Thursday, April 29, 2010

Bad Past, Good Future: It’s In the Cards

“Boy, you must have done something really heinous in your last life. You’re probably gonna come back as a rock or a roach in your next life.”

My boss said that to me several years ago after the “adversities” first started. He said it was the only explanation for so many bad things to happen to such a good person. He was kidding, of course.

My Last Life
Then I told him about an astrologer I visited decades ago. There was a lot of buzz at the time about the psychic abilities of this woman, so I wanted to see for myself what all the fuss was about. Here’s the one thing from the session that I’ve never forgotten: She told me this was my last life. She described my previous lives—that I thought as part of a social consciousness, acted on the part of a social group structure—and she said the purpose of this final round for me was to become an individual.

“Wow!” said my boss. Then he periodically used this information to help me get what I wanted/needed at work. For instance, office supplies: “Hey! Get those red pens to her pronto. This is her last life, you know.” As if I were terminal.

I don’t believe many people go through this life shrugging off their foibles and failures because they think they’ll get the chance to improve during their next life. Even those who believe they’ll have another life try to make the best of the one they’re in now.

My Revelation
I don’t see the “adversities” that have pummeled my husband and me since 2005 as payback. Yet I’ve struggled to find the lessons the adversities might be conveying. Surely there’s purpose to this madness…isn’t there?

Last weekend
it hit me. Maybe there isn’t a lesson. Maybe the adversities are just giving us a practice run right now. They’re preparing us for the really, truly, horrible NO-GOOD-AWFUL things yet to come.

Hmmm. Now I
’m reminded of having my Tarot cards read. I’ve had this done three times over the course of many years: once by a recommended professional, once at a carnival, and once by some guy in front of a coffee shop who needed some extra money to get to NYC. Three very different types of individuals in three very different environments. But there was one consistency from reading to reading: “The Dark Man will save you.”


I asked people who understood Tarot about the Dark Man card. No one knew anything about it; it hadn’t come up for anyone else. (There are only so many cards. When you start comparing your reading with someone else’s, similarities usually surface.)

Perfect. I couldn’t get a normal card reading. And how will I recognize Mr. Dark Man? What’s dark about him? His mood? His humor? His hair? His skin? His clothes?

My Positive Spin

Well, if indeed the bleak truth is that the worst is yet to come, my Ace-in-the-Hole is that the Dark Man—whoever he is—will rush to our rescue.
Hope springs eternal.

[Second pic by Frédéric Bazille.]

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Guiding Light of Fiction

You may have noticed that I finally finished a couple of books this week—Iris and Her Friends and The Bell. The latter is a fictional study of cause-and-effect, and of the myriad ways people love one another. Oh, there were the other typical themes Murdoch so often employs in her fiction (religion, goodness, history, morality), but these two were the lightest-and-breeziest of the lot and the only ones I had any inclination to pay attention to. I liked this description of the consequences of our actions/behavior:

“Our actions are like ships which we may watch set out to sea, and not know when or with what cargo they will return to port.”

This reminds me that even our most thoughtful actions may have unintended results, may lead to consequences that are out of our control. It reminds me that actions are never short-term, that every action has echoes that endure through time and space. Act with care.

This mornin
g I tackled the difficult task of choosing a new book to start. As I scanned the spines on a couple of bookshelves, I delighted in spotting about 10 more books I could add to the sale. Then I found a big-type, short novel by Jeanette Winterson that seems perfect for my current mental state. In the first few pages of Lighthousekeeping, I read this timely advice:

“And if you can’t survive in this world, you had better make a world of your own.”

That is just what I intend to do, too. I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I feel better already knowing I have a goal. And a new story to read.

Who needs self-help books when fiction offers both pleasure and guidance?

[Pigeon Point Lighthouse photo by Tyler Westcott.]

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

First Sip

“Every child begins the world again.”
—Henry David Thoreau

[Pic from the farm of Penelope Trunk’s new husband.]

Getting the Dish on Family Lore

I have been washing and packing—and washing and packing—my collection of vintage Fiestaware, the colorful mix-and-match ceramic dishes that debuted in the ’30s. With each piece, I’ve wondered about its history: Who used it before me? How long did they have it? Where did they get it? What moments of their lives are forever intertwined with it?

