April 2018

Monday, April 9, 2018

Guest Writer: Dosewallips

April 12th is my birthday. At least that’s what Ann and Mary tell me. I am a one year-old in people years. That’s seven in dog years. I don’t remember my earliest days, but I understand I fit in a person’s hand when I was born, and I weighed 6.4 ounces. Now I’m eleven pounds, and I didn’t even try to grow. Isn’t that amazing?

People I meet in the neighborhood tell me I’m cute, friendly, happy, and smart. They think I don’t understand them just because I don’t speak, but I do understand them, so I wag my tail (I hear the back half of me wags), jump on them, and smile. They just say, “Awww,” and don’t engage me in higher-level thinking.

I am precocious. Even though I’m only one (or seven), I’ve already graduated from puppy kindergarten and puppy elementary school. School was okay. It wasn’t very hard. I’m okay with low expectations. Recess was my favorite time.

Mary and Ann still work on training with me, and I go along because I love them, and I love treats. They know I can sit, lie down, stay, “gimme five”, dance on my hind legs, and jump through a hoop when I feel like pleasing them (which is most of the time when we’re inside, but there are squirrels and crows outside.)

Mary and Ann don’t think I understand them because I ignore them when they say, “No, Dosey!” I understand them: I just want to chew on the furniture and shoe laces, dig holes in black dirt, and bring figs and rocks in the house anyway. Yes, I understand them. I’m just ignoring them.

Sometimes Ann and Mary worry when I don’t eat my dog food, but I know if I hold out long enough I’ll get something better than hard kibble or mushy stew. Like maybe I’ll get a bull’s pizzle. (I agree: I love it in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part One, when Falstaff insults Poins by calling him a “bull’s pizzle.” And yes, I know pizzle is a word for penis. And yes, it’s tasty. Don’t make that look.)

I have a lot of names. My name tag says “Dosey.” My whole name is Dosewallips. I’m named for a river, which was named for a god. Mary and Ann know the god turned people into mountains, but that myth is human-centric. I wonder what Dosewallips turned a dog into. Probably a god. (That’s probably why dog is god spelled backwards.)

Mostly, people call me “Dosey.” Ann also calls me “Sweet Thing,” which is what she calls Mary. That’s a little weird. Mary calls me lots of things: Sweet Puppy, Squiggles, and Dosey-Do are three. Our friend Pea calls me “Ms. Wallips,” so sometimes they call me that. Or “Princess.” I guess I don’t have to explain that one.

Ann’s and Mary’s friends love me, and I love it when they come to visit me. When they come in the door, I greet them by jumping to show them how happy I am they’ve come.  If they sit on the couch, I jump up with them, and if I get a chance, I’ll lick their ears.

Though I love our human friends, I love my dog friends best. Ann often takes me to visit my best friend, Percy, who lives with his people three houses down. When we first see each other, we jump in the air, hug, and then wrestle and chase one another. He weighs four times more than I do, but we’re great together. Sometimes, he lies down on his back and let’s me jump on his face. I love that. After playing, we like to spend time sniffing in the yard. Percy pees on everything, including my pee. Twice. As if once were not enough. I’m glad I’m not a boy dog.

After we’ve had some time together, Ann and I leave Percy’s yard and continue around the neighborhood. Ann can walk fast and a long way, so I always need a nap when we get home.

I go on really different walks with Mary. We only see Percy if he’s already in his yard, and we never cross the street, even if I can see a whole flock of crows. (I think a “murder” of crows is too harsh. I think of them as a “temptation of crows.”) With Mary, I go slowly. She calls this a “sniff” instead of a “walk.” When we’re going down the stairs, I go down three and wait for her to catch up before going down three more. She says, “Good dog.”

Both Ann and Mary treasure my poo. If I poo on a walk, they will say, “Good dog,” then bring my poo home in a special bag. (Our friend Karen read another dog’s writing, and that dog described this experience, too. Strange, these humans.) Ann takes my poo to a special collection bin around the corner. Mary tosses them on the sidewalk by the rose bushes. Once she tossed one into a rose bush, and it hung there for all to admire until Ann took it down.

