Saturday, February 4, 2012

It's Not You, It's Me: My Kitty Julie Goes Solo

We've had our kitty Julie for almost nine years now.  (We also have many friends named Julie, which makes for some awkward conversational moments:  "Julie was crawling onto my lap yesterday, and….the cat!  Not your wife!")  

Julie on her perch, looking disgruntled

Years ago, we acquired Julie fairly randomly.  My parents have a farm, and in the barn, they have cats.  A litter of kittens had appeared, and one of the kittens was a beautiful long-haired grey cat with smokey silver tips on its fur.  We decided to abscond with this lovely beast while visiting one day, as long as the kitten was a girl.  We were fixed on having an all girl household, so we wouldn't have to deal with marking behaviors.

We checked the silver grey kitty, and it was a he.  And his next best-looking sibling was also a he.  Finally, we checked our last option, a little black kitty with white patches and a little black Hitler mustache.  Female.  Well, okay, we thought.  We loaded her into the truck and started home.  She snuggled with me for the long drive.  Sequestered in the bathroom at home, she immediately played with anyone who came in to use the facilities and purred her little heart out.  

Stretchy Kitty
Each time we moved, Julie's first hiding place was always in the bathroom, behind the toilet.  I think her earliest experience caused her to imprint on the bathroom as the safest room of the house!

Camille and Fidget were already established in our household.  Camille was a rescue from a bad household, Fidget was a rescue from a breeder who kept her in a cage.  Fidget was supposed to be a companion to Camille, but was very stand-offish, and ended up ruling the household from wherever she perched.  

Once released into the wilds of our apartment, Julie immediately endeared herself to Camille by playing with her all the time.  Julie's playful spirit brought out the inner kitten in Camille, who had never been able to be a kitten in her previous life of scrounging food and trying to survive.  These two, though mismatched in size, were constant companions.  Over the years, they have slowed down, but they can still be seen occasionally jumping around each other and swatting a bit.

Julie, in a rare moment of solidarity with Fidget
Julie's superpower is hiding.  She's mostly black, so she blends in to any dark corner, and she's really tiny for a full-grown cat, so she can fit in places that most kitties can't.  In one of our apartments, she managed to burrow under a huge sideboard with a decorative edging around the bottom of the wood.  Seeing her under there scared me senseless!  We found some pieces of scrap wood and placed them all around the sideboard so that she couldn't do that again.

But no matter what, she found a good hiding place.  I would wander around the house calling her name, and eventually I'd turn a corner yet again, and see her sitting there, blinking, right where I had already looked four times.  She seemed to have the disappearing trick down pat.  
Were you looking for me?  I was right here the whole time.
A few years back, we rescued two more kitties, Toby and Heather.  These are large cats, and when they came on the scene, our three established kitties were not thrilled at all.  Over the years, Camille and Fidget grew tolerant of them, and Julie learned to hang back and wait to see what would happen.  Toby always wants to play with everyone, so without meaning to, he's really upset Julie more than once, just by trying to play.  

This is Toby, when he was younger and smaller.  I put the yardstick in the pic for SCALE.
In the last few weeks, the change inherent in 2012 has manifested in our cats.  The play scuffles have gotten worse, and Julie has gotten more fearful than ever before.  Heather has decided to police the litter boxes and keep Julie (only Julie for some reason!) from using the litter boxes.  Julie has been peeing on dirty laundry in the utility room, bath mats in the kitchen, and on our area rugs.  We have never had a litter box problem like this before, and it was really clear that Julie was not having a good time.

On the advice of a really brilliant friend of mine, we decided that Julie needed her own room, at least for a while.  James' room is usually closed off anyway, so we cleaned up the stacks of magazines and books, and made a little room for Julie.  We put her food and water bowls on the floor, laid her favorite blanket on a bench, set up a litter box with towels all around it, and lay a little towel on the windowsill so she could lay there and watch the birds and squirrels outside.  She's got a nightlight and a closet to hide in, and there's a chair with a blanket so I can sit with her every day.  

I was getting very upset while we were setting up this room.  I was angry and crying and very sad.  But when I thought about it, I was sad for me.  I felt like a bad mom.  I felt that if we had to do something so drastic as to separate Julie from the rest of the kitties, I must be doing something wrong.  I also felt horrible for Julie, to be all alone in the room, separated from everybody else, and away from everything that was going on.

But this wasn't about me.  It was about Julie.  

Julie has been very happy since she got her own room, only 24 hours ago.  She has used the litter box correctly more than once already, she smells the kitties who are trying to swat under her doorway and swats back at them (!), she eats her food and bounces around the room, and she lays on the towel in the windowsill and is very very cute.  She even found a few extra hiding places under the desk (so sneaky).  

Julie being silly
In short, she's more herself than before.  I didn't realize how scared and constrained she must have been feeling, to be so quiet and hidden and sad.  She was okay, she just didn't feel safe enough to be all of herself, all the time.  Now that she has her room, she can revisit her old self, and be happy going forward.

We all feel that way sometimes.  But this is a reminder that we don't have to.  We just have to find our own room, recharge, and face the world as our true selves once again.  

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Grieving for Fidget, the Yowlingest Kitty

When I was three or four, we lived on a farm.  Many cats lived in the barn.  I would chase them, and when I caught one, I would grab it around its middle and pick it up from behind, the kitty butt pointing right at my face.  Then I would walk around holding the kitty until it got away.  My mom likes to tell this story, and now that I have five cats, it's apt.  

Growing up, all of our cats were barn cats, and as such, they were treated well, but they weren't pets.  Our horses, cows, dogs, and ponies were all of use in some way, and since they served a purpose, they were treated well, but they weren't considered to have agency.  They weren't people.  They had personalities, but they were supposed to do as they were told, and if they didn't, they were punished.  I never liked the punishing part, but for years I never questioned it.  It's what you did.  That's how you treat animals.

When we rescued our first cat, Camille, some of my barn cat treatment behaviors came to the surface, and my husband asked me some questions and got me thinking about how I was treating her.  I began to think about what she wanted.  Camille would put up with some shenanigans, but mostly bide her time until she could make a break for it, or just hold it against me without telling me why.  She regarded my changing behavior with suspicion.

