What Would Be Your Celebrity Brand?

If you were to have your picture on a magazine cover, what would the headlines say?

Designing my fake magazine cover was the assignment recently for a platform-building workshop I’m taking (“Platform” is writer jargon for how to make yourself a household name). I thought it would be fun, but it was mostly frustrating, not only because of the technical challenges—no, that’s not the size I wanted the photo to be! Wait, where did my headlines go?—but because I couldn’t boil myself down to one or even two topics.

Writer or not, I invite you to try it. Definite yourself in one meaty sentence? XXX is the one who ___________________________.

As a reporter, I liked to write about everything. I loved the variety. I still write about many different topics. See my website. But in the book world, folks want to pin you to one thing. I’m the childless writer. I’m the Portuguese writer. I’m the writer who helps other writers. I’m the poet, the memoirist, the novelist, the essayist, the blogger. I’m the dog mom. I’m the musician.

Trying to cover all these different areas might explain why I fall asleep in front of the TV when I finally give up trying to work. But how do I make one platform that will hold everything? If my feet are on 10 different pieces of wood—wait, I don’t have 10 feet. If I’m rowing in 10 different directions, I’ll never get anywhere. But every direction is just as important to me. Can I just call myself “diversified” or do I need to find a central, defining stream that will carry me to glory? You know what they say about putting all your eggs in one basket.

Maybe I’m like a star radiating out in all directions. I’m the hot burning center. That sounds too egotistical. But what is the central thread that I can share with the reading world? What is my brand?

Writer. Troubador. Communicator. How about . . . truth-teller?

How about the representative for . . . 70-year-old, childless, widowed, Portuguese-Basque-Spanish-Mexican-German American, Catholic, left-handed, arthritic, nearsighted, hearing-impaired, pastry-addicted San Francisco Bay Area natives living on the Oregon coast, writer-musician-dog moms?

That doesn’t fit on a magazine cover. I’m not even sure it would fit in a Twitter tweet.

The photo here is not great quality because I took a picture of it on my computer screen. I tried two different websites and both let me design a whole cover, then asked me sign up for a membership before I could keep it as my own. I don’t plan to make a career of designing magazine covers, especially ones with my face plastered all over it. Who does that?

Well, Oprah Winfrey has an actual magazine with her name and face on the cover. It recently ended its print version, but it’s still publishing online. Nobody pins Oprah to one subject, do they? Her brand is “Oprah!”

Then we have Martha Stewart, whose name is synonymous with a lot of things. Cooking, stationery, sheets and towels, jail . . .

Imagine if we all published magazines with our names on them, and they were lined up on a shelf at the grocery store. Sue, Oprah, George, Mike, Pete, Martha, Angelina . . .

We are each the hot shining star of our own universe, but readers are likely to skip to the next shelf for the latest recipes, celebrity news, or sports updates. News you can use, as we used to say back at the Milpitas Post in the 1970s when I was just a reporter and newlywed who sang in a choir. It was easy to define who I was then, back in the days when platforms were made out of wood.

May I’m just a “well-rounded person.”

A little too well-rounded, my doctor might say.

If you were to design your own magazine cover, what would be on it? What photo would represent you the way you want people to see you? What would the headlines say? Try it, using one of the websites below or an app on your phone or tablet. If you find a no-strings program, let me know.

Share if you can. It’s fun and much easier than Wordle (where my score was 100 percent until Sunday’s word shorted out my brain (It was “tacit”).

https://www.canva.com/create/magazine-covers/

https://www.yourcover.com/cover-editor

If you have Apple products, try this: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/cover-me-your-fake-popular-magazine-cover-maker/id842425115

https://techpp.com/2009/03/08/15-websites-create-fake-magazine-covers-own-photo/

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Annie and I went back to the vet last week. She got her last three stitches removed. The wound is doing so well she should be cone-free by Friday. BUT, she tore her cornea slightly poking her face into the bushes and now we’re on a regime of eye drops that she truly hates. That will heal, too. She is rapidly approaching 100 “reactions” on Facebook to the picture I posted last week on her 14th birthday. She’s 98 years old in dog years.

Annie deserves her own magazine cover.

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Sometimes You Just Need Another Set of Hands

After our walk last Saturday, I unleashed the dog and left her alone while I sprinted to the restroom. Normal, right? Not when the dog is recovering from surgery and can NEVER be without her big plastic collar when she’s off the leash. For a moment, I forgot.

When I came out, she was twisted around in position to lick whatever she could reach on her back end, including the conglomeration of stitches, drains and healing cuts I had been carefully guarding for 10 days. In a second, it could all be destroyed, and we’d have to start over.

I lost my mind, running down the hall, shouting, “No, no, no!”

