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Monthly Archives: January 2017

High Tech

 

I was supposed to spend my two weeks off from school over winter break looking for either an iPhone or an iPad, reading up on the positives and negatives, and actually visiting an Apple store, if necessary, in order to come to a decision about which small step towards the modern age I’d be willing to take. Except, I didn’t do it. I read a bunch of articles, and tried to read some books – smartphones for dummies, etc. – but I kept thinking, eh, couldn’t I just pay off more of my student loans and leave the modern age for later?

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Butterfly thinks the answer is obvious. Spend the money on chicken treats.

I have a computer. And I have a cell phone (though I rarely use it, and even more rarely remember to charge it). My thought was that, if I could get an iPhone the size of an iPad, that might be useful, because then I could, possibly, read something written on that damned screen. But I hate the sound of the phone ringing, and I would hate it just as much if it sounded like Beyoncé, or barking, or a doorbell. And I really don’t want to be answering the phone or texting at all times. I like privacy, and quiet, and boundaries. I don’t want to be expected to answer messages all day long, at someone else’s pace. I hate the urgency implied by keeping a phone on your person at all times – as if we have all become doctors, with beepers at our waists in case a patient goes into labor.

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“It’s an emergency!!!!!”

My cell phone stays in my pocket book (that’s why I’m always forgetting to recharge it). And I have a phone at home, it’s called a land line, and it has great reception (as opposed to many cell phone calls that sound as if your interlocutor is under water, in a tunnel, and having a light saber battle all at once). I prefer to not FaceTime, if I can help it. I dress up and do my hair when I have to go out; I don’t want to have to work that hard when I stay in, just to talk on the phone.

I don’t understand people who are fine with having private conversations in public, as if the smartphone creates a magic force field around you. I mean, sure, if each time you picked up your phone, an old fashioned telephone booth appeared around you, to give you privacy, then why not? But I have not seen an app for that yet.

Dogs don’t have to worry about iPads and iPhones. They get their messages through pee, and in no great hurry. They don’t need to be reachable at every moment, or know the latest world news and events. I wonder, though, if Cricket would like to have a smart phone, maybe attached to her waist, on a belt, so that she could keep track of Grandma at every moment. We’ve come up with all of this technology to keep an eye on our dogs when we’re at work, or keep track of children by GPS, but no one thinks about the dog with separation anxiety who needs to keep track of her people.

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“Grandma, are you out there?”

Cricket would probably also like to have a device with her on her walks, to help her catalog each smell that draws her interest, and post it on Smell-o-gram or Insta-smell. She could even send her smells to her sister’s phone, so that Butterfly, meandering ten feet away, would know that an important smell had been discovered and must be sniffed immediately!

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“If only I could send this smell to Butterfly, wherever she is.”

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But Butterfly loves to meander.

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Though there is something wonderful about sharing a smell with a sister.

I have my moments of iPhone envy, especially when I want to Google something on the fly, but there’s something wonderful about being able to imagine what Google might tell me, or making up answers for myself out of whole cloth. I like having some time spent in my own head, instead of strapped into the groupthink machine, just for a little while. Though that Smell-o-gram idea is starting to grow on me, for Cricket’s sake.

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“I’m waiting.”

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Trumpiness

 

After a day of inauguration coverage, it was a relief to go to Friday night services at my synagogue, and sing about love and peace and peoplehood, embracing minor keys and unresolved endings with my whole heart. Others raise their voices in protest, at marches, in violence, in artistry, in soaring speech. I sing.

“Spread a canopy of peace, a canopy of love, for everyone!”

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Sing it, Butterfly!

The whole past year has been stressful, but in the background there was always the hope that things would get ironed out and government would recede in the national attention to third or fourth most covered topic, at least behind the Kardashians. Instead, we have the constant barrage of tweets that is Trumpiness, or should that be Trumpitude, or Trumptasia? Maybe you need to be on LSD to appreciate this particular era in United States politics.

The fact that newscasters find themselves speculating on where Trump is sitting when he does his middle of the night tweets, is alarming. They seem to have come to the conclusion that he has colitis, or irritable bowel syndrome, given the number of missives sent into the ether.

It feels like we’re living inside of a movie spoof, like the Airplane movies, or something by the Wayans brothers, and everyone’s keeping a straight face while they read their craziest lines of dialogue. A lot of people seem to be energized by all of this, ready to fight and make a stand, in whichever direction. My Facebook newsfeed is filled with writing friends who are adamant and active in their beliefs. My synagogue is humming with discussions and plans and sign up lists. But I feel lost in the chaos.

I feel like I need a whole new vocabulary to help me understand the ways the world is changing every day, words like, Trumpism, and Trumpification, are a place to start. When Trumpcare is created to replace Obamacare, maybe doctors will come up with a new drug, let’s call it Trumpium, a combination of Valium and Opium, to help us all manage the next few years. Trumptastic! Well, at least until impeachment, when I guess we’ll have to think of some new words to make out of “Pence.”