We have family rituals. At night, Ann starts getting ready for bed before Mary and I do, so Mary and I play downstairs with Bear or Christmas Toy. When we finally go upstairs, Mary lays four treats on the bathroom counter and sits on the floor with me. I get one treat for going to her. Then I crawl in her lap and get another treat while Ann cleans my right eye. Then another treat for my left eye, and a fourth because I’m cute. At the end, Mary says, “Okay” in her high voice, and I go to the landing, waiting for Ann to call me to bed.

If I don’t come get in my crate pretty quickly, Ann sits by me and talks to me. I can’t stand that. She can be so lecturous!* She reminds me of that camp song Mary sings about announcements:
            A terrible death to die,
            A terrible death to die,
    A terrible death to be talked to death,
            A terrible death to die,
When Ann lectures me, I go right up and get in my crate so she’ll stop. I would guess death by lecture is slow and painful.

Mostly, I like to sleep all night in my crate just outside their room, but if I’m thirsty or someone on the street is too loud, I bark. Usually, I go back to sleep, but if I bark for 45 minutes, Ann let’s me out of the crate, and I go downstairs to drink water and sleep on a furry blanket. That’s a lot of barking, so unless I’m really thirsty I just stay in my crate.

I’m a cheerful dog. I like most things and people and other dogs. One of my favorite activities is chasing moths, which Ann and I do together. If a moth flies high, Ann directs it downwards so I can catch it myself. Sometimes, she claps her hands to smash a moth and let’s me lick it. (Don’t be so grossed out. She also lets Mary lick the cookie dough bowl. We both lick our lips.) Mary says Ann and I remind her of Bill Murray going after the gophers in Caddy Shack.

I love best to play with others, but I like to play by myself, too. Sometimes I run to the top of the stairs with my favorite ball, drop it and watch it hit four stairs, then run after it, and take it to the top of the stairs again.

I’m getting better at getting my ball if it goes under the furniture, but if I can’t get it, I whimper and then bark until my minions (Ann and Mary) help me. I also whimper when I can’t find a place to hide my bone or Ann doesn’t want me to chew on the furniture. My minions don’t help me then.

At first, I was na├»ve. I liked everyone and everything. In my first year, I’ve learned that I don’t like dogs that snap at me. I also don’t like raccoons or elevators. They scare the heck out of me. Ann and Mary coax me onto elevators, but they agree about raccoons and snapping dogs.

I like life. I am generally happy, and I like to make others happy. That seems like a life well-lived.

*lecturous (adj) tedious, pedantic, prone to lecturing

etymology: coined by Little Sister Jen when , as a child, she asked our father, “Why do you always have to be so lecturous?”c. 1976

Monday, April 2, 2018

“Be Not Afraid.”

