September 13th: Sexual Politics


Kate Millett, feminist author of Sexual Politics, died last week. This was an important work in Women Studies and it was the death blow to Henry Miller’s hope of ever becoming a respectable author in this country. She crucified him but made the ultimate mistake of confusing a character/a persona with the person who wrote the book. While Millett destroyed Miller, Henry praised Kate after reading Sexual Politics:

The funny thing is, I began to believe while reading it that what she was saying had an element of truth in it– about me being the prime example of the male chauvinist pig.

When I reread passages from those books I’m most noted for even I am shocked by my use of language. Especially in regards to women and sex. I can well understand the rage women must feel having themselves talked about in such a crude manner. One would think I despise women which couldn’t be further from the truth.

You see, I created a monstrous character in my book and I gave him my name, Henry Miller. He’s a demon, a rogue, a scoundrel. […] That character was me and wasn’t me. […] I was a much angrier man when I wrote those first books than I am today.

Whatever. The damage was done. Henry was never seen in any other way after Millett’s book.

And yet the patriarchy continues. But the demons are not American writers– the demons are those who are in power.

Since we’re on the topic of sexual politics, I happened to see my OBGYN this week for my favorite doctor’s appointment, the pap smear– possibly the worst phrase in the English language. Smears are for bagels, not vaginas.

Anyway, since I’m full blown menopausal and sex ain’t what it used to be, we started on the subject of the great drying out. This was after the speculum business and she and I bonding over the fact that we both have daughters who are into comedy and improv. Yes the shit you talk about to get away from the notion that this new OBGYN and total stranger is all over your private parts after a 5-minute introduction…

She offered prescription meds ALL of which, she warned, are not covered by most insurances. I get it. First world problems.

Just out of curiosity, I asked whether Viagra was covered. Not that I need it.

“Oh, yes!” She exclaimed.

“Medicare, for example,” she said, “fully covers Viagra, but none of the meds postmenopausal women might need to deal with 4-hour-erections.”

Correction.

She didn’t mention actual 4-hour-erections demented men don’t know what to do with. What she did say, or imply, was that this is why older men switch to younger, naturally lubricated vaginas.

Yes. First world problems, for sure. Nonetheless, if I get born again, I want to have a dick because to screw is still better than being screwed…

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August 21st: As Another Summer Fades Away…


On this rather gloomy eclipse kind of day (haven’t really looked yet but then I’m in a spot where there’s not much to watch), I’m taking stock of the summer. My summer was mostly filled with work but I want to highlight some of my summer moments here. Like visiting The Netherlands (long overdue) with Caroline and meeting Will after his stint in South Africa, and realizing I need to visit Holland every year to connect with family and reconnect with a country that seems so faraway but that still has a special place in my heart. Grateful, too, for meeting new people in Holland, more than just business connections but soulmates and people with their heart in the right place.

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I’m thankful for Caroline being home from college and being able to connect with her in long conversations, talking about life, dreams, hopes, aspirations and bitching about the dangerous and irresponsible rhetoric of a president who can’t condemn white supremacists (just saw another clip on VICE in which a woman, two babies in her lap, declares there “should be another genocide”… Please, America don’t confuse free speech with hate speech…Or in the words of the slain Heather Heyer: “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention”. Any student of the history of 1930s Germany can see eerie parallels with where we are now and the US Constitution has never seemed so fragile to me).

The darkest day of our summer was having to say goodbye to our Frankie and while it was hard on Caroline (first pet), I was glad we could share that experience, too.

I’m sad we’re seeing so little of Will. Internships and school make it feel like he lives on another planet but he’ll be in town this weekend with lovely Lily, so hopefully we can catch up, and then there is Thanksgiving in Chicago with the whole family.

Someone once told me that life is a continuous process of letting go, but I think we can fill up the void with light and laughter of our own and that nothing is ever final but that we’re all works in progress– it’s a state of becoming and growing if only we open ourselves up to new things, new places and new people.

Summer trivia: Caroline learned how to drive a stick after a couple of traffic light stalls, slight rollbacks, a couple of jolts and a little frying of the clutch on the side. If you want to learn how to drive a stick, you might as well learn it in the hilly Bay Area, right? She drives like a pro now, so I can send her on errands and tell her to pick up Will and Lily at SFO at midnight on Thursday (hihi).