Camille, being princessy
We named our second cat Fidget, because she used to sit in the middle of the floor, get up, turn around, sit back down, then repeat the procedure.  I was on the phone with my husband when I came up with that name, and I asked him, "But what if that's not the right name for her?  What if she stops doing that?"  "Well, then she'll be a lazy layabout cat, and her name will be ironic."  Perfect.  (Years later, we realized that her behavior is typical of any animal that's been caged for long periods of time, so we were glad to have rescued her.)

Fidget was a lot more direct than Camille.   If you did something she didn't like, Fidget would start yowling almost immediately.  She never bit or scratched us, ever, just let out this plaintive "meow" that told you what you needed to know.  Living with Fidget was like having instant feedback on everything I was doing, like a biofeedback machine or shock treatment.  If she didn't like it, you heard about it.  She taught me to really watch where my head was, to stay aware and make sure the kitty was enjoying what was happening before I continued with my behavior.  I started considering her more carefully, more thoroughly, as an entity.  As someone to consider, not just a mouth to feed and an animal to serve my needs.  

Fidget, snuggled into James' jacket
Fidget also took care of us.  Somewhere along the line, she appointed herself Guardian of the Household.  Anyone who came into the house was inspected and regarded with suspicion until she decided all was well.  A friend knocked on our window once, and reported that Fidget ran up to the window and smacked her front paws against the glass until they backed off.  If one of the other cats was gone, she paced the house, restless, until they returned.  During any of our moves, she would pace around the inside of the car for an hour, yowling, until she got tired and sat still.  She made her preferences known, and if you didn't follow them, you heard about it.

Fidget was with us for nine years.  She died unexpectedly last April, and when I found her, I fell completely apart.  I kept telling her that if she would just get up, everything would be fine.  And I cried for hours.  James came home and we went to pieces together.  We buried her on a hill, in the sun, where she would have liked to be, basking.  

When I was five or six, my dad bought two goats, one dark brown and one a light beige color.  I milked those goats every morning and every night.  I don't think they had names, but I loved those goats.  My dad was really proud of me.  He wanted animals, and my mom didn't.  After a few years, my dad decided to have the goats bred, probably so that I'd have the experience of raising kids to grow into goats.  My brown goat had three kids, and the beige one had two (if I remember correctly).  We had just moved to a new house in the country, and my dad had to go on a business trip not long after the goats gave birth.

Me with my dark brown goats

I came home from school one day and one of the kids had died.  I don't remember a lot about what happened next, but I know that one by one, all of the goats and their kids died.  All of them.  (I found out much later that they needed a vaccination that they didn't get.)  My dad was out of town, and I remember we put the bodies in the garbage cans.  I'm sure I was sad, but I don't remember.  My mom didn't want animals.  She was irritated if one of the animals got out of their fence, let alone got sick.  She always said, "Your dad wants those animals, so you're going to have to deal with them."  It was our job to feed them and take care of them, and I knew when the goats died that I had to make sure I was as small as possible, that I couldn't have any feelings about it.  She didn't want them in the first place, so this inconvenience was just going to make her angry.  I had to take care of them, had to take care of the whole situation.  

I'm 30 years older than I was when my goats died.  But Fidget's death let me really feel that grief for the first time.  I know I loved those goats dearly.  But I didn't have time or space to mourn for them.  I was old enough to know instinctively what was and wasn't okay, and I wanted desperately to be loved.  So I didn't feel anything; I just put their bodies in the garbage and walked away.  Nobody talked about them anymore until years later.  They might never have existed in the first place.

Fidget was such a huge part of our household, living in six different places with us, keeping us honest with her yowling commentary, and keeping our other cats in line when that was necessary.  I realized after James and I stood by her headstone and cried for the 20th time or so, that I was truly mourning for the first time in my life.  No one needed me to take care of them.  I wasn't going to be punished for crying.  My husband's love would not disappear if I cried longer than he did.  I could delay getting back to my regularly scheduled work day until I felt better.  I could take all the time and space that I needed, and no one was going to criticize me or tell me I was too sensitive if I cried some more.  I could have everything I needed.  I could have as much as I wanted.

I know that Fidget had a great time living with us.  She loved sitting on James' lap, stretching out and eventually drooling on his leg as she purred away.  She loved getting brushed, and I often scritched her between the eyebrows and under her chin.  Sometimes she would "punk out", jumping around the kitchen like she was possessed, and then immediately start grooming herself, with that "I wasn't doing anything" expression on her face.  She loved chasing reflective surfaces, which I discovered when making a mix tape - the light reflected off the cds onto the ceiling as I moved them around, and she just about climbed up the wall to get at the lights.  

I didn't write this to tell a sad story.  I wrote this to talk about what I learned.  Fidget taught me so much when she was around, and couldn't stop teaching when she was gone.  I learned that grieving takes time and space.  You have to let yourself feel just as bad as you really feel, and express that in whatever way feels best for you.  In my childhood, I learned to just get on with it, to push it down and walk away, quickly coping with whatever's next on the agenda.  That won't work forever.  You have to let yourself be sad to truly feel better.

Fidget in her spot on the kitchen table, in the middle of everything
These days, we still miss Fidget.  But we can tell stories now without breaking down.  We remember her fondly, and with no regrets.  I miss her, but that's okay.  She will always be a presence for us, keeping me honest and the other cats in line.    

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Total Geek Fail: Wondertwin Takes Shape of Deer in Headlights

Last night I attended w00tstock in Seattle, a basic geek paradise, at the Moore Theater, which was filled to the brim with geeks on and off stage. Paul and Storm, Adam Savage, and Wil Wheaton put the show together as a multimedia orgasm of all things geek, with other awesome people Molly Lewis (songwriting genius discovery love!), Jason Finn, Loading Ready Run, and MC Frontalot performing. But Wil, he’s the reason I was there.