 At our church’s Easter service yesterday, one of the traditional scriptural readings told the story of Mary of Magdala and Mary, Jesus’s mother, learning about Jesus’s resurrection and finding his tomb empty (Matthew 28: 1-10). The angel, or God, or young man (depending on the translation—maybe they’re all the same thing) says, “Do not be afraid.”
Angels are always saying "Be not afraid" in the Bible. In all the instances I can think of when an angel says, “Be not afraid,” there is good reason for fear: the angel who appears to the shepherds before Jesus’s birth says it; an angel says that to Mary the mother of Jesus before telling her that even though she’s a virgin and engaged, God’s going to make her pregnant (whoa); this angel says it….
I searched “Be not afraid” on Bible Gateway and came up with 26 examples throughout the Old and New Testaments. (Some translations have “Don’t be afraid.” These translations use more vernacular English, but I find the elevated poetic language of the King James version more appropriate: the angel probably wasn’t speaking English, so it’s not a direct quotation anyway, and I’m guessing angels are poetic.)
At brunch after the service, a friend said to me, “If an angel ever tells me not to be afraid, I’m getting the hell out of there.”
Saturday afternoon, Easter eve for Ann and me, we participated in a Jewish Seder at our friend Ellen’s home. At this Passover celebration, we shared the Haggadah, remembering the Jews’ exodus from slavery in Egypt and the story’s relevance today. I was struck by the similarities between the Easter story and the Haggadah: both stories’ themes of rebirth and renewal; the call to move through bitterness, death and loss to a new way of living; the courage required to “shed the familiar” as Marge Piercy’s poem “Maggid” (in this Haggadah) describes. 
The exodus from Egypt must have taken great courage: claiming life instead of slavery of body and spirit. You guessed it: Moses says, “Be not afraid” at least twice in Exodus. (Exodus 14:13 and Exodus 20:20  -- Interestingly,  Moses never appears in the Haggadah.)
It amuses me that Easter fell on April Fool’s Day this year, and that seems to have amused our minister Ann as well, who referred to Jesus as a “trickster.” To me, the term “trickster” seems lighter, less distant, and therefore less frightening than, say, “Redeemer.” I would guess she intended for the word to make me think of mythological tricksters who appear in many cultures’ stories, and I did think of Native American tricksters and learned about tricksters of many other cultures, on—yes—Wikipedia. 
I looked first to Wikipedia for reminders about tricksters, and though the site gets a bad rap from academics, I found the entry complex and interesting. The resources and references are particularky extensive and helpful.The site notes that in Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth, and Art (1998) also re-published with the alternate subtitle: How Disruptive Imagination Creates Culture in 2008, Lewis Hyde describes tricksters as “boundary crossers.” (I’d say crossing from death to life and from Egypt to The Promised Land both count as crossing boundaries.) The site continues by quoting Paul Mattick’s February 15, 1998 review of "Hotfoots of the Gods" in the New York Times:Tricksters ‘...violate principles of social and natural order, playfully disrupting normal life and then re-establishing it on a new basis.’” I don’t know that either Moses or Jesus was “playful”, but otherwise the description fits.
         For me, that move from one life and way of being to another emerges from the Exodus and Resurrection stories. It’s a move like the move from winter to spring, from darkness to light, from cold to warmth, from slavery to freedom, from death to life.
         That move requires going through the darkness and the fear. Through the loss. First into it. Then through it. Not around it. I see no other way. The move requires courage. It requires moving from the known to the unknown. Maybe it’s like birth.
That move makes me think of my own moves. My passages required me to move from my vision of myself as a straight wife to a lesbian, from life as an athlete to life as a disabled person, from an independent woman to one depending on “the kindness of strangers” (and family and friends. And especially my partner Ann.)
         As Stanley Kunitz says in his poem “The Layers”I have lived through many lives, some of them my own…I am not done with my changes.” I don’t know how we keep living new lives without fear and courage. I don’t know how else we go through our changes other than diving (or falling) deep into the swirl.
         So I lift this proverbial glass to change and discovery, to old lives and new ones, to Moses and Jesus and the Native American crow, to birth. Thus, I guess I lift my glass (reluctantly at best, to be honest) to loss and death and disease, to depression and meanness and sorrow, as Rumi calls me to in his poem “The Guest House”. (This poem pisses off most people I know.)
         I reluctantly see that Rumi calls me to welcome brain tumors and addictions. Loss, and death, and disease. Depression and heart break. And so forth. He calls me into joy and misery and the joys and miseries of everyone I love.