It was okay. Maybe she didn’t get to it, or maybe she saw her incision for the first time and paused, thinking, “Holy cow. What happened here?” Maybe God grabbed her and said, “No!” I don’t know. I put the collar on and burst into tears, hugging Annie’s plastic-shrouded face. “It’s hard. It’s so hard,” I sobbed as the dog sniffed my wet cheeks.

As I calmed down, I discovered my new mascara is not waterproof. I had black stuff all over my hands and face. I didn’t check when I bought it. Why would they even sell mascara that melts when you cry? (Here’s why).

Why was I wearing mascara during Covid? Before our walk, I was on Zoom for a four-hour workshop, and when you have to look at your own face for that long, you do the best you can to make it tolerable.

After I calmed down, I left Annie alone while I went to the grocery store and the pharmacy, but I still felt the weight of being the only human in the house. I have only felt comfortable leaving her for short trips for a few days, and I pray hard that her wound will be okay when I get back. If someone else were here, they could watch the dog while I take care of other things. But it’s just me and Annie.

Thinking about it later, I decided it’s okay if sometimes I cry or curse or even throw things because being alone is difficult. Ask any widow living by herself, especially if she has no adult children nearby. You’re responsible for everything, whether it’s fixing the car or cooking dinner, figuring out the health insurance or cleaning the bathroom, mowing the lawn or walking the dog. I love my independence, but some things are just easier with other people around.

After I finish the novel I’m working on, I plan to write a book about living alone. I want it to be upbeat, with more emphasis on what we can do alone than what we can’t. I hope it will make people laugh.

Meanwhile, I’m looking for ways to make living alone easier. Should I rent a room, move to a senior community, try online dating or what? I love my home in the forest, but it’s a bit much for one person who would rather be writing, playing music, reading, or enjoying nature than doing 101 chores.

If anyone knows a handyman (or woman) in the Newport area who is skilled, dependable, and doesn’t make me afraid to let them in the house, let me know. I have tried several who were worse than no one.

If you live alone, please share in the comments what you find the most difficult to handle. Let’s see if we can help each other figure it out.

Back to Annie. She is doing fine. We go back to the doctor on Thursday to remove her stitches. Annie being Annie, she will still have to wear the cone for a while to keep her from licking the area, but relief is coming. The tumor was not cancer, just a really ugly benign fatty lipoma, so she should live to drive me crazy well past her 14th birthday next week.

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We Survive January’s Storms and Carry On

No shame in wearing the cone of shame

It’s the last day of January. The holidays are already a fuzzy memory. What did I do for Christmas? New Years? Um . . .  

So far, 2022, despite the mellifluous sound of its numbers, has been a rotten SOB. 

  • Storms, storms, storms, with wind damage, roads collapsing, landslides and a lot of wet feet and wiping off the soggy dog. See earlier post.
  • Much worse storms elsewhere in the country causing destruction from which it may take years to recover. 
  • Insane Covid numbers and some people still refusing to get vaccinated. 
  • My brother-in-law died. My friend’s sister died. My sister-in-law’s uncle died of Covid after that branch of the family’s  Christmas celebration sent him and two others to the hospital. The others are okay now. 
  • Eight writing submissions have been rejected. (But two were accepted, so maybe that’s okay).
  • A tumor on my dog’s hip was diagnosed as cancer and then not and then maybe. After a month of blood and ooze from the ugliest-looking bump ever–think blood sausage–it was surgically removed. Her heart nearly stopped under the anesthesia, but the doctor was able to bring her back to a safe pulse rate. Now she has a huge, oozy incision with drains and smaller cuts around it. She has been wearing the big collar, aka cone of shame, for over a month and will continue for at least two more weeks. We are $3,000 into this now, but she’s worth it. Annie will be 14 on Feb. 16. That’s 98 in dog years.
  • My hot tub cover slipped while I was closing it one icy night and clobbered me in the head, giving me a headache and a two-inch cut from my hairline to my nose that just missed my eye. This led me into all kinds of dark thoughts about the danger of living alone. 
  • My annual doctor visit resulted in another pill to take and referrals to three different specialists. None of it is life-threatening, but it is all annoying and takes away from my writing time. Getting older is a drag, but there are still so many great things to do that I am not ready for the alternative.

So January has sucked, BUT there are good things. 

