Daily Archives: May 24, 2015

Artist Talk, Antieau2

The Art of Noticing: Have We Lost it?

I read good words the other day about how our lives have become so tech obsessed in this article  and can’t stop thinking about it. The story in the little book, Sidewalk Flowers, is told in pictures. We have to intentionally notice the graphics to see what the story is about. This is a line I remember:
“How we spend our days, of course, is how we spend our lives,” Annie Dillard wrote in her magnificent defense of living with presence. But in our age of productivity, we spend our days running away from boredom”
There was a story on the news last night about a young girl killed by a  train. She had earbuds in her ears and did not hear the train. Video taken after the accident showed person after person crossing train tracks. Most were either wearing earbuds or talking on their cell phones. And how many times have you been in a public place and heard someone say ‘hello’, and you thought they were speaking to you when they were answering their phone with a hands-free device? Many people attach these devices to their ears, or the speaker hangs from earbuds and people walk around a store talking as if someone is walking beside them. I know, I could rant forever on this subject. Fact is, we as a culture have become a big blob of “attention deficit disorder” folks.
What would happen if we stopped what we were doing when we received a call and focused only on the conversation?
In my last blog post I wrote about picking up embroidery again. Yes, I know, I’m obsessed. One thing I enjoy is the intense focus on creating the tiny stitches of embellishment on each little animal or doll I make. A chain stitch becomes a conversation with my daughter I need to have, each stitch a word. A daisy stitch brings memories of my grandmother, and our nights spent together listening to the radio and sewing pillowcases. With every stitch a memory I had long forgotten floats across the screen of my mind’s eye.
Sunday afternoon we had a class in the studio making nesting Matryoshka dolls. photo copy 11The finishing touch is the embroidery on their little bodies. As I stitched that afternoon with the other women I had a clear picture of what creativity in community can do. We talked about our lives, our children, our dreams with every stitch. Embroidery is one activity that gives me the pause I need to stop and notice.
What gives your psyche pause to “notice”?

R.I.P. Sophie

Sophie when she was diagnosed, about March 1, 2011
Sophie ready for her final journey this morning.

Our pets become family members in so many ways. We can’t leave home for any length of time without having someone look after them. We clean up puke off the good rug when they eat something they shouldn’t. We put up with their smelly beds when they’ve taken a quick swim in the mud hole because they hate baths. And we understand fully that every day is the best day of their lives. Especially when going for a walk.  Every walk is the best walk.  Every meal is the last meal they will ever eat so they scarf it down too fast and gag and cough part of it back up, in whole pieces no less.

Then we feel the warmth of their bodies as they struggle to get as near to us as they can, and we feel frustrated because we are trying to work, or write, and a nose is creeping onto the keyboard and pressing phantom keys into unwanted words. Anger never creeps in, just mild frustration.  And even that glides away when those eyes, those pleading eyes, look up to us for a hand to rub behind the ears, or a pat on a full belly, or a paw held up for a pawshake.

When put behind the pet gate in the sunroom, they sit and whine because they want to be where we are. They fully believe, and accurately, they are part of us, part of the human family. When we moved to Memphis four years ago, Sophie was our only dog. She was lonely.  So we began to foster dogs and the first two we took in we could not give up, so we somehow would up with three rescue dogs.  And today we are one less.

The vet told us about three weeks ago that Sophie, our 12 year old boxer, had lymphoma.  She had had skin cancer several times, and it too had come back. The vet said she was in the last stage and would live perhaps another month.  She was given prednisone for several days and came into a “second spring” of life for those few days. She ate everything in site, wagged her nub tail wildly, and ran through the high grass at Shelby Farms, splashing in the ponds, mud up to her eyeballs. Her last hurrah.

Then the past few days we knew she was failing. She began to avoid eating.  She coughed constantly until she gagged.  And her last day on earth was particularly painful for her. She coughed until her eyes bulged out and her face filled with fluid and I called the vet.  It’s time, she said.  So we scheduled the final journey for 8:00am Thursday morning.  

Robert and I recalled the first time we met Sophie. Our first boxer, Greta, had died of a heart attack and soon afterward we found Sophie. We rescued her from a puppy mill in south Mississippi.  She was less than a year old, and had been mistreated and did not trust anyone.  She learned to trust us, slowly, and of course had a distinct aloof personality.  And today we were asking her to trust us one more time.
All three dogs at Shelby Farms March 18

Sophie with our grandson Oliver on March 18.
At Shelby Farms on March 18, 2011.

