Ready

Dameron Marsh, Virginia

I’ve had a series of dog dreams since Stellar died. Symbolic or otherwise, they have featured greyhounds, a Great Dane, others I’ve forgotten, and dear old Stellar, younger. People ask me now and then if I’m thinking about getting another dog. Of course, I reply. But not until after winter. What kind, they ask. I don’t know. Whatever kind shows up at the right time. Maybe a puppy, maybe an old dog, or maybe two whose people died and they need to be adopted together. Maybe a dog that just shows up in the yard, or on the side of the road, or maybe I’ll go to a shelter–when I’m ready. But for now, I’m enjoying not having to get up at the crack of dawn and go outside in the freezing winter morning; enjoying lots of quiet time while no one is depending on me.

And frankly, I’m still recovering from the intensity of the mutual devotion during Stellar’s last months, even years; in fact, of his whole life. He was like no other dog, no other relationship. We were continuously connected at the heart and the soul from the moment I first held him. I still look up from the kitchen counter sometimes expecting him to be lying there across the living room; I still jolt a bit when I drive home from somewhere and he isn’t here to greet me. So I’m not in a hurry to get another dog. So don’t send me anymore dogs on Facebook that need a new home, or even mention a catahoula pup.

However, there’s been some comfort in the dreams. I had another one this morning. Stellar and Raven and the new dog were romping in a field as I watched. Suddenly Stellar took off like a streak across the field and I called after him but he didn’t stop. Raven looked at me, then took off running after him, and the new dog followed them both. “Hey!” I yelled, “Stellar! Raven! Come back here! Hey–!” I realized I didn’t know what to call the new dog. I didn’t know his name yet! He looked a lot like Stellar, almost a clone, just a lot younger and a tiny bit smaller. “Hey! Come back!” But they all disappeared over the hill.

Fred and Mary pulled up in their blue VW bug, and I got in, and we started tracking the dogs. We drove for endless miles up the east coast, catching sight of them once in a while and then losing them. Hours… We drove by a big-box store parking lot, and saw a few people around a couple of pickup trucks who were trying to round up three dogs and collar them. “We’ve gotta check,” I cried, “those could be my dogs!” But they weren’t. We drove on through the parking lot, and there on the far side, frolicking along a stream, were Raven, Stellar, and the new dog.

Bennett Spring State Park, Missouri

“Stellar, come!” I called, and he did, and I called Raven, and she came, and I tried to call the new dog but remembered that I didn’t know his name yet, but that was okay because he just followed the other dogs right into the back seat of the VW bug, and they all piled on top of each other with me in the middle, and I was so relieved. We were all laughing. I said, “I don’t even know this guy’s name yet.” Fred mentioned a friend who had looked after him a couple of times, and said, “She told me his name.”

“What?” I asked, “What’s his name?”

And Fred said, “Ready. His name is Ready.”

Adaptability

Next week it’s my birthday! I’m so grateful just anticipating that I’ll get to have another one! Dawn was going to come over for a birthday dinner and puzzle night. We had it planned for weeks. She was kind enough to agree to isolate for four days prior to our date, and we both planned to take rapid antigen tests shortly before she came over. But because of my high risk factors for Covid, and the Omicron surge, and the fact that we both were, unavoidably, around unmasked people in confined spaces four days ago, and the recent suggestion that the rapid tests may not be as reliable for Omicron, we adapted to a plan B.

I roasted a chicken with garden carrots and some sweet potatoes, and steam-sautéed some garden green beans from the freezer. She baked shortbread. She delivered the cookies and picked up a box of dinner and a new puzzle, and drove the couple miles back home. Then, we zoomed together for dinner, put away our dishes, and opened our puzzles. It was almost as good as being in the same space working on the same puzzle–not quite, but almost. The camaraderie was still there, the quiet focus on the puzzles interspersed with meaningful conversation.

The virus sucks. The ignorance that facilitated and perpetuates the Covid crisis sucks. I feel profound compassion for the healthcare workers who are overwhelmed because of the sheer stupidity of a staggering number of humans. It’s my patriotic duty to stay healthy and well. Given that this is the world we live in for now, I’m grateful for adaptability, and for the ongoing tolerance and acceptance my friends show for my super high risk threshold.