In this bold moment, I toast, “L’Chaim”…to life. All of it. Unless… Except…

Friday, March 9, 2018

Doubt and Faith

I got to see one of my first high school students, Sarah Sentilles, last weekend at Seattle University’s Search for Meaning Festival. I was 27 and Sarah must have been 17 the last time I saw her; now I’m 54, and she must be 44.
I started reading Sarah’s fourth book, DrawYour Weapons, a couple of weeks before seeing her. The book is a poetic meditation on art and war. So far as I can tell, there’s no narrative arc, no beginning, middle, and end. Though arranged in paragraphs, this meditation is more poetry than prose, deeper in its wisdom than sentences with their transitions can reach. The official description is “Through a dazzling combination of memoir, history, reporting, visual culture, literature, and theology, Sarah Sentilles offers an impassioned defense of life lived by peace and principle.” Yep. I taught her that. All of it.
I started reading the book because I wanted a glimpse into the woman she is now. She is smart and strong, deeply curious and moral. I would like to take credit for her intellectual curiosity, but she went to Yale undergrad after I knew her and then to Harvard for a Masters and PhD. So no, I didn’t really teach her all of that.
More than her smarts and strength, qualities I saw in her as a teenager and in her book, at her presentation I was delighted to experience her kindness, gentleness, and soft humor. From her bio I can see that she has weathered some tough times: she was in training to become an Episcopal Priest and later wrote a book called Breaking Up with God: ALove Story. The last thirty years have softened but not beaten her. I hope the same is true of me.
In the (old) article of her on Wikipedia, she calls herself an “agnostic.” Both her book and her presentation emphasized the impossibility of knowing anything for certain.

As I thought about her words, I thought of the Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh’s words: “ A finger pointing at the moon is not the moon. The finger is needed to know where to look for the moon, but if you mistake the finger for the moon itself, you will never know the real moon.” Hanh’s words, it seems to me, are about the limits of language and the importance of metaphor when truth soars higher than words can. They are about not confusing metaphor for truth, about the limits of language and of knowing.

Sarah seems absorbed in this paradigm, as I have been since my teacher’s black light lesson in fourth grade:

Teacher: “What color is this banana?”

Fourth graders in enthusiastic unison: “Yellow!”

Teacher puts the banana under black light: “What color is it now?”

Confused fourth graders: “Blue?”

This weekend, the impossibility of knowing was a theme from the rest of the day and the next day at church, too.

Robin DiAngelo’s presentation, which Ann and I attended next, discussed “white fragility” in talking about race and the importance of we as white people (DiAngelo is white) having the humility to recognize that we cannot know what it’s like to live as a black person in this society. She said, “Human objectivity is not possible.”

Beside this quotation in my notes I wrote, “(Same msg as SS).” I was referring to lessons my first year of teaching American Studies, a junior-level high school course that integrated Language Arts and History. Our class began the year reading Edward Hallett Carr’s 1961 essay, “The Historian and His Facts.” The essay discusses the impossibility of knowing or speaking truth in history because history’s story will always be impacted by the writer’s perspective. The class discussed this essay extensively, applying its ideas to the selection as our national anthem of “The Star Spangled Banner” (a song inspired by the War of 1812).
For their test on these ideas, I copied a paragraph from their American History textbook, written by Daniel Boorstin, a horrible book that presents bigoted comments as factual history. For the test, I asked students to apply Carr’s ideas to the passage. Only one student noted the sentence in which Boorstin said that although America had made some mistakes, pretty much everyone agreed that the world was better because America existed. What a disappointed teacher I was! At the end of the year, however, students studied the economic impact of Texas and California’s state textbook adoptions on history publications for schools and noticed the connection to Carr’s essay. Whew.
The conference’s final presentations were delivered by historian Taylor Branch and Rev. William Barber, who was sick in North Carolina and hadn’t been able to make the trip to the Pacific Northwest. In a discussion between Branch and Barber, whose image was beamed in, Branch said—and Barber concurred — the second amendment, well-known as the foundation of the right to bear arms, was included as a way to get Virginia’s support, and supported the right of their slave patrols to carry guns. (I have done some research, and I believe this is true, though it’s hard to find on the innerwebs. I’ll write about this in a different blog entry.)
This theme of how difficult it is to know the truth continued the next day at church. On the bulletin’s cover is a quotation from the Spanish philosopher and writer Miguel Unamuno:  “Faith which does not doubt is dead faith.”
Our minister, Ann Berney, preached a sermon titled “Faith with Doubts.” The sermon spoke to Mark 9:14-29, in which a parent says, “I do believe. Help my unbelief!” Pastor Ann’s sermon addressed the need for doubt as “a time of pause, a time of transition, a time of transition.”
Her sermon reminded me of my first sermon when I was a senior in college. The minister at the time, Mahan Siler,  asked for youth volunteers to deliver a sermon, and my younger sister, his teenage son, and I volunteered. We shared thoughts on “Doubt and Faith” during the sermon time the week after Christmas. I spoke about doubt. Then I fainted (probably a gift from my 21 year-old brain tumor.) After the service, maybe a hundred congregants filed past to wish me well. All were kind, but only one said she’d like to hear what I had planned to say about faith.

