital on Sunday.

Dance? Not gymnastics?

Gymnastics would be later, on another unknown day, at an unknown time, and place, that we’d be told about at the last possible second.

The dance recital was held on the huge campus of a public high school in her neighborhood, in a stand-alone auditorium building, with a lobby filled with little girls in adorable dresses and pictures to order and very expensive tickets. The program for the show was huge, with thirty two dances overall, and my niece was in one at the beginning and one towards the end, so we were in for a long haul.

Most of the performances were by the girls from the school who were on the various dance teams, and I was afraid they would be intimidating, or upsettingly sexy for young girls, or too fake, but the feeling that came from the stage, for the most part, was that these girls had become family to each other. They loved dancing together. And they didn’t all come from the same backgrounds. There were a few other Jewish girls like my niece, a handful of black girls, Asian girls, Latinas, multiracial combinations, and girls of different sizes and shapes. There was a girl with Down syndrome in one of the younger groups and she looked like she was having a blast.

I loved the little girls who couldn’t remember the steps and kept looking to the side of the stage where their teachers were demonstrating the steps for them. Four little girls. All looking to the right or the left, doing maybe one out of every six steps in the dance. One of the littlest ones had to leave the stage because she was so overwhelmed. I felt her pain.

One of my niece’s routines was called “The Bling Bling” dance and there was a lot of jumping around involved. When we got back to her house afterwards I suggested that she teach Lilah, their black lab, how to do the dance, but she didn’t take me up on it. Lilah would have loved to wear some bling around her neck and jump around the living room with her human sister. I guess that’s kind of her daily life, though, now that I think about it.

Lilah and her bling!

Lilah and her bling!

Butterfly would like to go to ballet class. They’d have to lower the bar a bit for her, and adapt some of the positions to her unique body type, but she would love to twirl and spin and jump with the other little girls. She does a very impressive Russian split when I hold her up in the air. Or maybe she could take tap! Can you imagine the noise four tiny tap shoes could make on Butterfly’s feet? Or eight, if Cricket joined in?

Butterfly doing her ballet stretches.

Butterfly doing her ballet stretches.

Cricket practices ballet, with a prop.

Cricket practices ballet, with a prop.

I think they’d both enjoy going to dance classes, actually. Moving to the music, following the teacher, running across the dance floor with their friends. I wonder if anyone runs a ballet school for dogs. I’ll have to look into that.

Cricket loves to run!

Cricket loves to run!

Butterfly thinks grass and leaves would make a wonderful ballet surface!

Butterfly thinks grass and leaves would make a wonderful ballet surface!

I kind of like the idea of dance classes over obedience training for dogs. They could build up their core muscles and have fun and make friends. I never really saw the point of teaching my dogs how to walk at my heel. I’d rather they got to listen to music than listen to clickers. And the tutus would be adorable!

Wouldn't Butterfly look cute in this outfit? (not my picture)

Wouldn’t Butterfly look cute in this outfit? (not my picture)

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How do I make the blog into a book?

What I like most about writing this blog is that it leads to conversations with people all around the world. I get advice, and sympathy, and connection, and crankiness, and humor, and on and on, until my three page investment turns into days of feeling like I am not at all alone.

pix from eos 006

“Look at all of our friends!”

The blog has taken the shape it has as a result of both the comments I get and the blogs I read. I’m not isolated or impervious; I absorb what I read and what I see and, mostly unconsciously, I challenge myself in response. The community aspect of blogging is so satisfying, but I still feel like a second tier writer, because I haven’t been accepted by the cool kids at the publishing houses and literary magazines.

“So not cool.”

I’ve been getting rejection letters from agents and publishers, telling me that I am a wonderful, talented, exquisite writer, but… but what? Isn’t that what I’ve spent my life working towards? Isn’t that the point? I can’t even begin to understand the market forces that turned publishing into this quagmire, whether there are just too many writers trying to get published, or too few publishers willing to take a risk.

When I was first looking for a graduate program in creative writing, and collecting rejections from the schools I’d applied to, I was told that MFA programs weren’t interested in my writing ability, they were interested in the uniqueness of my story. The writing, they believed, they could teach me, but they couldn’t teach me how to be interesting. I think agents and editors have taken the same view. They’re looking for a hook, a unique story, something the world is currently clamoring for, and if they have to rewrite every word, so be it. Most of them have graduate degrees in writing themselves.