Queer Eye

One vestige of my darker days, the framed photo of James Van Der Zee’s Prohibition Era poster, top left. But see how she is surrounded by light?

I’m going to tell you a horrible story, about a young man who sings on the subway to supplement his income. I know it’s true because I heard it from the relative he told it to. He makes a meager wage at a day job, and he’s talented. So he’s been singing on the subway for a few years. He tested positive for Covid the other day, and he kept on singing on the train.

“On the platform?” I asked, “or on the train?” As if one were better. Which it might be.

On the train–in the cars!” she shrieked. My first thought was, You should turn him in! She went on to say that she told him, “That’s unconscionable! You should be arrested!”

And I went on to think, with snap judgment and barely a shred of equanimity (but notably, with some compassion): No wonder New York City cases have exploded. Because that one naive young man, pursuing his dreams oblivious to the stark reality of this ongoing pandemic, probably infected dozens if not hundreds of innocent subway riders, many of whom may have infected 3 or more others. Our busker was a super-spreader event all by himself. Like potentially thousands, or millions, of other people across the country, either oblivious to the truth or arrogantly “done with Covid,” as my cousin proclaimed he would be once ski season started.

Ski season started, and a week later he found himself symptomatic, awaiting results of a PCR test. Did he have it, or was it just a cold? (That’s another thorny existential worry these days, for another day.) I’ll probably never know; I doubt he’d admit it. And there’s fuckall I can do about any of this ignorance.

This came in a text just now, synchronistically articulating my perspective. See more satire from Brittlestar.

So that’s my rant for the day. Sleazeweasel wants me to give outrage and gratitude “equal consideration.” He worried when I seemed stuck in gratitude for a whole year. I don’t think he’s been paying attention! Brilliant though he is, he seems to have missed the essence of my personal gratitude challenge: I was mired in outrage and despair for most of my adult life. My personal gratitude epiphany saved me, gave me back the joy and meaning of my youth, when everything that happened was a new gift. Now I understand what Brother Steindl-Rast was talking about. Having practiced focusing on gratitude instead of humanity’s dark side, immersing myself in gratitude for an entire year, I brought some balance to my perceptions, gaining the capacity to hold light as well as dark, to see reality through a less distorted lens. Gratitude has helped me achieve the equanimity I’ve been seeking for decades.

Meanwhile, I’m grateful for SNOW! More than we’ve seen at one time in a couple of years, I think. I was grateful to wake up alive, and find deep snow at last; grateful to see sweet does bedded down under the junipers just beyond the patio. Grateful for good neighbors of any species, and greeting one gliding by on skis in the drifted driveway.

Grateful for cheesos, a simple, delicious hot lunch after arduous maintenance shoveling and brushing…

And finally, I’m grateful today for Queer Eye, a ‘season interrupted,’ now back on Netflix. The first episode was shot in March 2020, and lockdown prevented the final act, so that was filmed in May 2021. The featured mother’s father had died, as well as her daughter’s husband. (In a weird way, the pandemic has presented a global ‘Compassion Challenge’–let that take off on social media!)

The transformation of Terri was profound and complete. The Fab 5 had given the family tools to heal relationships and weather their own brutal challenges just in the nick of time. Yet another feel-good series from the loving heart of gay culture to lift everyone’s spirits. I’m grateful for satire, laughter, gay men, snow, compassion, equanimity, and seeing truth clearly, among many other things in this new year.

Hubris

Human hubris is not something I’m grateful for, let me be clear. But it seems to be a fact of life and a condition of our species’ nature. So I just want to name it. It’s time, as a friend said today, to call it ‘climate catastrophe’ instead of ‘climate change.’ It’s been time for awhile. Extraordinary drought, extraordinarily high sustained winds, and apparently a downed power line, today led to an extraordinary wildfire in the Boulder/Denver suburbs. By the time I turned off the TV an hour ago, more than 600 homes had been destroyed. No count yet on loss of life. Not to say this could have been avoided, given the human population of the area, and the trajectory we’ve been on sabotaging our planet’s climate for the past 150 years. Thinking, somehow, that we were in control!