I still feel like hiding under the couch, with Cricket, or overeating with Butterfly (though I draw the line at eating kibble, for now).

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Can you make room for me under the bed, Cricket?

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Any pizza left, Butterfly?

I don’t feel empowered, or energized, or clear headed, except when I get a chance to sing:

“We are loved, loved, loved, by unending love, an unending love!”

For a few moments, while we were singing together on Friday night, I felt like everything might be okay.

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You’re right, Cricket. Peanut butter helps too.

 

The Plant Cozy

 

For some deeply scientific reason, beyond my understanding, Mom has decided not to bring some of her plants indoors for the winter, but she also didn’t want them to remain unprotected from the elements, and therefore she made a plant cozy. It’s like a cross between a sleeping bag and a snow suit, filled with warming materials and wrapped around the outdoor plants. She chose bright colors, in case someone failed to notice that the plants were protected, or because the plants have their own unique fashion sense.

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The famous plant cozy!

The plants inside of the cozies are sweet potato and dahlia tubers that need to be kept at around 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Ideally they would be kept in the refrigerator, Mom said, but she assumed that I would not appreciate the plants taking over the shelves and replacing, you know, the food.

It seems unfair, though, that only one set of plants get a cozy. Where is the sweater for the raspberry bush? Or the stocking cap for the paw paw tree? Could none of the maple trees use mittens for their branches? For that matter, the poor car must be freezing overnight. Couldn’t she at least have a scarf?

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Maybe fifteen hats for the Hydrangea?

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A few thousand mittens (and a ladder?)

I have tried to put the dogs into their own cozies, or jackets, but this has been largely unsuccessful. They shake off what they can shake off, or roll in the mud if possible, and then glare at me until the offending garment is removed. I do not have a death wish, and therefore have not tried to put boots on either of them (though they would look adorable!).

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They wore their jackets, once.

The dogs prefer not to get dressed at all before going outside. They like to feel the wind in their hair as they run across the yard, without any impingement on their freedom of movement. And neither of them is especially sensitive to the cold. They don’t seek out hot spots on the floor, or curl under available blankets, though Cricket is a big fan of cozying up with her people.

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“I’m free!!!!!!!!!!!!”

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“Who needs freedom?”

Generally, I do not get too involved with the gardening. I hear stories about stunted carrots, and ground cover, and I sneak raspberries from the yard when they are in season, but that’s about it. The plant cozy, though, keeps drawing my attention. It reminds me of an especially embarrassed ten-year-old girl (AKA me), wearing her enormous new winter jacket to school for the first time, while everyone else chose sedate black wool coats that year.

For now, most of the plants and flowers are coming to life in quilt designs and photos on the computer. The vegetable garden is in sleep mode for the winter, with, appropriately enough, a blanket of leaves to keep it warm. The flowers are gone, and the leaves are mostly scattered under the snow, waiting to become rich soil. We don’t have the yearly seedling nursery in the dining room, yet, but there is a pile of seed catalogs growing on the coffee table, biding their time.

I think retirement has finally allowed Mom to relax into her creativity. She spends hours and hours playing with color and shape, trying to learn new skills in quilting and photography, and whatever else seems like it could widen her creative vision. I wish she’d been able to pursue all of these things earlier in her life, but having kids, and having to work to feed said kids, got in the way for a long time. I think Miss Butterfly has been able to remind her Grandma that play deserves just as much of your time and energy as other disciplines, and Miss Cricket has taught Grandma to be stubborn and stick to her own way of seeing things. I think the plants secretly appreciate Mom’s new way of seeing the world, even if the other plants on the block look at them askance for being colorful over the winter.

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Butterfly loves to oversee Grandma’s quilting projects.

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And Cricket is more paws on in her approach.

Soundtracks

 

I went to a conference on Dementia recently, for social work school, and one of the exercises they did was to have everyone try to come up with their own list of songs. The theory of the Music and Memory project is that hearing the music she loves will wake a patient up from her dementia, at least for a moment, and allow her to feel like herself again.

I tried to make my list, but it was much more difficult than I’d expected. How can I know ahead of time which songs I’ll still want to hear? Music has such power over me: it can agitate me, and exacerbate the darkness; it can remind me of great joy, but also of alienation.

I started to think, though, how helpful it would be, when first meeting a new person, to get to listen to their playlist. If their playlist is monotonously the same, or chaotic, with no rhyme or reason going from song to song, or just out of sync with me, then that would be helpful to know ahead of time.

I wonder if Cricket and Butterfly have music in their heads all day, the way I do. Do they wake up to a persistent melody running on a loop? Or for them is it a smellody? A complex mix of dirt and bird poop and air freshener, wafting through their minds all day long.

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searching for smellodies.