More trivia: after some confusion about Frankie’s absence, Teddy has settled in like a Prince, being the sole center of attention, barking more, and to make up for the buddy he used to sleep with, he has found a bear. Yes, for real:

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More trivia: we have noticed that a mother deer and child have taken up refuge in our backyard late at night. We hear them and admire them and they eat all our blackberries but we’re honored with their presence and it’s a nice change from skunks, rats and raccoons.

Summer lessons: spontaneity is the juice of life. After finishing the translation of one book and finishing a novel of my own, I looked up to realize we really hadn’t had much of a summer break and that summer was almost gone, so I asked Caroline where she wanted to go for a weekend — anywhere in the continental US. She picked San Diego and that’s what we did this weekend. There was nothing finer than having lunch in San Clemente overlooking the Pacific, and going for that long walk with Jon on that nice Torrey Pines beach.

We flew back from Long Beach Airport. I simply love small airports– makes you feel like you’re globetrotting in an era when flying was still considered cool and exclusive:

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And last but not least, summer revelation: delving deeper into Henry Miller, I’ve come to realize his life lessons, his attitude toward mindful living is beginning to rub off. The last few years, and especially so since I started contracting/freelancing there was always that pressure of finding the next client (or better: clients finding me), the stresses of earning a steady living, or at least an income that would supplement Jon’s and would help provide for our children, living and tuition costs, but I’ve decided to quit the rat race– or rather, instead of running with the rats, I will have life take its course work wise. That is to say, if clients find me and want to pay me standard rates, fine, but I’m not going to chase certain jobs for piddling wages just because I might have an “in” with a cool start-up or interesting company.

I want to free up my time because at this stage in life, time is the most important asset and I want to use it wisely, and not be some corporate serf/have my life being lived by the company whose pockets I fill. The freed-up time is Henry Miller time, or rather a book on Henry Miller that will not only be a reassessment of his oeuvre but that will also be the kind of accessible book for people who, like Miller, want to discover that certain things in life can set you free, if only you’re receptive to it and willing to commit to it.

Not having the means, income or luxury to do so, Henry Miller simply dropped out, long before the 1960s when dropping out became the hip thing to do. We must say yes to life to feel truly alive, but most of us go through life with blinders on because we’re constrained by things we think we have no control over. The mindfulness revolution that we hear so much about now was a central and consistent theme in all of Henry Miller’s major work, so not only was he very much ahead of his time, he’s also timely medicine for an America that’s burned out on life, work, and politics.

“In no celestial register is it written,” Miller wrote, “how far we must go or how much we must endure. It is we, we ourselves, who must decide… Whoever has experienced the oneness of life and the joy of life knows that to be is the all. ‘Ripeness is all,’ said Shakespeare. It is the same thing.”

Remember, as Miller said: It is we, we ourselves, who must decide… So, before time runs out, what will you decide?

You can find more about the book here: http://gofundme.com/henrymillerrocks, and here is my blog on Henry Miller: https://spendingtimewithhenrymiller.wordpress.com/

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August 14th: Will Dutch Comfort Women Be Forgotten?


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August is a busy month for the Indo-Dutch community, because of the official ending of WWII in Asia and the many commemorations this triggers. There’s now another day to put on your calendar and that is August 14th, which is International Comfort Women Memorial Day.

The Indo Project fully endorses the San Francisco Comfort Women Justice Coalition (CWJC), which is a community of Korean, Chinese, Filipino, and Japanese people who haven’t only fought for recognition, apology and reparations for the comfort women issue but they have also received the green light from San Francisco City Council to build a comfort women memorial, which will be the first one in a major Western city.

On behalf of The Indo Project, I went to the Rally for Truth and Justice by CWJC, which was held in front of the Japanese Consulate in downtown San Francisco today. This was the write-up and announcement for the rally, which I shared on FB and elsewhere:

“The ‘comfort women’ struggle for truth and justice is an international movement of education and redress mobilization:
–to preserve the history of over 200,000 women and girls from 11 countries who suffered under the Imperial Japanese military system of sex slavery and trafficking during WWII and
–to secure government accountability and redress for these brutal human rights violations.