  • The cut on my forehead is healed and fading away. I did NOT get badly hurt by the hot tub cover. Since that incident, I have taken steps to make the cover much safer to deal with.
  • Post-surgery, Annie and I may finally see the end of this oozy mess and get rid of the cone of shame.
  • I have not gotten Covid. So far. With all my shots, if I do get it, I believe it won’t be too bad.
  • My new air fryer arrived on Thursday and I’m having fun trying new things in it. It’s pretty slick. I welcome your recipes and suggestions.
  • I am making great progress on my new novel, the sequel to Up Beaver Creek. Dare I confess that I love this book? I think you will, too. 
  • The bulbs are sprouting in my garden, which means spring is coming. 
  • I have wonderful friends, in-person and online. Annie does, too. She has more Facebook fans than I do, with over 100 reactions to my post about her surgery. 
  • A new episode of “The Gilded Age” will appear on HBOmax tonight. 
  • The tsunami that drifted over from Tonga Jan. 15 did not damage the Oregon Coast.
  • I’m still here, writing by the fireplace, dog at my side, guitar and piano nearby, forest out the window. Two hummingbirds just hovered at the window. God is good. 

Enough of me and mine. How has January been for you? 

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2022 Comes Roaring in Like a Hurricane

I lay awake in bed last night listening to the wind push, pull, and tear at everything in its path. It had already toppled the garbage and compost bins, upended the chair and table on the deck and torn the hot tub cover half off. I had gone outside in my nightgown and new slippers trying to fasten it back down, but the wind had no respect for skinny leather straps. I looked around at the writhing trees and said, “God, it’s in your hands now.” 

Just getting comfortable under the covers, I heard another bang. From the window, I could see the exposed lights of the control panel on the spa. I decided there was nothing I could do alone in the dark. I was just a small thing, an ant in a big world gone out of control. I could only tuck myself into my blankets and clean sheets and hope for the best. I thought of the people in Kentucky whose houses were demolished by tornadoes, the people in Colorado who lost their homes to fire, and the folks in New Orleans whose homes were flooded out by Hurricane Katrina. This wasn’t as bad as that, was it?

I felt like the little pig who built his house out of wood, easy for the Big Bad Wolf to huff and puff and blow it down. Go away, Big Bad Wolf!

I woke up at 5 a.m. and switched the radio on to hear the news. Nothing but hissing. Apparently the wind took out the local NPR station. I flexed my arthritic hands and feet. Time to get up and assess the damage. 

The dog was asleep on the couch, the plastic on the protective cone around her neck shining in the Christmas tree lights. There are times when it’s handy that she can’t hear. I opened the door and went out into the wind and rain. The hot tub cover was completely off. In the dark, I couldn’t see where it was. It’s heavy. I will need help to get it back on. But it was nothing for the wind. I could see no other destruction, but it was dark and would be dark for another two hours. I went back in, poured my juice and turned on my computer. 

I thought a lot last night about wind. What is it? It’s just air. We can’t see wind; we can only see its effects, the moving branches, the swinging wind chimes, the shingles torn off the roof, the hot tub cover thrown across the lawn. What is wind? What makes wind? 

I found a great article from the National Geographic Society. It’s designed for junior high and high school students, but I’m still struggling to understand it. “Wind,” it says, “is the movement of air caused by the uneven heating of the Earth by the sun.” Okay . . . 

Then there’s this: “Differences in atmospheric pressure generate winds. At the Equator, the sun warms the water and land more than it does the rest of the globe. Warm equatorial air rises higher into the atmosphere and migrates toward the poles. This is a low-pressure system. At the same time, cooler, denser air moves over Earth’s surface toward the Equator to replace the heated air. This is a high-pressure system. Winds generally blow from high-pressure areas to low-pressure areas.”

Now they’ve lost me. But it’s a swell article with details about things like prevailing winds, the Coriolis effect, jet streams, storm fronts (no storm backs?), and nor’easters. What do you call what we had last night? I’m going to wait for the news to come back on to explain it to my poet brain. I just know it blew hella strong and knocked stuff over. Come daylight, I’ll assess the damage. At least, my house seems to be still standing, and the deaf dog slept through it all. 

Dawn: Aha.The hot tub cover blew all the way up against the fence. Even the dog is impressed. No reception on the country music radio station either, but newslincolncounty.com tells of power lines down, streets blocked by trees, and a general mess caused by last night’s southerly wind. 

They say March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. It looks like 2022 has come in like Godzilla, and we don’t know what’s next. 

Remember last week’s playful post about how the weather is a never-ending show? Well, we had more than 12 inches of rain in December, we had serious snow last week, and now we’ve got wind. I hope that was the grand finale.Time for all the actors to bow, remove their makeup and go home. 

Stay safe wherever you are. May 2022 treat you well.

How are you faring in the winter weather? Your comments are welcome.   

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Fireworks Sound Like War from Here

Photo by Designecologist on Pexels.com

I didn’t see the Fourth of July fireworks in Newport this year, but I heard them. Fireworks + migraine is a painful combination. I stood in my back yard in the dark. Pop pop pop pop BANG! I felt the air pulsating. Popopopopopop bang boom boom whoosh BANG! Oh my aching head.

