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Keeping Cricket Busy

 

A few years ago, I collected a bunch of Cricket’s toys and put them into a bucket on a shelf under the TV. The plan was to switch out the toys from the bucket every week or two, so that she could have the benefit of all of her toys, without spreading them on the floor where I would trip over them. Of course, I got distracted and forgot about the bucket of toys a long time ago. At around the same time, I stopped taking Cricket for her three mile walks each day, and she definitely noticed the difference and has perfected her disappointed-with-Mommy face.

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Recently, I watched a story about a man with a movement disorder who went to a special kind of occupational therapy, with not only a human therapist but also a doggy therapist. The exercises required the man to put treats into treat puzzles, in order to rebuild the strength and flexibility in his fingers. His reward was to watch the dog chasing after the toys and enjoying the treats. The smile on the man’s face when his knotted hands were successful at fitting the treats into the toys, and the dog ran across the room after the toys, was pure joy.

And it occurred to me that we might have some of those toys; not the flat puzzles with secret compartments, but the plastic toys in different shapes that would allow small amounts of treats out if Cricket could figure out how to make them bounce the right way. We’d bought a ton of toys for Cricket when she was an incorrigible puppy, in order to keep her from continuing to destroy the furniture with her sharp puppy teeth. And in the bottom of the bucket, under the everlasting chew toys, and the purple dinosaur that has dried into a husk of its former self, I found three treat puzzles of varying sizes and levels of difficulty.

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Pink vase, red ball, and blue thingy

Cricket has been needing more attention and distraction since Butterfly died, and even more so since it’s been too cold for Grandma to take her for extended walks in the afternoon; those garbage cans up by the 7-11 were an endless source of fascination. So I was willing to try something new to keep her busy, and, hopefully, happy.

I had to do some significant cleaning on the old toys – boiling them with baking soda and rinsing thoroughly – before I could risk putting food in them again. For my first experiment I used the pink vase-shaped toy. I was worried that I’d made the pieces of Pupperoni too big, and Cricket would go straight past optimal frustration into the land of rage and disappointment, but, actually, she loved it, and was busy for hours. She was actually disappointed when I gave her next treat toy to play with, the red ball, and she was able to empty it within minutes. Cricket likes a challenge.

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This is where Cricket uses her head.

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This is where Cricket guards her toy from the humans.

Now, if I try to let a day go by without filling the pink vase toy with treats, she gets grumpy, and insistent. She stands next to me as I fill up her toy and then she tosses it around the room, and hoards it under her couch, and does everything she can think of to make it give up its riches. I’m pretty sure that my face looks very much like that man in the occupational therapy video, full of joy, as I watch Cricket running after her toy and bouncing it into submission to get every last treat.

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“I need more treats. Now.”

Now, if only I could figure out how to set up a drone to take her for walks when it’s too cold for me. Does anyone know if a drone can be programmed to pick up poop?

 

 

Scrabble Trauma

 

I am terrible at Scrabble. I had a traumatic experience playing Scrabble once when I was a teenager, with the nanny of the kids I used to babysit for. English was her second or third language, so when the mom came home and looked at the Scrabble board and laughed at her nanny’s terrible spelling, I had to tell her, no, that word was mine. It was humiliating, but, really, it’s not my fault Scrabble doesn’t come with spell check.

People assume that writers are all great spellers, and grammar geeks, and can recite Shakespeare from memory, and none of those descriptions fit me. I never won a spelling bee in my life, I rely on spell check for everything, and I only lasted two semesters as an English major before my head felt like it was going to explode from boredom. I only like using big words when they capture something I couldn’t express in any other way, otherwise I prefer basic vocabulary. I am unlikely to wax rhapsodic about a vermillion sunset, for example.

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“Me neither.”

The idea of playing Scrabble, even now, makes me nauseous and sweaty. One of my best friends in high school was a demon at diagramming sentences. She loved the math of it. She also did well at spelling bees and vocabulary tests, but she hated writing essays. I could write essays and stories and poems ad infinitum, but my spelling was atrocious and the parts of speech still elude me.

My Mom plays Words with Friends on her computer. She has an ongoing game with my brother, and another with a good friend of hers, and she can stare at the screen for hours trying to come up with the perfect words, enjoying every minute. I would punch the computer screen within two minutes if I tried to play, so I don’t.

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“Grandma has been stolen by the computer.”

I had to look up the rules of Scrabble for this post, because I can never remember them. They seem random to me, even though the point value of each letter is supposedly determined by rigorous statistical determinations of letter usage in Standard English. Vowels get one point and less common letters, like Q and Z, get ten points each, which leads to some very silly word choices, in my opinion. Scrabble takes words, which I normally view as a cornucopia of opportunities for self-expression, and turns them into nonsense.