My current collection grew out of a set inherited from my mother and grandmother. When I left home after college, they gave me their dishes—which have moved with me from one apartment to another over the years. And now, as I prepare for yet another move, I want more details about the early history of the pottery. For instance, which color was my mother’s favorite? How many pieces of my grandmother’s Fiestaware came from promotional giveaways? Did either of them have any Fiestaware entertainment tales to share?

I called my mother, who laughed at my questio

“I never liked those dishes,” she said. She couldn’t explain why, nor could she recall using them—though she must have for a while, she ceded. “They were a bridal shower gift and came from your great-aunt’s hardware store.”

Ah. Humble origins. From family to family. I like that.

“And those weren’t your grandmother’s dishes.”

“What do you mean? She gave them to me.”

“Yes, but she never used them. She found them out at the farm.” My grandfather had what today is known as a hobby farm. My grandmother found all sorts of treasures there—none with a verifiable provenance.

This wasn’t, of course, the history I’d expected. And certainly not the one I’d imagined.

Sometimes the better story is the one in our heads.

[For more pics of Fiestaware and its history, visit collector Heidi Kellner’s Web site.]

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Take Time for Celestial Contemplation

I just visited the Hubble Site gallery and encourage you to do the same. The sheer imagination and palette of the universe are extraordinary.

“The universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.”
—Eden Phillpotts

Splendor in the Grass

In Central Illinois, as in many parts of this country, it is not unusual to see a dog tethered in a yard: kept on a chain in all extremes of weather, with nothing to reduce boredom and no affection provided—sometimes little even in the way of nourishment given. Their “guardians” unintentionally (or otherwise) practice benign neglect. I’d like to relieve all such guardians of their duty.

So it’s somewhat embarrassing to admit that our crazy canine would have liked nothing better than to lollygag in a yard all day and night. She had an inquisitive nature (“Nosy Nellie” we often called her) and was supremely interested in watching the comings and goings of everyone in our neighborhood.

This photo was taken during a visit to my grandmother’s home. We call it “Dog on a Rope.” Only we say it as one word: dogonarope. We learned that it’s an inside joke. Whenever we tried to explain it to folks in our urban neighborhood, a PETA look spread across their faces as soon as we mentioned keeping our mutt in the yard. They never really heard the rest of the story.

That’s okay. It’s just one more memory of the pooch I have tucked away for a future of reminiscing.

“…an octopus inside me: it squeezed my heart and then crawled to my throat…”
—Anne Philipe, in No Longer than a Sigh

Thursday, April 22, 2010

It’s High Holidays for Tree-Huggers

Happy Earth Day!
(Each word above links to a way you can participate.)

“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity…and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself.”
William Blake

[Photo by Andrew Dunn. Capitalization of quote edited for easier reading.]

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Every Day A New Voice

“[E]verything is blooming most recklessly: if it were voices instead of colors, there would be an unbelievable shrieking into the heart of the night.”
—Rainer Maria Rilke

Sunday, April 18, 2010

An Aw-www Moment

There’s nothing like a baby animal to perk up your spirit. And Spring is the optimal viewing season.

Check out Patricia McConnell’s blog for more lamb pics from her Wisconsin farm, Jerry Jourdan’s blog for more bird pics (and the mother of these Sandhill Cranes), and for something a little different, don’t miss this live video feed of baby barn owls.

A Convergence of Literature, Memory, and Caregiving

I’m not sure I’d know who literary critic John Bayley was were he not the widower of Iris Murdoch. But since I’m currently reading The Bell, which Murdoch wrote around the time she married Bayley, I thought it would be informative to also read his take on their relationship.

I’d long ago started reading Bayley’s first memoir about his life with Murdoch, Elegy for Iris. I don’t think I finished it. In fact, I probably didn’t get far into it at all because, as I recall, I was disappointed that it was more about him than her.

Well, what was I thinking? It was HIS memoir, after all. And it would have been foolhardy to market the book without pushing the Murdoch connection.

Last month I thought I’d give him another try—especially in light of the fact that I felt I now had a tenuous connection to Bayley: caregiving. How did it affect him? Change him?

I was about 100 or so pages into
Iris and Her Friends: A Memoir of Memory and Desire (note: the “friends” are not what you might expect)—each page turn requiring some cheerleading on my part to accomplish—when I decided to finish the book simply as an exercise in learning about someone/something I’m not really interested in. And then I reached this sentence on page 129:
“Most memoirs and autobiography have a ‘clever little me’ feel about them somewhere.”

