0011 Today is December 31st, 2008. Today is the last day of the last month of the last year.

And today I will start out the day like every other day drinking a cup of ginger tea to which I add a teasponfull of Joann’s Raw “Chicory” Honey (“bee-made in the Pacific Northwest”) and stir. The sweet, spicy smell of ginger dances up to my nose and wraps itself around my taste buds as I carefully sip the tea that reminds me of all things old-fashioned: my grandmother, lace curtains, pork and sauerkraut on New Year’s day, a trip to Stonebreaker’s Pharmacy where I sit on the high, red stool beside my grandfather sipping a chocolate phosphate and crunching on a salty stick pretzel.

My tea talks to me. Each day a new slogan appears on the tag attached to the bag. Today my tea advised me that “To learn, read. To know, write. To master, teach.”

The tea slogans are often trite – “To be calm is the highest achievement of the self,” “Truth is everlasting” and other predictible sentiments set forth by a tea guru (or his groupies) Yogi Bhajan, the man with the white hair and beard (without the turban he’d be a dead ringer for an East Indian Santa Claus) who appears on all the Yogi Tea boxes.

Normally I make fun of the tea tags but today I believe the words have been printed just for me.

“That’s it!,” I crow. After ten years of daily drinking ginger tea Yogi Bhajan finally gets it right! For once the tea tag mysteriously reads my mood and describes, like Serendipity come for a visit, exactly where I am and where I need to be.

Because right now the only thing I can think about is writing and I’ve spent the last week pondering the magic of writing a blog. I’m like a ten year old with her first pair or roller skates who refuses to take them off for dinner or for bed; and like that ten year old, I sit with my laptop perched in front of me at the kitchen table right next to my cereal bowl, on my lap at the tea house as I sip my 500,000 mile chai and yes, even propped up on my knees on top of the quilt as I lounge in the pillows next to my sleeping husband just trying to get in one more post before it’s time for bed.

I am obsessed with the fine art of blogging and have been trying to put my right index finger directly on what it is about “publishing” words on a computer page that basically no one reads that is so completely intoxicating.

Yogi Tea's Yogi Bhajan

Yogi Tea's Yogi Bhajan

And here comes Yogi Bhajan with the answer on the tip of a teabag. Of course! To create a blog I read and reserach, explore and write and finally share.

So here I sit with a cup of steaming tea held tightly between my two cold hands as I grasp the mug in hopes of finding warmth and inspiration; silently I apologize to Yogi Bhajan for every time I’ve ever made fun of his pithy ponderings. I watch the steam float up from the cup and listen to my thoughts speed by – ideas popping like champagne corks – and think about what, on this very last day of this very last month in this very last year, I most want to learn, know and master before the clock ticks twelve.

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bridge-of-san-luis-rey2“On Friday noon, July the twentieth, 1714, the finest bridge in all Peru broke and precipitated five travelers into the gulf below.” This is the first sentence in Thornton Wilder’s classic tale The Bridge of San Luis Rey a book about the collapse of a rope suspension bridge, the death of the people on it and the journey of Brother Juniper, the only witness to the event, who sets out to prove that divine intervention not chance led to the tragic accident.

In an interview conducted with Wilder at the time the book was published he explained that the story was inspired by: “a one-act play by [the French playwright] Prosper Merimee, which takes place in Latin America

Thornton Nevins Wilder

Thornton Nevins Wilder

and one of whose characters is a courtesan. However, the central idea of the work, the justification for a number of human lives that comes up as a result of the sudden collapse of a bridge, stems from friendly arguments with my father, a strict Calvinist. Strict Puritans imagine God all too easily as a petty schoolmaster who minutely weights guilt against merit, and they overlook God’s Caritas’ which is more all-encompassing and powerful. God’s love has to transcend his just retribution. But in my novel I have left this question unanswered. As I said earlier, we can only pose the question’ correctly and clearly, and have faith one will ask the question in the right way.”

After the World Trade Center towers were destroyed by airplanes acting as bombs on September 11, 2001, everyone scrambled to make sense of the terrible American tradgedy. CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, Fox News and more played and replayed the video shot from a shaky camcorder of the planes 9-11 attacking the towers, angry red and orange flames consumed one tower then another and a tornado of black smoke pulled a blackout curtain across the jagged New York City skyline.

