Monday, December 29, 2008

Good night, sweet pup

My family's beloved dog Benson has passed away.

Faithful to the end, and a fierce protector of the family and home as long as he was physically able. My parents originally got Benson as not just a pet, but as a sort of alarm system as well - my neighborhood had quite a few break-in's at the time, our house included.

I could hold him in the palm of my hand when we first got him, but he soon grew up to be a compact-yet-muscular dog, sweet to anyone who made it into the house with our permission, but heaven help the stranger who walked up to our yard.

My mother's third child, he thought he was a lap dog even though he weighed at least fifty pounds. He shed like it was going out of business and would jump on you, sometimes leaving bruises from his heavy paws and thick claws. Until a few years ago, he'd get so excited when he saw me that he'd go into a frenzy. His eyes were the sweetest things on earth. I think he could actually understand my mother, and my brother was his alpha male.

If you're not an animal person, it is probably impossible to comprehend how we could be so emotionally intertwined with a dog, much less sympathsize. But most people understand.

Fourteen years of devotion and unconditional love will leave a gaping wound in its absence.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Believe in Your Truth

Today I was catching up on a blog that, due to alphabetical listing, hangs out near the bottom of my blog feed and thus doesn't get read nearly as often as it should. "PilgrimSteps" is written by a woman who is not only a great writer and photographer, but a chronicler of daily life with disability. That she manages to do this bravely, touchingly, with such generosity of spirit and without a hint of self-pity is impressive and inspiring. Especially for those of us who wallow in self-pity more than we should.

In a post from December 19, she interviews Gary Wesley, author of "Seven Wheelchairs: A Life Beyond Polio" The whole interview is interesting and worth a read, but I was struck by his response when she asks what his advice would be to aspiring writers who'd like to write about their own disabilities:

"Don't begin unless you're wiling to learn more about the person you may really be ... I cannot say that I knew Gary Presley entirely until I finished Seven Wheelchairs and then began to contemplate what I wrote. I pray I'm not deluded, but I think I like myself a little better now.

As to the practicalities of the writing process ...
  • Write every day.
  • Join a critique group, preferably an online one where people will be more apt to tell you the truth about your work.
  • Take criticism without becoming defensive.
  • Regard criticism as opinion.
  • That means stay true to your voice and your message.
  • Grammar and syntax are important but not as important as the story and the truth it contains.
  • Tell the truth even when it hurts, especially if it is painful for you to tell it.
  • Remember the truth is sometimes subjective, which means each person perceives events and people differently.
  • Believe in your truth.
  • Prepare to be rejected, multiple times.
  • Persevere in the face of those rejections."

"Seven Wheelchairs" at

Monday, December 15, 2008

Oh brother!

In defense of Christmas music. Specifically, "A Charlie Brown Christmas." Two wildly different blogs I read regularly mentioned how "depressing" the soundtrack is, and a friend made a similar comment recently.

What, all Christmas music has to be one of the following?

a) religious
b) ridiculously upbeat
c) histrionic

Don't get me wrong - I love Christmas music, all of it. I'm a huge fan of Bing Crosby, Burl Ives, Perry Como. And I love swingin' loungey Christmas music (Dean Martin, anyone on the Ultra-Lounge label). And who doesn't enjoy the three tenors doing "Ave Maria"?

But every once in a while, it's quiet in the house, you're doing something that you want to give some attention to, like decorating the tree or making a fire. Those moments often call for something a little subtle, unobtrusive even. And Vince Guaraldi's piano is nothing if not subtle.

It's not like every song is a dirge. "Skating" sounds like a jazzy snowfall, if snowfalls had genres. The tinkling keys couldn't represent anything but the falling of snowflakes. "Christmas is Here" is the classic "dance" song for the cartoon, where all the kids get distracted from their theatrical duties and start be-bopping around (my personal fav - the girl that dances in one place, cocking her head side to side).

In fact, the only one that doesn't have at least a pick-me-up section is "Christmastime is Here." True, even the version with lyrics sounds more wistful than cheerful. But it's also my favorite on the album. To me it sounds . . . introspective. Children and adults certainly celebrate the holidays differently; it makes sense that we wouldn't appreciate the same music all the time.