Despite the passage of over 80 years, this unresolved WWII justice issue continues as an ongoing struggle against historical denialism and government impunity in the present context of increasing danger of war and growing militarization and violence against women in the Asia Pacific region.” UNQUOTE

I had hoped to see some Indo and Dutch faces in the crowd but I was the only Caucasian and when I helped holding up one of the placards, the Asian press pointed their cameras in my direction because what was this tall blond woman doing among the protestors? That mystery was solved when one of the organizers mentioned Great Britain and the Dutch East Indies and I was whisked in front of the mic to make a statement on behalf of The Indo Project.

This came out of left field, so I had to improvise and decided to talk about the personal experience of the 14-yeard-old and 15-year-old girls who were recruited by the Japanese Imperial Army to be gang raped and satisfy the libido of the soldiers on a regular basis.

When they were lucky enough to survive and get married after the war and have kids, their secret lasted for decades because how could they ever talk about the insanity of gang rape to their husbands and children? Their shame and self-imposed silence made this the perfect crime for the Japanese, many of who(m) still deny that this crime against humanity ever happened.

That said, as the CWJC pointed out, this is not an action against the Japanese but against the war crimes of the Japanese Imperial Army, for which the Japanese government should apologize. And let’s not forget that Japanese women were forced to “service” the troops as well.

The apology and recognition is long over due but very much necessary for the sake of women’s and international human rights, going forward. In every new war and conflict, women are often forced to have sex against their will by the oppressor (ISIS being the most recent example). So for Japan to come out against sexual slavery and come clean would send a strong signal and would be the beginning of final healing for the grandmothers and comfort women who are still alive. Importantly, the CWJC did report there was a solidarity rally in Tokyo yesterday, so hopefully more and more Japanese people become aware of what’s been omitted in the history books they used in school.

Speaking of history books…

As I was walking away from the rally, I was approached by a journalist from the Korean Times. I had to explain to him that yes, there were countless of Dutch comfort women, too, many of whom were interviewed right after the war. Of all the nations whose young girls were raped by the Japanese Imperial Army, the Netherlands may well have the largest burden of proof of the comfort women issue, sitting in Dutch archives. The journalist indicated that he had no idea that there were Dutch comfort women, too.

This made me sad.

But maybe we have to blame ourselves. While the CWJC has a large Japanese, Chinese and Korean following, our Indo-Dutch peeps didn’t even bother to come out to this important rally, cluttering the sidewalks in front of the Japanese Consulate and beating drums so loud that the Japanese Consul General couldn’t have missed it.

Maybe the comfort women issue is as much a dead issue to the Indo Dutch community as it is to the Japanese community.

But we were not the perpetrators.

In fact, it could have happened to your grandma or your great aunt. We need to carry on the flame, and for every former sex slave who dies, the flame needs to burn a little more… and brighter still with every denial that is hurled at us.

Right now, the flame seems to be going out and pretty soon everyone in Asia won’t know anything about the fate of Dutch comfort women.

That’s what you get for not speaking out, not showing up and not doing your share. Once again, the Japanese will have succeeded. The perfect crime.

For TIP followers: We created The Indo Project to do some of the heavy lifting for you, but we could do so much more if you all engaged with us a little harder. Social media is easy, and saying laat maar is even easier. Donating, giving hours of your free time and showing up is a lot harder. As one of my favorite Irishmen, Edmund Burke, once said: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

I was there today, but walked away with a heavy heart. I will be there again, next year, maybe not so much for The Indo Project as for the Dutch comfort women whose trauma lasted a lifetime and whose suffering should not have been in vain but an important history lesson to prevent the rape of our daughters and granddaughters in future wars and conflicts.

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August 6th: Why I Love Americans…


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This country is mega polarized at the moment but I want to keep reaching out because if we choose party over people, we’re not being true to the values this country was founded on.

There are two things that I love about Americans: it’s their generosity and optimism. To highlight the generous part, I want to tell you a funny story that happened to me last night in downtown San Francisco.

For our anniversary (and thank you all for the well wishes on FB!!!), Jon and I went to see Diana Krall in concert at Davies Symphony Hall. It was simply amazing… Krall mesmerized the audience and gave no less than four encores because she was having such a good time. The band was phenomenal and the music unforgettable. So needless to say, I came out of their simply glowing– as if I had just had sex but in a cerebral way. 