I laughed because Bayley had admitted to one of the very reasons I was finding his memoirs tiresome. Yet by saying as much, he managed to break down the barrier between his story and his reader (me). He finally strikes me as genuine and straightforward, and I’ll likely enjoy the rest of his tale. I’m tempted to dust off Elegy for Iris next and give it another go.

I laughed also because I caught a slight reflection in that sentence of my own narrowmindedness and expectations of the book. The window into someone else’s history always casts new light onto our own lives and our understanding of the world. We just have to embrace what comes our way.

Mind wide open…

[Art: Tom Phillips’ portrait of Iris Murdoch for the National Portrait Gallery; cover for John Bayley’s recommended reading compilation,
Hand Luggage: A Personal Anthology.]

Lull Left Facebook This Morning

omething was amiss with Lull’s Facebook account—operator error, no doubt. But folks were having trouble getting comments to stick on the Wall, I couldn’t get the profile to change, setting changes wouldn’t activate, yada yada yada.

So I deleted the whole account.

Maybe I’ll start a new one someday, but right now I have enough to deal with. (I’ve started two new blogs that, with luck, will morph into one business Web site later this year.)

Feel free to talk to one another or publish your own observations about a Lull topic via the comments section.

And always, thanks for reading.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Getting Published: Read Before Submitting

If you’ve been monitoring my 2010 reading list, you probably think I’ve stopped reading. But I’ve had my nose in literary journals these past few weeks.

I’ve not spent much time with lit journals before. Now, the more I read them, the more there seem to be of them. They fold into one another, publicizing each other, feeding upon one another.

I’ve discovered some authors and poets I’d like to read more from (Jim Story, John Garmon), some turns of phrase that will remain lodged in my memory (“we knit ourselves / around the moments we are givenfrom Richard Levine’s “Near Extinction,” and this from Patrick Carrington’s “Prayer Is Just Another Poker Game You Walk Home from Naked”:Let’s cut to the chase—miracles are out / of the question. Unfold your hands. Stop / looking up. Hasn’t he had enough / chances to do something huge? Say uncle, / say I’m done with you for good. … / If you must look up, look up / his sleeves.”), and then there was Sally Bliumis-Dunn’s “Guinea Pig” (scroll to the very bottom of the screen) that locked me in by the 5th line and reduced me to tears by the 19th.

I’m no expert on the matter, but after spending so much time with these journals, I have two pieces of advice for Lull readers who are yearning for publication:

1. Make sure the journals you submit your work to publish the kind of writers you want to be associated with. Are you impressed by their writing? Would you be proud to mention their names? Are they the company you’d like to keep? They’re a reflection of you and your readers.

2. Look for journals that are aesthetically pleasing. That is, well-designed and well-produced. Why submit your best work to a production process that’s destined to mangle your words before reaching readers?

Though I prefer all text to be error-free, accidents happen. And I know how they can happen during production. But when every few pages of a publication contain typographical blunders, as did many of the journals I perused, I no longer enjoy reading the content. And I’m baffled: What self-respecting editors or writers would allow their labors of love to be marred by errors? What happened to their standards?

[For the record, Lull is not edited. My posts are an exercise in speed and letting go. Let me know if you start seeing too many goofs and I’ll slow down.]

I found this quote in The Fretboard Journal (even if you know nothing about guitars, this is a tremendous read in a well-executed design), and I believe it’s a mission we should all strive for:

“Approach every task as though it were the moment that will define you.”
Jol Dantzig, guitar designer

[Art: Mary Cassatt’s Woman Reading in a Garden and Vanessa Bell’s Portrait of Virginia Woolf.]

Friday, April 16, 2010

Time to Tweak Your Perspective

Things not going as planned? Job search getting you down? This advice from humorist Robert Orben may help:

“Don’t think of it as failure. Think of it as time-released success.”

[Photo by Brian MacFarlane.]

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Me & Julia: The Tie that Binds

Hallelujah! I have one less thing to feel self-conscious about this morning.

I don’t like cilantro, and I avoid foods containing it. Sometimes this is especially difficult to do. A few years ago, there was an apparent love affair between restaurant chefs and this herb—regardless of the type of cuisine served—and my options were limited so much so that friends noticed when I ordered the most boring side item on the menu. “Oh, don’t you want to try the [whatever the restaurant was noted for]?” “No, I’m not very hungry. I’ll be fine with t
he iceberg lettuce bowl.” Even that could be served with a garnish of cilantro.