As someone who lived in one of those decimated neighborhoods said to me twenty years ago, “They’ve got to put ’em somewhere.” I had picked up Girl Scout cookies at her house, and asked how she felt about the new subdivision under construction across the field behind her cul de sac. Hers was a neighborhood about twenty years old, small homes separated by quarter acre yards. The new subdivision was McMansions jammed together wall to wall, hundreds of them in the same area that dozens of homes occupied in her neighborhood. She smiled with generous equanimity and said, “They’ve got to put ’em somewhere.” A symptom of my privilege, I suppose, or my good fortune, that her answer surprised me.

In my neighborhood, where homes are separated by ten, twenty-five, or forty acres, and could also all be incinerated by a wildfire, I get grumpy that a new neighbor leaves on a glaring ‘security’ light overnight, shining right into one of my windows. If you can’t stand the dark, why move to an area like this? I wonder. We who’ve lived here awhile are grateful for our dark skies, and find these new spotlights a distressing intrusion. As, I imagine, do the wild animals whose land we share. Ah well. Worse things have happened, like the Marshall Fire. I live with the keen awareness that a single lightning strike, or careless cigarette, or rogue firework, can destroy my neighborhood. And still it feels, watching these planetary winds, these astonishing wildfires, these unprecedented floods, tornadoes, and hurricanes, that I live in the safest neighborhood I possibly could. And for that, I am grateful.

I’m not grateful that the US Congressional representative for my neighborhood is psycho criminal insurrectionist Lauren Boebert, and I was super surprised to get a robocall from her–note that the transcription typo is Siri’s error, and the voice sounded right, and the message was on her point–from a number apparently registered to the Palestinian Territories. WTF? Did anyone else in this district get such a robocall? I could go on about that.

It might seem as though my three day break from the gratitude blog has soured my disposition! In truth, I’ve done a heroic job of staying positive over the past year, I’ve enjoyed a few days of going to bed early with a good book, and I’m still just as grateful for all the good things in my life, and in the world, as I have been. But I am experiencing a lack of patience today with stupidity. And I’m allowed a lapse, we all are. I spoke with one friend today who zoomed with a bunch of triple-vaxxed friends the other night, and a third of them had Covid. I spoke with another friend whose Trumpista family had gotten together for Christmas and half of them now have Covid, from her 4-year-old niece to her 70+ lung-cancer-missing-two-lobes sister. She is enraged at them all, and I can’t blame her. Equanimity, acceptance, compassion, and loving-kindness are not easy to practice. And yet, the alternative realm, in which I used to dwell, is just dark and pointless. I finally had to turn off coverage of the fires, and stream “Drag Race Italia” to reset my attitude.

There is so much beauty, grace, and kindness in this world, human and otherwise, that we can sense and experience if we choose to focus our attention on those things. There is so much that is out of our control, from the weather to the choices of others, that will only make us sick with despair if we choose to focus on that. Mindfulness is a balancing act: to be able to know the truth of all that is dark in human nature at the same time as knowing all that is good and bright. We maintain our sanity, our compassion, our humanity, by choosing to turn our attention to what we can influence, and letting go of all that we cannot. We can always affect those around us in a beneficial way by acts of generosity, kindness, compassion; by remaining calm in the shitstorms–or firestorms, or wind or snowstorms–around us; and by appreciating the most basic gifts our lives provide, from electricity and running water to enough food and the other species who share our world: cats, dogs, birds, deer, trees, bees, bunnies, wallabies (depending where you are!) and so many more, even spiders and snakes.

I’m grateful for eggs, mushrooms, onions, cheese, homemade hot sauce, and fresh parsley from a pot in the sunroom; grateful for a quick omelette for lunch today, and for all the friends and neighbors with whom I connected on this crazy busy day.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

photo from the Dalai Lama’s Facebook page

One of the two greatest men on the planet has died. Like so many, I am grateful for Archbishop Desmond Tutu. I’ve nothing to add to the global outpouring of appreciation hinted at in this Guardian article, which includes a four minute video synopsis of his immeasurable importance.

The other greatest man, his dear friend the Dalai Lama, called Tutu his “elder spiritual brother,” and mourned his passing with this message to Tutu’s family:

“…Archbishop Desmond Tutu was entirely dedicated to serving his brothers and sisters for the greater common good. He was a true humanitarian and a committed advocate of human rights. His work for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was an inspiration for others around the world…. With his passing away, we have lost a great man, who lived a truly meaningful life. He was devoted to the service of others, especially those who are least fortunate. I am convinced the best tribute we can pay him and keep his spirit alive is to do as he did and constantly look to see how we too can be of help to others.”