2,974 men and women got up that morning and rode the elevators up the north and south towers, took the metro to the Pentagon or boarded taxis to the airport for what should have been just another ordinary day in September. By COB (close of business) all were dead.

I remember a thoughtful reporter on NPR quoting a passage from Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis-Rey and using that story as a jumping off point for trying to put into perspective or make sense of the seemingly senseless deaths of so many people. Of trying to understand why one particular person made it out of the tower and another did not. Why, on that one particular day, a traveler missed his flight by three minutes due to a train stalled out on a track outside of Logan Airport and another made it safely aboard. Why did some live and others die? No one, except perhaps the Pope or Rick Warren and his followers feel confident that they have an answer. The rest of us are left with questions and, as Wilder notes, “we can only pose the question’ correctly and clearly, and have faith one will ask the question in the right way.”

I woke up this morning and unfolded The Oregonian newspaper for a quick read before work. My eyes were immediately caught by an article on the front page with a headline proclaiming: Nicest Guy Dies in Fiery I-5 Crash.

0041It wasn’t just that someone had died, it was that the nicest guy had died. And, as I read further down the page, I discovered that not only had William Adams, age 56, died in a fiery crash but that the crash had occurred just 11 days after his house was destroyed in a fire.

And I thought immediately of 9-11 and The Bridge of San Luis Rey and I couldn’t help but wonder if this very nice man had somehow escaped his first fiery death only to have it consume him less then two weeks later.

Death does not like to lose, in fact a reading of history assures us that Death will always win. We all get to shake hands with death; it is the reason the first snowdrop of spring and a glimpse at a lover’s sweetly sleeping face become both fragile and profound. Through death we find life and, ultimately, through life we meet death.

If I were a little less agnostic and a little more traditionally religious, I might believe that William Neil Adams had an appointment with destiny: hot, glowing, explosive, destiny. I would say that Death climbed into the cab of Mr. Adam’s truck one cold, rainy morning in December on an empty stretch of Interstate 5 in a rig filled with 10,000 gallons of unleaded gasoline and that together they drove into the sun.

But, as Wilder did in his classic novel of fate and chance, I also must ask the question: “Was this meant to be, or did Mr. Adams simply fall asleep at the wheel?”

Why I Don’t Write

December 28, 2008

The Paper Bag Players circa 1977

The Paper Bag Players circa 1977

I’ve spent years, I’ve spent decades, I’ve spent half a century wanting to be something, say something, act something creative. My mother said it all started when I was four and she took me downtown Cleveland to see The Paper Bag Players. On the way home I acted out the parts and insisted on playing with paperbags for the rest of the week. I don’t remember any of this so I must take it on faith that my mother is telling the truth. And I hope the story is real as it has shaped and mishapen my childhood, my adolescence and now, at 50, my middled age.

To be told as a child that you have a gift, that you are something special, that you reach for the players on the stage or the crayons in the box, to be told at age four that you have a destiny to fulfill and to find by age 50 that you have run away from every film idea, New York City job offer, book proposal and theater stage on the West and East Coasts, that is not the stuff of which legends are made.

At six my mother signed me up for weekly drawing classes at The Cleveland Museum of Art, one of Cleveland’s truly significant contributions to the country if not the world. The city known as the “mistake by the lake” and the place where the Cuyahoga River caught on fire may have been a great punchline for comedians and travel agents, but no one could deny the world-class collections at our art museum.

I would go every Saturday, along with other potentially gifted and Knight & His Horsetalented six year olds, to sit in the vast, stone cavern that housed the museum’s collection of suits of armor, swords, shields and even a cast iron chastity belt which we sensed was something we weren’t supposed to get to close to. Of course, a couple of small boys planted themselves directly in front of it and proceeded to elbow each other amidst grins and giggles as our drawing instructor did her best to re-focus their attention on the knight’s Medieval treasure trove of weapons – lances, battle hammers, metal axes and maces – which eventually proved to be a bigger draw to the boys who had been forced to leave their cap guns, pop guns and toy hand grenades at home.

The rest of us would sit quietly in front of whichever knight we had chosen, large drawing paper on our laps and pencils in our hands. I always chose the giant knight in the center of the room who sat on a life-sized (stuffed?) horse that was also covered with armor. We would draw quietly for 45 minutes (which felt like 45 hours in child years) and then compare our drawings with each other.

