100 Words for 100 Days: The End?

I have completed my 100 words for 100 days summer ass-kicking project. Gosh, it was a much more arduous process than I expected. When I began, I figured it would be just like NaBloPoMo (crap, that’s soon, isn’t it?). I’d sit down at the same time every day, hack out something silly, and then reward myself with a glass of something.

Hubris. Of the most hubristic variety.

A glance at the blog will tell you that I gave up posting every day’s entry on the website every day. Over half of my sessions involved me curling up with a notebook I borrowed from my PH or crouching over my phone on the bus along the way home. And then there were the days I was camping or holidaying it up with friends. Somehow, I got in those 100 words before the clock struck twelve.

Though my official project is done, it may take another 100 days more for the bruises to heal. I hope it takes longer. In truth, I hope they never fade.

You see, I am kind of worried now that it’s over. Without the guilt invading my dreams, forcing me to get something, anything, down on paper before I am allowed to sleep, I am concerned I will slough it all off again.

Writing every day is tough, man. Really freaking Alberta-brutal. There were times I had to yank the words out of frozen fingers. Every rotation of the pen or push of a button on the keyboard caused me to wince. It was that painful. It was only my hatred of failure that kept me going, my knowledge that I would loathe myself even more if I didn’t haul myself to the end, filling out every numerical box on my project page.

It would be so easy to take a break right now. My lazy, unmotivated, miserable self taunts me with the notion. C’mon Kristine, relax. You’ve worked hard. You’ve earned it. Take the next night off, and then the next night, and then the next night…

That’s the thing, it is my unhappy self that keeps wanting to push me down. The side of me that is more comfortable doing nothing and feeling sorry about it. The Kristine who berates herself for not doing the laundry or waking up earlier. She likes me to keep feeling like crap. It keeps her alive.

Writing is hard. At times excruciatingly so.

Not writing is harder. Not writing stifles happy, confident Kristine, makes me forget she exists. I do believe she does. I just need to be brave enough and strong enough to battle the dragon keeping her in her tower.

This is why I signed up for a creative writing class. I don’t know if it’s going to end in anything helpful and have no expectations for myself other than to keep writing. Keep putting words down until maybe it isn’t as hard, and even if it’s always a struggle, keep doing it anyway. I know myself well enough to accept the fact I need external motivation. If I am going to continue, I can’t do it alone.

Dog Poetry Sunday – E.B. White

There cannot be a single person from my generation who did not read Charlotte’s Web and The Trumpet of the Swan over and over again. The writings of E.B. White were a large part of the landscape of my childhood and I know I was not alone. Somehow, despite this early foundation, I forgot all about the American literary icon when I grew into an adult. I still adore the children’s stories yet I had no idea Mr. White and I had more in common than an affection for intelligent spiders. I have learned that not only did he co-author one of the most important works for would-be writers, The Elements of Style, he also was a large admirer of canines. Luckily, granddaughter Martha White has rectified this for me.

As I’ve stated, poetry is not my thing. I am literal in my reading selections. Poetry requires deeper analysis, something I am not always up for. Mary Oliver’s Dog Songs changed my mind about verse. I highly recommend picking up a copy if you haven’t already. Her phrasings are deceptively complex but if you read her poems at face value, they are just as enjoyable. Not least because they are about dogs.

However, if I had happened upon E.B. White on Dogs first, I am sure my illumination would have been quite similar. Ms. White did a beautiful job of compiling her grandfather’s essays, poems, and letters about his multiple canine friends. There are several classics in this collection but they are worth a re-read. I love getting to learn more about the literary giant’s personal life. While some selections made me tear up – such as the lovely letter to his wife, in the voice of her Scottish Terrier, Daisy – many just made me smile. White is not necessarily known for his poetry but I think this compilation reveals the deep and multi-faceted man he was.

It also shares some really cute pictures.

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The below poem is one that, to me, showed how well White understood the canine mind. It certainly describes the leaping mind of the dog beside me, anyway. I hope you get something out of it too.

Dog Around the Block ~ E.B. White

Dog around the block, sniff,
Hydrant sniffing, corner, grating,
Sniffing, always, starting forward,
Backward, dragging, sniffing backward,
Leash at taut, leash at dangle,
Leash in people’s feet entangle—
Sniffing dog, apprised of smellings,
Love of life, and fronts of dwellings,
Meeting enemies,
Loving old acquaintance, sniff,
Sniffing hydrant for reminders,
Leg against the wall, raise,
Leaving grating, corner greeting,
Chance for meeting, sniff, meeting,
Meeting, telling, news of smelling,
Nose to tail, tail to nose,
Rigid, careful, pose,
Liking, partly liking, hating,
Then another hydrant, grating,
Leash at taut, leash at dangle,
Tangle, sniff, untangle,
Dog around the block, sniff.

Is your dog an excessive marker?