I’ve been following Wil’s blog for years now, and I enjoy his writing. I own three of his books, and hope to support more creations of His Geekliness for decades to come. My husband James and I were recently watching Criminal Minds on dvd, and we skipped ahead three seasons to watch Wil’s episode. (For me, skipping ahead in a book, movie, or series is blasphemy. If the author wanted you to experience the story in a different order, he would have pulled a Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. and jumbled it up himself, dammit!) So I consider myself a fan of Wil Wheaton, which is why I attended w00tstock.

Now, about my geek cred. Let’s just say it plainly: I have none.

• I do not own a hand-held personal utility device. James carries our pre-paid cell phone, which has no apps and just two games.

• We still have a land line in our home, connected to an old school base and handset telephone (though it’s not rotary dial – that’s where we rebels draw the line). It’s beige. Srsly.

• I have not played what any self-respected gamer would call a video game for more than 10 minutes in a row. (This is mostly due to inner ear and vertigo issues; just watching a movie in a theater gives me a headache for the day.) I was addicted to our Atari in 1984, but we only had Combat and Asteroids, and I got tired of trying to get past the Crocodiles in Pitfall.

• Until a few months ago, I was using a pc that was scavenged from a dumpster in 2002, could only run Windows 98, and had no real video viewing capabilities.

So I’m not a geek in the full techie sense of the word. However, I have crossover with most geek culture. I have worshiped The Twilight Zone and any other mind-bending television since I was 10. I am a member of the Cult of Whedon. I was teased a lot in high school, though I wasn’t in marching band. I love teaming up with people and solving puzzles, at work and at home. I adore and have been the underdog, and 90% of my friends are complete utter card-carrying geeks who inspire me with their ability to embrace their geekness.

But I was taught to hide the things I love. I mumble, I stutter, I make fun of myself to keep people from knowing what I really feel. I poke fun at my husband so no one will know how truly wonderful and talented he is. (If they knew, they’d just steal him away from me.) I obfuscate, and I don’t use words like obfuscate, even when they’re exactly what I mean, because then people would make fun of me for being smart, right? I have big love for many many things, but shhhhh. Don’t tell.

So all this leads to my moment at the signing table with Wil Wheaton. Now, first I must apologize to the wonderful performers Paul & Storm, and Mr. Adam Savage. Paul & Storm performed some great songs, and I predict that I’ll memorize most of their ouvre within the next year. Mr. Savage was hilariously funny, and I know James is going to make me watch many eps of Mythbusters in the near future. But I was there to see Mr. Wheaton. The Man. The Geek Without Which Many Things Would Not Have Been Possible. And there he was. At the table. In front of me.

Of course I had planned things to say, and of course I went utterly blank. I asked if he minded signing his books – uh, duh? – and I stood there. I tried to mention the blog post I had sent him about playing basketball a year or so ago and he looked at me blankly. I turned to James for rescue and said of course he’s not going to remember that, it was a year ago, what was I thinking. Wil continued to sign in an awkward silence, and as he opened the Happiest Days of our Lives, he said, Hey, this is one of the original copies of this book, isn’t it? and looked up at me expectantly. My inner voice said of COURSE this is an original printing, I am a HUGE FAN and couldn’t WAIT to get your book. As I looked at him utterly blankly, my outer, actual voice said nothing, nothing at all. When he handed me back my books, my paralysis broke, and I handed him two Squirrels cds I thought he might like. I told him they were an awesome Seattle band who did a cover of Pink Floyd’s the Dark Side of the Moon, and I thought he would like them. His real smile took over his face and he seemed genuinely interested, and then we left.

What would I have done differently? Of course my monkey brain wants to play this over and over and point out all the things that I should have done or said, but I don’t know that anything different was possible. Even at my best, I am more likely to fade to the back of the room than geek out authentically. I knew the performers were tired after their show – I’ve been that tired before. The signing experience is such an awkward, stilted imitation of real life. You have 30 seconds to tell someone everything they’ve meant to you, the pressure is enormous, and if you get it wrong, it’s huge fail, not little teeny fail.

And yet what does this interaction really mean to me? Right now I’m sitting in my home, surrounded by five cats, with James working outside on his 400 projects, including a rammed earth greenhouse wall. We’re building a new life here on our 2.7 acres in the middle of nowhere, I love my job 80% of the time, and I spin yarn, knit, read, work in the garden and play with my kitties. I’m learning how to take care of myself after years of survival only and bad medical and nutritional choices. What difference does it make in my life that I failed or succeeded in connecting with one of my favorite bloggers who lives two states away and has no impact on my daily life?

But I guess that’s what I’m trying to say: He does have an impact on my daily life. Wil Wheaton tells the truth about himself, his career, and his life on his blog every time he posts. He tries as best he can to find the perfect words to express his feelings and opinions on everything from gaming to fatherhood (and where those happily coincide), and that has made my life a better place. I read his books because they are honest and true, and through him, I’ve learned what it looks like when you embrace the things you love in public, when you openly declare, These are the things and the people I adore. What remains unstated is perhaps the most important part: Nothing you can say or do is going to stop my adoration and involvement with every aspect of these things that I love.

One of my favorite indie soapmakers has this saying on their products: “Surround yourself with the things you love and your life will be filled with beauty.” I’ve gotten the surrounding myself part down. But admitting I love those things out loud? The sign reads “Under Construction.”

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Reading Challenge! 25 books before Labor Day!

A friend of mine is having a reading challenge on her blog:

I have answered the call.