One thing I did like, in my research, was finding the dictionary definition of the word Scrabble: to scratch frantically. This describes exactly what happens inside of my brain when I try to play the game; it captures my anxiety and panic perfectly. But is that how other people feel when they play the game? Are there people who enjoy frantically scratching at the sides of their brains?

I think Cricket and I are on the same page when it comes to Scrabble, or Words with Friends. Though Cricket’s anger has more to do with the fact that Grandma is staring at her computer instead of doing what she is supposed to do: scratching Cricket, frantically or otherwise.

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“Much better.”

Snow Day!

 

I really needed a longer winter vacation, so when the snowstorm hit the East Coast this past week and “forced” me to stay home, I was thrilled, though I still think I should be allowed to hibernate until March. The roaring sound of the wind scared Cricket when Mom took her out for her first pee of the morning, but when I woke up I took her out again, pulling her through the deep snowdrift at the front door, and then she got into the spirit of the day.

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“That leaf is mine!”

There’s something about a snowstorm that brings out the kid in me. Or the Cricket in me. Even with the snow swirling, and thirty mile per hour winds, Cricket and I went outside over and over again. I stepped into a three foot snowdrift, thinking there would be stairs somewhere under there, and just laughed when I fell into the snow. I tried to make snowballs for Cricket, but the snow was so powdery that it split apart as soon as I threw it, making little snow explosions over her head, which she desperately tried to catch with her mouth.

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This time she caught the snowball with her whole face.

I need a snow suit like Cricket’s though, because my loafers and yoga pants did not stand up well to the snowdrifts and, after a few short play periods in the snow, I needed a long defrosting break indoors. Cricket and I took a long afternoon nap to recover from our snow traipsing, and Mom made bone soup with lentils and carrots to keep us fortified, and then we went back out into the snow again.

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When I woke up the day after the snowstorm, the sun was shining and the roads were clear, and I realized how much I missed the drama of the wind and snow and everyone trapped indoors, marveling at the spectacle. In my next life, I would like to come back as a dog, with a furry coat like Cricket’s and a very understanding family. And I’d like to live somewhere far north, where it snows for half of the year, and I can go romping and playing and burying myself in the snow drifts until I’m so exhausted that all I want to do is eat treats and sleep in front of the fireplace, until the next adventure.

Fingers crossed that it will snow again on Monday!

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“Is it Monday yet?”

 

 

 

May the Force Be With Us

(Warning, there are spoilers ahead if you haven’t seen The Last Jedi)

On Christmas morning, before everyone else had finished unwrapping their presents, Mom and I went to see the latest Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi. We’d already had Chinese food for Christmas Eve dinner, and watched everything the Hallmark channel had to offer, so a movie and a bucket of popcorn were the next obvious Christmas rites for our Jewish family.

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“Why can’t I go to the movie too?”

Sometimes I think that the Star Wars universe has as much to do with my world view as anything I learned in my Jewish Day School. The idea of the Force, an energy that exists within us and that connects everything in the universe, has always felt right to me; and the movies about the people who access it, and reject it, have always resonated for me as much as, or let’s admit it, more than, any bible story.

My first experience with the Star Wars universe was at age seven, when Return of the Jedi came out in theaters and my family went to the opening weekend. Jabba the Hutt stared down at me from the screen, dragging Princess Leia by a chain, eating unmentionable things, and laughing at what he could make people do. I fell asleep, because it was late, or because I was terrified, and I missed the Ewoks, my whole reason for going to see the movie. But Jabba was part of the resonance of the movies too: the darkness, the violence, the betrayals, were all real to me, as was the feeling that I might actually be alone in the universe; not just in my school, or my hometown, but in the whole freakin’ universe.

Anyway, we arrived at the theater early to see The Last Jedi, because there was no one on the roads on Christmas morning. It took a while for the movie theatre staff to catch up with us, so we were first on line for popcorn when they got there, and since we had nowhere else to go, we sat in our oddly uncomfortable reclining seats and watched half an hour’s worth of commercials and previews. Thank God for the bucket of popcorn. Except, I didn’t buy anything to drink, because I knew I couldn’t pause the movie for a pee break, so I was left with that puckery feeling in my mouth that made me wonder why I kept eating the excessively salty popcorn, seemingly against my will. There’s gotta be something added to movie theater popcorn that makes it addictive, but I don’t know what it is. Clearly this has something to do with the power of the dark side.

Finally, the iconic Star Wars music started blasting out of the speakers, and then the golden storytelling script was reeling back into space, and we were off!