I’ve often thought about that. Maybe doubts are more interesting than faith. (For sure, fainting is. Another blog entry for another time.)

Maybe doubts are more universal than faith. Maybe some people stop in doubt, and others continue to a faith with doubts. Maybe. It's hard to know.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Happy Birthday, Dad!

Dad and I discussed his upcoming 81st birthday on our week-end phone call”: “old” is anyone fifteen years older than you are, and you’re old when there is no one fifteen years older than you are. “I’m getting’ close!” he laughed.

Today (March 2) is his birthday. He’s getting closer!

Dad and I have similar senses of humor, so we find one another amusing. Both Southern-raised, we tell our lives and our truths in stories.

Dad grew up in the small North Carolina town voted most like Andy Griffith’s Mayberry.  His father and “Unca” Johnny owned a downtown hardware store, and Dad went to school with the white kids who lived in town and on country farms. (African-American kids, who lived, literally, on the other side of the tracks, led separate lives.)

Dad was small town cool. When his teenage friends wanted to look wealthy one August day, they drove a convertible to Chapel Hill, the nearby college town, with the top and windows up so that the college girls would think they had air conditioning. (I’m guessing in North Carolina’s heat and humidity, the pretty girls thought those were some sweaty boys and probably stank. In my day, convertibles were cooler than air-conditioning, but this was their day.)

That’s my favorite story about Dad’s childhood home. Another favorite story is about the first time he remembers seeing my mom.

“I looked up the stairwell and saw this woman on the landing above me. ‘Golly,’ I thought, ‘That’s the most beautiful girl I ever saw.’” (Golly, in case you didn’t read that right, is a three-syllable word or at least stretches its first half an extra beat. If you ever heard Gomer Pyle talk, he said it right.)

Mom was a big city beauty, and Dad was a small town “hottie” (according to my much more hip younger sister.)

Dad tells good stories, and loves poetry. He learned his favorite from a fraternity friend, and decades later was befuddled to learn it was “a real poem.” It’s not a long poem, but I can’t remember the beginning, and Professor Google doesn’t know it. It ends like this:
White folks hogs
Eat ‘em all.
One-eyed black snake,
Tearin’ through the bushes.
What a terrible thing,
A terrapin are.
He also loves Andy Griffith’s early stories. I’ve heard pieces of one so often I remember them and love them as well. The snippets come in handy. Whenever my partner Ann and I pull into the garage after being away, I say,
            That’s the end of the ride.
Pete and his gang are waitin’ inside.
At night, Ann says, “I hope Pete’s not there. I’m tired. If he’s there, I’m telling him and his friends to go home.”
            I continue:
            [voice one] “I hope you know what you’re talkin’ about.”
[voice two] “You just count ‘em while I throw ‘em out.”
[fighting noises] bing bang bam shwoom…
[voice two] “One!”
[voice one] “Stop countin’. It’s me.”
[Raucous laughter]
Only after the performance do we get out of the car and go inside. It can take a long time for a poetry-lover to get in the house.

Dad loves history as well as poetry, so he also loves Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address:”
            For score and seven years ago…
The tone’s a little different in that one, and though it’s older than the others, Professor Google knows it.

I’ve inherited some things from my father that I’m not so pleased with, like his inability to find something in the refrigerator unless it’s on the front of a shelf. However, I’m glad to have inherited his love for poetry and his sense of humor.

Happy birthday, He-who-is-getting-close-to-being-an-old-man!