Unfortunately, I was forced to attend with the son of a friend of the family. The kid’s name was Walter and it turned out he was even more special, more talented and more entitled to the role of artist then me. As I compared my drawing to his, I could only see my mistakes, the horse was too big and the knight too small, my lines were stiff and coarse while his pencil seemed to flow across the page creating a relaxed, realistic picture of a Medieval knight striding into battle. And as I sat there realizing that someone else was better at this then I was, little nibbling voices started chattering in my head, telling me to quit now because why bother when you weren’t that good to begin with. The voices grew louder and louder until I crumpled up the paper on my lap, determined that I would allow no one else to see my ugly picture.

From drawing I graduated to piano lessons with my mother’s Russian piano teacher Margarita Jolles. A Russian Jew, Margarita had spent most of her young life as a child prodigy playing the great concert halls in Europe until threats of air raid shelters and death camps forced her and her mother to escape to America where she was relegated to teaching fussy, American children how to pound a piano. She was a small woman who dressed in woven wool suits with a fancy pewter pin on the lapel. She argued the finer points of music in her thickly accented voice and expected me to practice at least one hour per day. She dragged me through Czerny, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert, Brahams, Listz and Chopin.

I resisted practicing; I hated recitals and nearly fainted each time I was asked to walk down an aisle surrounded by people who really loved classical music, to step up onto a stage and settle myself on a piano bench knowing that, like capital punishment, there was no escape from completing my memorized rendition of Aria in G from Bach’s: Little Notebook for Anna-Magdalena Bach.

Notebook for Anna-Magdalena Bach

Bach: Notebook for Anna-Magdalena Bach

My mother and Miss Jolles proclaimed that I had talent. That I was a gifted musician and if only I would practice eight hours a day (like her best student Ellen did) I might have a chance at concertizing. They wanted me to play Mozart while I wanted to pick out the chords for the latest Carole King song. The more they pushed, the more I pulled and at 13, found myself the lucky receipient of a badly broken arm, the result of a fall from a wild little pony named Flash that I rode on weekends. My arm was wrapped up for months, I had a stay in the hospital and enough warnings from the orthopedist to make the case to my mother that it was time to shut the lid on the baby grand.

And then I found my calling. The Paper Bag Players were long gone but the lure of the theater still called to me like the Sirens called to Ulysses (who blocked his ears to resist temptation) on his homeward voyage to return to his beloved wife Penelope. Since I had only my parent’s home which I hoped to be leaving soon and no Penelope or Pierre waiting for me on some exotic shore, I let the voices sing and cry and pull me into the roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd.

And I fell. Hard. I built sets and learned to operate a lighting board, I took dance classes and voice lessons and acting workshops. I tried out for plays and got cast as part of the chorus. I saw every play I could, read every review I found and spent a summer at Northwestern University as a “cherub” at the National High School Institute held every summer in Evanston, Illinois to give kids a chance to work professionally in Debate, Speech, Journalism, Music, Film & Video and Theater Arts).

I was at my happiest as a cherub, working each day with professional actors, directors and other kids who were also determined to spend their future on and off Broadway, doing summer stock in upstate New York and joining improv companies in Chicago.

But even then I knew I was a lousy actress, reinforced by those little goblin voices warning me how foolish I was to consider that I had what it took to have a life filled with scripts and rehearsals, stage sets and playbills. I could never get out of playing myself, never lose myself to a character and never turn in the kind of performance that I saw in some of the other kids, the talented kids, the kids who would become professionals as opposed to the kids like me who would remain amateurs.

am-a-tuer, n
1. a person who engages in an art, study, science or athletic activity as a pastime rather than as a profession.
2. one lacking the skill of a professional , as in art.
adj.
1. not professional; unskillful.

The word amateur deflates me like a helium balloon losing its air and its balance. Call me anything but don’t call me amateur. I’d rather do nothing then be “unskillful.” I’d rather be anything but an amateur.