I need to get this out of the way first: The Last Jedi is not a perfect movie. Someone forgot to edit the script, and managed to leave in nine or ten acts instead of the customary three or five. The movie seemed to end so many times that when it finally did end, I was suspicious. I thought another act might start to unfold under the credits. I can sort of understand the multiple almost-endings, because they gave all of the heroes and heroines a chance to save the day at least once. Sure, Rey is the titular Last Jedi, but there’s also Rose and Finn, and Poe and BB8 and Leia and, of course, Luke, and those icicle dogs, and Laura Dern, out of nowhere. But despite all of that, the movie worked for me.

I was worried that the long awaited return of Luke Skywalker would be a disappointment; that maybe he would be too bland or perfect in his old age. Instead, he was wonderfully grumpy, and he held the central message of the movie: you never lose people, even if they are far away, and even after death. That was a message I really needed to hear. Other characters filled out that message too, explaining it as part of the force. Yes, one of the bad guys creates the initial “bridge” between Kylo Ren and Rey, but there are other bridges that he has no role in, and even that one goes beyond his control.

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The force was strong with this one.

I’ve had moments like that in my life, where I’ve almost felt like I could touch the hand of someone far away, or hear the voice of someone long gone. I can’t always tap into that network of everything, but when I can it is powerful, and bittersweet, because while you feel the connection, you feel the distance even more.

 

There’s something fitting about delving into the Star Wars universe during this time between the end of one year and the beginning of the next. This space is often filled with grief for what we’ve lost, and the darkness of winter, but there’s also hope and a sense of continuity. We sit in the movie theater and the music continues to play through the credits, and we know that the story will continue to unfold, soon.

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Cricket is waiting.

 

 

 

 

The Christmas Quandary

I like the smell of burning wood, and the Snowflake lights, and the chill of the beginning of winter. I like hot cocoa, and eggnog, and any excuse to top things with whipped cream. But I have mixed feelings about Christmas, because I’m Jewish and it’s not my holiday. We didn’t talk much about Christmas in my Jewish Day School growing up, but every show I watched on TV at this time of year (and I watched a lot of TV) had a Christmas themed episode, and it was, as intended, enchanting.

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“I love whipped cream!”

If you look through a list of the creators of Christmas movies and Christmas music, you’ll find tons of Jewish names. It could be a coincidence, but I think it’s because, as outsiders, Jews were desperate to feel that sense of magic and belonging. The whole town comes together to celebrate, with food and drink and sparkling lights. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that? The idea that some magical character will know exactly what I need, and provide it, is every child’s wish. As is the idea that being a good and kind person should pay off.

But then I’m reminded, by this or that song, that this is not my holiday. I do not sing songs about Jesus. I don’t believe in the virgin birth. I am not the target audience for movies about the crucifixion, or stories about how Jews add the blood of gentile children to their matzot at Passover (where did that idea even come from?). These stories remind me that there are large groups of people who think I have horns coming out of my head.

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“What?!”

And then I watch an ice skating show on TV, or hear someone singing Silent Night (or singing a Jewish prayer to the tune of Silent Night, at Friday night services at my synagogue), and I change my mind again. There’s something so peaceful and kind about the intentions behind Christmas: the generosity of reaching out to strangers who need help; families returning to each other; angels bringing miracles to people who need them.

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“Dear Santa, can I have more chicken?”

I’ve been watching all of the Christmas movies on the Hallmark Channel again this year, because they soften the edges of a harsh world for a little while, with all of that love and magic and inevitable good fortune. But they also force me to see all of the holes in my life, where things and people are missing. I see a cozy family in front of the fire, or a bright shining star in the sky, and I think of my Butterfly, and how she embodied all of the sweetness and light the world could offer, and I miss her terribly. And I miss the good fortune that all of these two dimensional heroes and heroines on TV are experiencing, getting everything they’ve ever dreamed of. And it hurts.

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My Butterfly

 

And then it changes again, and I feel hopeful that some of that magic is still out there for me, and it will find me, no matter what my religion or culture or skin color or gender, when I’m ready. I’d really like to believe in that.

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Chasing the Light

 

Chanukah, the Jewish festival of lights, started on Tuesday night, and it feels like it’s coming along at just the right time. Chanukah is a holiday for celebrating miracles and light (and a few other things that I choose to ignore, because violence and gore are not my thing). The miracles are about the survival of the Jewish people, and a light that shines longer than it ever should have. Of course, in celebrating that light we have to take it too far: if one candle is nice, eight or nine are nicer, if one Menorah is nice, twenty or thirty, or one twenty-foot tall Menorah, is nicer.

