Monday, November 26, 2007

back to work

I am slow on Mondays. It's another of the myriad problems with the home office concept. After a delicious two (or four) days without obligation, I sit at my desk chair Monday morning and read advice columns, news, celebrity gossip and all my e-mail. I know I should be working, but I don't want to work. I'm not in that frame of mind.

This morning was better than usual, but still slow and dreamy. We can all blame turkey seditive, though. It was a lovely Thanksgiving--neither my mother nor I were exhausted, although we were both pretty tired by the time the meal was on the table. My house looked wonderful (even though I say so myself), primarily since I had Joseph come by and do all the difficult cleaning. The relatives were happy, and my self-consciousness melted like the vanilla ice cream next to the five pies I made.

Yes, five pies. For eight people. Guess what I've been eating this weekend?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


If I didn't drink so much Diet Coke, I'd feel more justified in complaining about insomnia. Actually, since it's an occasional rather than a chronic problem, I still feel justified enough to blog about it. The stress of Thanksgiving is upon me--I have started to realize, in my heart of hearts, that I do need to clean up the yard, wash the floors, make the pies, and return all those books to the library. Because . . . Grandmother is coming. And I am a little intimidated by Grandmother, in a good way. It will be the first time she sees my new house, and I find myself looking at it more and more with a critical eye. The paint is faded! The yard is a mess! I haven't gotten the bookshelves fixed! Yes, just like last week. But this week, I feel apologetic. It doesn't seem to matter that I actually love almost everything about my house. It's still too easy to worry about what I don't have done.

Caffeine is nothing compared to the powers of perfectionism.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

i should buy an alarm clock

Normal people have snooze buttons and clock radios. They wake up to the melodious voices of morning show DJs (shudder.) I wake up to ear flapping.

No, really.

Max the Dog has ears like the song: his ears hang low, they dangle to and fro, I could tie 'em in a knot and I could tie 'em in a bow. Actually, you may judge for yourself.

Every morning, around sunrise, Max stands outside my bedroom door and shakes his head vigorously until I wake up. If mere ear-flapping doesn't suffice, he will start whining. The first whines sound diffident, like a maiden aunt with a touch of the headache. They increase in volume and intensity if I don't get up.

Oddly, Max doesn't usually require anything: he doesn't need a bathroom break or a bowl of kibble. He just decides it's time for me to get up. Maybe he wants me to see the sunrise?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

drug problem

I am sometimes concerned by the narcotic effects of bad novels. Usually, this concern reveals itself when I wake up, red-eyed and muzzy, after a late night of indulgence. Often, the effects haven't quite worn off, and a portion of my brain is still off in an alternate world of ugly ducklings, orphans, lost inheritances, honorable soldiers with tragic pasts--the whole paraphernalia of my preferred fix. I am a compulsive reader.

Last year, I realized I wasn't getting enough sleep because I couldn't go to bed without a novel and couldn't sleep until I finished it. It didn't matter if it was a book I'd already read. I found a temporary fix by fighting through Sir Francis Bacon and Thomas Browne, since fifty pages of 17th century essays usually soothed me to sleep without engendering a desire to continue. Unfortunately, I went on to Milton, and found that he's as soothing as a tack in the foot.

I've backslid. I have 23 library books on my bedroom floor. I checked all of them out since Tuesday and I've read them all. I ran out by seven last evening and found myself buying an e-book online. I really try to keep myself from doing that, especially since I realized I've spent $500 on e-books since September.

None of these have any pretensions to literature. In fact, they're Regency romances that run the gamut from "not embarrassing" to "I can't believe I'm reading this." Still, they can get met into the soothing, controlled world of debutantes and fortune hunters, handsome lords and quasi-feminist heroines. These books describe themselves as set "in Jane Austen's England", but nothing could be further from the truth. Austen is sarcastic and edgy. Her characters are flawed. The glassy world of escape romances is nothing but cardboard scenery and puppets compared to Austen's England.

But I like the puppets, the predictable plots, the improbably separation and eventual union of the protagonists. These books are both safe and engrossing, and I read them to soothe anxiety and drug myself into sleep. I suppose I could just drink a six-pack of beer, but books are a cheaper and more socially acceptable crutch than booze.

I am a "serious" reader, as well. I've done the Grand Tour of the classics. I can spell hermeneutics, even if I can't define it (them?) But real literature seduces the reader, catches and cozens him, then carries him past the safe borders of unreality back to what Faulkner called "the eternal verities." Real literature is challenging, assaultive, life-changing. It's not a substitute for Xanax.

There is a sad tendency in novelists who want to be literary to shoot for disturbing: to bombard their readers with pain, death and Deep Thoughts instead of bringing them into a crafted simalcrum of reality that is animated by its own consistency with human behavior and belief. This has all the disadvantages of real reading without any of the benefits. Tolstoy didn't need to light women on fire, or threaten grotesque explosions in soda-pop factories, to make his worlds work.

But Tolstoy isn't my problem: I dig myself into someone else's quiet world to bury my own fears. I sometimes find myself crippled by anxiety, unable to even start dealing with the piles of laundry, paperwork, chores, broken New Year's resolutions--and then I'll take ten or twelve novels and read until I've hypnotized my eyes away from the piles of work and can completed little tasks, one by one, until the pressure eases. This is better than nips at the whiskey bottle, but it's not healthy. In fact, the level of dysfunction can be traced by the kind of books involved. I use mystery novels for escape fiction under most circumstances, but the more deperate my need to run, the less abrasive the books I need. When Agatha Christie is took close to reality for my mental state, I know I'm in trouble.