This is the list of Books I Know I Will Love and Have Been Putting Off Reading:

1. The Great Fire - Shirley Hazzard (Assigned for a seminar, but I ran out of time.)
2. About A Boy – Nick Hornby (Loved Fever Pitch even though I don’t really like soccer, adore High Fidelity, and How to be Good was pretty okay. I know I’ll enjoy this one.)
3. The Learners - Chip Kidd (The Cheese Monkeys is close to my heart.)
4. The Story of My Life: The Restored Classic – Helen Keller (I’ve been fascinated with her life since second grade. I memorized the kids’ book version of her biography.)
5. A Very Great Profession: The Woman's Novel 1914-39 – Nicola Beauman (The author started the beautiful Persephone book publishing company, and chose books to publish based on her research here.)
6. The Shuttle – Frances Hodges Burnett (A Persephone book about marriages spanning the Atlantic.)
7. Somehow Form a Family: Stories That Are Mostly True – Tony Earley (I’ve read one essay already, and enjoyed.)
8. When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America - Paula Giddings (I’ve been meaning to read this since I took Race, Racism and the Feminist Movement at Fairhaven.)
9. Heartburn – Nora Ephron (I can’t remember if it was Lynne Sharon Schwartz, Sara Nelson, Meghan Daum or even Sarah Vowell who wrote about having lent this book to an acquaintance, never received it back, and then hunted them down to get it back. I’ll read it on that basis alone.)
10. Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man - Susan Faludi (Adored Backlash.)
11. High Wages – Dorothy Whipple (Another Persephone book about a girl who opens her own dressmaking shop.)
12. Housekeeping – Marilynne Robinson (I started this book, didn’t want it to end, didn’t finish.)
13. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen (Ibid.)
14. Under the Dome – Stephen King (Just haven’t gotten there yet.)
15. Lucky – Alice Sebold (My sister loved this. That doesn’t always translate, but I think it will in this case.)
16. The Diving Bell and The Butterfly – Jean-Dominique Bauby (Always assigned, never read. Time.)
17. Consider The Lobster and Other Essays – David Foster Wallace (I am loathe to read his last writings. But they’re so fun I can’t resist.)
18. Zelda: A Biography – Nancy Milford (I adored Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay.)
19. 501 Minutes to Christ: Personal Essays – Poe Ballantine (His essays are amazing.)
20. Decline of the Lawrence Welk Empire – Poe Ballantine (I didn’t love his first novel as much as his essays, but I will try again for him.)
21. The White Album – Joan Didion (I read the title essay and was amazed. I had not enjoyed much of her other work. I’ll give this its own chance.)
22. The Women’s Room – Marilyn French (Been meaning to read this classic.)
23. Coraline – Neil Gaiman (Well, just duh.)
24. American Gods – Neil Gaiman (Ibid.)
25. The Madwoman in the Attic. The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination - Sandra Gilbert & Susan Gubar (Wanted to read this ever since I saw the title in a Fairhaven class bibliography.)
26. Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers - Daniel Ellsberg (I am fascinated with the whole Watergate truth to power thing. I have All The President’s Men (movie) memorized. I heard him speak on NPR.)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

When I was in college, living in Bellingham, I drifted a lot: boyfriends, jobs, cars, friends. I spent most of my twenties searching for home without realizing it. One of my few constants was The Squirrels.

At first, my love for them was just a byproduct of my love for the Young Fresh Fellows. I had been listening to the Fellows since I copied a cassette tape from a friend in 10th grade, memorized it, and idolized them. (I even did a lip-synch to "Searchin' USA" for drama class my senior year.) Some of the Fellows had a little side project with this guy Rob Morgan, and Rob eventually got his own backing band and became The Squirrels.

Living in Bellingham in the 90s was a lifestyle choice. Seattle was the logical stepping stone after you enjoyed college and finished up your play life in the small town. Bellingham wasn't really small, but it wasn't a big city either. It was the minor leagues to Seattle's big time status, especially after the grunge scene exploded and everybody wanted to move to the musical magical rainyland. Choosing The Ham meant you weren't into "all that" - money, success, prestige. Staying here meant you would always be small-time, and choosing to stay here meant you thumbed your nose at what Seattle represented. You were too cool to act cool, too real to sell out. I didn't want to pay the price of living in a big city: noise, traffic, crowds. And I definitely didn't care about success or money; I was far above all that. Going to Fairhaven College, an alternative slightly-hippie school, only cemented my ideas about life: money = evil, success is of the devil, and all that matters is this moment and being honest about who you are. Moving to Seattle was antithetical to everything I believed. So I stayed in Bellingham, and worshiped my favorite band from afar.

I first saw the Squirrels play at a UW show where they opened for the YFF. The sound at the show was far too loud for me (the bass was up too high), but I loved the theatrical display happening onstage. They had a drummer, guitarist, bass player, keyboard player, lead singer, each in some kind of costume, and a girl in a tight dress playing (seriously) the Slinky, all behind a bubble machine going full blast on the edge of the stage. One of their songs was a riff on the church song, "One in the Spirit." "We are one in the spirit, we are one in the lord," they sang, over and over, ending in, "and we're all coming over to your house for dinner!" I laughed and laughed. They mishmashed songs together in my favorite cover song tradition, playing pop songs until they broke and bending them into new compositions entirely. I loved what they did, and even though I got a migraine that night from the pounding bass, I knew I had found kindred spirits in love of music and mockery.

For the next 10 years, I went to every Squirrels show I could. I collected their gig posters, I bought their records, I worshiped from afar. I learned every word to every song, and at each gig I couldn't help but sing along. (Their music was usually loud enough that you could hide your voice.) They weren't hugely popular, but the people who loved them adored them. I saw a lot of the same people at every show: leather metal jacket with red hair, he and his buddy would always end up doing that square dance move where you lock your arms and jig in a circle. Sometimes the YFF showed up at the shows, and I knew some faces but never felt cool enough to talk to them.

On weekends, I went to see the Squirrels, and I spent a lot of hours driving the miles from Bellingham to Seattle, in my Ford Escort, my Toyota Celica, my VW Rabbit, my Toyota Tercel, even my mom's minivan once when I got a flat tire just miles from their house. I took Tony, Eric, Peter, Scott, Darrell, Jef, Jay to the shows. I crashed in Seattle with Erica, Sarah, Joy, and sometimes instead of driving all the way home, I stopped in Stanwood and slept on the couch at my folks' place, waking up blearily a few hours later to drive the last 45 miles home, stinking of sweat and secondhand smoke the whole way. When my younger sister visited me for Halloween, the Squirrels played an all-ages show on campus, just up the hill from my place. I took her to her first show, where she got hit on by college students at age 14. They played in Bellingham other times, too, and I got one of my favorite souvenirs (a Cabbage Patch Doll signed by all the members of the band) from a show they played at the 3B. My first real grown-up apartment had a full wall dedicated to my Squirrels memorabilia, and whenever they opened for another band, I broke the Rule of Cool and stood right in front of the stage and absorbed the music, even with no one else standing anywhere near me. They opened for Mojo Nixon at Speedy O'Tubbs once, and I got my friends to play duck duck goose on the empty dance floor as the band played.