I thought I heard some of Cricket’s internal music the other night, during one of our evening walks. It sounded like “Pee in the wind,” a variation on “Dust in the wind,” but full of the high lonesome sound of a pee message blowing away before she could fully sniff its contents.

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“Where’d the pee go?”

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“Where?!!!!!!!!”

I’m pretty sure the music playing in Butterfly’s head, when it’s time for her morning treat, is “The chicken dance,” that frantic, ever faster, song that we had to flap our elbows to in elementary school. But the rest of the time, I can see Butterfly as a jazz baby, swinging her pearls, and dancing at a speakeasy. It’s not that I think she’d be a profligate drinker, it’s that she’s got such swing! She moves like she’s hearing the Benny Goodman big band in her head; not the complicated Jazz that you listen to for the esoteric-ness of it, but easy, breezy, swing band jazz that makes you snap your fingers and dance.

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“I can hear the music!”

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Butterfly even dances in her sleep!

Cricket makes me think of Beethoven; that’s the level of drama she lives by. And Barbra Streisand. If Cricket were human she’d sound like Barbra Streisand, with that dramatic range, nasal twang, and constant crescendos and decrescendos, like an Escher staircase going up and down simultaneously.

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Cricket, um, singing.

But I struggle when I try to imagine the soundtrack for my own life. I’d want lots of Louis Armstrong and Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole. Some Beatles, and a little Elvis. Martina McBride and Fiona Apple. Aretha Franklin and Etta James and Otis Reading and Barbra Streisand. James Taylor, of course. Salt N’ Pepa could be helpful too. And Yo Yo Ma’s Appalachian Waltz CD, with Allison Krauss on vocals.

I’m not sure how all of that would end up on one soundtrack, but I guess it could. There’s a female cantor in NYC who has a beautiful voice, and I’d love to have her version of Kol Nidre when the time comes. And there are a bunch of songs from sleep away camp that I would love to hear again, preferably in the off key, off rhythm versions in which I first heard them.

One of my favorite ways to choose music used to be to buy movie and TV show soundtracks, because the songs were always chosen for maximum impact, and made every emotion crystal clear. The Star Wars soundtracks were such a relief in that way, spelling everything out for me. Wouldn’t it be helpful if the Darth Vader theme played in the background when you met that seemingly nice guy at a party? Or the Jaws theme, before a particularly unfortunate job interview? Even if I didn’t take the hint beforehand, it would be so validating, in the disastrous aftermath, to at least know that the musicians saw things the same way I did.

I’m a little bit worried that Cricket has been hearing the Darth Vader theme in her head for most of her life: when the mail man comes by, or leaves fly past her head, or dogs bark. Maybe I should play It’s a Wonderful World on a loop, while she’s sleeping, to see if that could change things for her.

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“Darth Vader is coming again?!”

 

Cricket’s New Year’s Demands

 

Dear Mommy,

Why is it “beautiful” when birds chirp, but when I bark, you get mad at me? When Butterfly runs, Grandma says she’s full of joy, but when I run, you say I’m dragging you, and Grandma uses those bad words.

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“This way, Mommy!”

Mommy, I think you have it all wrong. I think I should bark more, and have more chicken treats (at least more than Butterfly, because she’s shorter than me and she actually likes kibble). I think I should be allowed to grow my hair until it sweeps the ground, and I should be allowed to keep my eye goop, and be able to cover myself in mud and poop if I want to, and you should never be allowed to put me in the bathtub ever again.

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“Barking is the most wonderful thing in the world!”

I should be able to go out to the backyard and catalog all of the sniffies, even if it takes me all day (squirrels and neighbors and cars and birds are distracting, so it’s not my fault it takes me so long).

I think we should start calling Butterfly “The Cat,” because it would be funny.

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“I’m a cat?”

I think there should be a rule that whenever one of my humans returns from “away,” they have to stand still so I can sniff where they’ve been, and there will be no changing clothes, or going to the computer, until I’m finished with my investigation.

The beach should be closer to my house, so I can smell rotting fish whenever I want.

The library should have a dog section, with aisles and aisles of smell stories, like little humans get to have picture books. What am I? Illiterate?

I think Grandma should have a warm fluffy coat like mine, so that she never complains again that it’s too cold to take me outside.

I think there should be a slide from the living room window to the yard, so I can go pee whenever I want.

I think it should snow more.

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I would like to know why I don’t have my own YouTube channel. I can climb in and out of boxes just as well as any cat!

I think I should never have to beg for people food again. Instead, I should be served my dinner on a plate. But, Butterfly doesn’t mind eating on the floor.

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“Why is it empty?”

I think we should eat more steak. And cookies. And French fries. And chicken skin. Lots and lots of chicken skin. Every night. Forever.

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“Chicken?!!!!!!!”

These are my demands, and Steven Colbert says that anyone who wears a big furry hat is in charge, and I wear a big furry everything, so that means I’m even more in charge than anyone else.

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“I’m in charge.”

 

Sincerely,

Cricket