I wonder how normal people manage. I'd wonder longer, but I have to go to the library.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

dependents, part 2

Could you have resisted that face? I think not. But you wouldn't have had to; Jasper in May looked a little like a cross between a whippet and a slinky. He featured a lot of visible bones. He was a dull yellow color. He was starved for companionship, more interested in the people around him than in the food that we were trying to give him. I liked dogs, but I had no use for the impolite, unmanageable, unfriendly or obnoxious ones. I worried about getting a dog with an unstable temperment. As I'd watched the interaction, it had occurred to me that this puppy couldn't be unfriendly to save his life.

(In fact, that's true: he needed the sandwich. He was six months old and should have been close to his adult size, yet he doubled his weight between May and July. He was starving to death.)

My mother was appalled. This is quite understandable, as the car had never been driven, the dog had never been housebroken and probably featured parasites, I was living in my parents' home for two more weeks while the sellers moved out of my place, and my father is NOT a dog person. At all.

Still, Jasper was nervous but friendly the entire trip, and licked my mother's arms from the fingers to the elbow. (She'd cooked bacon that morning.) We took him to the shelter for the mandatory ten-day wait. He seemed too friendly not to have an owner, although he was too skinny to have been fed recently. I decided it was a good way to keep him safe until I had a place to bring him and to appease my conscience: I would hate to take anyone's lost pet.

Those who known me shouldn't doubt that it was two weeks of second-guessing. I visited the shelter a lot, trying to figure out whether Jasper was manageable, and whether he had any pit bull in him. Fortunately, my idea of pit bull was the Target doggie, and he was too big and had a completely different face shape. It wasn't until weeks later that I discovered that the odd egghead dogs are actually bull terriers, a show breed never used for fighting. Pit bulls are medium-sized, athletic dogs. They look a lot like Jasper, although the face and jaw are generally wider.


But I took him home in blissful ignorance, two days before my move. Sadly, the shelter had run out of room and wanted me to remove him instantly. This caused a certain amount of stress for the parents, who have never had a dog in the house. I thought it would be fine, but then I'm an idiot. Moving already turns me into a gibbering stresscake, and having a new dog was much, much more difficult than I'd thought.

The housetraining was easy and the feeding was easy, but the separation anxiety was a whole different story. I had become the apple of Jasper's eye, and leaving him alone, even to sleep, was enough to cause the poor creature to cry. It's not a nice sound, dog crying. Being put in a room alone resulted in a frantic attempt to excape, as my doors still testify. He broke through baby gates and tried to chase Lucie. It was a miserable few weeks. I'm still not sure why I didn't return him to the pound, but I suspect it had something to do with being stubborn.

And then, one day, I looked at him in the car seat next to me and thought, "I love this puppy. How did that happen?"

Since that time, the frantic whining has stopped. The whole-body wiggle has taken over. Jasper treats Lucie with the respect and deference to which she's become accustomed. My house is usually safe from toothy depredations (although I have lost three garden hoses.) I have discovered the joy of the dog park, a local fenced area where Jasper has learned to apply the Golden Rule. He might have more success if he could only grasp the idea that most of the other dogs AREN'T as interested in WWE fighting moves as he is, but it's a start.

Saturday, August 25, 2007


The story started, as so many stories do, with a telephone call. This one was from a car dealership, and said that my new ride had arrived. (For the uninformed, one of the great benefits of the PI gig with my large company is a company car with unlimited use privileges and replacement every year or two. Although after the Great Car Accident Fiasco of Winter '06, I was frankly surprised my boss was willing to trust me with a new car.) And so I convinced my mother, who was in the car with me when the call came, to accompany me to the dealership.

The car was lovely, and the transfer process ("Here are the keys!") was blessedly pain-free. Ten minutes later, I was ready to leave when I saw a little dog bouncing towards me. "Oh," I said, "how cute? Whose dog is he?" Fatal words. He was no-one's dog. He had been loitering for hours. He ate anything that was given him. A sandwich was produced for experimental purposes. But the little mutt, now in the middle of a circle of half-a-dozen, ignored the food and went bouncing around to each person.

Here I should mention that, although I never owned a dog, I was a voracious reader of Lad: A Dog, Lassie, and other classic sentimental children's books about man's best friend. I typed a very detailed Christmas list when I was ten, all about the Irish Setter I hoped Santa would give me. I'd considered getting a dog last year, when I moved into my apartment. (I'd decided on Lucie because it's more difficult to house a dog than a cat if you're a renter.) I had a sporadic addiction to the AKC web site, where I learned enough about various dog breeds to know that Italian Greyhounds hate winter, Pharoah dogs blush, and Rhodesian Ridgebacks don't smell. I read books by Jon Katz. I'd added a dog to my first novel, albeit as a surrogate murder victim.

Ten days earlier, I'd closed on my first house, which had a fenced yard.

In retrospect, I see that it would have happened soon. When the lady at the dealership said, "I don't suppose you want a dog?" I replied, "Sure. Let's put him in the car."

Friday, December 15, 2006

more tree

Well, it photographs better at night. The fluffy white bird is my mother's favorite, and a close second of mine. I'm inordinately fond of the snowflakes. There are at least 200 of them, and they were quite the chore.

Please note the Sherlockian birdie, friend and confidante to the Scottish snail.