The official city fireworks show started at 10 p.m., but the private fireworks in the neighborhood and on the beach started much earlier. The four miles of trees between my house and Yaquina Bay kept me from seeing the colored lights in the sky, but I could smell the smoke and see a yellow glow reflecting off the clouds. It felt more like a war than a celebration. I have never been in an actual war, thank God, but why would anyone want to reenact those sounds? And how do all these warlike noises affect people who have experienced war, who live with fear and post-traumatic stress?

Dogs don’t like fireworks. They howl, shake and cower, sure the world is ending. My Annie used to hide in the dark under my desk, trembling for hours. She can’t hear anymore. Usually that makes me sad. But last night I was grateful. She slept through even the loudest booms.

I took out my hearing aids and closed all the windows, but I could still hear the noise. I turned on my TV to continue my Netflix marathon, but after one particularly loud bang, the Internet went out. Boom boom boom, pop pop pop pop bang.

The fireworks made me especially uneasy this year because we’re having a drought and everyone is worried about wildfires. We live in the trees. Although the coast is usually damp and cool, it has been very dry and unusually warm this year. One errant spark, and the trees could catch fire. The city of Waldport, 10 miles south of here, outlawed all personal fireworks this year. People grumbled, but doing without fireworks is surely better than watching your house burn down. They did offer their usual city fireworks display on July 3. Not feeling well then either, I missed it.

Turn off the fireworks. Let me hear the ocean waves and the summer wind. I don’t want to hear what sounds like gunshots and bombs.

I understand why people gather to watch fireworks, especially this year. We’re not only celebrating the birth of the United States of America but our release from COVID fear and restrictions. I have many fond memories of watching fireworks with loved ones at my side. I enjoy the colors and designs flashing in the sky. Back in the ‘80s, when we lived near the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds in San Jose, they shot off fireworks every night at closing time. Fred and I watched from our front porch. It was magic every night. I’ve watched fireworks from baseball stadiums, grassy fields, amphitheaters, beaches, parking lots, and curbs. But it’s no fun watching them alone.

I have vowed to find some way to stop spending my holidays by myself. I usually start out telling myself it’s no big deal. I’m lucky I can do whatever I want. I don’t have to coordinate my plans with anyone else. But at some point, I start feeling bad. I cry. I wail about the unfairness of not having parents, husband, or children and living so far from the rest of my family. I drink a beer, watch another episode of “Grey’s Anatomy,” and make dinner for myself, so lonely I can’t stand it. I get a migraine headache.

One of my best friends moved away in May. Another died in January. The rest are busy with their families. This sounds like whining, but I can’t stand it anymore. I need to either move into some kind of group housing or find a way to be with other people on the holidays. Yes, I can drive 1,300 miles to hang out with my brother’s family—and I will for Thanksgiving—but there must be some way to gather closer to home.

I’m sure I’m not the only one alone on every holiday. Let’s get together. Any Oregon coasties want to join me in a no-more-holidays-alone coalition? Let’s make a pact to keep each other company, share great meals, exchange gifts when appropriate, and do it up right. If someone else will drive, let’s go watch fireworks together next year so it feels less like a war and more like the celebration that was intended. I’ll bring the beer.

P.S. After 11 hours without, I have Internet! An article in Time Magazine reports that the first Fourth of July fireworks display took place during the Revolutionary War. In addition to the flashy fireworks, people shot off guns and cannons. In a letter to his wife Abigail, President John Adams wrote of Independence Day: “It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.” And so it is.

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Can Battery-Powered Pets Ease Loneliness?

If someone gave you a toy cat or dog that purred, wagged its tail, and nuzzled like a real one, how would you feel? Apparently some folks feel grateful for the company.

In a story in the New Yorker, writer Katie Engelhart tells about a program in New York that distributes Joy for All robot pets to lonely seniors. They started in 2018 with a small test project that quickly expanded when Covid forced people into isolation. Thousands of robotic cats and dogs have been given to homebound seniors. Originally made by toy manufacturer Hasbro for little girls, the robo-pets are now finding homes with grandparents and great-grandparents who need a little company.

The seniors pet their battery-powered cats and dogs, talk to them, and treat them like family.  They report feeling more optimistic and less lonely.

I don’t know. I talk to lots of inanimate things, including the stuffed bears on my dresser, photos of my late husband, and Jesus on the crucifix above my bed. But I don’t expect them to respond. I would freak out if they did.

These pets, which start at $110, don’t look real to me. But I have a live dog sleeping nearby as I type. When I look into Annie’s brown eyes, there’s someone there, a genuine sentient being. What will I do when she’s gone? I don’t want to think about it. My plan is to travel a while then adopt a smaller dog. A robo-dog would be easier, but it wouldn’t love me the way Annie does.