Throughout my life I found myself climbing a rung or two of various creative ladders. I went to film school, ended up at the top of my class, most likely to succeed, most likely to end up in NYC or Hollywood working on esoteric documentaries or little-screened independent features. I had the drive, the talent and the fatal flaw of not believing that I or anything that I produced was going to be worth watching let alone making. And so the goblins moved in again, took up household in my head and helped me rip apart my photo essay of the old amusement park in Cabin John, Maryland, the super-8 movie set to a Suzanne Vega song and the honorary Emmy I won as a grad student for making a PSA shown on local television

I dabbled in journalism and found myself getting published. My name and my words in print on a newstand in Portland’s Willamette Week or in an East Coast magazine for public broadcasters or as a cover story for Common Ground, a publication out of Seattle that focused on alternative lifestyles. People read my words and told me I was full of shit or that I had inspired them to do something they had been afraid to do until they read how I had attended a workshop on sacred sex even though I was terrified to be touched or remove my clothes.

And my friends told me that I was talented. That I was a good writer. That they were impressed with how witty and funny and fresh I sounded in print. And the more they complimented me, the less I believed them and the more I realized that sharing myself and my scribblings was like standing naked in front of group of supermodels who were there to pick apart my body tell me that one breast is bigger then the other, that my hips were turning into pears and that without make-up I really did look my age. It’s like having a doctor do a colonoscopy of your emotions and you watch the scope going down to illuminate the blood red corners of your shame and thick pockets of fear tucked away somewhere behind your stomach filled with anxious butterflies and depressed dreams.

And so I stopped writing to be read. Quieted the goblins in my head and got a job selling real estate. I’ve done my best to ignore the artistic flickers that invade my brain like summer fireflies – now you see them now you don’t – every day of my creatively limited life.

townshends-teahouse-logo2I still take notes on story ideas and have a wonderful writing coach

Coconut Matte & Bubble Tea

Coconut Matte & Bubble Tea

named Charlotte Dixon who calls herself the Word Strumpet. We meet once a month or so and she listens patiently while drinking Coconut Matte at Townshends Alberta Street Teahouse to my carefully-crafted excuses about why I can’t finish the outline for the literary mystery set in Dublin (I can’t write a good Irish accent) or how it really is too painful for me to write an essay about my long-lost best friend in a red silk suit listening to flamenco music on her birthday (brings up too many sad memories) or why I can’t really write a poem since the best poetry teacher I ever had was at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland some 15 years ago and I haven’t been able to find anyone in the very literary city of Portland, Oregon that measures up.

On Christmas day, at the prodding of my elegant and creative friend Shannon Baird, a design consultant and realtor, I started a blog. My second. The first crashed and burned some three years ago after I put in one entry. This blog, the BijouBlog, nearly didn’t happen because I was stuck trying to come up with the perfect blog name and, of course, all the perfect names have been taken and blogged on by bloggers who got on the blog track when blogging first began.

I was excited for two days. Woke up early, spent hours crafting my entries, huddled over my computer on the circa 1950s breakfast table, sitting next to the picture window watching the snow fall and now watching it melt, a half-drunk cup of ginger tea at my side and my cat curled up and asleep on the table, my dog Ramona wedged onto the back of my chair, her warm little body adding heat to my passion.

Suddenly I was doing something creative, not just thinking about it and not doing it, not just beating myself up inside for not using my so-called talent, not just passively falling asleep in my comfy down chair as I watched the world around me burn with realized ideas and executed works of art. For once I was actually doing something too. And it felt good.

Until I realized that people were actually reading it. Which is something I asked for, advertised it on facebook and sent emails to friends saying “Hey, check out my new blog.” A new mom so excited about the baby she created and wanting everyone to pick it up and bounce it on their knees and tell her “Yes, your new baby is just as beautiful as you think it is!”

So now the words come back – “Great blog,” “Well-written,” “Reading it religiously,” “Keep writing,” and the goblins of doubt start to crawl up my spine and into my brain again and tell me “They have to say that, don’t you see? They are just being nice because really, you are just a hack, a mimic with nothing original to say and they are humouring you.”

The goblins are green and have five fat stubby fingers on each hand, their faces have humongous frog lips through which a giant red

The Goblin

The Goblin

tongue comes lolling down past their chins and straight towards their rounded-bellies that explode into carnival faces with giant amethyst eyes, pinnochio noses and maniacal chesher cat grins with blood-colored lips and sharp white teeth. They can climb up the spine as fast as they can swim through the blood to the end of my toes and the entrance to the chambers of my heart. They are well-fed by my fears and take delight in watching me shrink under their fierce words.

I’ve faced down the goblins my whole life and they have always won, put me back in my comfy chair or behind an office desk or into endless hours of therapy as the shrink and I try to come up with practical ways to outsmart them.