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In Brooklyn (not my picture)

I have been impatiently waiting for some light, especially since Miss Butterfly died, because she radiated light. I’ve tried so hard to generate enough light to fill the void she left behind, but what she did effortlessly I struggle to match.

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Butterfly, radiating internal light

In a strange coincidence, or not, on Tuesday afternoon we received an envelope in the mail form Butterfly’s clinic, with her collar and tags. They’d lost track of them for five months, but on the first day of Chanukah, they were found (or at least received). Mom took it as a sign that Butterfly wants us to find a new sibling for Cricket. I want to see it that way too, but looking at her little pink Butterfly charm just made me sob.

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I want to believe that bringing a new dog home will add light back into our lives. There is a new puppy across the hall, a little black ball of fluff who hops and cries and looks into your eyes until you melt. He makes me think that maybe I could manage a puppy again (I can’t); then there’s his sort-of-sister, Hazel, the mini-Goldendoodle, with her evanescent joy and uncontrollable peeing; and Teddy, our sometime boarder, who went home to find a new sister in his house, a Shih-Poo named Rosie who is doing her best to catch his eye. The light is everywhere, but I can’t quite catch it and hold onto it; I just keep seeing it run past me.

This past weekend, the first snow of the season brought out Cricket’s joy and light. She loves to run through the snow and catch snow balls with her mouth, and dig for hidden snow balls in the snow. I gladly reached down (with my gloves on) for handfuls of snow to keep her entertained. Her capacity for joy is extraordinary, and extraordinary to watch, even in the freezing cold.

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“Look at the snowy light dropping from the sky!”

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“Throw the ball, Mommy!”

I’ve been trying to look at Petfinder.com, but the pages and pages of dogs in nearby rescues and shelters overwhelm me. How do you choose? I want a puppy, but I don’t have the energy. I want a senior dog, like Butterfly, but I can’t go through the trauma of loss again so soon. I want a Great Dane, but I don’t have the room, or the strength. Whenever I see a cute dog who is the right size (no bigger than Cricket), and age (three or four), and doesn’t look too much like Butterfly, I get excited, and then terrified, and then I start crying.

I’m going to need all of the light I can get in order to help me see clearly in the next leg of this journey, and I’m hoping that Chanukah will start me off well, bringing light, and some joy, and maybe even a little bit of hope.

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Butterfly leads the way.

 

 

On #MeToo

 

When the #MeToo hashtag first appeared, I wasn’t sure what to do with it. I was afraid that it would minimize the seriousness of sexual harassment and sexual assault, watering the terms down to the point of meaninglessness, and I doubted that it would lead anywhere. I was wrong. It hasn’t gone away, instead, because of twitter and Facebook and some very good journalism, women’s voices are being heard and abusers are being named, and even fired.

But not all of them. Woody Allen still gets to make movies. And Stephen Colbert still promotes his movies on The Late Show. Actors still make excuses to work with Woody Allen, and say things like, I don’t want to take sides in a “family issue.” They don’t say, I don’t have an opinion on a moral issue of deep significance that represents the misuse of power not only of men in general but of fathers in particular, because that would make them sound icky.

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There are even people who think it is a legitimate thing to say, of a politician, I don’t care that he’s a pedophile, as long as he belongs to my political party.

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“No way!”

I’m not sure why certain cases are taken seriously and others aren’t. I’m not sure where this whirlwind is going to land, and I worry that there will, as always, be a backlash. I’m also not a fan of the assumption that this is simply a men against women issue, as if all women have taken the high road. Unfortunately, women have been as expert at shutting down other women’s voices as men have.

My experience, as a victim of childhood sexual abuse, has been that people, of both sexes, did not want to know. And if they heard me and believed me, they still thought I should be able to get over it quickly. Maybe a year of therapy, at the most. But I’m in year twenty-something of therapy and I see no end in sight. I wrote a novel about childhood sexual abuse, but editors told me that they found the subject matter, or the way I addressed it, too painful to read, and too difficult to place, no matter how “beautifully written.” Even when I went to graduate school for writing, and sat with other writers in classes, and bars, and on couches in dorms, there was a deep unwillingness to listen to people who shared these kinds of painful stories, unless they were wrapped in the cozy fluff of sci fi or horror or mystery, or, alternatively, gave graphic details of the sex acts. There is very little tolerance for a story that emphasizes the fear and vulnerability of the victim, and the complex and time consuming process of recovery. People want something easier to live with. They want empowerment and resolution in two hundred and fifty pages.

I am afraid that, even now, the reason why #MeToo was so successful is because people only had to read two anonymous words, and didn’t have to bother with the whole, difficult story. I am afraid that those two words are all I am really allowed to say.

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“You can’t shut me up!”