Of course, indulging in child-like fantasies is one of the best parts about Christmas - eating candy like it's going out of style, getting excited over wrapped presents, debating the merits of colored versus white lights for the tree (well, maybe kids don't do that). But by only celebrating the children's version of Christmas, we're denying adults the pleasure of a grown-up version: getting together with friends you haven't seen in a while, having drinks by the fire, taking in the light displays at a reasonable pace. We can all enjoy Christmas, and I'd say that for being the soundtrack to a children's animated television special, "A Charlie Brown Christmas" is definitely a grown-up treat.

Listen: E-Music will let you listen to small snippets of every song on the album.

Listen: NPR's Morning Edition discusses "A Charlie Brown Christmas" (has a few of the songs as well)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Mutual Affection, briefly

"One should never direct people towards happiness, because happiness too is an idol of the market-place. One should direct them towards mutual affection. A beast gnawing at its prey can be happy too, but only human beings can feel affection for each other, and this is the highest achievement they can aspire to."

-- Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, writer and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

This is not a Darryl Worley song.

I miss my friends.

This is not a new topic for my blog, so feel free to move on if you've heard it all before.

I'm feeling a little left out of the big deal of She's Getting Married. I have come to the realization that there are some things that I'll miss out on by going the solitary, online route, like trying on dresses with my friends.

I was watching the TLC show about a New York bridal salon, "Say Yes to the Dress" (we can go into the shame of that later), and maybe it was because I'd had a couple glasses of wine and it was, oh, 1 a.m. on a weeknight, but a particular scene got me a little blurry-eyed.

A bride pulls this (admittedly gorgeous, albeit stupidly overpriced) wedding dress over her head and stands on the little platform to see herself in the mirror, and suddenly the camera cuts to her mom, and then to her bridesmaids. The look on their faces said it all. "Wow. This is the dress." And everybody started laughing and smiling and hugging. Very touching.

I didn't get to have that!

And while, yes, I realize that in the long run, it's much better to have ordered my dress online, paying a pittance, a fraction of the cost of your run-of-the-mill David's Bridal thing than to blow a wad of cash on something I'll wear once so that I could experience that "moment," right now I don't care. I want that experience! I want someone besides me to get excited about this wedding.

Don't get me wrong. Kyle wants to get married. He wants a wedding. He's had opinions on things, like food and music and hiring a friend to DJ and whatnot. But it doesn't feel like anyone else is really into it.

But should they be?

Am I letting the artifice of the media version of weddings cloud my emotions? After all, it's me that's getting married, not my friends. Of course they're not being kept awake at night, thinking, "My God, what will Jen and Kyle do for a first dance?!" That would be silly.

Yes, I know why it has come to this. I have no bridal party. Showers and bridesmaid dress fittings are the stuff of which wedding buzz is made. How can they be interested in that which they are not involved? And Kyle and I made that choice ourselves; it's not as if people were begging me to not drag them into something that required random dress purchases.

If I had bridesmaids, by definition they'd have to be interested - people would be deciding who's throwing the shower, everyone would worry about their dresses (Will it suck? Will it be obscenely expensive? Will it make my butt look gargantuan?) and thus, they'd HAVE to talk to me, keep up with what's going on.

But I didn't want to burden anyone. My friends live in other towns and are very busy people (hell, most of them have children, do you know the time good parenting entails? I can only imagine). These people don't have time for standing around looking at each other in pastel-colored nightmares, deciding which one is boring enough to not make any particular person look horrible.

Not being a bridesmaid isn't the only reason why I don't see my friends as much as I'd like to, of course. We're all busy women, with jobs and/or kids and new homes or new relationships. And when you're on different tracks, it's hard to run into each other. Many of my friends have been married for several years, and now they're parents - that's a completely different social life than someone who's just starting a relationship, or someone like me, still trying to figure out just what my routine is, as a wife-to-be, new homeowner and employee. Some of us are going to Disney World, or are camping with our kids. Some of us are still going out on dates, or have the free time to fritter away on Christmas tree placement (against the wall? which one?). We're not exactly going to run into each other like that.

Where am I going with this? Nowhere, really. There is nowhere to go.

I think, perhaps some of this is really about growing up. This is not the wedding of someone right out of college. I'm trying to plan a big-ass party of a lifetime, and I'm squeezing it in between buying new tires and finally getting around to registering for homestead exemption - and my friends are too. So I guess it comes down to this: I just can't have that TV show wedding experience; I don't live a TV show life.