As Jon was calling a Lyft, two of them canceled on us, it was drizzling and we wanted to get out of there to get to our hotel. Civic Center Plaza just isn’t the greatest part of town. And that’s an understatement.

But I was still glowing, simply watching traffic go by while Jon was glued to his phone.

And mind you (and to preface this) my best years are really over. I may have looked like Lady Di one day (as some of you have noted and really, I’m not worthy), but my looks are fading fast, that spare tire around my waist is real and I don’t think of myself as pretty. Pretty is the term I’d use for my millenial daughter– who is, in many ways prettier than I ever was when I was her age.

So as I was staring into traffic, I locked eyes with a woman who was driving by in the passenger seat and really, I was about to look away because she seemed a trifle tipsy when she was yelling at another driver through her open window. I expected another insult in the making directed at me but she yelled: “You’re beautiful!”

Well, that came out of left field… and for a split second I thought she was mocking me…

But then she turned to Jon, who was still chained to his phone and yelled: “Hey– you… hey asshole, you need to tell her tonight she’s beautiful!”

I gave her a thumbs up and Jon, feeling attacked, yelled back she needed to get another drink to make her shut up. And I was almost like: “What did you do that for?”

Generosity. It was a generous gesture of a fellow American and I want to thank her because it made my evening.

And for the record: beautiful, I’m not. It was Diana Krall who brought that about…

 

 

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August 2nd: English only– and what message it sends to our children…


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Let’s face it: the Trump White House is the most incompetent and deceitful we’ve seen in the history of this country and when things go south, you need to throw your base some red meat, and that’s what happened this week.

Sessions is going to take down Affirmative Action on the false premise that whites are being discriminated against in college admissions (whites and Asians are still the large majority at most and some of the best schools) and Trump announced a new bill in which legal immigrants to this country need to speak English if they want to enter this country.

Aside from the blatantly WASPish agenda this reveals, I don’t want to go into why all of this is misguided and evil– I just want to focus why a message of English Only sets a bad example for our monolingual children who now may think that doing a foreign language requirement in HS or college is for losers. Or rather, with an English Only claim it puts English above all other languages and as the only language you need to know to get on in the world.

When I taught Dutch at UC Berkeley, I always told my students on the first day of class: I don’t care if you take Dutch or Thai, speaking another language is good for the soul because it takes you out of your comfort zone and it will teach you things about yourself that you won’t learn in any other class on this campus.

Speaking another language opens a gateway to the world that will make you relate, empathize and communicate with people who may be different, but they are equal partners and residents of our global village. They may have different ideas about how the world should be run, but getting to communicate– willing to go there, and leave some of your own cultural moorings and convictions behind is educational and important for any human being to grow and be enlightened. Study Abroad programs get this and they may explain this much better than I do.

Aside from personal development, speaking another language is good for your economy. The Dutch have always been praised for speaking several languages which they propagated as “Well, we have to, because who speaks Dutch?” or “Well, we want the world to come to us and make deals, and speaking the customer’s language is a good way to make deals” but part of me suspects that the Dutch never want to get ripped off, so speaking the language of the other person — the one who might rip you off — will give you a leg up, and a better deal.

I’m well aware that the claim ENGLISH ONLY was not meant as an endorsement of Americans not having to speak any other languages, but the message it sent (Irish need not apply– oh wait, they do speak English so they’re in now!) gave me the heebies for the simple reason that it closes us off from the world and all the good people we may want to welcome and learn from. A recent NYT article said that the average immigrant to this country actually does better economically than the average American, and well, most immigrants I know are completely bilingual and may spell better English than some of my American friends, so who are we to call the kettle non-English?

I’ll leave this piece with one more anecdote. As some of you know, I help kids with their college essays and this week I was reading a moving college essay about speaking Spanish. The student I’m coaching wrote how two kids were dropped off (abandoned really) at summer camp and they were completely scared because they didn’t speak any English. The student who was helping out at the camp, decided to reach out (when no one else did or even bothered) using his High School Spanish to take these petrified kids by the hand and welcome them and show them the ropes in their own language. He was well aware of the insufficient Spanish he was speaking but he went totally out of his comfort zone to make these kids feel at home. The joy of using language as an actual tool to connect, communicate and be understood worked both ways here. This young man showed me in his essay (and by his actions) what Americans are made of and what values we believe in. It’s who we are and where we came from.