It has been suggested to me that I try to make this blog into book, because dogs are popular lately, because people seem to like my blog posts, and because my novels are not getting picked up. But I don’t know. It feels like I’d be trying to make a piano into a guitar.

I’ve been reading through my blog posts from the beginning, and I’m not as disappointed as I was afraid I would be, but I’m also not magically coming up with an idea for how to structure it. Is it a book about writing the blog, or is it a book of the blog, not self-conscious, not even revised so much as sewn together?

My Delilah

Delilah is perplexed.

When I first started the blog, I was squeamish about memoir writing. One of the things I like most about writing fiction is that I can change things for the better. I can make up lives that I would want to live. It took me a while of writing blog posts to get desperate enough and brave enough to put more memoir and risk into the posts; to tell people who I really am, when I’m not just trying to be acceptable. And a lot of people reached out to me as a result, and showed deep understanding and compassion for me that I would never have gotten if I’d left out the painful parts.

Samson chewing on my brother.

Samson chewing on my brother.

I had a creative non-fiction teacher who said that the best way to write an essay is to bring two separate ideas together, and the drama and surprise will come from the place where the two ideas meet. I kept that in the back of my mind, not really getting it, until maybe a year into writing this blog. I started to notice that no matter how unrelated my chosen topic seemed to be to the theme of the blog – dogs – as soon as I forced myself to find a connection, the essay came together. For some reason, just writing about each topic that interests me can get bogged down, tedious, and flat, but when I try to combine it with the dogs, I find new things, new angles, that I didn’t know were there.

Dina

Dina always had her own way of seeing things.

Miss Butterfly.

Miss Butterfly brings socks and warmth.

Miss Cricket.

Miss Cricket makes everything more interesting.

I feel like every six months or so, I let myself reach down another level, admitting things that are scary to admit in public, showing another layer. And I’ve needed to do it this way, at this pace. I can only push my boundaries a little bit at a time, and only when I feel ready. I think there’s still a lot of room for me to grow, and that makes me worry about turning this into a memoir too soon.

I don’t want to lose this.

Harrumph.

Harrumph.

Cricket is an Honorary Human Now

In her early middle age (she is almost nine years old), Cricket has developed the most common human disorder, lower back pain. She has always known she was a human, and now she has proof. Unfortunately, when she first started to exhibit symptoms, I had no idea what I was looking at and started to imagine the worst.

Cricket, the pulling machine.

Cricket, the pulling machine.

First she threw up during her mid-day walk, which isn’t that unusual for her, but then, out on a walk she did this funny thing where she walked backwards three steps and sat down, demurely, on top of her back feet. As soon as we returned to the apartment she ran under the couch, to her apartment, and stayed there. Even when chicken treats were offered, she didn’t leave her apartment. I had to bring her room service. Normal, for Cricket, is staring at the treat bag until it opens, then jumping up and trying to climb my leg to get to the treats. This sad looking dog under the couch was someone I didn’t know.

couch dog.

couch dog.

"Ouchy."

“Ouchy.”

I did a full body check on her to see if any particular part was sore, but she didn’t yelp or grumble at any particular point. She seemed to recover a bit on her next walk, running and barking at our neighbors, but still, she was strangely subdued indoors, and not up to jumping on the bed that night.

The next morning, Friday, we called the vet’s office and they said that Cricket’s regular doctor wouldn’t be available until Monday morning, and since Cricket seemed to be doing better we decided that would be soon enough.

We went out to Friday night services, after a day of watching Cricket go almost back to normal. I even thought we might be able to cancel her doctor’s appointment. But when we came back home, Cricket jumped up to greet her Grandma, and started to cry in pain. I sat down on the floor with her, but she walked backwards and kept crying; until she saw her sister sneak out the open front door of the apartment and start down the stairs. Cricket immediately stopped crying and ran to the top of the steps to catch Butterfly, but then she balked again.

I carried Cricket down the stairs and outside for her walk, but she just kept sitting down on her feet and looking very frightened. I had to carry her back up to the apartment. Her whole body was vibrating, and she was gulping air. I put her on my bed and she struggled to find a comfortable position to sleep in, dragging her back legs behind her to each new location. I had nightmares about dying dogs all night long.

"Mommy, I don't feel good."

“Mommy, I don’t feel good.”

When I took the girls out early Saturday morning, Cricket still looked frightened and her back feet started to twist, as if she was walking more like a ballet dancer in toe shoes than like her usual tomboy self.