I am always fascinated when Shiva’s behaviour changes without apparent cause. So much of her routine is consistent and her actions fall within an expected set of actions. Even when she does something crazy, I can usually predict it. I know when she is going to smack her head into the wall to snatch a ball; I don’t have to look to investigate the source of the sickening sound of skull against brick. Knowing is not preventing.

But, again, I digress. It seems I have a set of predictable behaviours too.

ANYway, Shiva”s actions are so steady that she throws me off anytime she adopts a new habit. This round, that habit is marking.

Shiva has never been all that interested in marking her place on the side of a tree. Every once in a while she would make a half-hearted attempt, going through the motions, as if to prove she is, indeed, a dog, but it has never been part of her standard repertoire. Other dogs might feel the need to cover her urine with their own, she couldn’t be bothered to return the favour.

Until this week.

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For the last few days, Shiva has felt the urge to sign her name on every other post and urban structure we pass. And not in her typical ladylike fashion, either, as if she is almost embarrassed to be caught in something so base. No, she has been in full leg-lifting mode, to the point she has performed full handstands to ensure her pee will spray on a precise location. It’s mystifying.

There has only been one other time in her life where she performed this behaviour. When we moved from Halifax to Edmonton, she drove me crazy for several weeks while she insisted upon leaving her mark every where and any where. Sometimes twice. But I rationalized that as a need to declare her presence in a new neighbourhood. The smells here in dry northern Alberta must be nothing like the ones in humid coastal Nova Scotia. She had to familiarize herself, announce herself to her fellow canines, let them know she was around now and meant no harm.

Or something.

But we have lived in the same house for over a year now. Why would this action resurface? Could she be feeling insecure about something? Maybe a new dog has moved in and she wants to let him or her know she walks this beat too?

It’s curious. I am not worried. She has no signs of physical illness and I don’t think it is related to a UTI. Of course, I’ll keep watch just in case. From what I can tell, however, it is simple marking behaviour. Me being me, I can’t help but wonder the cause.

Dog Poetry Sunday – Dog Music

I sing to Shiva constantly; she is my best audience. I started the habit by warbling old Disney tunes to her on walks. It was a recommendation from our trainer, back in the days when every outdoor stroll was a battle, when enemies lurked over each hill and beneath each bush. If I sang, I was told, I would feel more relaxed and thus, my grip on the leash would be less tense, enabling us to face our adversaries with more confidence. And fewer teeth being gnashed.

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The custom never went away. I still find myself humming or singing a few favoured lines as we creep through the forest in the morning. Not loud enough to be overheard, of course, just for the two of us. I like to think she enjoys it as much as I do.

Unlike the dogs in the poem below, Shiva never joins my caroling. Though my childhood dog loved to sing, especially when alone in the backyard, Shiva makes music in other ways. Through stomps and short huffs, whines and long sighs, she gets her message across. These sounds have a beauty all their own. Even her barks, while alarming for the unprepared, are akin to the crash of symbols. If Shiva was in a band, she would play percussion.

Do your dogs make music? Do you wish they didn’t?

Dog Music ~ Paul Zimmer

Amongst dogs are listeners and singers.
My big dog sang with me so purely,
puckering her ruffled lips into an O,
beginning with small, swallowing sounds
like Coltrane musing, then rising to power
and resonance, gulping air to continue—
her passion and sense of flawless form—
singing not with me, but for the art of dogs.
We joined in many fine songs—”Stardust,”
“Naima,” “The Trout,” “My Rosary,” “Perdido.”
She was a great master and died young,
leaving me with unrelieved grief,
her talents known to only a few.

Now I have a small dog who does not sing,
but listens with discernment, requiring
skill and spirit in my falsetto voice.
I sing her name and words of love
andante, con brio, vivace, adagio.
Sometimes she is so moved she turns
to place a paw across her snout,
closes her eyes, sighing like a girl
I held and danced with years ago.

But I am a pretender to dog music.
The true strains rise only from
the rich, red chambers of a canine heart,
these melodies best when the moon is up,
listeners and singers together or
apart, beyond friendship and anger,
far from any human imposter—
ballads of long nights lifting
to starlight, songs of bones, turds,
conquests, hunts, smells, rankings,
things settled long before our birth.

Poem found via Poetry Foundation, original source: Poetry (August 1999).

Spam ate my blog

I’ve had a bit of a spam problem. You may have noticed. It’s been going on behind closed doors for about a year. Only now it is seeping under the floorboards, visible to all who wander by. It’s kind of embarrassing.

I have no idea what started it. I might have left out a dirty plate overnight. Maybe I forgot to put away the sugar bowl. I blame my PH. He’s the one who leaves sticky mugs in the sink rather than tucking them into the dishwasher. Either way, I have been invaded. Ignoring the problem has not made it better.