English Only? Ik denk het niet…

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July 26th: Sleep and Other Wimpy Trivia


images-1So how are you sleeping?

My month of July has been so stressful and busy that my nightly average is probably a measly 5 hours which is much too wimpy if you want to perform like a champion. I have noticed that as I get older, sleep is harder to come by at night, and easier to come by when watching a movie matinee. What the fuck? I’m officially old.

And, as more sleep studies and research tell us: Sleep is mega important to fight disease and now also Alzheimer’s. Lots of coffee turns out to be good now as well but we can’t have it all, can we?

So I’m working on it, i.e. I’m trying to hit the sack before midnight but that can be tricky because if you’ve been working late, which applies to Jon all month, and me only part of the month, you need to unwind, but watching the news doesn’t help.

As a child, I was a total insomniac and part of me doesn’t want to sleep at all: Aren’t we sleeping away one third of our lives?

And then there is this thing called REM sleep– the really important sleep that needs to happen for us not to go bat shit crazy… I think my average is an hour a night which is far from rosy, but hey, if I get sick from lack of sleep, I might as well go bonkers too as it would make life more entertaining. At least for the people around me…

Of course this is all sleep filler. I’ve been chained to my desk all month, so there’s very little to tell you, apart from the fact that I’m chronically sleep deprived…

The only excitement came in the form of a deer. As Caroline was putting some IKEA furniture together in my room, I had opened the back door. I heard Teddy bark in the backyard with an intensity and aggression of me going through menopause, and then there was some movement and the sound of someone jumping through dry grass and as I look up, I see a giant deer jump onto our patio, and ready to jump into our room as if it were eying that new IKEA furniture. I stood up and the deer then made a quick turn to escape along the side of our house.

We have many deer here in Orinda, and we don’t always see them at night– we’re encroaching on their territory it seems, and they get hit by cars, eat our flowers and get chased down by little dogs who have the egos of lions (Napoleon complex we call it). It must be a really stressful life– especially now that we’re going into the dry spell of the summer, and food and water may become more scarce.

You’ve gotta wonder how they’re sleeping, and well, I betcha my REM sleep is far better than theirs…

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July 19th: Why Community Matters…


So… I’m an introvert in the worst possible way… As a child I was so shy that I didn’t even dare make eye contact with people. My mom probably thought I was autistic– she thought a lot of things, because I didn’t quite fit the mold of my older siblings, who were more rebellious and outspoken. I saw the drama they caused and simply opted out of the drama– an introvert way of dealing with the world…

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My painful shyness I happened to overcome, I realized, by placing myself in front of an audience. When I did class presentations, I didn’t care what my peers thought– with an introvert focus, I simply remained calm and carried on, which, strangely, was associated with a certain level of cool and confidence. I even realized I could make people laugh, by just being smart and not trying very hard, because the latter is not the introvert way…

And strangely… performing… being in front of a room full of people then became a role, an act that I could slip into like Dame Helen Mirren. I wasn’t presenting myself or exposing myself after all. It was an act, and, as an act, it was easy to come out of my shell. Because to perform and project is always easier than shift the focus to oneself and be vulnerable.

So strangely,  I was cured of my introversion by acting like an extravert… but… and here’s the kicker, I learned to connect with people.

And so I went into teaching (which I love), while not neglecting my introverted quirks by choosing a career as a writer and translator.

Lately, my work has become so intense in an introverted kind of way (writing and translating) that I feel the introvert lifestyle is good for hermits and the Ted Kasinsky’s (spelling?) of the world but in essence, even the biggest introvert needs people and community. And please don’t write me off as a “libtard” when I say this, but I do believe in Barbra’s Streisand’s lyrics of “people needing people…”

With the onslaught of social media (faux community), we are losing our bearings when it comes to real community, i.e. sitting down with people and asking them: How can I help you? How can we connect in a way that’s meaningful to both of us? Community matters– it matters in making us whole and feeling validated. A like on social media is not the same, even though it tries to simulate a sense of community that’s not truly, really there…

This country is broken and polarized, but rather than hiding behind our profiles on Twitter and Facebook, we need to tune out, and drop out again, to connect as people. And we need to listen, because at the moment, we’re shouting at each other. For an introvert that may seem like a challenge, but take it from an introvert like me that community is salvation and soulful and good, if only we try.