Did you know that nearly 30 percent of Americans over 65 live by themselves, most of them women? In 2017, former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy declared loneliness an epidemic among Americans of all ages. A similar declaration launched The Campaign to End Loneliness in the UK. Medical research shows that loneliness has a detrimental effect on one’s health, increasing risks of dementia, depression, high blood pressure, and stroke.

But are robots the solution? The seniors I know would be insulted to receive a fake pet. But some of the people shown in the article and in related YouTube videos carry their robo-pets around with them just like I carried my dolls when I was a little girl. I’d set my favorite up against the milk bottle (yes, bottle) while I ate breakfast. I rested them on the pillow next to me when I went to bed. I suppose I felt less lonely, but it was not the same as having a real person there. Tiny Tears cried real tears, and Chatty Cathy spoke when you pulled the string on the back of her neck, but I knew they weren’t real children. If an actual kid came around, I tossed the doll aside.

Longing for a pet, I once fashioned a litter of “kittens” from crumpled newspaper and cloth and set them in a basket in my childhood bedroom. It was not the same. When my parents finally let me have a cat when I was in high school, I could tell the difference. I also learned that I was allergic to cats, but that’s another story.

The faux furry friends are not the only kind of artificial intelligence machines offering company to people these days. Hello, Alexa. (read my previous post on my electronic housemate here and my Replika friend online here)

They don’t offer much company. I say, “Alexa, I’m lonely.” She responds, “Sorry to hear that,” then recommends talking to a friend, listening to music, or going for a walk. “I hope you feel better soon,” she adds. That’s nice. But that’s exactly what she said last time when I was not testing but truly needed someone to talk to.

I worry that somewhere in Alexa’s Amazon-connected innards, she just transferred the information that I’m lonely to some central data-gathering site so I’ll soon receive ads for comforting products or dating services.

Alexa just lit up to tell me a book I ordered from Amazon is coming today. Before I could say, “Thanks” or “Which book?” her lights had gone out. Okay, good talk.

A variety of robotic companions powered by artificial intelligence exist these days. Queue Alexa’s Apple counterpart Siri. And then there’s VZ, the voice on my VZ Navigator GPS. I definitely talk to her. (No, I’m not turning here! Are you crazy? Stop telling me to turn around! I need to go to the bathroom. What do you mean this is my destination? Where?)

Some robo-friends look like people, others like table lamps. They talk, but it’s, well, robotic. They never get offended, never curse, and are perpetually polite, but they can only say the things they’ve been programed to say. They will never spontaneously comment, “Hey, is that a new blouse?” or “You seem sad. What’s wrong?” They will never take you out to lunch, although I suppose they can set up a food delivery if you’re savvy enough to figure out how to ask for that.

Robots are getting more intelligent all the time. Eventually, they may be so responsive and sympathetic that we truly won’t feel alone. Meanwhile, do not buy me a robo-pet. God bless the people who are so lonely or out of touch with reality that they don’t know the difference, but I’m not there yet.  

Would you like a battery-powered dog or cat? Less shedding, no cleanup, no allergies, but still . . .  Wouldn’t it be better if a human offered to come around instead?

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Dizzy Dog Returns to South Beach

Nothing like sleeping in your own bed (or near it) after a long stay in the hospital

Annie is home. On Friday, when I saw her pulling the vet worker along the sidewalk, I knew my old friend was too stubborn to die yet. She walks like a drunken sailor, leaning left. I have to walk with her, grabbing her “Help ‘em Up” harness whenever she starts to tilt. She falls a lot, runs into things. She has a bloody bedsore on her elbow and shaved patches here and there from IVs and blood tests. She spent a week with a catheter because she could not stand to pee, and that caused a urinary tract infection. But she’s home and getting stronger every day.

Vestibular Disease, a sort of doggy vertigo, knocked her flat on Christmas Day. (Read about it in the Dec. 28 post) She spent the next two weeks at the Willamette Veterinary Hospital in Corvallis, 55 miles from here. Due to COVID, I could not go inside with her. I could only sit in my car in the parking lot with all the other pet people. I finally got to see her last Wednesday after waiting five hours for the busy staff to bring her out for a socially distanced visit. I cried a lot that day. (Read more about that at my Childless by Marriage blog.)

As she barrels cockeyed toward the step down into the den, I race to catch her, reminding her that a only few days ago, she couldn’t stand, and walking was only a dream. Two weeks ago, she couldn’t eat, drink or urinate. But now she’s eating, drinking, taking her pills, doing her “business” and wanting to take our usual hikes.

