Sunday, September 13, 2015

Learning the mornings

I have seen the morning. It's unavoidable these days. Long gone are the lingering hours in bed, sipping cup after cup of coffee delivered by Nan, reading and slowly waking to the world. Long gone are days and evenings wandering to the movies. My schedule is no longer directed by me.

This happened five weeks ago. Whitman. Now almost 40 pounds of puppy energy, puppy determination, and puppy love. He's intense, in that intense kind of way that says, "I'm trying so hard to get what you want me to do. Really."

He picked us, in a way. We were looking for a dog more Sasha's size (20-40 pounds), somewhat mellow, maybe 1-2 years old. But a visit to the farmer's market and Life is Better Rescue brought him to us.

And from that moment, he has been teaching me that the morning has possibility. Nowadays, Nan's alarm doesn't quite reach its ring at 5:30am (occasionally we get lucky). Instead, Whitman nudges our hands, a sweet good morning, and I can't get angry. He is ready for the day. He's slept seven hours.

So I rise, open the back door and watch him run out to pee, and press the coffee maker. It's a tag team in the house, with Nan rising and preparing the cat's breakfast (they are enjoying their current separate apartment downstairs) while I ready Whitman's breakfast. Whitman is quick back to the door, hungry, politely waiting for his food.

We have a deal. If I get up and feed him, then he has to hang out for a bit, a quick morning snooze while I watch the sun rise from the corners of the front door, steady with my coffee, sipping and slowly waking. It's still and quiet, so I read a bit, treating myself to other's words before I slip into the rhythm of the day. By 7 or 7:15am, Whitman and I are out the door, into the cool wisps of almost fall, traveling into the day. He smells and smells and smells, ducks to the ground in his playful pose when he spots a dog, and then pulls me into a quick pace. I worried that after returning from Paris I wouldn't be able to keep up a steady walking habit. Whitman ensures plenty of miles a day, usually beginning with a 2.5 mile walk.

And I like it. I like the quiet. I like watching the world wake up, passing the familiar walkers with their dogs, watching Whitman watch the world and learn what the night released to the day. I catch moments I might miss, like this tonight--a slight blur as Whitman tired of sitting waiting for my shot.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

It's a Wrap

I could bemoan the end of summer. Curse its quick close. Yup, it's that final moment, the night before I return to work after three solid months of summer vacay. Most summers tend to have a central moment/theme, something that stands out. The Waterworld summer where I hung on the lazy river with a friend. The four days alone in Ireland unexpectedly summer, walking my way along the sea. The I do summer, Nan and I married, road tripping out to Oregon. This summer yet unnamed. So on this eve, I am thankful and in denial of what tomorrow brings. For now, I am still in this summer.

  • Paris. Ever since high school French I've always wanted to go to France, see the quicksands of Mont St. Michel, eat and eat and eat and drink wine, wander amongst Rodin, stroll by the Bouquinistes, and walk and walk and walk miles through neighborhoods unfamiliar.
  • Kansas City, MO. Who knew. It has some charm, sort of. AP English Lang reading moved this year to this city with an awesome train station, good barbeque, and a hipster mix of bars. Instead of my usual bourbon trail, Boulevard Tank 7 served to take the edge off the day of endless essay reading.
  • Pacific Northwest. I love it. The way the trees tower. Water. Hanging out at Reed College for a diversity based training and discovering that simultaneously Tin House's Writing Workshop shared the campus which meant free author readings every evening, watching a river otter nightly swim into Reed Canyon. Hanging time in Portland, twice. Beauty and good friends in Tacoma.
  • Celebrating George. A quick trip back east, to see family and go to NYC to celebrate George Braziller's book signing for his memoir. Such joy. A moment. Inspiration.
  • Reading. Lots of it. Long books. Sinking into good writing. Essays. Stories. Memoirs. Novels.
  • Writing. Not so much. But a start. Some revision. Generating. Hopeful.
  • Naps. Always naps.
  • But in this moment, it is this final week of summer that stands sharpest, because its close, fresh. Two brilliant concerts at Red Rocks Amphitheater, reminding me that I live where the greatest music venue sends sounds into the night. Damien Rice putting on a stadium style show set against his haunting voice and solo presence. Brandi Carlile rocking out. Joy.
  • Whitman. Our new dog. One week to get him settled or starting to settle. Long walks. Belly rubs. Early rising. Household adjustments.
It's been full. Happy. Eclectic. Until next year summer, I bid thee adieu.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Goodbye Sweet Sasha