The thing is, I kept worrying that her symptoms were neurological, because of the walking backwards, and the twisted feet, and the fear in her eyes. I was afraid we’d find out that she had Lyme disease (because she’d been bitten by a tick two months earlier when I forgot to give the girls their monthly meds). I was pretty sure the whole thing was my fault.

We called the vet to see if Cricket could have an emergency appointment, and they scheduled us in for Sunday morning.

All day Saturday, Cricket’s symptoms only got worse, and it was a relief when it was finally Sunday morning, and we could take her to the doctor. Well, it was a relief to me. Cricket hid under the bench in the vet’s waiting room as usual, and had to be dragged out to stand on the scale and check her weight. She’s vain, and that scale is so public!

In the examining room, she did her best to hide behind me, which is normal for her, and the vet tech was able to, easily, put the blue muzzle over her head for the exam, which is not normal at all. In the past, Cricket has been able to pop those things off with one paw grab, and a defiant twist of her head, but not this time.

The doctor did a neurological exam to see how Cricket walked and stood and responded to being in different positions, and she said that, neurologically, everything was fine. But I wasn’t ready to believe her. She wanted to do an x-ray, to make sure there was no arthritis or orthopedic issues, and help her to make a diagnosis, and I agreed whole heartedly with the plan.

The doctor gave Cricket a shot of a pain reliever that would calm her enough to allow them to do the x-ray, and then we all waited in the waiting room, with Boopy the African Grey parrot, until the meds kicked in. Boopy is a scratchy glutton, just like Cricket. He stood right next to the bars of his cage and stared at me, then lowered his head for scratching. When I was too slow to comply, he stomped one of his feet, and then lowered his head again.

Boopy is very demanding.

Boopy is very demanding.

"I'm waiting, human."

“I’m waiting, human.”

Cricket’s x-rays were perfect, meaning they showed no arthritis and no other issues with her hips or legs, which meant that we could assume the problem was with a disc in her back. I still didn’t believe it, though. I don’t mean that I argued with the vet, or refused the meds she prescribed (Prednisone and Gabapentin), I just wasn’t sure any of it would help.

The doctor told us to limit Cricket’s movement, either by keeping her in her crate (which we gave away years ago because she used to climb up the sides trying desperately to get out), or keeping her in a small room where she couldn’t crawl under or climb over anything (there is no such room in our apartment). The vet also said that Cricket shouldn’t crawl under her couch, and I just couldn’t imagine that. The only place Cricket had felt safe for the last few days was under her couch.

A cozy couch, and a soft tushy to lean on, that's what Cricket needs.

A cozy couch, and a soft tushy to lean on, that’s what Cricket needs.

When we came home, of course, Butterfly sniffed Cricket all over, in her armpit, under her ears, to find out where she’d been and what Butterfly had missed. Clearly it was nothing good, so Butterfly could relax on the floor, knowing she’d had the better part of the deal.

"What is that smell?"

“What is that smell?”

We gave Cricket the first dose of Prednisone right away, with a big serving of peanut butter, and pretty soon, she thought she should be able to jump off beds again. She still couldn’t jump onto the beds or climb the stairs, but whatever independence she could manage she wanted to have. The frightened look was gone. The vet really had got it right, thank god.

The vet warned us that the Prednisone would make Cricket eat and drink more, and therefore pee and poop more, and within a few days, Cricket became the queen of poop, outperforming her sister, by a lot. She was feeling better every day, by literal leaps and bounds, and she was convinced it was because of the peanut butter, and therefore I should give her more.

Peanut butter heals everything.

Peanut butter heals everything.

Pretty soon, I’ll need to start her on a physical therapy regimen to build up her core muscles. For some reason, the physical therapists for humans are unwilling to work with Cricket, so I will have to do this myself, with the aid of many many chicken treats.

I guess being an honorary human doesn’t count with some people. Harrumph.

"What do you mean, I'm not human?!"

“What do you mean, I’m not human?!”

Children’s Television

When I was seven years old, I inherited my parents’ old black and white television set. I could never fall asleep as early as everyone else in the house, so I watched whatever was on until Johnny Carson at 11:30 PM, when I could relax. I felt like he could see me through the TV, and therefore I wasn’t alone. I’d leave the TV on as a night light, waking up at Three AM to the buzz of the target on the screen.

I had a philosophy teacher in college who told us that people who leave the TV on for company are fooling themselves, but I didn’t like him anyway.