I want to connect– not as Dame Helen Mirren, but as myself, with a person who thinks he/she has nothing in common with me. I want to listen and say I hear you and see you, because you’re not a different political party, or different gender or different race:

We are all people.

But if we can no longer connect as people, we are doing a disservice to our sense of community and, by default, we self destruct. I want introverts to think like extraverts and extraverts to think like introverts. Empathy will set us free, even though the narrative from Washington DC does not try to encourage this in any way.

Truth is: I’m a little desperate about this all, but feel we are all bigger than this and can overcome this, if we tune out, drop out and buy that stranger that cup of coffee. I’m in.

Are you?

 

 

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July 16th: It’s Never the Right Time to Say Goodbye


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This was our Frankie. He was with us for six years. We saved him from the euthanasia list because he was a badly socialized dog. He was malnourished and was small, I feel, because his growth had been stunted by lack of food. The shelter said that he had been abandoned by a Chinese family with whom he had lived inside a closet (!). Up until the very last day, Frankie couldn’t stand it if you closed a door on him. But he was a fighter, a Braveheart– little body, determined spirit.

From the moment he came to our house, he was my shadow, following me everywhere and even, in the beginning, showing up in the bathroom if I had to take a leak at night. We fattened him up, and slowly, he came out of his shell, even though damaged dogs remain damaged in some way: He would cower, if you reached out to pet him and the first year, his tail would be firmly in between his legs as if he had never even learned how to wag his tail.

Our older doxie, Teddy, tolerated him– we think he considered him a little punk and having been an only dog for a long time, it was hard to share the spotlight.

In February, when Frankie was with a sitter, and we were abroad, he went into diabetic shock, and a clinic at Berkeley pulled him back from death’s door. It was touch and go but my little fighter pulled through and driving him home after a week of ICU care, he lay down next to me, but his eyes wouldn’t leave my face, as if he were afraid to be abandoned again at any moment.

Frankie’s diabetes was never fully under control. We had many more visits to the vet after that, but he continued to drink like a camel and was quite incontinent. His gait became more belabored as did his breathing, and his hair started falling out. He had a UTI for months. He had changed from a lively little rascal into a geriatric dog, sleeping most of the day and acting exhausted.

On Friday, Frankie took a turn for the worse. It almost seems as if he had had a stroke: his gait was unsteady, he fell over once or twice and he looked at me as if he had been smoking dope. He wouldn’t eat in the morning and lay in my arms like a drunken sailor. Teddy “inspected” him and did something I had never seen him do: He gently licked Frankie’s face.

I called the vet, fearing the end was near.

Going to the vet, Frankie perked up a bit, but after a conversation with the vet and the discussion of pain meds to add to the bazillion pills he was already taking, I decided to call it a day. There’s nothing nice about playing god or making that call. In fact, it made me feel guilty, like I was about to kill my dog at a point when he still might have had a few more good weeks or maybe months. It’s never the right time.

I felt torn. And heartbroken.

It went really fast– a more merciful death than most people sometimes get who linger in ICUs. He lay down and, after less than 20 seconds, his heart stopped beating. Out of his one eye, a little tear came rolling down. Do dogs cry?

Driving home, I felt like Dr. Kevorkian. Rationally, I had been ready. Emotionally, I was not. A friend of mine commented: “I know– why don’t they die in their sleep?”

I always thought the sanctity of life was for Christians and pro-life people, but the older I get, the more I feel conflicted about this sort of thing. As I age, life, these matters of life and death become more nuanced and complex, scarred as we become, seeing parents die, seeing our pets die and pondering our own mortality.

I was heartbroken about our little guy, because he had had such a rough life, living inside that closet and spending only six years with us. He shouldn’t be trusting people after what he had gone through but he trusted me… with his life.

The house felt strangely empty and I took Teddy in my arms and cried. And just as Teddy had been licking Frankie’s face, he now was licking mine. Our dogs offer us unconditional love, more than people, which is why it is so hard to let them go.