Over time, the band started to expect me at their shows. One of their fans started up an email mailing list for fans of the band, and most of the band was included, too. I kept track of them and their shows through my email accounts: through my WWU student account, then hotmail, then gmail. If I didn't have a job or a car, then I missed shows unless I could convince someone else they had to see this band. Most of my friends didn't have the devotion to the Squirrels that I did, and would roll their eyes when I'd rave. Occasionally I'd pay for gas, food, and the show just to get a ride. When I missed a show, I'd read the email accounts of the shows enviously, and reply with my regrets. But most of the time I'd find a way to be there, regardless of sleep missed, secondary cigarette smoke inhaled, miles driven, couches slept on. Until about eight years ago, when I got married.

Though I'm sure he'd be happy to take the blame, I can't say that my husband made me start missing Squirrels shows. Maybe part of it was moving five times in five years. Maybe it was a casualty of going back to school for my MFA degree and spending two weeks in Los Angeles every six months, missing the Annual XXXmas show for three years in a row (heresy in my previous life). But I can definitely say turning 30 caused a severe drop in my energy level, and spending hours driving to a show and losing the next day to recovery was not as appealing as it used to be. I started really loving my sleep time, and I started choosing activities much differently than before. Living in Portland, then Shelton, etc., meant it was a longer trip, and to be honest, we were extremely broke and barely buying food, let alone paying for gas and tickets to shows. Most of the time, we couldn't make it happen, and my practical side knew it, but that other touchy-feely side wanted to go on a murderous rampage. I mean, what kind of a world wouldn't let me go see the Squirrels play? Not. Fair.

In a Norman Rockwell world, this essay would have a cross-stitch sampler on the wall: Growing Up Means Accepting That You Can't Always See The Squirrels Play. Okay, so that's true. But I never thought it would also include the end of The Squirrels. Now after 25 years of entertaining fans and newbies alike, they're giving up the ghost, they're done. Tonight's XXXmas show will be their last. They've threatened this before, and the band has gone through so many lineup changes that their reunion shows can feature more band members in the audience than fans. They've had their ups and downs, but I always thought they'd keep playing. They were one thing that stayed the same for me, for the last 20 years. No matter where they were playing, I'd find the place, walk in the door, and wait, sometimes by myself for hours, just waiting. Then they'd set up, and for those two or three hours they'd play onstage, they were my sanctuary, my home.

My husband and I bought a house last June, and in one of those little ironies that you'd swear someone planned, we moved to our new house on the day of a Squirrels show. After days of planning and stress, and a full day of physically moving everything we own (with help from our friends), there was no possible way I could get to the show that night without passing out or causing injury to myself or others. I was disappointed, but realistic. We love our new home; it's everything we wanted and more, and every day I feel more comfortable here. Over time, I can feel my muscles relax and ease up, muscles I didn't know were tense in the first place. I found a new home; now I can mourn the loss of the old one.

G'bye Squirrels. I'll miss you. You can all come over to my house for dinner, any time.

Friday, August 7, 2009

You spin me right round, unfortunately.

Warning: If you don't want to read about being dizzy or puking, READ NO FURTHER. Just look up labyrinthitis, and you'll know what my last few days have been like.

Wednesday was a pretty normal day. I found the best pizza ever at Pastazza, their Pollo Blanco, which is roasted chicken, roasted garlic, artichoke hearts and white sauce. Yummy! That was the most note-worthy event of my usual go-to-work, come home kinda day.

At 3 a.m. Thursday morning I woke up out of a dream. I remember this dream really well. I was driving my old '76 Dodge Aspen to work, which was on the Fairhaven side of Bellingham for some reason. On the way, I noticed Paul waiting for the bus, and convinced him I could get him to work on time if he rode with me. There were a few other people in the car as well (don't know who). We started off, but I made a wrong turn somewhere, and this wrong turn meant that we would have to go the long way around and we were getting later and later. I could feel Paul's disapproval growing as I drove. (Disapproval from male figures is one of my more obvious buttons.)

I woke up and my first thought was, well, at least that dream wasn't real. Immediately, like someone flicked a switch, the room started spinning around and around, like that Round-up ride at the fair. I had sensed that James was up and wandering around the bathroom and I immediately started screaming at him, "Help me! Help me!", crying and screaming and freaking out. He ran over and I told him to climb on top of me, or I was going to fall off the bed and be flung into space. (Of course, nothing so rational came out of my mouth, and nothing so clean, either.) James, lovely soul, did as he was told, as I was crying desperately. Maybe twenty seconds later, I realized that I was going to be ill. I immediately switched gears: "Get off get off get off!" and ran to the bathroom. I'll try not to overshare, but I was immediately losing everything I had eaten in both directions. Oddly enough, the only thing I threw up was bile. This is significant later, I promise, or I wouldn't even share.

The next 40 minutes, I spent in a cold sweat, on the toilet, afraid to move. Every five minutes or so, I would repeat my first five minutes. Occasionally, I would try to lift my head to look at the clock, and that brought the dizziness back full force. I think I left handprint gouges in the bathroom cabinet next to the toilet from trying to hold onto something that wasn't moving, trying to stop myself from spinning off the face of the planet.

My system finally purged itself, but I kept thinking, "It must be food poisoning. But if it's food poisoning, why won't my body vomit it up so I can feel better?" Whenever I've eaten something bad, I wake up, throw it all up, and then go back to sleep and feel better in the morning. Either my body wouldn't get rid of it for some reason, or something else was wrong, and I didn't know what. A few times, James asked me whether it was something I ate, but the thought of food made me want to hurl again, so I cut that conversation topic down with a quick machete chop. I slowly hunched over and got to my bed, where I lay in the fetal position with my head next to the ever-popular catch bowl. For maybe an hour I dozed in and out like that. Then the room started doing the spinny thing again, and I was back to the bathroom.