Today I woke up and wrote again. While making my breakfast of Alpen and raspberries I discovered my subject and slogged through the wet muddy marsh of taking an idea from head to hand . The goblins are still here but seem smaller and less menacing. Maybe someone will jump on-line to find my blog and scroll down the lines as they read through the post. Maybe they will like it, maybe they won’t and maybe I can pull my hand away from my face, share my words, my newborn blog and get up and do it again tomorrow.

Because the best part of writing a blog is how I feel when I’ve finished. When I push the “publish” button and see it roll out with pictures, italics and bolded type. When I know that for one day at least, I’ve held back the goblins long enough to complete a journey within myself, uncover an idea, whisk it off with a sable brush, polish it with a cotton cloth and present it on the pedestal of a Fujitsu Tablet Notebook for an interested reader to discover. Or maybe, it’s just for me to admire as I open my blog page for the 50th time and re-read the words that I now know by heart, admire the pictures I’ve figured out how to upload and relish my own small work of art.

If Angels Exist

December 27, 2008

Boppho, The Greatest Cat of All

Boppho, The Greatest Cat of All


The thing I most don’t want to write about, the subject I most want to avoid, the topic I will do anything to ignore is that of my cat.

My beloved, my baby, my little guy who found me (I believe that animals always find us as opposed to the human-centric idea that we actually have a choice in the matter) when he was three weeks old and I was 34 and living in Washington, D.C., newly and unhappily married (I married for friendship not for love and learned quickly what my heart demanded more of me – but we’ll save that for another post), I had just quit my job of six years and had three months to pack up my life and move myself and my husband and our pets out to Portland, Oregon where I would be starting a new job in television.

I met Boppho (original name Fleurpo and over the years morphed into Boppho) sitting in the waiting room of the vet’s office in Takoma Park, Maryland. I had stopped by the vet that morning to pick up senior pet food for my Akita Emma and my husband’s cat Phydeaux (prounounciation: Fido of course). They were, of course, on special diets given their ages and eating habits so frequent trips across town to the vet to buy the most expensive prescription food we could find was a given.

Three lovely young women stood behind the front desk completly enthralled by the contents of a brown cardboard box. They made small whispery sounds to the box and exclaimed in soft, breathy voices “ooooh, soooo cute,” “he’s soooo little,” “tiiiiiiiny,” “the baaabeeee.” The kinds of sounds that women make in the presence of a newborn swaddled in pink blankets and wearing a hand-crocheted caplet on her tiny bald head.

I am not a baby person. I don’t “ooooh” and “aaahhhh” over little humans in basinets or strollers and when a friend asks if I want to hold their new Curtis or Ally or Gerard, I quickly back away from the baby with hands held in front of my body to shield myself from the humiliation of holding the child only to have it start crying within 20 seconds of finding itself in my arms. Perhaps they sense my fear and know they are not safe and quickly call for help with piercing cries that alert everyone in the room that I am not good with babies.

Babies scare and confuse me, but baby animals steal my heart, my mind and most often the money from my checking account because no amount of money is too large for me to spend on helping a puppy, kitten, baby bunny or newborn squirrel survive the perils of the human world. It’s hard enough for me to survive this world, I can only imagine what it must be like for our creatures great and small.

And so it was on a weekday afternoon in D.C., that I overheard the conversation that would change the course of my life. As the front desk girls continued to twitter and whisper I caught the sentence that my animal-mom’s heart found irresistible to resist. “He needs 24-hour a day care. Who could we possibly find who could do that?”

And at that instant, having for the first time in my adult life 12 full weeks without work, my fate was sealed and I was hooked like a fish going for the giant worm that the fisherman dug out of his garden that morning to entrap an unsuspecting perch.

Next thing I knew I was standing next to the box looking in, only to discover a three-week old kitten, not yellow, not white, but kind of the color of a very light latte with a little pink added in to give him a salmon glow. He was so small he could fit in the palm of my hand and his eyes and nose were bright and fiery red, the result, I learned from the girls, of a serious respiratory infection that could in fact lead to his demise unless they found one person in the world who had nothing else to do but to care for him 24/7, to feed him formula from a small eye-dropper, to cradle and keep him from harm’s way, to devote themselves fully in the hopes that with the right kind of care and love and attention, the little tiny guy would find his own way into a long and happy cat life.