For weeks, I've been rewriting and rewriting a blog in my head, titling it "Almost Goodbye". It's probably been a couple of months, though, that I have been thinking about goodbye. But before I get to the end of the story, there are beginnings, moments that made Sasha my sweet boy.

You see, I didn't always want a dog. In the beginning, I specifically argued against him. It's not because I didn't like dogs. It was situational. A former family with children wanted a dog. I knew that meant the responsibility would fall to me and my ex, not the children who wanted it. They're children. They don't want to wake up in the middle of the night when the puppy wants out.

And so life with Sasha began. Adopted from The Denver Dumb Friends' League at about two months old, he was feisty, a puppy wanting to run wild. When we took him camping, he'd escape, scampering about, yet at night, he'd cuddle in the tent with us, a fluffy white ball asleep. Out on farm land when young, he ran and ran, while I watched, scared that the horses he ran near would trample him. But just a few years into his life, my relationship with him shifted a bit. He began to take care of me. After a messy breakup, the only thing I insisted my ex give me, was Sasha. I needed him.

And together, we rebuilt my life. He and I would walk often, wander parks together, breathe in the sky and say hello to people. My pal. When I began my relationship with Nan, she needed to pass my Sasha test. So on our third date, we spent the afternoon in City Park, walking Sasha around and around to the point his three year old self exhausted, plopping down to rest, refusing to walk without an ample time out. Nan tolerated him at first. Sasha liked Nan.

Sasha grows on you. And he did on Nan. He did on everyone he met. Simply, he was a good sport. A love. One year, we humiliated him in a Halloween contest. Despite not winning or placing in the contest, he happily paraded around, welcoming the attention. On Sundays when he'd stroll with us to the farmer's market, he always attracted compliments, children wanting to pet his fluffy white coat (which he welcomed), and the noses and butts of other dogs.

He loved company. Other dogs--cool. Especially if they tolerated his horny humps. His toys he shared, always. Letting other dogs rip them even when he only nibbled and nibbled on the toy, keeping toys for years and years.

Cats. They loved him. At times he tolerated their attention, but he never snapped. He would walk away. And they would follow. Dowan would swat at him, throw himself at Sasha's feet, desiring some play. Sometimes Sasha would wrestle with Dowan, careful never to hurt him, leaving only remnants of dog spit on Dowan's head. When a cat took over his bed, Sasha simply moved to a cat bed. That's who he was. When we brought Spot home as a kitten, Sasha belly crawled into the room to meet her, wanting to see his new sister.

For 16 years I have gathered Sasha tales, memories of long walks, belly rubs, happy post grooming pictures, and a connection with a pet that I've never had. He kept me whole when I felt broken and lonely. He protected me from the mailman (he was on the postoffice list of dangerous dogs even though he's never bitten a person before). He loved me as unconditionally as love can be, and I hope he felt at least a fraction of what he gave me.

But I knew that as the last years passed, that his time wasn't forever. Fortunately, for most of his life, Sasha only saw the vet for routine check-ups. But as he aged, especially during the last couple of years, he had extensive surgery for corneal ulcers. He had multiple teeth removed. He visited the vet more frequently than in the past.

And then he got sick. Initially diagnosed as a kidney issue, we knew that there were deeper things going on with him, causing gastrointestinal issues. Yet he masked the pain, the issues, wanting to eat, frolicking about with toys. Over the past several weeks, he worsened. I spent many nights beside him on the floor, chatting, telling him he could go if he needed to--I would be fine without him. I asked only one thing--please go when I'm home, not traveling.