This kept going until about 6 am. That's when James called the 24 hour Nurse Care hotline. Of course she wanted to talk to me, and of course she had no sense of humor or really any human feeling. She was reading from her screen and going through the checkboxes. I didn't mind as long as I didn't have to move my head. She asked me a million questions and finally said I should try to keep down clear liquids, little by little, over the next few hours. If that didn't work, or if I got a fever over 100.5, I should call back.

Okay. An itinerary. A list of things to do. These are things I can handle. So I also asked James to call me in sick to my boss and my coworker (in case my boss came in late), and started in on the plan. Again, fetal position = okay, not great, but okay. My muscles were getting a little tired of that same position, but every time I tried to move them, my body said, NO. And when your body says NO in that particular way, kids, you listen, and you listen HARD. So between bouts of my arm falling asleep and trying to give some of my right side muscles some rest, I sipped first from an eyedropper and later from a straw. Little bit of water swallowed - check. Rest. Little bit more water swallowed - check. Rest. I felt so virtuous following my plan, given to me by an authority figure who knew what she was talking about.

Until 10 am, when I tried to roll on my back, which sent the world aspin, and caused me to vomit up all that wonderful water I'd been virtuously sipping, and which represented all of the sustenance I'd been able to ingest since 9 pm the previous night. Not good. I started slipping back into panic mode. James got the nurse line on the phone and again, gotta talk to me. We went through the story, and she seemed most concerned about the vertigo symptoms. So I walked her through it. At the end of the myriad of questions, most of which involved head injuries, allergies and rashes I didn't have, she said, well, I think you'd better go to your nearest urgent care facility. I said, Okay. She said, now, you shouldn't drive yourself, which started me off laughing. My reply was, "well, then I'd just vomit all over the steering wheel, and it'd be all over." She laughed too, and said, "You'd be surprised how many people with vertigo think they can drive themselves to the hospital." That was awesome.

When you can't move your head without spinning, life is planned out in short little spurts of activity. I've experienced this before after drinking too much, but usually I plan my life so that no major activity follows drinking on the itinerary. Maybe you spin for a few moments before you fall asleep, which is next on the list. Getting somewhere is a whole different thing. So we clothed me, while still in the bed. James ran around and got our ids and various things together and in the car. He got dressed himself. He started the car. I then kept my head down and got to my feet. I hugged my plastic bowl to my chest, walked to the door, slipped my feet into my sandals, asked James to fasten them, and walked to the car.

Being in the car wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be. I immediately huddled up into my now familiar fetal position, bowl cupped inside my arms. I didn't see much of the drive, and those in the know already know that James is, shall we say, focused intently when he drives, and doesn't put up with meandering in other drivers. I think we passed at least four people on the right in the 15 miles from our exit to the Sunset exit. I think he illegally passed a van that had stopped for no reason on the side streets, too, but honestly, I would not be a good witness. Most of what I saw was the door, sideways.

I also spent the entire time reciting quietly, "The vertigo is just a product of the nausea." This was something that had gotten caught in my head with a little tune to it during one of my bathroom bouts. I was really worried that I was experiencing vertigo, and that this was permanent, and my way of life was over forever. So at some point I figured that my body was making me nauseous, and the best way to do that was to make me dizzy. That meant I was only dizzy because my body needed to get rid of something in my system. Completely wrong, but it helped me to a) think things through, and feel like a rational being instead of an animal and b) sing the tune over and over.

So he parked the car at the Emergency Room. Now I have to walk. This is going to suck. I stood up and the world started spinning again, so I just aimed at the door and lunged. Two doors, for Christ's sake. Then the desk where they ask you questions. I immediately put my head down on the counter, about waist-high, and let James talk to the nice man. The Nice Man asked a few questions, then pulled me aside into triage, where I asked for a bed to lay in the fetal position and answer questions. He said we don't have a bed there, and I apologized and started vomiting again. He tried to hand me the nice blue St. Joseph Hospital-approved plastic vomit bag, but my hands were glued to my pretty plastic bowl, and for the next five minutes I let 'er rip. I really tried answering the Nice Man's questions in between incidents, but whatever was punishing me decided to really let me have it for making it to the hospital. Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Vomit. So the Nice Man asked questions, then when I was done with my bowl, he gripped my arm. I said, "Yep, that happens every time." Because you see, kids, every time I was ill, my entire body broke out in a totally drenching, hot sweat, which made me freeze when it was over. He said to wait here, and I was like, but I planned to rob the register and clear out of here? No. I'll wait. He brought me a wheelchair, which honestly scared the crap out of me. I did not want to get any wheelchair vertigo in the way of my world-encompassing vertigo. (You got your peanut butter in my chocolate, dammit.)

Mr. Nice Man was amazingly smooth with that wheelchair. He had to tell me to put my feet on the pegs, which took a lot of effort for me, but I just watched the floor, hugged my bowl, and was okay for the most part. He brought me to a room where I immediately lay down on the bed. I asked for a pillow, but he had to leave (apparently that day at the hospital was pretty wacky, even at 11 am or so when I was admitted). I lay there, breathing shallowly and feeling like crap. Then James helped me remove my civilian clothes and get into an awesome gown, but if you're planning to go to the hospital any time soon, I really recommend thick wool comfy socks for the ride in. They kept my feet warm the entire stay.

For a while, a parade of people. Nurse Linda, very funny, got all my smart-ass jokes. She did my eye-vee. That hurt a lot. Someone else got me pillows, o happy day, so my chiropractor wouldn't yell at me. By now they made me switch to the barf bags, so I always had one somewhere. They gave me some drugs, I'm pretty sure, for the nausea and the dizziness. Things got a little wacky. I guess my mind figured I was in professional hands and stayed in survival mode.

The doctor came in at some point and was very nice. He asked me all the same kinds of head injury rash and allergy questions and I answered them all wrong. I guess the "haven't been able to keep food down or move my head at all" parts trumped it, though, because he wanted me to have an MRI.

MRI. What a great idea. I mean, okay, fine, it could have been a stroke and you wouldn't want to go fishing off the wrong pier. But let's take this person, objectively. She can't lay on her back without barfing, and now you want her to lie as still as possible on her back in a very very very small room with loud noises blaring at her? Awesome. I had to take out my two high-ear jewerly pieces (thought of Karl's accessories and winced), and take off my glasses. I think that's the last I saw my glasses until the next day.