I was a goner from the time I walked in the door. They had me at the first “ooooooh,” and I knew my fate was sealed when I looked into the box and heard tiny mewing sounds, so soft but so insistent that every maternal instinct in my body woke up and started cat dancing. I forgot that I was allergic to cats and it never occurred to me to call my husband. All I knew was that finally something somewhere needed me as much as I needed it and so he joined my rag tag family of pets and dreams and traveled with us across country to begin his live as an Oregon cat.

I would love to tell you that in the 15 years we have been together that it was pure joy, simply wonderful, that we bonded like cat mom to cat son and shared many restful hours purring together on the sofa, watching the birds fly by the picture window, trotting into the backyard together, playing with string and enjoying our catnip (mine in the form of chocolate, his a high-end organic brand) together as the years went by.

But that would be a lie. I am not a great cat mom. I’m a great dog mom and have thrown myself into my dogs (after Emma passed, Gretel, Caleb and eventually Ramona found their way into my life). Their food comes first, kissing them, holding them, walking them, playing with them was always the priority. And Boppho got pushed to the back. Not ignored, well-fed, cat box cleaned, catnip mice for Christmas, but not put on the pedestal on which he deserved to sit. Like babies, cats are a mystery to me and my idea of loving a cat is to pick him up, cradle him and stick him on my lap, showering him with kisses until his tail begins to slap from side to side, the purr turns into a hiss and his teeth turn into little weapons that grab for my fingers and hands as he does his best to escape from the kind of love he never wanted.

And so I let him go, let him bite and spent more time cuddling Ramona the pit-mix on the couch then trying to figure out what Boppho wanted and needed from me. I was a mediocre cat mom at best and I will never forgive myself for the wasted years when my cat was ready and waiting to know me and I didn’t seem to care.

Until now. Until two months ago when suddenly my always healthy, nearly-chubby 15 year old cat suddenly began to be less interested in food. He had always eaten and eaten well and at one point several years ago we had been told by the vet that our cat was “over-conditioned” which I thought meant that he had been training too hard for the cat olympics until she explained that it was a nice way of telling a client that their animal was fat.

He began to look thin, drawn with his little jowls starting to hang down from his cheeks, the way my father looked in the photos I took on our last visit together. The photos that surprised me after they were developed because in person I had not seen what was so clearly caught on film.

Boppho began to look old and the inevitable trip to the vet was in order. My husband and I (the second husband, the best husband, the one I was waiting for all those years that didn’t show until I was in my mid-40s) spent the $1500 that had been reserved for our anniversary trip to somewhere warm in February on ultrasounds, X-rays, blood tests, scans, urninalysis and the services of a radiologist. We were told it could be serious – liver or kidney failure, pancreatitus, diabetes or the dreaded cancer – and Boppho’s entire life replayed itself in my mind and all of my failings as a mom, all the times I could have been there for him and wasn’t, every day I pushed him off the table because I didn’t want him up near the food, all those moments reminded me of how much I loved him and how little I knew how to translate that love to him. My Boppho, my baby, my Boppholopolous, my B-Kitty, B-Boy, my Boppleganger.

The tests were done, the tests were read and the worst of the worst was ruled out and I felt like the God of Cats had given me another chance to prove myself to Boppho. A chance to make ammends for my years focusing more on dog beds, gentle leaders, training treats and doggie day care then on growing my own catnip, mixing up a special raw meat diet and allowing him access to every room, every bed, every countertop in the house that his little cat heart desired.

The current diagnosis is IBD, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, a condition where the stomach or intestines are chronically infiltrated by inflammatory cells. It can be, in some cases, controlled by diet and medication, however the medication – cortisone – can be as bad as the illness.

He quickly responded to the steroids and was chowing down every bite of canned cat food he could find, licking out my cereal bowls and meeting me at the microwave as I went to heat up his daily portions in the hopes that warm food would leave a stronger odor to entice him to become a member of the clean plate club.

I took this opportunity, this second chance to adore him, feed him fresh cream and yogurt, hold him lightly so he could leave when he liked, dose him with catnip and run my hand gently along his back from head to tail, stroking him as he purred into my touch.

And suddenly we became friends. Cat and mistress seeking each other out for a head-butt or a taste of buttermilk. Sitting together at the kitchen table, we watched the great big flakes of snow blanket the Christmas scene outside our picture window.