Yesterday morning we made the decision. After an ultrasound revealed so many issues, we knew it was time. Rather than wait until he couldn't eat, couldn't move, couldn't take himself outdoors, we wanted to be more humane and let him go while he still had some sense of Sasha. He woke in the morning having difficulty moving, dragging his back leg some. Yet, he breathed in the warmth of the morning and the sun with us. But we could see in his eyes that he had been fighting for awhile.

Caring Pathways said they could be over that day, in just a couple of hours. We said goodbye. But Sasha wouldn't leave quickly, not before giving me a final gift of love. After the first shot of sedative, he wandered to Nan, his alpha, his protector, letting her love on him and reassure him. He wouldn't give into the sedative, still trying to stay strong for us, not wishing to submit. After the second shot of sedative, though, he could no longer pretend. So, right before he gave in, he came over to me. A final gift. He put his head in my hands, burrowing a bit, letting me kiss on him and love on him. And then he rested on his side, taking the final injection, quietly and peacefully saying goodbye.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Balancing Act

I finished my 2013/2014 semester exhausted. I had months of summer ahead of me, and I had imagined spending them reading, writing, traveling. By the end of the summer of 2014, little reading and writing occurred. When I set my work goals at the start of the fall 2014 semester, I had only one that really mattered--finding a better balance between work and life.

Adopting a "Just Say No" attitude seemed a necessity. Word spread and people knew not to ask me to join any more committees, take part in task forces, or help with a new initiative. When staff emails flooded my inbox with requests to serve on this or that, I would open them, quickly read, and delete, feeling a bit of power at reclaiming back my time I had so willingly given over. Initially I felt a bit of guilt, unaccustomed to saying no when asked to do something additional at work. Over time, though, I found my schedule opening up and no longer was clocking a 60-70 hour work week every week.

During the fall semester, I took two writing workshops, carving enough time to attend to that which truly mattered. Reading happened, my own reading rather than just student compositions and prep for classes--8 books that were not required for any courses taught. Eventually, I found that I had stopped complaining about being overworked.

This semester, I've stopped instantly deleting work requests. I read through them and ponder whether they're something I truly value, something worthy of my time. Most often, I say no. What has changed though, is I am starting to occasionally say yes. Not to too much. Not because I feel I have to. But because I have the space. The time. A bit of balance.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Where the end of the year muses

Language. Lately, I constantly find myself thinking about words. Like what does a year in review mean?

I'm listening to NPR's All Songs Considered podcast and pondering rationale for their list of 2014 music. Sun Kil Moon's Benji's album lands because it's "quite possibly the most depressing record...ever heard in my life." Beck's Morning Phase is "surprisingly wonderful," Chris Staples' "Dark Side of the Moon" has "been a close companion," and Alvvay's "Archie, Marry Me," is essentially a great pop song and "there can never be enough of those."

And so I forget for a moment about words and think about marriage as I rock to Alvvay. For my year in review would be incomplete without a mention of marriage, my marriage, the year Nan and I tied the knot, got hitched, I do'd. Almost midway, a day shy of the center of the year, Nan and I became Spouse A and B, legally wed our style at the Marriage Bureau in NYC. We didn't know it would be this year--we can't plan the vagaries of politics. But the timing was right. Our stars aligned. Like Rent's "Seasons of Love," sometimes you can measure the year in love.

And travel. Lots of travel. Most years include new places, revisited places, chances to move away from myself a bit and see anew. Stop. It's often a forced stop since I am away from distractions, technology, that which distances me from being mindful. And 2014 was all of that, beginning at dawn, a literal daybreak of the year awaiting the Taj Mahal. Breathless through many moments of India. I don't call it a trip of a lifetime, as some might. Not because it wasn't remarkable, unlike anywhere I've been, but because I am lucky to venture many places that amaze.

I don't want to make lists, try to be comprehensive, capture it all in a single sliver of reminiscence. Digression. A shooting star of mind. Scattering.

I wrote in 2014. That matters. Lots. New material. Unfinished. Almost finished.