James has been having trouble with tendonitis and carpal tunnel in his arm lately, and three weeks ago, I finally got him to go to the actual doctor and get a referral to a good physical therapist. Of course his first PT appointment is scheduled for 2 pm today. ARGH. I told him to get the hell to his appointment. It took me long enough to get him to admit there was a problem, and longer still for him to admit someone could possibly help him. With the MRI approaching, there was nothing for him to do but sit around, so hey, go to your appointment or else. So now I was abandoned, but I didn't honestly care. I was more concerned about James' arm. At least I was in the hospital. I kept thinking about work, too. We had three exit interviews I was supposed to be helping with. "But Sarah, you're IN THE HOSPITAL." "But what if I shouldn't be in the hospital? What if they think I'm faking this whole thing?" Then I'd move my head two degrees and start barfing again. Yep. I definitely need to be here.

They wheeled my whole bed down to the MRI place. By now I was pretty darn groggy and I couldn't see anything. I figured my gown was tied shut and I had a blanket on, so if I didn't look anyone in the face, they wouldn't be able to see me. Ostrich theory = on. Round and round through the corridors, and now they wanted me to roll onto another cart, which was behind me. I told them bluntly to put it on the other side, and I would scoot over to it in my fetal position. They helpfully complied, and I did too. Then I laid back and the spinning started again. Now, the drugs had seriously kicked in by now, but I do remember asking how long it would take: "45 minutes." And my response: "Seriously?" I asked if they could let me know as they went along how much I had left to go. They said, absolutely, and if I needed to come out to really let them know since they wouldn't be able to see much of me. I said no problem.

A few months ago, my dad told me about his MRI experience. Well, actually, that's not true. My dad told me he would never do another MRI if his life depended on it, and that told me what I needed to know. There are a lot of differences between myself and my dad, but a few things are the same: We hate being out of control of our circumstances, and we don't like confined spaces. (We also love peanut butter and pickle sandwiches, but that's beside the point. How can I be hungry again? Oh yeah, I didn't eat for a zillion hours.) So I knew the MRI would be bad. They didn't let me take my barf bag with me, because let's face it, they strapped me in. Yes, Strapped Me In. I didn't watch any of this, because ye frakkin gods, but I know this: They pulled up the sides of what I was on, they placed some kind of plastic dinner tray over my chest, and they put something over my face like a bubble or something. I had the iv with the fluid bag draining into my arm, and I kind of crossed my arms over my stomach and meditated. Not once did I open my eyes. Not once. As I slid mechanically back into the metabolic chamber (yeah, I know it's not metabolic, but that word just goes with chamber so well), at one point I had to move my arms because the drinks tray hit my elbow in the aisle, like on The Wedding Singer. Let's face it, the input from the outside world was pretty jumbly. Then the really loud noises started. BWA BWA BWA BWA BWA BWA BWA BWA BWWWWWWWRRRRRRRAAAAA. Next note: DER DER DER DER DER DER DER DERWWWWWWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA. I did my best to imitate an out of body experience. I just let it all fade away and breathed really really shallowly.

And apparently I did that too well, because suddenly I'm coming out of the chamber. What's up? They've been monitoring my oxygen level and it's too freakin' low, so they have to stick that stupid tube up my nose to give me oxygen. Okay, okay. How much longer? 30 minutes. I think I said a bad word at that point. So they put me back. After about five minutes in, I realize i'm going to puke. My vertigo's back and it's bad. So I start talking to them. I need to come out now, I need to come out, and after a few of those, I just started kicking my legs really hard. They slowly mechnicalize me back out of the chamber and I grab the barf bag from the faceless nameless person who hands it to me and just start barfing. I said, "Y'know, I think was doing better without the oxygen. I was less conscious, so I didn't want to barf." That's me, just trying to be practical. I can only imagine the looks they exchanged. "No, we need you to have the oxygen." I said, "Okay, well, I'll do the best I can." They put me back in again and this time I made it all the way through.

I don't really remember going from the MRI place to the bedroom. I was put into another bedroom to recuperate, and they gave me more drugs and more drugs. The doctor came in at some point and confirmed I didn't have a stroke and the MRI showed nothing. (I'm totally paying for a copy of my medical records to see that portrait of pain.) So they confirmed it was labyrinthitis, which I was like, what? Just a virus in your inner ear, causing dizziness and nausea. Oh, is that all? Talk about your understated disease.

What it explained was the lack of actual food in my vomit. Just bile 24/7, which makes sense if, in truth, "the nausea is just a product of the vertigo", to turn that catchy little phrase around on itself. An a-ha moment as it were, and I'm not talking cartoon characters and mirrors, either.

James showed up after my MRI and confirmed he did go to his appointment, thank goodness, and that he'd fed the cats and left my glasses at home. D'oh. But it's not like I needed to see anything. He sat in a chair next to me and put his hand on the bed. At this point I must have been okay on my back, because I put my hand on his fingers and this cheered me up enormously.

I woke up and he was gone, but the drugs and the bed were very comfortable. I think I really woke up at 5 am or so. Had to pee, which meant unplugging the iv machine, making sure everything was untangled from everything else, pushing it along the floor...wait a minute. Holy crap! Am I actually standing up? Lo and behold, the angels sang. Make that the dirty faced angels. I couldn't see, I was wearing a hospital gown and wandering down a tiled hallway in my REI wool socks, and I could only find the bathroom by guessing, but I was actually standing up and not feeling like the world was rejecting me and all my works by flinging us off into the sun. Talk about your little things.