He gets better and then he gets worse. There is no stabilizing the illness. I try to bring down the dose of steriods because they can cause other serious health problems. He is fine for a day or two and then his appetite goes away and I see the ounces falling off his frame as his face gets more pointed and his ribs begin to quiver.

And I don’t want to write about this because to write about this means it is real and he is sick and the sadness I feel when I look at him sleeping or hear his purr or cuddle his sweet, soft head between the palms of my hands, that sadness threatens to become a tsunami of pain and somehow I think if I don’t write about it or talk about it then it will go away. But it won’t and to hold it inside alone is worse.

I wake up thinking about him, go to sleep at night obsessing about how much he has eaten that day and if his little belly has at all grown bigger. My anxiety is the worst at dawn when I lie in bed wondering how much of his special E/D cat food I will have to scrape off the plate, the remnants of what his little body has refused to eat.

When he is good, he is good and my greatest joy is to hear him leap up on the dryer in the utility room and listen for the jangling of his bell as he scrapes it across the plate, plunging for more calories. I walk over to him, my heart doing jumpking jacks in my chest as I watch the wonder of Boppho sniffing, licking then going in for bites of his soft, warm food sitting patiently waiting for him to find it.

And when he is bad. . .I want to hear that noise of cat at plate so much that I start to imagine it even when he is asleep on his chair. I find myself hearing him eat, convincing myself that I can catch the jangle and the sounds of the little paw steps and I walk into the kitchen and sneak my head around the corner to look at the untouched plate on the dryer. My shoulders drop and depress towards the floor and I can feel the breath rushing out through my lips as my chest is sucker punched by the emptiness of the view.

Try wrapping yourself around the thought that a year from now he will be ______. Try filling in that word. Or don’t. And do your best to avoid the story, the topic, the inneivitablity of getting up one morning knowing you will never hear that purr again. Or that bark or that voice.

He is here right next to me now. Not eating as much as I would like, instead picking at his plate as a small child might pick at the remains of a bowl of brussell sprouts or lima beans. His motor is going and the rhythm of his purr is strong and steady. He just bit me when I tried to kiss him on his forehead and I am happy for an instant as he still knows how to attack me when I’m annoying him.

I will love him as much as I can in the time that we have left together. Until then, I will brush him, feed him scrapings from my fingers, buy him toys he won’t play with and let him sit on the kitchen table as long as he likes. I will be the best cat mom I can and be grateful for having a second chance to do it right.

I’ve believed for awhile that angels may exist. I am not religious, being raised a Unitarian sort of takes God out of the equation, however I have come to believe that there are special beings on this earth that are there to teach and guide you, to love and watch over you, to embrace you when no one else can and to accept you without judgement.

If there are angels, I believe them to be our pets, the special animals that find us at exactly the right moment and follow us through the passions and depressions of our so-called lives.

And although I don’t believe in heaven for humans, I do believe in heaven for pets and I know that once they have done their time on earth, they retreat to that great, green meadow in the clouds where it is always sunny and dogs chase tennis balls and never get tired and cats play with butterflies and birds but only for fun and never for prey and they sit up above and guard their humans as angels are wont to do.

And I know, from my fingertips scratching behind his left ear to my ears and my heart soaking up the sound of him grooming his little pink toes, that if angels exist, then Boppho is mine.

Bijou recommends Sag Harbor

December 26, 2008

Read an excerpt from Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead in the New Yorker.  Set in 1985, it is the story of a group of young black teenage boys who spend each summer together at the beach in the tony village of Sag Harbor, NY in the Hamptons .  They play, they fight and challenge each other as they try to figure out where they fit in a world where private schools filled with white kids, a Harvard MBA and summer houses at the shore are what they’ve been raised to inherit.  In the background Run-D.M.C and “The Autobiography of Malcolm X”  rap for their attention as they struggle to figure out where “Black boys with beach houses” really belong.

The Deeply and Talented Colson Whitehead

The Deeply and Talented Colson Whitehead

Whitehead probably knows of what he writes given his bio – from Harvard undergrad to a writer for the Village Voice to acclaimed author and short story contributor to The New Yorker – and is gorgeous to boot.  Beautiful man, beautiful stories.