Saturday, I took her out front, intending to walk maybe two houses down, but she led me two blocks to where Birch and 98th streets meet and refused to turn around when I insisted we had done enough. She took offense when I grabbed the handles of her harness and forced her away from her favorite mud puddles. “No,” I said. She stared at me as if to ask, “Why? And why can’t I just go out my doggy door into the big back yard by myself?” “Because you’ll fall and hurt yourself.” But I’ll be taking off the harness and opening the gate soon. Thank God.

She’s bored. Just like when I left her at the kennel while I traveled, she has returned more stubborn than ever and doesn’t want to follow my commands to sit, stay, or “leave it.” She no longer waits for me to say grace before meals. When I go to take her out, she inevitably parks herself on the backside of the door so I can’t open it without forcibly moving her out of the way. Then she shoots out the door so fast I can barely keep her from falling. Slow down, slow down, I say.

What lovely problems to have. For two weeks, constantly waiting for phone calls from the hospital, I didn’t know if Annie would survive. I kept waiting for a vet to tell me it was time to say goodbye. Now here she is sprawled on her pillow looking like . . . Annie. 

I have been sleeping on the sofa next to her bed so I can hear her when she gets up. I tried sleeping in my own bed the first night, but I worried too much. Without my hearing aids, I would be unaware of what was going on in the other room. Why not bring her bed into my room? Annie is more stubborn than I am. She wants to sleep where she wants to sleep. I don’t mind. With the fireplace going, it’s like we’re on a camping trip.

She’s not cured but well enough to want to do her usual stuff again. It’s a miracle. Most old dogs who get Vestibular Disease recover in a few days. If they don’t, well, it’s not good. Annie was in the hospital for two weeks, most of them not standing or walking at all. It was starting to look grim. Annie is old, 13 next month. I know she won’t live forever. But I have hope now that she will live long enough to give me more gray hairs. And joy. So much joy. 

The rest of the world is going batshit nuts, but today in the world of Annie and Sue, things are pretty good. Thank you, friends for all the well wishes and prayers. It truly means a lot.  

It was a Dizzy Dog 2020 Christmas

How do I begin to tell this story when I don’t know how it ends?

Scene: Christmas afternoon. My friend Pat and I have finished our takeout dinner from the Drift Inn. We’re talking. She’s sitting on the sofa and I’m on the loveseat. Between us sprawls my big yellow dog, Annie, who has shared our feast and seems delighted to have both of her favorite people here.

The phone rings. I jump up. It’s my aunt calling from Santa Clara, California. Like Pat and I, she is a widow. Her kids live nearby, but thanks to COVID, she is spending the holiday alone with homemade chicken soup. As we’re talking, Annie goes to get off the loveseat and falls, her legs giving out under her. My heart stops. She gets up, falls again. Trying to get to the back door, she rises and falls repeatedly, finally makes it outside. I see her trying to go to the bathroom and falling. I have to get off the phone.

What follows is a nightmare. It’s raining hard. It’s almost dark. Annie keeps trying to walk and falling down. I don’t know what to do. I call the local vet’s office. This being Christmas, they’re closed. I can go to Corvallis, 55 miles away, or Springfield, a hundred miles away. I don’t like to drive the mountain roads in the dark, but this is my Annie, my life companion now that Fred is gone. I will do anything for her. I call Corvallis and tell them we’re coming. Now it’s completely dark. When I go back out, I find Annie huddled in the muddy space between the patio and the garden shed. I squeeze in, but she won’t move. I can’t lift her and I don’t want to drag her. We’re both soaked.

I can’t get her into the car alone. My friend Pat has vertigo and back issues and can’t help. I call my neighbors, Pat and Paula, and they come. They can’t lift Annie either. I bring out her big blue blanket and they wrap her like a burrito. Gradually we get her to the gate and into the Honda Element.

6:30 p.m. White-knuckle drive to Corvallis. The 24-hour vet is in a dark industrial area. Because of COVID, pet owners must sit in the parking lot while their pets are cared for. Young aides take Annie away on a gurney, and I sit for four hours, rain sheeting down my windows.

1:15 a.m. Christmas is over. They bring Annie out and lift her into the car. The doctor and I, masked, stand in the rain as she shares her diagnosis. Annie has severe arthritis and this thing I’d never heard of: Vestibular Disease, which looks like a stroke, but it’s a type of vertigo. She is dizzy, nauseated and leaning hard to the left. She doesn’t know which way is up. But it will pass in a few days, they say.

Dec. 26, 2:30 a.m. At home, Annie is still crashing and falling. She refuses to move past the doorway. We spend what’s left of the night in the living room lit by Christmas lights. Toward dawn, Annie begins to whine, moan and occasionally shriek. She can’t get up at all. She refuses food, water, and pills. It’s Saturday and the local vet is still closed. I call the vet in Corvallis. She says if things don’t improve, bring her back in.