Honestly, I don't want to assess my 2014. I assess all the time. It is my profession. It is my mind. It is my natural lens to the world.

At year's end, I am grateful.  Fortunate. Thankful for the day, today, when the snow forces a quiet and I choose the time to reflect.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Almost Done

Done is not until actually done, but tonight, for the first time in months, I can feel the end, the moment of deep breath. Each semester, I swear I'm going to videotape myself musing on the art of exhaustion, insisting that I've never felt this tired, never felt like I wanted to crawl under the covers and sleep for hours without any hint of technological memory, student chatter. Nothingness.

Tonight, though, I'm reminded of the end of semester joys, the pure pleasure when I get to sit back and roam through my students' learning. I've spent the last day or so reading research based multigenre/multimodal projects, and for the most part, when they rock, they soar beyond the ordinary. I read a student reflection on how her original position regarding GMOs in Africa changed during the course of research, moving away from a simple stance of GMOs are bad no matter what to arguing for the use of GMOs in Africa to help deal with starvation. Another student discussed the nuance of audience and why putting her project about a generation of hope in North Korea on tumblr made the most sense. And yet another student demonstrated how her project argued that wearing a motorcycle helmet should be a personal imperative rather than a legal one, discussing ways she employed both ethos and pathos throughout her project. I'm blown away and happy. And of course they don't all sparkle, but they all show a level of engagement with their research and presentation that goes beyond simply accomplishing the task for a grade. Note to self--future research project looking at student engagement with multimodal composing (get that IRB started now).

My last week was spent reading lengthy fiction portfolios, falling into students' stories, seeing their experimentation and willingness to trust the process of drafting and drafting and revising and not feeling done. I watched literature students perform rewritten plays, seeing the creative snaps of adaptation, happy to sit back and applaud.

So yeah, I try to remember not to rush through it all, not to sprint to done, because then I might miss the view. And the view is kinda nice after all.

Friday, October 31, 2014

A Long Overdue Reflection

Pema Chodron asks, "What are you going to do with what you have already--your body, your speech, your mind." I'm beginning to think that there is power in the universe, some type of synchronicity that brings what you need. I'm taking a second writing class during the semester (my rule is usually only one and sometimes one a year), because writing had leapt to the not so distant outskirts, away from a consistent center that grounds and stills me.

I began this semester in a less than grateful mode. I lagged from the summer, a summer spent chasing travel and fun, a summer with little writing and reading. Ask me if I'd do it differently, and the honest answer is no--in many ways it was perfect like every summer, like every moment that I surrender to without judging.

When the first 1/3 of the semester ended, and I again began to feel like work weeks usually topped 50 hours and sometimes soared above 60 hours, I decided to keep score. Every hour I was on campus (regardless of whether I spent the time chatting with colleagues or surfing the web, I counted as work), every hour I spent at home (even if distracted and surfing the Facebook in between) counted. My calculations weren't to predict how efficient I was and whether I could be more efficient, but to get a realistic sense of hours worked, even if sometimes in a distracting way. The first week, I hit 40 hours by Friday afternoon (starting with Monday). At that point, I decided to stop working until the clock reset Monday.

While my decision proved a wee bit amusing to me, its effects weren't worthy of laughter. On Monday, anxiety set in, and I realized the enormity of the current grading pile and the looming grading pile. For that week, I worked over 60 hours (and stopped when I hit that number). Boom. Predictions somewhat correct. But when I told Nan of my supposed success, she asked me whether knowing that felt good. She reminded me of what I have--enormous flexibility in my job, and encouraged me to start keeping track of that. Keep track of those rare four day weekends when I can accomplish lots at home and have time to do my thing. Keep track of a lack of an alarm on many days. Keep track of engaged students and the ability to approach the classroom however I'd like.

And so I did. And continue to do most days. Sometimes I falter, but lately I stay grateful, remembering all that I have. And to answer Pema, it's to remember to be, to find ways to stay more present. And the way that always brings me there is to write. Always.