I tried to keep my disfavor to myself, embarrassed by not liking something everyone else seemed to gravitate toward or, at least, no one else seemed to mind. I’m not a cilantrophobe, nor do I passionately hate it. I just don’t like it.

Today I came across an article in the New York Times about cilantro haters and found that not only are there sound neurological reasons for my resistance to foods containing the herb, but I’m in good company. Julia Child was no fan of the green stuff, either. And so much evidence of people like us exists throughout history that our cilantro-averse natures have been conjectured to have genetic origins.

So now I can stand tall with Julia, ashamed no more. “Yes, I’d like the [whatev
er it is your restaurant is famous for]. But hold the cilantro.”

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Two Most Important Words in Any Relationship

Last week I got a phone call concerning our eviction case. It was a legal assistant from our lawyer’s office who was checking to see if we’d been paying our rent. I assumed she was calling because I usually send proof to my lawyer that the landlord received my rent check, but I hadn’t yet done it for April. I was still waiting for my certified mail return receipt to arrive. However, I told her, the check cleared on April 1. Then the conversation went something like this:

“Are you sending money orders?” she asked.

“No, the landlord agreed to accept personal check

“So have you paid your rent?”

“Yes, and I’ve sent proof of payment every month but this one. As I said, I’m just waiting for the certified mail receipt.”

“But you’ve paid it?”

“Yes, the check already cleared.”

“Let’s see. You’ve been paying $350?”

$350?! Was she looking at the wrong file? “No, I’m paying—have always paid—$______.” Did I miss something that last day in court? Was I given a deal to pay only $350 a month and didn’t know it?

Once we finally seemed to be on the same page, I brought up a matter I’d been concerned about. I told her that based on how Mr. Slimy had been treating other tenants, it looked doubtful that he’d return our security deposit to us. What did she think about approaching Mr. Slimy to keep our security deposit in lieu of our final month’s rent?

Had I known how incendiary this question was I never would have
asked it.

The legal assistant reprimanded me for even considering the idea and proceeded to tell me how much her organization had done for us—how proud everyone there was of their work on our behalf, that they’d never before won so many extra months beyond an eviction notice for tenants to remain in their apartments.

“Yes,” I said, “but you never had anyone with a long-term lease like ours…”

“Oh yes we did!” she cut in. “We’ve worked on lots of long-term leases.”

I thought, Then what took you so bloody long to understand our rental situation? Why did we have to explain ourselves over and over and over again? But I held my tongue

She continued saying something about the paperwork they sent us in March that we were to sign and return, that they’d have to open our case again and return to court.

I kept asking, “What papers? We didn’t receive any papers in March!” But she steamrolled through my questions, starting in again about how grateful we should be that her organization took our case, how deplorable and disrespectful to her colleagues it would be for us to not pay our last month’s rent.

I kept saying, “I was only wondering about it. I thought I’d ask, but clearly I won’t do it. So we needn’t continue discussing it. But will you please tell me what the papers were that you sent in March?”

But she couldn’t stop going on about how much they’d done for us. To cut through her manic drone, at one point I yelled her name, intending to say, “I’M the one who forged the deal! I’M the one who negotiated directly with Mr. Slimy!” But I bit my tongue. I just said, “Look. I’m not lying. I told you we’d pay the last month’s rent and we will. I’m sorry about the papers in March, but we didn’t receive them. I will sign whatever it is you need me to sign, I will continue paying our rent and sending proof to your office that I did, and I will anticipate losing my security deposit to the landlord because once we move out, we want NOTHING more to do with him.”

THEN she started telling me that we could use one of their lawyers who works on nothing but security deposits to get ours back.

I thanked her for the information (which I a
lready knew about), and said it wouldn’t be necessary. But she couldn’t drop the subject. She told me how different everything would be by the time we moved out, how I couldn’t know what the future would bring or how I would react to it.

She was right, but I’d had enough of her. Oh. I forgot to mention that in the middle of her tirade about all they’d done for us she began reading aloud from the court orders. This AFTER she’d said she would ma
il that paperwork to us.

I couldn’t absorb any more. And I could no longer be civil—I needed to get off the phone before saying something I’d regret. So I reiterated my assurance that we’d pay the last month’s rent and would look for the papers in the mail.

I hung up and screamed an ugly name at her.