Spam is mote insidious than ants and bites harder than wasps. It is the reason I have turned off comments. It prevents me from removing dead plugins and gets in the way of all thoughts of redesign. My blog is being chewed from the inside. I have no idea what to do about it. I worry it is too late to do anything.

Spam sucks. Spam is more than evil. It is demoralising. Spam takes away one’s desire to create. It ruins the simplest of hobbies. Spam makes me sad.

I should have taken action sooner. Maybe my hosting company would have been more receptive a year ago. Now they see me for the lazy, spam-infested-hoarder I have become and want nothing to do with me. When the pest control companies want nothing to do with you, that’s when you are in real trouble.

It might be time to bail. The demons have already made a home of my cozy furniture. If I wait any longer, there won’t be anything left to save, not even my photo albums.

But how to make the move? How to say goodbye? How to turn away? This is my home. It has been my solace and my community for so long. It might be one of the hardest things I have ever done.

Another love letter to my dog

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Do you ever look at your dog and wonder how anyone ever gave you responsibility over such a vibrant creature? I suppose it might be different if you have children. No doubt one’s feelings of overwhelm at the sight of offspring supersede those that bubble up upon gazing at one’s dog.

I assume.

However, among us childless souls, am I alone in my awe? How am I, an imperfect, at times bewildered and unfinished, adult trusted with the life of a breathing animal? Who decided I was capable?

Sometimes, when I look at Shiva, I can’t help but be stunned that she is still here, still thriving, that I haven’t done anything to screw her up. Well, not too much.

I soak all of her in. Her rough foot pads, her muscled shoulders, her expectant eyes, her folded ears, her sugar-dipped muzzle, and her cold nose. Her teeth are as hard as they are gentle while they brush my fingers, her soft tongue seeking the last trace of peanut butter on my thumb. Our relationship is intimate and yet, I have no idea what goes on in her mind. Why does she trust me so? Why does she tolerate my restriction of her liberty?

These dogs, they are special. They are much wiser, much more enlightened than we will ever be. How did such lowly humans ever get so lucky?

Real Life Confession #81: Some dogs make me sad

I used to work in animal welfare. I know that a large number of dogs have it much, much worse than the ones I am about to describe. To be more accurate, the above title should read some people make me sad, as it is the humans for which I feel the most sorry.

But first things first. The confession I feel I should make today is this:

I let Shiva tug on the leash.

Yep. It’s bad. For someone who has walked the amazing number of hours I have walked with my dog, you’d think I’d have the walk-nicely-by-my-side thing down. What kind of trainer do I profess myself to be? Can’t even get my dog to stop from sniffing in the bushes. Sheesh.

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This is what I imagine people are saying, anyway, when they see us stop for the 57th time while Shiva stretches to read the scent on the side of a tree. And man, is she a slow reader. Sometimes I urge her to speed it up, especially when it is freezing. Other times, she is adamant and plants her feet. She is not moving until she has investigated every last punctuation mark. I am not about to argue.

Is this bad training? According to some people, hideously so. We do have some rules while on a walk. I won’t tolerate long-term pulling, for instance. If the leash gets so taught I am almost yanked off my feet, for instance, or if she is sniffing along and then swings back around to scarf rubbish, dislocating my shoulder. These things are out of bounds. But if she is walking with a loose-ish leash five feet ahead or to the side? If she indicates with a look that she would like to check something out on the other side of the path? If she stops to breathe in the scent of a post? Well, that’s being a dog and I am on board. We are out there for her benefit. If Shiva wants to spend her time inhaling a fire hydrant, that’s a choice she can make.

And this is why I feel sad for some dogs. Dogs who are dragged away from the temptations of scent. Dogs who are told to walk on the inside of the path or the part of the sidewalk away from the delicious, earthy grass. Dogs who have learned to only walk beside their people, at the same speed of their people. Dogs for whom the daily routine is more of an obligation, or a march, than it is a time of exploration and discovery.

It makes me sad to witness this. Not just for the sake of the yearning dogs, as I say, but for the people who are missing out on a richer experience.

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The dog walk, for me, is a time of relaxation. A time when I can let go of everything and embrace the moment. I don’t always achieve this but I always feel better afterward. On our twice-daily adventures, Shiva pushes me outside myself and shows me all the little things that are far more important than work deadlines or personal slights. On a walk with my dog, I can take my time, linger over flowers, gasp at sunrises, spot constellations. While she is taking in the scent of a log, I am gazing at the simple beauty of fluttering leaves.

People who walk in straight lines with their dogs don’t appear to any of this. To them, the dog walk is a duty or a ritual, another thing on their lists they have to get done. It isn’t a source of joy. It is one more chore. Their minds are anywhere but in the moment.

This makes me sad.

So I may be a lazy handler when walking with Shiva. We would probably fail any basic obedience test. I am okay with this. Shiva gets me outside my head. It is a daily gift. We are out there for her, but I am the biggest recipient.