Favorite excerpts:

 “First, you had to settle the question of out.  When did you get out?  Asking this was like showing off, even though anyone you could ask had already received the same gift: the same sun wrapped in shiny paper, the same soft benevolent sky, the same gravel road that sooner or later would skin you, pure joy in the town of Sag Harbor.  Still, it was hard not to believe that it all belonged to you more than to anyone else, that it had been made for you, had been waiting for years for you to come along.” 

[I love the way he sets you up to think we are talking about prison because of course, as a white lady reading the story, I’m going to assume – which I did – that these kids were doing time.  As the story continues Whitehead drops hints of a future where one boy dies and another ends up in a wheelchair, victims of their blackness and their blood.]

“My mother said, “We’re making good time.”  The L.I.E. had stopped slicing towns in half and now cut through untamed Nassau County greenery, always a good sign.  I tried to claw my way back into sleep until we’d ditched Route 27 and cruise control and weaved down Scuttlehole Road, zipping past the white fencing and rusting wire that held back the bulging acres at the side of the road.  I smelled the sweetly muddy fumes of the potato fields and pictured the cornstalks in their long regiments.  My mother said, “That sweet Long Island corn,” as she always did.  She’d been coming out since she was a kid, her father part of the first wave of black folks from the city to start spending summers in Sag Harbor.”

And finally. . .

“It was only a matter of time before we started posing for album covers.  Not one from innocent ’85, but one from a few years later, after the music had changed from this:

Rhymes so def/Rhymes rhymes galore/Rhymes that you’ve never even heard before/ Now if you say you heard my rhyme/We gonna have to fight/’Cause I just made the motherfuckers up last night

to this:

“Hey yo, Cube, there go that mother-fucker right there.”/”No shit.  Watch this. . .Hey, what’s up, man?”/Not too much.”/”You know you won, G.”/Won what?”/”The wet T-shirt contest, motherfucker!”

Lyrics from the aforementioned “Here We Go” and “Now I Gotta Wet ‘Cha,” copyright 1992, by Ice Cube, born the same year as me, who grew up on Run-D.M.C. just like we all did.  “Wet ‘cha,” as in “wet your shirt with blood.”  Something happened in those nine years.  Something happened that changed the terms, and we went from fighting (I’ll knock that grin off your face) to annihilation (I will wipe you from this earth).  How we got from here to there is a key passage in the history of young black men that no on cares to write.”

[And there he leaves us!  Aching for more dialogue, waiting and hoping to find out the truth from a man who is black who has lived his blackness who may finally break the silence and explain for us white folks in the world, “why do you keep killing each other?”  “Why do you hate each other so?”  “Is it our fault?”  The ultimate fear of white people everywhere.  “Is it because we segregated you to a corner of our cities and named your ‘hood a “ghetto” like the ghettos where they kept the Jews who were waiting for trains to prison camps and death by gas or gun?”  “Have we treated you the same way and when will it come back to get us?”  “Why do you shoot at each other instead of us?”  I wait for Colson to finally throw me the answer, a lifeline to years of embarrasment and denial, but the paragraph ends.  He gives me nothing, which my white guilt says is exactly what I deserve. ] 

Bijou signing off.  Bises!

Moi

December 25, 2008

Bijou In Retrospect

Born: Cleveland, Ohio on September 18th; raised in Willoughby, Ohio where I quickly learned that being an only child is very lonely especially on holidays and during summer vacations.  College in St. Paul then dropped out to become a marriage license clerk in a probate court.  Back to college for second year then dropped out again to move to Washington, D.C. where I soon learned that the love of your life often isn’t. 

Stayed in D.C. too long (couldn’t stand the heat, literally) where I finished college, went to grad school and worked in film and television.  Moved out to Portland, Oregon when Portland wasn’t yet Portland and have watched it grow into heavy duty hippersterville.  I think I’m too old to be a hipster but then again, I see aging hipsters every day so maybe not. 

Loved and married an Irish/Englishman with rich, red hair and a pedigree reaching far back into British banking history and tobacco and Tuxedo Park, NY.  He makes chairs and I sell houses and we live in a ranch house built the year I was born.  Our family contains two dogs and a cat, three computers, one television, two cars, a shop in the backyard and lots of shoes.  All mine. 

Still waiting for my life to begin which is a sad commentary given that I’m well into middle age.  Won’t something happen soon to pull me out of myself and into the world?  Frustrated artist, writer, director, filmmaker.  Maybe just frustrated. 

Favorite quote: What if the hokey-pokey IS what it’s all about?