Saturday, August 31, 2013

My buddy will be missed

On Wednesday morning, my dog's heart stopped beating. When I woke up (not to him needing a walk, as usual), I heard a throaty cough. When I saw him, shaking, unable to approach me, it was clear that it was the day. He was heaving and unable to move. He couldn't keep his food down, which meant he couldn't take medicine. I knelt down next to him and petted him gently, read to him until the vet opened. When I called, they told us to come in right away.

My buddy
Let me just say that though he's had heart disease for some time now, it was not any easier. Rather, I can't imagine it being any rougher. I thought I'd be stoic about it. I've been meditating, spending a lot of time with him, and I've even said goodbye to him a few times (he's given us scares), but when it came to the actual goodbye, I was nothing but a big baby. I cried probably 90% of the day, and when I wasn't crying I was cleaning and rearranging and pacing like a mad woman (not because anything was dirty but because I had to keep myself busy).

The worst part was the routines I had that included him. Even just walking in the front door--I mean, he was always there. If he wasn't there, he was with me. My husband used to call him my shadow, and he was. Whenever I was getting dressed, singing horribly while I cleaned, reading, watching TV, writing, whatever, he was always there watching
me. We named him Buddha. We called him Buddy.

He'd been thrown out of a car during a rainstorm and left for dead about 7 years ago. This is the story the Humane Society worker told us. I remember that we had agreed not to get a dog that day, only to ask questions and look at the animals; but Buddha was the one dog there not barking and wagging his tail and jumping around for attention. He simply sat and watched us watching him. We asked to take him out, and he moseyed alongside us as though he'd always been there, was supposed to be there.

When Chris and I got Buddha, I was very depressed. I didn't know many people in Texas, and I was having trouble finding a job. He was there for me when I needed him most, and his companionship, odd love for cats, and needy, sweet, stoic behavior was medicine to me. I loved that dog deeply, and I know he rests in peace because he lived in peace, and he will live on forever with me.

I was there when he passed. It happens so quickly, and though I broke in half when the vet carried him to the table with his leg bandaged and a catheter in, I couldn't leave him. I forgot my breath as he was put down, watched his last breath, and felt a surprising relief when his heaving body released and softened. My first thought, even before the wave of sadness that would follow, was that he was finally out of pain.

It's amazing how that dog touched my heart and changed me forever. And as the grief begins to ease a little and I begin to accept, I realize that I was so incredibly lucky and still am. Sometimes I think that every time my heart breaks with loss, it is rebuilt all the stronger. Because right now, I feel just a little more appreciative of everything I have. He gave me one last good day on my birthday when we took a day trip to Fredericksburg, Texas. That day was magical in that he seemed somehow not sick at all for the first time in four months. It was his gift to me, and I believe we'll be returning to Fredericksburg (where we were in that image only weeks ago) to spread his ashes where he was last full himself and well.

If you have ever or are going through something similar, I wish you well. I thank everyone for the well wishes, and for the support as I was emotionally unstable all week. Not everyone understands how deep love can be for a pet, but it was even deeper than I thought it could be. I'm beginning to find routines again. I'm running the mile loop we used to walk, and I'm taking a moment at the times he'd be there, getting excited about a treat or one of us coming home, and in this moment I take, I say thank you. Thank you.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

On Mule Dixon's Pillow: American-Made

A week ago, I was presented with the opportunity to review an album on my blog. At first I thought, Why me? But then I thought again, No scratch that. Why not? So let's do this.

The album at hand is Pillow: American-Made by Mule Dixon. Categorically speaking, it's Americana, which doesn't tend to make its way into my headphones. I have both eclectic and ignorant musical tastes. I don't seek out music by genre. Rather, I tend to be one of those folks who finds herself stuck in childhood musical tastes (embarrassingly), which limits my exposure. But who doesn't like being introduced to a catchy beat and a strong voice? Dymanic lyrics? Hey, there's the trifecta.