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

For a few minutes of absolute delight, watch this heartwarming short video of their virtual meeting last July, celebrating the release of this movie about them, Mission Joy.

My admiration for Archbishop Tutu goes way back. I named a tortoise after him many years ago, Desmond Turtu, who actually was kind of an ambassador for peace, love, and freedom…
Desmond Turtu has been gone so long that I don’t have a good face shot of him handy, so these images of his interspecies laissez-faire diplomacy will have to suffice.

Christmas Cheer

I’m grateful for all the cookies, cards, thoughtful gifts, and Christmas cheer that have been floating around the neighborhood this past week or two; that though in solitude, I am among friends. It was lovely to wake this morning and have a little pile of presents under my miniature tree. I carried them into the sunroom to open in the warmth with coffee and a cinnamon bun, and felt a faint vestige of that childhood magic of Christmas morning. Later in the day, I roasted a tiny half leg of lamb with potatoes and carrots, and steam sautéed some green beans. There was a special gratification in gathering garden vegetables from pantry, fridge, and freezer to prepare Christmas dinner, and the lamb came from a local ethicarian ranch to my freezer last year. I hadn’t cooked lamb after learning that Stellar was allergic to it. It was a quiet, peaceful holiday at Mirador.

Oh, and some store-bought peppers… with fresh rosemary from the potted tree in the sunroom.

Cooking for one, again. After writing about it the other day, I feel even more motivated to explore and celebrate the practice. I’ve fallen into a nice rhythm in the kitchen: I’m able to cook three or four times and have all the meals I need for the whole week. So simple, so delicious. Wishing that everyone had good neighbors and friends, and enough to eat, this Christmas and always; knowing it isn’t so, and feeling compassion for those who suffer without.

Satire

Amy and I opened our Christmas boxes to each other after our zoom happy hour this evening. A RuPaul children’s book?! Come ON! I can’t wait to read myself a bedtime story tonight. It’s one in a series called “Little People, Big Dreams,” diverse biographies for children. Beautiful!

I watched the new Netflix film “Don’t Look Up” this evening, knowing nothing about it. I laughed, I cried. It reminded me of “Melancholia,” except that almost everything about it was different. It’s truly comedic and also a scathing indictment of our human capacity for ignorance and denial. Imagine the US president (Meryl Streep) in a ball cap leading her followers in chanting “Don’t Look Up! Don’t Look Up!” The cadence of that phrase has a familiar ring… To say anything more would be a spoiler, but I’ll add only that it has a delightful ending: don’t turn it off early. I’m grateful for skillful satire.

Speaking of the cosmos, R. Hubbell included a link in Today’s Edition to an excerpt from Carl Sagan’s book Pale Blue Dot, which is worth a second read, or a first if you haven’t ever. And a third, fourth, and so on. Hubbell suggests it “is an appropriate reflection on our place in the universe and deserves to be read out loud at family gatherings as we close the chapter on a challenging year.”

Merry Christmas!

Cooking for One

Little cat who walks like a dog on a morning perch along the Sunset Loop.

One of the things I miss most about Stellar is Last Bite. Those last tough bites of a burrito that are mostly tortilla? The last few bites of a too-full plate? The gristle and fat off a piece of meat? What do I do with them now? Nevertheless, I’m grateful that I’ve learned the skill and the pleasure of cooking for one.

I used to think (many years ago) that cooking and eating were a waste of time unless it was for a dinner party. Food was simply a necessity, and I’d eat whatever was quick, handy, and sometimes tasty. I survived sophomore year of college on peanut butter and honey sandwiches. I shudder to think how many meals on my travels consisted of Oreos and beer, how many lunches were a bowl of sugary cereal. I’m grateful that my evolution over the years has brought me a healthier diet and more joy in the simple act of preparing healthy food for myself. A silver lining of the pandemic has been time and space to get into better eating habits, finally giving my body the respect it deserves. For lunch today I made the NYT creamy baked macaroni and cheese recipe, adding some extra Penzey’s “Forward!” spice mix, paprika, and a pinch of nutmeg, and topping it with panko breadcrumbs before baking. I’ll get three or four more delicious meals out of that. Tonight I sliced up leftover BBQ tofu that I made the other day, and laid it on top of homemade coleslaw in some romaine leaves. So simple, so delicious!