This, of course, woke my husband. I recounted my phone conversation for him, trying to get some perspective on it. Though the legal assistant represented a pro bono law firm, I got the distinct impression that her condescension toward me was a power play—that the byp
roduct of pro bono work for her was ratcheting up her superiority.

Then the phone rang. It was HER!! NOW what?

A miraculous thing: She apologized. She admitted that the papers were sent in January, not March. She explained that the case hadn’t been closed and reopened nor would it need to be reopened. It was all a mistake.

I accepted her apology.

And then she continued talking!!

She was all sweetness and psychological counsel about how it might not seem like it now, but a move is exciting, yada yada yada.

I let her talk—tried not to throw up. And finally I got her off the phone. I was exhausted.

But here’s the important part of the story (you were wondering if I’d ever get to
it, weren’t you?): I couldn’t be mad at her any longer because she apologized. There’s a cleansing effect to apologies—especially those made sooner rather than later.

I believe it took courage for her to make that second call to me. (Or, as my fathe
r surmised, it took the command from someone who outranked her.) I don’t know if I would have been able to do the same. But she will remain in my mind as a decent example of turning around a tainted relationship, of taking ownership of a mistake and bad behavior, of eating humble pie.

[Pics from top to bottom: Fencing advertisement for the 1900 Summer Olympic Games; the New York City Fencers’ Club as shown in an 1888 issue of Leslie’s Weekly; and José de Ribera’s The Duel of Women.]

The Unemployment Blessing

I can’t say that I enjoyed being jobless. But I am grateful that I was free to spend so much time with the pooch during her last year on Earth.

Funny how the darkest turns of our lives can illuminate a treasure and refocus our perspective.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Ducking Responsibility

“Don’t leave the duck there. It’s totally irresponsible. Put it on the swing, it’ll have much more fun.”
Sleep Talkin’ Man

If you need to laugh today (and really, who doesn’t?), visit Sleep Talkin’ Man to read the vile insults and random remarks spilled each night from one man’s slumbers.

[Photo by SJ.]

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Death Haunts Our Hallway

As I boiled water this morning for coffee, I tried to think through the best way to start my day. I thought of all the things that needed to be done, the things that should be done, and wondered if there was anything I really wanted to do.

It was too much to think about. As an avoidance strategy, I decided to fetch a book from the front of the apartment, which requires traveling down a 30-foot hallway to reach. I didn’t have my glasses on, but could see that something dark was on the hardwood floor in the space between the hall runner and the Persian rug of the foyer. Fortunately, just before I reached the blob, I reached the door to the master bedroom suite and took a route around the intruder.

I donned my glasses reluctantly and turned toward the blob. It was a tiny mouse, with froggy-positioned back legs and his/her extraordinarily long tail straight out. It was not alive, for which I felt guiltily relieved. I had already started worrying that I would find an animal in need of medical assistance, and I learned long ago that I may be a Florence Nightingale in intention and imagination, but not in ability or reality.

Poor little guy. I’d seen evidence earlier in the week that he was around. I’d tried unsuccessfully to entice the pooch to eat a bit of oatmeal from a soy sauce dish and left it on the kitchen counter overnight. The next morning, half the oatmeal was gone, and not by evaporation. We had been using ultrasonic gadgets to keep uninvited critters away, but obviously they weren’t working. (Note: Years ago we had an ultrasonic repellent that worked great, but it was discontinued.) Though our previous attempts to catch mice in live traps failed, perhaps oatmeal was the new key. Or perhaps we had to resort to poison, which I hated even thinking about. If the mice would clean up after themselves there wouldn’t be an issue.

Did this little mouse know what I was planning? Why did he make his death so visible? Hadn’t there been enough death in this household for one week? Was this a sign?

If you’re like my neighbors, you may lump mice into the same vermin category as cockroaches and silverfish. But when we were searching for a new home for a pet rat my husband had rescued from our backyard some years ago, we discovered the world of “fancy mice” and the people who love them.

Fancy mice com
e in as many colors as dogs and cats, with hair that’s long, short, or curly. They win prizes in shows, have articles written about them in magazines, have merchandise and food developed for them, and have adoring guardians just as cats and dogs do. Once you’ve witnessed this alternate universe of pet lovers, I think you’d be hard-pressed to continue viewing mice as vermin.

Sigh. Was this the only mouse in our house? Or do we still have to grapple with the unconscionable act of killing furry creatures?

Again, too much to think about. I’m headed for a book.