As a rule I don't listen to music critically, so I listened to this album in the same manner I might read a book I plan to review. I was initially struck by the balance of strong, catchy beats and the rhythmic lyrics that actually say something. So I began writing this review by listening to the album and writing down the key words that came to mind. They are as follows: Grit, Home, Dust, America, Southern Nature, Setting, Strength, Home, Fight, Independence, Striving, Family, Self, Love, Harmony, Freedom, Freedom, Freedom, Definition, Freedom, Sweet, Country, Whole, Life, Freedom 

"American-Blowback Baby" is the lead song, and rightly so; it sets the narrative stage for the album that follows. As I listened on, I realized this song is not only the thematic but also emotive springboard for many of the scenes (songs) to come. It begins with a subtle but sharp edge, etching a portrait of the American person(s), declaring and defining independence then comparing this definition with the mythology of the American Dream (Keep one eye on the trigger/Keep one eye on your back./And always keep both eyes/On the money/American-blowback baby/American-blowback baby). "No Matter the Consequence" follows with defiant acceptance for the sake of all-embracing love (or mutual acceptance) that leads to its own type of freedom, a larger freedom (tough material to write about!). "This is What it Feels Like" is a more zoomed in view of the striving and precise American family portrait. The folks chasing the dream. Perhaps the most poetic piece also seemed a sort of transition: "Calaveras" (We are the fire/From the belly/Of a well/Knuckled wealth/To the ground/We all go home/We all go home), which covered the concepts that drive the traditional Day of the Dead ritual mentality in which family and friends gather to honor the living and lived. I found this song the most transcendent piece, lyrically, as it touched successfully on the cyclic nature of life, the cumulative impact of our lives, and the beauty/power/oneness of these transitions.

Something about the album shifts with the introduction of "Another Country Roadside" and the vocals of Kali Rea. I've always been a fan of duets, and this song is no exception. It is a little softer, a little sweeter, and the play of voices harmonizing before each singer takes and releases the stage--loved it all. Kali's voice has a delicate country appeal that plays so well against Mule Dixon's deep and, if not gritty, layered and knowing voice; Kali surprises when she takes the stage in this song, hitting notes that make the stomach flip a little. I love this song if only because her voice is addictive, but it was with this song that I also began to miss the initial lyrical force of the album.

As an album, the whole is strong; however, if I had one critique it would be a lack of cohesion. After "Calaveras" the album seems to adopt a sort of best-of feel to it in that all the songs are interesting and complex but seemed to be compiled to display the range of Mule Dixon as opposed to the depth--which I believe could be strengthened by a slightly more cohesive whole. In other words, this writer wanted the story that began so vividly to continue. (Who but a writer would critique the plot of an album?)

That critique aside, each individual song on this album can stand on it's own accord and, given the range, there's a sort of diversity that could work the listener's benefit. The album is amazing and worth listening to, and I can attest to the fact that a few of the songs do become ear bugs (I'm hearing "American-Blowback Baby" in my head right now). To summarize, Americana has made its way into my headphones. I think of this album as a collection of poetry in that each song contains enough to digest that I am encouraged to listen on but also (often) to pause. That pause, after all, is what all art is all about.

Saturday, August 24, 2013


Personal News:

Before meeting our Little Brother for Big Brothers Big Sisters, I found it difficult to concentrate. I tried to meditate, which lasted about five minutes before I stood suddenly, thinking my hair wouldn't dry in time. Then I realized I had a half an hour left. I dried my hair and still had twenty minutes. Chris checked his work email, then read news, then checked his work email. I opened up my Luminosity games and started playing (I'm getting better, but oddly enough my ability to do tasks speedily sucks ass).

When we looked up the address, we were shocked. The kid lives in an apartment complex that is on the way to work. I go to work around 6:45 a.m., and there are usually kids outside this very complex playing chicken with the cars that go by. I'm usually all fist shaking and "damn kids, get out of the road," and I realized that our new little brother might be one of them!

We drove slowly. We couldn't find parking, so walked up to the door a few minutes late after hitting a few dead ends and getting turned around. When we entered, there was the family. All four of them. There was the case worker. And just that fast, we sat on the couch, met our Little and his older brother; we talked about his football league (he's 8), his love of fish, and his aversion to sushi. We joked with him, and he laughed. His Mom was cool, laid back, and told us what he liked and didn't like. He loves sports (not just football), she said. Mom's eyes lit up when I told her I taught creative writing because his one tough subject is English, and she seemed flexible and open to our ridiculous work schedules. Grandma told us stories. I think this is going to work. I really do. Our first outing will be Labor Day tennis and lunch. And the nerves are gone. Let's do this! I probably won't post about him much, but every now and then we'll check in. The journey has begun.