As I sat down at my desk, I missed little Frankie at my feet and for a weird, fleeting moment I felt a lick on my leg, but he was no longer there.

That night I couldn’t sleep. Multiple scenarios went through my head. Did we do everything we could have done for him? And dammit, I saw him die, many times over on that vet’s table.

When sleep finally did come, I woke up from a dog barking. It was Frankie’s distinct bark and I’m not sure, but I think it was his way of saying goodbye from wherever he is now.

Did I do the right thing? We never know. But it’s irreversible now.

Goodbye my little friend, my Braveheart, my little lion– your eyes burned a little hole in my soul, which won’t get patched up any time, soon.

It’s true, though, what a friend of my daughter’s said: All dogs go to heaven– they do, because in some ways, they’re so much better than humans.

 

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June 30th: I Smell a Rat…


Don’t worry, I’m not going to beat you over the head about the state of the country/world is in. I’m just going to tell you about my day, and boy, this surely was the wimpiest of days that I’ve had in a long time.

The day started out with the news that a new piece (a judgmental map– all the rage, apparently) by Caroline had been published. You can read her piece here. Looking at the map, this was the first thing I noticed:

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You’re right. Caroline Lake does not go to UC Berkeley but to Columbia College in Chicago. The publication, The Black Sheep (like The Onion for college life) editors decided that because Orinda is close to Berkeley, it would be better to just have her go to UC Berkeley for a day so the piece would attract more readers… and holy shit, it was already shared 341 times on FB when I took this screenshot, and that is so much better than her poor bumbling blogger-mom has ever done…

If that didn’t make me feel like a loser, it was looking at the map again that made me feel especially wimpy. People who don’t know us, I realized, now maybe think we live in some obscenely rich white people bubble (which we do) and that we, therefore, are loaded. This is far from the truth. We probably belong in Baja Orinda, and while we do fine compared to some people in Bumblefuck, Idaho, we’re definitely “struggling” when it comes to living up to Orinda Country Club standards (not that that is our ambition).

Pondering all of this, between work and doing my invoicing, I thought I needed to present you with a story to offset the impression that we might be living Stepford lives, or might have become Stepford Wives.

The story presented itself when I heard a noise in one of our drawers (this is a cabinet we never use because rats have been inside it– and living in Orinda means rats are as common as Teslas, and while I have written plenty about rats, and even devoted an entire chapter (There is a rat on my kitchen counter) to them in my debut memoir, I really didn’t want to write about any more rats, but well, I thought maybe this is a good one to tell folks to make sure they realize we live with rats rather than trust funds).

Jon had set a trap in one of those drawers and it had gone off and I heard a screeching, like I had just stepped on a bird. I’ve heard these death struggles before in our house and they usually last less than a minute. This one lasted five. Then it quieted down. But then after half an hour, the poor guy started up again and it became hard to focus on the manuscript I was translating. Traps are usually effective (and believe me, we tried every possible form of extermination) but when it hits in the wrong place, they are inhumane. The squeaking did become a little less and I was too much of a chicken to look, because full-grown rats are as big as my geriatric doxie, Frankie– and he’s tiny for a dog, but huge if he were a rat.

I had to go out, and felt relieved, but then when I came back after an hour or so, there was still a pitiful peeping. I could no longer ignore it, so I opened the drawer, expected a mostly dead and mangled body but as I shone my iPhone light in, this poor little guy turned around, looking at me with eyes so big that I was ready to adopt him. His back side was completely squashed and obviously paralyzed and his little feet were hanging off the trap like delicate hands the size of Donald Trump’s grabbers.

Yes: I’m hearing you all– I should have grabbed that thing and killed it, because that is the humane thing to do. Truth is: I can’t kill a thing and I should be vegan but I’m not. I’m a wimp– pure and simple.

However, I couldn’t let him sit in that ugly and dark drawer, so I took him out on the patio and took him out of the trap (with gloves that reached to my ankles). He was then exploring the patio, dragging his behind him like he had always done that, and I read articles online that paralyzed rats have, with the right treatment, a much better chance of recovering fully than drunken dudes who end up with spinal cord injuries because they dive into shallow pools on July 4th. Part me of wondered whether wild rats were ever domesticated and whether we could “save” him and tame him, wheelchair or not. But since I’m already running a nursing home for doxies, with one dog who has three different pills now plus 2x insulin, taking him to the vet was not an option.