Delilah, my childhood Doberman pinscher, used to sleep on my bed during the day, so she watched TV with me sometimes. I don’t think she cared much for it though. Maybe she liked the steady hum of the TV in the background of her dreams. She just liked being with me, especially if I had snacks in my room, or was up in the middle of the night. In a way, I was the TV show she watched.

My Delilah

My Delilah

From an early age, I would read through my TV guide with a highlighter and count up how many shows I could look forward to in the coming week. My favorite issues of the magazine were the ones at the end of the summer that previewed the new shows for the fall. It was just like getting my new school books in August and being able to preview all of the potentially exciting homework for the year ahead, and similarly disappointing by October and November when school and TV turned out not to be as wonderful as I’d hoped.

“Rachel, someone peed on these hastas! This is much more interesting than your TV shows.”

I never felt satisfied by children’s television. There were times, watching The Smurfs, where I saw glimpses of my real life, in the tininess of the smurfs compared to the enormous Gargamel, but most of the time, shows for children portrayed us as super powered beings, as if the average eight-year old could overcome abuse and war and neglect without any help. I needed Wonder Woman to come to my house and help me, not to always be helping the government. I needed the Bionic Woman to hear me with her super hearing, and run to scoop me up, and jump out of the window with me in her arms. And I needed some explanation of how these children on TV were able to survive, because it didn’t make sense to me.

I didn’t like the way the adult characters in kid’s shows talked so slowly and with such simple language, as if I were an idiot. That’s not how real people talked. I liked Cookie Monster, though, because he would start out counting and then just start shoving cookies in his mouth and losing control. This I could relate to.

My Dina, the peanut butter monster!

My Dina, the peanut butter monster!

I watched mostly shows meant for adults, instead. I felt like these were my teachers. In school we never talked about real life. There was no discussion of how often to take showers, or which clothes to wear, or how to earn money, or how to make friends. There was an endless list of rules that everyone else seemed to live by automatically, and I couldn’t find the list anywhere.

“Hygiene is overrated, Mommy.”

I loved The Love Boat. I didn’t understand that it was unrealistic. I thought the floating, fizzy feeling of the show was completely possible in real life. Even when dark things happened, the tone of the show was never dark. And a little girl got to live on the ship, and be doted on all the time, and her Dad was the captain, and there was a cruise director planning activities, and everyone was so happy to be there.

For some reason I really liked The Fall Guy with Lee Majors as a bounty hunter. I liked that his job was to catch bad guys, and that he worked so hard to do it. In my real life, the adults I knew would have given up as soon as it started to look difficult or dangerous. I loved his persistence.

My favorite shows were the ones that made better lives seem possible. Like on Kate and Allie, where these two divorced Moms, with three kids, shared a house. I loved the idea that friends could be your family, and that you could depend on them and not have to survive on your own. On One Day at a Time, a divorced woman moved out with her two teenage daughters to live in an apartment in the city, and it was not sugar coated at all. The point of the show seemed to be that women can do this; they can start over, even when it’s hard, even when things go wrong along the way. And I wanted to believe in that.

I still believe in the transformative power of TV shows, but I think we need a better idea of how to present it. Two dimensional images on a screen are not enough. Maybe the images could be projected, like holograms, into the room. Cricket and Butterfly would love that! We’d need a less furnished room to watch TV in, so that the characters wouldn’t be projected onto the coffee table or impaled by a lamp. And maybe there could be a device we’d wear, like a sensor on our foreheads that would see how we’re feeling and pick a show to fit our needs. Cricket would get a laser light show, so she could chase the lights around the room until she was exhausted, and then there’d be soothing music to help her take a nap. Butterfly would get bird songs, in stereo, all around the room. And she’d need some smell-o-vision, and a treat dispenser, and maybe an automatic scratchy hand she could go over to when she’s itchy.

Butterfly and her buddies are ready to watch TV.

Butterfly and her buddies are ready to watch TV.

Cricket's not so sure about this arrangement.

Cricket’s not so sure about this arrangement.

And for me, as a kid, I would have loved to have recognition that I was there in the room, and that I mattered; that the TV show only came to life because someone was watching it. Even better, a character on the TV could wave to me, and say, Rachel looks tired, maybe we shouldn’t have a smash ‘em up car chase right now, let me go get my acoustic guitar.

“I like acoustic guitar too, Mommy.”