[Painting by Evelyn de Morgan; photo from Twice As Mice Mousery.]

Saturday, April 10, 2010


“I don’t reproach the spring for starting up again.

I can’t blame it for doing what it must year after year.

I know that my grief will not stop the green.”

Wislawa Szymborska, in “Parting with a View”

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Unenjoyment Extended: Can’t We Call a Truce with the Gods of Loss?

I had looked forward to 2010 as a new beginning—a decade of discovery and change. I had been relieved to bid farewell to the last decade populated by cads and colored in grief. With Lull, I tried to keep my chin up as well as helping others do the same. I’ve tried to look at the bright side of every downturn; I’ve withheld animosity and resentment and focused on moving forward.

But this new round of heartache is untimely wicked. And I’m as angry as I am grief-stricken. There better be a whole lot of goodness ahead to balance out this long stretch of darkness.

“Hope is the feeling you have that the feeling you have isn’t permanent.”
—Jean Kerr

[Art by Van Gogh.]

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

It Takes Heart to Be a Leader

Nearly anyone can become a manager, but to be a true leader you must have compassion.

I was reminded of this last evening when I ran into a “dog acquaintance.” He immediately asked where our po
och was and we told him our tragic news.

He’s a teacher in a private elementary school and just that day his principal had commented to him, “Can you believe it? [A teacher] called in this morning to ask for the day off because her pet died.”

My friend said, Yes, he could believe it because he’d do the same. “If my dog dies, you won’t want me at work that day.”

This is the kind of scenario we brought up in the newsletters I used to oversee. We counseled readers on the soft skills of leadership—that is, the skills required to deal with and coexist with people in a workplace setting. An astonishing number of people in supervisory positions need to be reminded or taught that sensitivity is a critical element to earning trust and loyalty from employees.

The principal is a key example. Not only does he reveal his lack of compassion to another employee, he also reveals his lack of knowledge about the marketplace. Pets are a $45.5 billion industry and growing. Pets affect how people shop for cars, homes, landscaping, and jobs. A little awareness of how serious this bond is could go a long way with his staff.

The principal doesn’t even need to be an animal lover to show his compassion to the teacher. Surely he can draw on his own experience of loss to understand this employee’s emotional state. But if that’s not the case, then his responsibility as a leader is to first see the situatio
n from the perspective of the employee before taking action. The principal had no excuse for discussing the issue with other employees, but that’s a separate matter deserving of its own post.

Bereavement policies are tricky ones to draw up. They’re a positive benefit for empl
oyers to offer, but they will no doubt fall short of many employees’ needs. These policies usually cover only immediate family members. Yet the loss of a best friend or animal companion may have a far greater impact on some employees than the loss of a sibling or parent. Without a policy to cover these circumstances, a manager’s response is not only personal but also—from the employee’s viewpoint—embodies the organization’s stand on the subject.

Funny, isn’t it? What some folks read newsletters to learn, my pooch had innately in spades.

[Art by Jim Dine.]

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Heart O’ My Heart

“Dogs’ lives are too short. Their only fault, really.”
—Agnes Sligh Turnbull

May 1996–April 2010

Demons, Dogs, and Doctors: Welcome to My 3D Life

This pic of the pooch was taken on an unusually warm day in March 2010—perhaps the last really good day she had before her health started its swift decline. This morning, we’re taking her to an internist for an ultrasound and for what we expect to be a definitive diagnosis.

Last night the pooch rallied to take a short walk before bedtime. Lightning lit the sky around us, but the pooch paid no attention.

We watched an opossum lumber across a vacant lot to a fence opening, where it surprisingly came nose to nose with another opossum coming from the opposite direction. After delivering a minor snarl, the latter opossum slipped through the fence opening and the two new chums disappeared into the shadows together. The pooch noted the action, but showed no interest.

Lightning used to terrify the pooch. Many’s the stormy night when she’d wake us for solace and expect us to turn on all the lights so she couldn’t detect the lightning through the blinds. And, of course, the pooch used to delight in catching a glimpse of wildlife on her walks.

What Horror is holding our pooch hostage?

Whatever it is, it hasn’t won the match yet. The pooch still asks for food, though she doesn’t eat it. She still tries to follow me around—the ever-vigilant herder. She continues to accept our pets and massages and companionship.

This afternoon, the Horror will have a name—and we’ll choose how best to wrest our beloved canine away from its grip.