I texted Jon with an update on the situation and a picture, which I won’t show here as I respect rat privacy.

He texted back: “Rats have bad reputations but they are not much different than a hamster or a ferret.”

Yes.

That didn’t help at all…

I was talking to the rat and Caroline came onto the patio thinking I was talking sweetly to the dogs. We discussed options. Letting him get killed by the dogs was not one of them. Nor was banging his head in with a brick. Sorry. I wimped out. I put him in a secluded part of the garden, in the ivy– if he had to die, it was better to die outside in Nature in beautiful, rustic and rich Orinda than sitting in one of our unused, shabby drawers. He was no longer in pain, because I grabbed his rear when moving him and he didn’t even give a peep.

I felt conflicted and about as cruel as Auschwitz’s Dr. Mengele. Caroline saw my inner turmoil and gave me a hug.

“I’m kinda worried.” She said.

“Worried?” I asked. “Worried about that little unfortunate rat?”

“No worried about that judgmental map of Orinda. It got so many shares that maybe they won’t allow me to be Cinderella [her 4th appearance this year] in the Orinda July 4th Parade.”

“Oh hush,” I said.

Hush is right, for Caroline is as perfect as they come in Orinda.

I myself don’t know what that kind of perfection is.

I’m over fifty, fat, and I just dealt with a rat.

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June 24th: The Poop Test (click bait for sure)


downloadOnce you turn 50 in this youth-obsessed country, you’re officially old and people write you off. Jobs are harder to get at this age, movies are way beyond your comprehension because they make them for an age group that’s generally under twenty, the AARP sends you mail so often that you suspect they think you have some dementia already, and all the doctors you see are now generally younger than you are.

Speaking of doctors: Last year, I already sent in a stool sample but this year I’m being screened for colon cancer and I guess my old sample was beyond salvaging for a second try. This “poop in the mail/in an envelope” I find somewhat entertaining but mostly gross: How many of those envelopes does the mailman handle a day and does he think twice when he sees a certain address for a medical lab?

The device to scoop up your poop I find very ill-designed. It’s a small barrel with some preservative fluid. You take the cap off (by turning) and then you are faced with a tiny plastic stick with some grooves on it. The intention is to get some poop into those grooves by digging around in your toilet bowl. This feels much like eating soup with a fork. Or pushing rope (and if you don’t know what that means, look it up on Urban Dictionary). After one try, nothing really stuck in those grooves. I guess those 8 glasses of water a day are a no no when you subject yourself to the poop test…

I tried again, doing a counter-clockwise stir but no luck. Caroline had just told me about a new expression that everyone seems to be using, which is Eat my ass. Stooped over the toilet, I cursed at my sorry poop and said out loud Eat my ass. Yes, how a propos.

So I tried a different strategy. Rather than stirring, I tried to scoop some up with that pathetic little stick. What had I been eating the previous day anyway? Was that Palak Paneer? Or was it digested salad I was looking at? The sample I had scooped up was too big for the barrel but I stashed it in anyway, spilling on the label that I still had to fill out (I didn’t obviously– just added a note). I popped it in the envelope and sealed it, and then realized I had to send along my doctor’s form, so I had to tear open the envelope and seal it with plastic tape. Yes, I’m one of those obstinate people who find reading instructions a waste of time.

As I looked at that pathetic envelope with the tape job I did, I wondered momentarily whether this was the way to go. I mean, now they’d probably think someone had tampered with my poop, but then who would engage in such an activity? Certainly not the mailman. The envelope also said my poop was time-sensitive material, and while that made it sound like my poop was way more important and urgent than it deserves to be, I think they probably don’t want you to have your envelope with poop lying about the house for a week. If I did, one of the dogs might probably get into it anyway.

So even though it was the end of the day, and I was really ready for a glass of wine, I jumped on my bike and rode into town to mail my poop. I gave it a little blessing as I dropped it in the blue mailbox, for everyone gets nervous about those kinds of tests.

When I came home, (and I’m using a little poetic license here for sure) Caroline asked where I had been.

“Mailed my poop,” came my answer.

“Yeah, right…” she said, “Eat my ass.”

 

 

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