Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Adios 2011

I probably should have realized, when the year started with two months of debilitating back pain, that 2011 would be a rough one. Was this the body's way of preparing the mind for what was to come? Hospital visits. Crushing professional disappointments. The loss of our sweet, sweet Inez.

Relativity aside -- no, I'm not one of the Chilean miners or Japanese earthquake survivors. I'm not even one of the affordable-housing tenants in whose interest I spend my working hours -- this was the toughest year of my life. So I look ahead to 2012 with buoyancy and relief. Ready to say good-bye to a rotten year, light an unforgiving calendar on fire. Ready to breathe in the crisp January air, knowing it has put December, and the eleven months before it, to bed.

So . . . how to set the ship right for the coming year? How to lay the groundwork for happier times? Of course there are things I'll never control. There may be hurdles, disappointments, aches and pains I can't get out of the way of.

But there is also this: If there is nothing else I do well in the world (and recent history may bear this out; I'm starting to wonder if I'll ever be a competitive job candidate again, if maybe, after 20+ years of ennui and vain searching, I may have hit the apex of my career), it's to make something out of nearly nothing.

- Homemade soup
- Bread pudding
- A wardrobe from thrifted odds and ends
- Memorable weddings for friends and strangers
- A comfortable home of garage-sale finds
- Random detritus out of fabric scraps
- A puppy fit for adoption after a rough start in the world

Ok, it's a working list, so give me a break :-).

But this may be my year to stop being aspirational and learn to make the most of what I have. To start looking sideways instead of up. To see what windows might open in spaces of turbulence or vague dissatisfaction.

How might I focus on the rewards of my job, for example (flexible schedule, fair salary, voluminous time off) and not its many punishments? How to translate those perks into lucky charms to hang on the coming year? Where is my white space, and how best to fill it?

I've got some ideas percolating, and they require the cooperation of many floating bits of matter. Some is controllable, some not. So I need a good dose of karmic good luck (which means I need to start believing in karmic good luck -- not likely). But I could use a little boost, that's for sure. Not a winning lottery ticket, mind you. These aren't stretch goals. I'm specifically avoiding stretch goals this year. But I need a few pieces to fit together, so if 2012 were a simpler puzzle than its predecessor, I'd gladly be the first to open the box.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Don't touch the burner

This is Milo the foster puppy. He was hours from euthanasia when a rescue group intervened, assessed his temperment, and decided he was worth saving. He'd arrived with a severely broken leg -- the likely result of being used as a bait dog -- and prognosis of imminent amputation. He just needed to clear up a nasty case of ringworm first.

We gave him a temporary home at my urging. They needed a pet-free home, and the sad circumstances of late September enabled us to oblige.

It's been a challenging few weeks. On top of realizing (in neon) that puppies are much tougher than older dogs, Milo has some issues that I'm struggling to get my head around. Sure, he does some puppy things that puppies will always do -- chews pillows, begs for food, whimpers in his crate -- but he's also got a nasty propensity toward biting that seems to go beyond playful antics. What's he thinking up there in his tiny, adorable puppy head? That he needs to defend himself, and if so, against what?

Is he angry? Befuddled? Borderline aggressive?

Am I food? A nemesis? A threat? A chew toy?

Our foster commitment comes to a close before Christmas, and I'm hopeful he'll find a home that can give him both boundaries and limitless love, and perhaps the answers to those questions. I know in my heart I'm not part of that equation, and I feel like a daily failure for it. Especially since so many friends predicted we'd keep him, as if it was inevitable we'd fall in love. How could you not? Look how adorable he is. But we haven't. I haven't.

There have been some good lessons in all of this, and it seems worth listing them here, as someday this period in our lives may be just a fuzzy blip in a long line of animals we ideally come to know, perhaps even make homes for.

1) The best intentions don't always produce the best results

2) It may have been too early for us to take this on

3) I don't have a handy arsenal of tools for conquering things I don't understand

4) Puppies can hurt your skin

5) Puppies can hurt your feelings

6) A lousy potential adopter can be a bang-up foster, and sometimes you need to flip this switch

7) I miss Inez

8) I really, really miss Inez

So there you have it. Another one of my bright ideas that will go unfinished -- one that's left me with a healthy dose of ambivalence and perhaps a dash of self-loathing. I hope we've at least given Milo some structure and stability, and though he won't remember us, I hope we've made it easier for those who might adopt him permanently. May they be patient, loving people. May they welcome a challenge on four clumsy legs. May they hold dear things like fragility, complexity, and unpredictability. May they have thick skin in body and mind. May they count themselves lucky for knowing him. May they make him better, and may they get the same in return.

Monday, December 5, 2011


This piano may look austere now, but not yesterday afternoon, when John and I were treated to an impromptu performance by Mabel, a concert pianist and also our good neighbor. She'd asked us to come watch a practice session for an upcoming concert -- said it made her less nervous for the real deal.

Mabel's work tends toward contemporary avante-garde, and at times she throws her entire body into the piece, stretching her hands to the farthest reaches of the keyboard, plunking out multiple notes at once, arms spread like a bird alighting.

Watching Mabel work is not only awe-inspiring (even for a musical rube like myself). It also makes you realize there are those people who have their thing: Musical gifts, athletic ability, multilingualism, a knack for sewing, a knowledge of birds, or wine, or baking. And there are those, like myself, who very much want a thing but struggle to find it (sigh). I've tried knitting and photography and learning Spanish and writing fiction and even keeping a sourdough starter, but none of it stuck. I'm even a lousy Luddite.

Sure, I make soup. I perform weddings. Occasionally I keep track of local social policy, but I'll shift from education to employment to immigration on a whim. I guess I'm a consummate dabbler. So it's luminous to watch someone like Mabel strut her stuff. She's been at it 20 years or more, and her piano continues to challenge and excite her, as it does those lucky enough to disappear into those complex notes as they fill up the room around you, like reminders.