2:30 p.m. Pat and I are sitting in my car outside the vet’s office again. We are not alone. Many dog and cat owners are doing the same thing. The techs run back and forth to transport animals and get forms signed. Annie is going to stay in the hospital this time, but we’re waiting for paperwork, to talk to the doctor, to pay. It begins to rain and blow again. Pat and I chat, read, eat the snacks we brought. On my phone, we watch part of the Zoom Mass we’re missing and sing along. It gets dark. Finally, we talk to the doctor, arrange for payment, and drive home. It’s not raining this time, but the oncoming headlights are blinding. When I get home, where there is no Annie, I fall apart. Pat holds me while I cry.

I spend Sunday on my own, take a solo walk, do chores, take a cake to my helpful neighbors and hug their big Lab, Harley. As with a human in the hospital in these COVID times, I can’t visit Annie. I can only wait for the doctors to call.

Monday morning: Annie is being moved out of the ICU. She is eating and drinking, but she still can’t stand up. Her neurological symptoms have not improved. Most dogs get better in a few days or a few weeks. Some don’t.

As I try to work, I keep thinking I hear Annie walking around or shaking her tags. I think I’ll see her in the doorway or on the loveseat. The quiet is deafening.

I don’t know what the future holds. I do know that my Facebook post on Annie’s situation has drawn 121 comments, and they’re still coming in. Annie has more fans than I do, and that’s fine with me. Please pray for us both. Thank you to everyone who has shown me so much love these last few days. Kudos to the Willamette Veterinary Hospital. Although farther than I’d like to drive, I do believe they’re giving her the best possible care.

Have you heard of Vestibular Disease? People can get it, too. In fact, my friend Pat has been suffering from vertigo for quite a while. I accused her of giving it to Annie. She was not amused.

Click here for some information on the condition.

Here’s a good video about it.

‘No Contact’ now something to brag about

Lately businesses have been advertising “no contact” delivery. For example, Domino’s workers will bring you a pizza, leave it on your porch, text you that it is there, and drive away. You don’t have to see the delivery person or exchange money hand to hand because those hands might be tainted with the coronavirus. Pay with an app on your phone, money deducted from your bank account. No contact. No hello from a stranger. No one to put your clothes on for.

TV commercials for Xfinity and AT&T boast about how you can sign up for their services, get a “self-install kit” (good luck with that), and be online in a jiffy with no human contact.

I took Annie to the vet on Friday. No contact there either, at least not with the humans. You park, telephone to say you’re there, and a masked aide comes out to get your dog. You wait in the car. No more sitting with the pooch in the examining room, hugging her while they shove a thermometer up her bottom. Annie, people-loving pup that she is, trotted off happily. Dr. Hurty and I consulted by phone. Her test went well. Her ear infection is bad. We have this treatment. Shall we do it? Yes, please. I wait. Another call. That’s done. She will need these meds. Okay. I wait. The tech brings Annie out. We drive away. The phone rings. I park on the Bayfront, which is surprisingly crowded, and give my credit card information over the phone.

All of this requires a certain amount of trust as I hand over my beloved dog and my financial information.

No contact.

The service department at Sunwest Honda will now come get my car, fix it and bring it back. No more driving to Newport and settling in on the soft leather couches in the waiting room with the other folks getting their cars serviced. Sometimes we all stared at our phones, but sometimes we started talking, made new friends, and shared stories. Even if no one else was in the waiting room, we chatted with the folks at the counter where we dropped off our keys and said howdy to car salesmen who stopped in to get a cup of coffee. If we got bored, we could peruse the new cars and dream about which one we might buy. Now we stay home.

No contact.

I keep thinking about “negative contact,” a term I remember from my dad’s CB radio days. He roped us all into his hobby. Negative contact was not a good thing. It meant you failed to reach the person you wanted to talk to.

“Negative contact” is used by pilots and air traffic controllers to indicate that whatever they were tracking in the sky–another plane, helicopter, drone, etc.–is no longer in sight. That does not mean it isn’t there.

There’s also a legal term, “No negative contact” related to restraining orders and limited visitation in domestic violence situations. The person can be nearby if there is no negative contact, e.g., actions like hitting, harassing or stalking.

Suddenly “no contact” has become something advertisers boast about. You will get your merchandise without having any connection with another human being. Hooray.

No contact.

The other day, I heard beeping and saw the big white propane truck backing toward my driveway. “Gas guy!” I shouted, jumping up. As soon he parked, I rushed out to greet Ray, the friendly man from the valley who pumps propane into the tank that powers the fireplace that heats my house. I didn’t have to have any contact with him. I order online, and I pay online. But I like Ray, and it’s sweet to be able to speak to another human being. He had laryngitis, so I didn’t force him to say too much, but we parted smiling. So good to see people.