Grapefruit

I’m grateful today for grapefruit! I’m grateful for Kathy for so many reasons, for so many years, but today especially that she sent me a bag of grapefruit from the tree in her yard. Citrus trees in your yard are certainly one good reason to live in Florida. These days, between fleas, ticks, mosquitoes, and the governor, I can’t imagine ever moving back there; but I’m sure grateful for the years I lived there, and the lifelong friends I made there, a couple of lifetimes ago.

Salty Dog cocktail: 1.5 oz gin or vodka, 3 oz freshly squeezed grapefruit juice, shaken on ice and poured into a glass whose rim has been pressed into the grapefruit and then into a dish of flaky sea salt. Yum!

I know she sent them with some misguided sense that they would provide me a healthy breakfast. Instead, I squeezed the first one into a salty dog for this evening’s cocktail. I finished the bird puzzle, and then watched the Kennedy Center Honors when other Florida friends texted to remind me they were coming on. I’m grateful for this annual televised celebration of the arts, that our president was once again in attendance after they were boycotted by the previous administration, that JFK was a staunch believer in the importance of the performing arts, and that I grew up down the road from the Kennedy Center (50 this year) and enjoyed many events there during its early years. I’m grateful for the moving performances in tribute to Joni Mitchell, Bette Midler, operatic bass-baritone Justino Díaz, Motown founder Berry Gordy, and Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels; and grateful for these five sublime artists. Grateful to have a TV, grateful for internet so I could stream the show, grateful, grateful… I don’t wish to break this habit.

Gratitude Practice, One Year Later

I am still grateful for Liberty wooden jigsaw puzzles. And for the leisure to work one slowly, a bit a day, in between other work.

I’m grateful to know a little bit about birds of the world which not only helps with this puzzle, but reminds me of the wealth and diversity of life in the remaining wilds of this fragile planet. I have held macaws, cockatoos, and eagles on my arm; watched osprey and crested caracaras on the wing in the wild; I’ve befriended hummingbirds, magpies, jays, phoebes, finches; I am grateful for all the birds who have touched my life, and for the thousands more kinds of birds I can only dream of. I’m grateful for a cat who has learned not to catch them anymore.

I’m grateful today that I did it: I kept my commitment to myself to post at least one thing I’m grateful for each day (except two or three) since last winter solstice. How the year has flown by! I’m grateful today for most of the same things I was a year ago, and for many of the same things I’ve been grateful for on most of the fleeting days in between.

I’m still grateful for coffee from Rubicon, and for biscotti and knowing how to bake it, and for having all the ingredients readily available; grateful for the luxury to work from home, where I can enjoy my little rituals in one room and return to my desk in another. I’m grateful for geraniums, an indoor garden, and the end of the darkening days.

I’m grateful for multi-colored LED lights, and a little fake Christmas tree, and being able to hang it with ornaments this year since Topaz has (I hope) outgrown her rambunctious adolescence. I’m grateful for spiritual traditions which celebrate love and life, for Christ and for Buddha, for the generosity and good will of friends and neighbors. I’m grateful for homegrown grapefruits that arrived in the mail today and the zing they’ll bring to many days this winter. I’m grateful for cookies, cakes, condiments, and a wreath that were all delivered to my door, and for the strength of community that brings joy and comfort in these dark days. I’m grateful for a life of connection despite isolation.

I’m grateful for gratitude practice, one year later, and for the innumerable benefits I’ve reaped from focusing my attention on gratitude every day for a whole year. I am happier, stronger, calmer, and more resilient; my heart is lighter, brighter, and more open; my grasp of the interdependence of all of us is stronger and more clear; the world I inhabit seems a kinder place than the one I dwelt in a year ago.

I won’t be stopping my daily gratitude practice, but I’ll no longer be posting those musings every single day. I’ll be grateful to go to bed some nights the moment I realize I’m sleepy! More than anything doing this practice over the past year, I am grateful for you, the friends I’ve known for years and those I’ve never met, who have followed me through this adventure and sent words of thanks, encouragement, support, and love. To hear that my simple practice inspires you to look at your own life through a lens of gratitude inspires joy that knows no bounds. May you be healthy and well. May you be safe, and free from harm. May you be genuinely happy. May you be filled with loving kindness, this winter holiday season, and always.