Writing News:

I spent some time reworking a 5,200 word story that has been a pain, and I think I'm getting there. A good friend, Michelle Elvy, gave me a lot of perspective, so my interest is renewed.

A young adult press has shown some interest in my novel after reading the first 50 pages, so I've sent it on to them. Fingers crossed. Realistic hopes.

Looks like I'll be appearing in Short Story America Volume Three! Sweetness! If you write, the press is currently looking for submissions for a short story contest.

I am beginning a new novel this weekend. Rattle. Wallace. Together. We'll see what happens.

That's all I got this week. On Monday, I'm reviewing an album here. This is something I've never done. The album is Americana, a type of music I rarely listen to (rarely means when I watch Sons of Anarchy, sometimes it's in the background), so it should be interesting.

Have a beautiful weekend! -Jen

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Bizarro World

Personal News:

Today is the first day of a 5-day vacation. No work, at either job, for 5 full days. I'm not quite sure what to do with myself. It's my birthday, so I suppose I'll work at getting older. And, of course, I'll write. My husband and I are planning to go on a day trip with our dog, who I hope does well, and we might finally (finally!) meet our Little, from the Big Brothers Big Sisters program this weekend. The first Little they tried to match us with didn't work out because the mother never got back to the case worker. She kept saying she'd get back, had a hectic work schedule, then another week would pass before she'd say she'd get back again. It went on like that for four weeks, so now we're being paired with a new Little. He's 8, apparently talkative, lives nearby, and loves school (except for English). When they told me all that, I said I doubted a more perfect match could be made. I look forward to meeting our Little, and though I won't post anything specific to maintain his anonymity, I'll definitely share how it goes.

Now to the strange stuff. 
  • We have new neighbors, named Jen and Chris, who are from Ohio and moved here because they couldn't find work there (like us).  Bizarre!
My cat, Cheese, doesn't do cute cat pics
  • 2 people in 2 days have told me they've had dreams about me. In one, I was on an uncomfortable bed, and my friend said she was, too. We were roommates. I like that one because it reminds me of Bennington and VSC, so I'll interpret it to mean I have a writing residency in my future. The other dream, however, was about me getting hit by a car, and the car's impact throwing me up in the air. Not so much a fan of that dream.
  • African dust hit San Antonio last week, and it seems to have made everyone sick this week. What happens, apparently, is that the wind patterns kick up dust from the Saharan Desert and carry it over to Texas where it wrecks the lungs of folks who already have allergies. I don't have terrible allergies myself, but a lot of folks I know got hit hard. One guy I work with could barely talk. People look at me strangely when I say, "It's probably the African dust," without giving some back-story on the news I've read and heard. At least that part is fun. 

Writing News:

I wrote two new stories.Yes! Short ones, so hopefully they'll see print one day.

I got two rejections this week for older work. One of the rejections surprised me and made me think I should reevaluate a particular piece I thought was completed. It's a longer story, so perspective is a little harder with those.

New publication in Skidrow Penthouse (print or PDF) entitled We Would Come Back as Rats.

I signed a contract to release a sort of magical realism story to A capella Zoo this week. I offered them a slightly longer ending, and I'm looking forward to seeing what they think.

I chatted with Bud Smith on The Unknown Show. Check it out. I think the conversation went well. It was fun to talk about writing and processes, and I read a story. Bud's cool, very conversational, and he's got a new book, Tollboth, that I look forward to reading. I only said two kind things I'd more carefully frame (as far as I remember), which is pretty good.

Finally, I have some great reading to do this weekend. I'm reading American Gods by Neil Gaiman, whom I've never read. And I'm reading The Merrill Diaries by Susan Tepper, an author I love. 

Have a great week! Next time I post, I'll be older and calmer (post-vacation).

Observations: Dublin Vacation

Dublin seemed the obvious destination. We would be close to various restaurants and tourist attractions. It would be easy to call a cab or...