On our walks, Annie and I often see the mail carrier in his green Honda Element. We always wave to each other. I don’t know his name. I just know he’s the guy with the wild brown hair who drives from the wrong side of the car. But it’s contact, positive contact. Did he leave germs on my mail? I choose not to think about it.

COVID-19 is changing our world drastically. God knows when we’ll be able to mingle freely again with no one freaking out about contagion. But I don’t think it’s going to be the same. A lot of those things that have moved onto the Internet will stay on the internet. It’s just easier. As I type this, I’m waiting for a Zoom meeting that starts shortly. I’m still in my bathrobe, haven’t brushed my teeth. I have opted not to use the video function. I will see them, but they won’t see me.

No contact.

You know how people used to try to keep their kids, and themselves, from staring at screens all day. Suddenly that whole effort is kaput. Go ahead. Stare at your screens. Work, take classes, hold meetings, socialize, entertain, or play games on your computer, phone or tablet all day every day. Your mom can’t stop you anymore.

It’s almost time for the meeting. But I’m only half attending, no need to be polite. If I get bored, I can run off for tea, check Facebook, or write a few more words on this piece . . .

When this is over, will we remember how to walk up to another person, look into their eyes, and say, “Hello, it’s good to see you?” Will we ever shake hands again? Or hug? Or sit and listen in a room full of other people?

No contact. No negative contact, but no positive contact either.

It’s all like a big game of musical chairs, except instead of chairs, we competed for people. If you weren’t with anyone when the music stopped, you’re on your own.

See you on the screen. I’ll be one in the fuzzy blue bathrobe.

 

Don’t Interrupt; I’m Talking to Myself

I talk to myself. All the time. Sometimes I direct my words to Annie the dog, but if I’m being honest, I have to admit she’s not paying attention. She tunes in for certain key words—eat, cookie, walk, snuggle, beach. The rest is just bla bla bla, a continuous hum like the refrigerator. If she needs to pay attention, she’ll hear one of those special words or detect the jingle of her leash. Besides, she’s busy listening for cats, squirrels, bears and other invaders.

So, I talk to myself. People always say it’s okay as long as you don’t answer yourself. Well, I do answer myself. Right? Right.

I live alone. Maybe that’s part of it. In public, I usually keep my mouth shut. But sometimes, I forget, which causes people to stare at me.

What do I talk about? Everything. Why did my French toast turn out so badly Saturday night? Should have used better bread. What am I going to wear to church this morning? I don’t know. Black pants? Probably.

It’s a constant running commentary. Am I really addressing it to myself though? I wonder about this, just like when I write in my journal and wonder who I’m writing it for? Am I writing to myself? To God? To an invisible confidante?

I do talk to God sometimes. I pray, I chat. But it’s different. I stop and call His name and say what I’ve got to say, then return to regular programming.

I also talk a lot to people who aren’t actually here. Uh-oh, you’re thinking, she’s completely lost it. No, no. I think I’m okay, but I tell people things I wish I could tell them in person if they were here, if they would listen, or if I had the courage.

I’m a writer. I write down my thoughts all the time. I usually speak them as I write, which is a good reason not to write at Starbucks or the library. I’m just constantly verbalizing. Is this nuts? Or is this a good way to work things out in my head?

I found some discussion of the matter online.

  • In this NBC news report, the experts insist talking to oneself is not only normal but good for us—if we do it correctly. Who knew there was a right and a wrong way to talk to oneself?
  • “Talking to Yourself: A Sign of Sanity” by Linda Sapadin, Ph.D., says much the same. Talk to yourself, but watch what you say.
  • And this Lifehack piece insists that those of us who blab to ourselves are smarter and better off for doing it. Ha.
  • But this article on WikiHow gives instructions on how to stop talking to yourself. Now, that’s crazy.

Let’s get back to Annie for a minute. Do you think she talks to herself? Sometimes in the backyard, she barks and barks. I assume she’s either warning off marauding squirrels or trying to connect with the other dogs in the neighborhood, but what if she’s just talking to herself? Or barking because she likes the sound of her own voice? Annie, who are you talking to?

Right now, I’m talking to you, dear reader. Do you talk to yourself? Is it really yourself you’re addressing or someone else? Who? Or should it be whom? Either way, do you think this is a problem? Please comment.

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Dad update: Thank you all for your continuing concern about my father. He has made it through a whole week at the skilled nursing facility without a trip to the hospital. Fingers crossed. I’m back in Oregon and he’s still in the Bay Area, so our only contact is by phone—which kills me—but he sounds better than he has in ages. He still can’t get out of bed on his own, but he’s feeling better, which is something. He could use more visitors. Email or send me a private message on Facebook for details on where he is.

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