After that, with all the iv fluids dripping into me, I repeated that action about every half hour. James showed up and I told him how hungry I was. The nice hospital people brought me breakfast. Of course, it was jello and tea and banana and chicken broth. I ate the banana and the jello first, and then such bliss! the chicken broth. Actual sustenance was awesome. This guy wandered in wearing scrubs and started talking about my case and stuff, and made so many smart-alecky jokes that at one point I turned to James and said, "Are we sure he didn't buy those scrubs at Goodwill and just wander into the hospital to mess with people?" He liked that idea. Anyway, he got the nurses to give me a real breakfast, which was a very small muffin, some cheerios, milk (didn't eat) and orange juice (no thanks, too acidic). Nom, gone. He said they'd release me as soon as the paperwork cleared. Two hours later I made James hunt him down and he released me from the iv (that hurt a lot) and the hospital. We escaped with my bracelet accessories still on, like we were fleeing out the back door. That was about 11 am on Friday, start time in hospital: about 11:30 a.m. on Thursday. 24 hours of fun fun fun.

If one more person asks me why I went to work after that, I'll lose it. Payroll has to be run on Monday, I'm running it, and I knew I had about 6 increases stashed in a place no one would find them if I didn't go in and dig them up. If you don't process 1 increase, you get approximately 10 phone calls and or emails having to explain yourself. Forget it; time to drop in. Plus James had to get my prescriptions filled in case the labyrinthitis recurred, and run a couple of errands. So I had a little time to kill and didn't want to spend it in the car.

An hour and a half later, I was napping in my own bed, in clean sheets with the ability to roll anywhere I wanted to without disturbance. I'm still a little shaky, and I've never been the most balanced individual, physically or mentally, but it's great to be mobile, moderately sane and sort of in control of my life. I'm supposed to rest this weekend. Okay. No problem. I plan to do as much nothing as humanly possible while watching my new dvds and playing with yarn. Of course, they still don't know what caused this, though I may have had a touch of a virus last week without realizing it. I was having "allergies" when other people weren't; maybe that was a flu virus that got into my ears. Who knows? Better now, though they say it can last weeks. So far I'm just a little shaky, but if it recurs, I do have prescription drugs. And my five cats to fetch me things. Time for more sleep. What bliss.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Olivia Newton John notwithstanding

This morning I find myself in front of the computer at zero dark thirty. And why? Because I cannot sleep. Why's that? Because my back has woken me up, yet again, after approximately six hours of sleep. For the zillionth time.

About 10 weeks ago, James and I rescued two new cats. Oh the pictures! Oh the cuteness! But for the first two weeks: Oh the stress! New Kids had to be sequestered from the Old Kids, since New Kids had never even seen a veterinarian on tv before. So we bundled them into our bedroom, our only choice for an actual closed door.

For about three days, the boy, Toby, hid under the bed, while his sister Heather bothered us every time we stepped into the room. "Hi! Pet me! Pet me! Hi!" On Day Three, Toby came out, looked around, and said, "Okay fine. I'm in." And immediately became the most boisterous-bordering-on-obnoxious cat you've ever seen. His nickname is Galoot, because he is just that: teenaged long-legged awkward which-way-did-he-go demeanor. Nothing fazes him, and he's happiest when he's playing. Or being petted. Or being manhandled. Or fighting with his sister. Or just breathing. Y'know, whatever.

Keep in mind that this obnoxious boy had a 8x10 room to play in. Our bedroom. Where the bed is. Where we....sleep?

Yeah, as if. Each night we'd try, but after the hundredth run across the bed and jump on the legs and beat up Heather right next to our heads, I'd bail out to the couch, and James would head for the air mattress in the living room. This went on for a couple of weeks, until we got them fixed, spayed, vetted, immunized, microchipped, and slowly introduced to the other kitties. The day we got to use our own bed again, I thought I was going to cry. We still had some rock 'em sock 'em action, but the ricochets decreased hugely, now that they weren't confined to such a small space.

About a week later, I started attending all day meetings for a project at work. Switching to a new payroll system, boring boring but good for the company, TCB. No problem. Except sitting in a chair and thinking for six hours a day didn't exactly help my back out. And two weeks ago I sat in a broken movie theater seat and watched Iron Man, which was worth it, but gave me shooting pains in my leg for the next couple of days. Um, Sarah? Yes. This is your body. Get some help down here, dammit!

Okay fine. I found a chiropractor, and I've been working with her for a week now, and things are definitely getting better. I'm going once a week for the next month, and she wants me to see a massage therapist every week as well. Damn. Didn't know I was that broken.

Well, I guess I really did, because for the last month, I have not been able to sleep more than 6 hours at one time without dull aching pain waking me up at 3 in the morning, forcing me out of bed. It's made for some really entertaining days at work. I can't complain about timing, because at this point most of our meetings for the Very Important Project are done, and I don't need to sit for hours at a stretch very often. I have insurance that covers this very well, and we're financially at the point where we'll survive just fine even if I need to pay for it. The synchronistic action works great for me.

What doesn't work is the new reality of my life: I'm not as smart all the time. I used to be able to count on my intelligence as a fact of my life, and of course, I had my dumb days; everyone does. But I was quick and I was smart and I could play the quiz show games faster than anyone else at work. Someone asks a question over the cubicles? I have the answer, and faster than anyone else. I called it a sickness, knowing all the details, but I was proud and happy to be the mind freak.

This change, this lack of sleep, has forced me to slow down. I no longer assume I'm able to do something quickly. I have to plan my day a little more carefully. To some extent, I've started depending on caffeine to get me functional at times, which is bad, but humbling. I don't like coffee, and I've always had a secret disdain for those who depend on it too much. My parents drink maybe 12 cups a day to keep them going, and I never thought that was good or healthy. But here I am, downing a Red Bull every other day just to outlast the day. Which brings me to work hours. Time was I could work 10 hours a day to get things done, and come back for more on the weekend. Now? Not so much. I've been working less than 40 hours a week at times, and I have to stifle my overachieving spirit and convince myself that no one will hate me just because I'm unable to work myself to the bone.

Again, timing-wise, I can't complain. Right now nothing's on fire, and I'm getting things done. But not being able to overachieve anymore is hitting me where it hurts, and forcing me to develop some compassion for those who aren't built like me. Quite honestly, my ego could do with the curtailing in that regard, so I'm glad this learning curve was pitched to me.

The other lesson I've been handed lately is all body stuff, coupled with the overachiever in me. But I think that waits for another post. No, really. This one's too long already.

(BTW: Toby is the kitty in my userpic. The galoot!)