Sophie went willingly. Her eyes revealed she was afraid, at first, and I began to backslide on the decision.  But after the past 24 hours, we knew we were doing the right thing.  Her tail still wagged in love for us. She trusted us. We put her on the lab table at the vet’s. Dr. Jo was kind and loving and said goodbye to our “baby girl” along with us.  Sophie went willingly onto the high table. I took off her collar and Robert pocketed it. I held onto her and felt her cough and shiver as Dr. Jo injected the anesthetic into her front leg. Immediately, Sophie relaxed, and rested down onto the surface. Robert reached around and put her back legs together so she would be comfortable. 

We rubbed her and massaged her behind her ears.  She was more fully relaxed than we had ever seen her.  She is a boxer, after all, and wagged and twisted her entire body every time we came near. She wagged into the excited jelly-bean quiver every time we walked in the door at home.  But not this time. She lay there looking straight ahead at the wall, and took a deep breath. I nodded to Dr. Jo, who had the syringe ready and waiting. She gently injected the euthanasia drug. Within one minute Sophie’s heart stopped beating.  She was at peace at last. No more pain, no more coughing, no more suffering. Forever running through the grass at Shelby Farms, and forever wagging and twisting her tailless body in jelly bean shape, glad to see her friends, running together toward the sun. 

Unknowing Agents of Inspiration

Susan Cushman’s post,  Getting Saved, Sex and Writing over at A Good Blog is Hard to Find, inspired me this morning. Susan writes of a teacher who put masking tape over her mouth to stop her from talking. Her words sparked memories of my own childhood. I am an extreme introvert, although not shy. My elementary school was Walthall School in Hattiesburg, MS. When I asked a question or made a statement as a child it was usually a well-thought out sentence so as not to embarrass myself. In 4th grade I have this vivid memory of having not heard the page number leaning over to ask a classmate what page we should be reading. When I leaned back into my own desk, here comes the teacher stomping towards me, yelling at me. I am terrified. She grabs my little desk with her big hands and shoves it back against the wall.  The impact jolts my tiny 9-year old body so much I can still feel my skin shudder.

I don’t think I uttered another word until I graduated. There have been other agents of energy (this is being kind) who tried to stop me from writing and talking in addition to that fourth grade teacher. In ninth grade, we had an assignment in English Class to write a persuasive letter to someone. I have no memory of whom I wrote my letter to or what I was trying to persuade them to do, but I have a strong memory of what my teacher said about my letter as she read it to the entire class. Shame invaded my life and still lives rent-free in my brain.

Growing up in the south, we have certain words that are part of our language, our vernacular. We use these words in our homes, in our businesses and in personal conversations.  I won’t bore you with the specifics, but I had used several of these words in my assigned letter. The teacher read my letter and snickers echoed off the walls as my classmates listened. She waved the letter in the air and shouted that one does not use such language. I was humiliated. I did not write another thing until I graduated. Except in my personal journals that I kept since elementary school.

As a young bride living in New Jersey in the early 70s I got a part-time job as a typist at a company called Myron Sugarman International.  They manufactured gaming machines for casinos.  I typed letters from the Dictaphone. The men who dictated those letters were all fast talkers. Too fast for me. Well, that was New Jersey, and those accents, you can imagine, were strange for a young girl from Mississippi. I tried to slow down the machine so I could understand what the men said, and I strained to listen. I did my best. The words I couldn’t understand I just made something up that fit what I discerned the letter was about.  Every letter came back with red marks. I tried to explain that I could not understand their accents. They laughed. They did not have an accent – it was me! People in the office asked me questions just to hear me talk.  I was so embarrassed I shut up and quit the job.

But I continued writing in my journals. I made up characters, settings, descriptions. Years later, in a fit of anger, my now ex-husband threw all my journals, around 30 or them, in the Ross Barnett Reservoir. I guess he thought I was writing about him. All those stories now sleep with the fishes.

Writing was mandatory in college classes of course, so I tip-toed around those words that one does not use and was awarded some scholarship dollars to Millsaps College in Jackson, MS based on my writing. I was finally set free.

Now I come to today, and I am like an addict who goes on a binge, wakes up 5 hours later and wonders where the time went. The newspaper is still in the yard, the dust has gathered on the coffee table, phone calls go unanswered, and my FaceBook status is non-existent.  That is how it is when I am writing. Time stands still.

My husband Robert comes home and knows I am writing and leaves me alone. He encourages me. He understands.

Who were/are, in spite of themselves, your unknowing agents of energy and inspiration to keep writing