Monday, April 5, 2010


“In the spring I have counted one hundred and thirty-six different kinds of weather inside of four-and-twenty hours.”
—Mark Twain

[Photo by Carol Spears.]

Sunday, April 4, 2010

It’s Déjà Vu All Over Again*

I’m writing this longhand on the edge of “Possum Highway,” on high alert to protect the pooch from the skunks and opossums who frequent this stretch of our yard. It’s nearly 4 am on Easter Sunday, the hour I would have risen as a child to peek out my bedroom door for evidence of the Easter Bunny’s visit. Now, it’s the hour of watching people return from the clubs, listening to hawks search for breakfast, and waiting for a decent time to phone my husband so he can carry our hound up the three flights of stairs to our apartment. Just the start of another typical day at Lull HQ.

Three drops of water glisten on our Japanese snowdrop tree. Gravity pulls them into the squill below, one by one. The hubbub of human activity has ceased and the pooch and I have a rare starlit sky and predawn hush all to ourselves.

The pooch received a death knell this week from our vet. She’ll be 14 next month—the same age my precious first cat was when a vet sounded the death knell for her back in 1998. Kidney failure was the culprit for the feline. She would last a few more months or so with “juicing” (daily injections of subcutaneous fluids), but old age was taking her, claimed t
he vet.

And then, quite unintentionally, we had a pooch in our pantry (that’s where we kept the Spotted Thing initially until she and the White Thang got accustomed to each other). My first cat and our first dog became pals at first stare.

At the next health exam, the cat surprised the vet with perfect test scores—no signs of kidney disease. And she continued that way until she was a month shy of her 24th birthday, when cancer abruptly took her from us and from her canine
best friend. Had I not been hopeful about the feline’s recovery, had I not been willing to spend the effort and money in sustaining her life back when she was 14, we would have missed 10 great years of her companionship.

“Never give out while there is hope; but hope not beyond reason, for that shows more desire than judgment.”
—William Penn

Could the pooch be in the same situation? Could she be nursed through this painful stretch? Yes, I understand the pooch is a much larger creature, which puts her years beyond the cat at this point. I understand the potential dire outcome of her current state of health. But how many pets are too soon given up on, too soon euthanised? And who would deny me hope?

It’s Resurrection Day for those who celebrate it. For me, it’s a renewal of optimism.

* Headline hails from Yogi Berra.

Friday, April 2, 2010

In Like A Lion, Out Like A…

The old adage about March weather was certainly true for Chicago this year, but it’s been a slightly different tale for my beloved pooch.

“No matter how little money and how few possessions you own, having a dog makes you rich.” —Louis Sabin

She had her six-month geriatric exam at the end of February and was given a clean bill of health. These exams always take her several days to recover from, but this one took much longer. And then took a turn for the worse last week.

The pooch is still with us, but no one’s sure for how long. Until she’s on the mend (or not), Lull is going to have to be Lull LITE.

And so it goes…

Depths of a Storyteller

You probably know it’s the 205th anniversary of Hans Christian Andersen’s birth.

But did you know he was a wizard with scissors as well as with pen? He always carried a pair with him and created visual tales whenever the muse moved him.

“If you looked down to the bottom of my soul, you would understand fully the source of my longing and—pity me. Even the open, transparent lake has its unknown depths, which no divers know.”
—Hans Christian Andersen in a letter to Edvard Collin

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Click, Click, Click to Make Me Proud

An e-mail was forwarded to me this week about some organization falling short of its goal to donate food to animal shelters around the country. It needed my help. If I could just go to the Web site… If I could just forward the e-mail to 10 more people…

Well, at least it didn’t tell me my life was doomed if I didn’t forward the message, like those chain letters that keep circling the Web.

But then I noticed the name of the organization: The Animal Rescue Site.

Hey! I posted a button on Lull a long time ago for them. And I’ve encouraged Lull readers a couple of times to make a daily habit of clicking. One click from Lull takes you to a page on which you can read a tiny tale about an animal rescue—dog, cat, horse, bunny, ferret. Then one more click above the story and you’ve donated food to a shelter. It’s that simple!

But apparently, Lull readers haven’t been doing their part. So today I’m moving the button up to a more visible spot.

And, dear readers, as much as I’d like you to hang on every word I write for you on Lull, it’s more important to feed the homeless critters.

Click away.

[Photos by, from top to bottom: Nhandler, galawebdesign, and Andrevruas.]
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