Monday, November 23, 2009

toward the within

Hi. Now where were we?

I'd apologize for the silence, but I'd imagine if you track through this little bulletin board you'd find a lot of those as daily posts turned to weekly theen turned to yearly and so on, so let's just skip it. Still, a shame for me to part ways with you on such a down note.

I'd like to say that my absence had to do with grieving, that the house was shrouded in black drapery and thoughtful candlelight for the past week in light of the loss described below, but that hasn't been the case, at least on a physical level. More to the point the firecracker of need, such that it is (and wouldn't that be a nice item to see in a roadside blow-'em-up stand next July), slipped out of my hand, had its fuse silenced, whatever fits best at this point, really. It's an elusive thing, the desire to show up every day and face down the potential nothing that could be looking back.

I'm talking about the empty page, mostly. But I suppose we can touch a little bit on the Big Issue that has sort of consumed this inadvertantly aptly named space since I flipped aside the passive 'Closed' sign. (Strange timing, that.) Maybe it's a subject that's kind of been on my mind for quite a few years, maybe even since I first became aware of the concept of death. Hell, I'd imagine this is the case for most people on some level.

I don't know if I was what you'd call someone who grew up obsessed with The Big End, at least not in a manner as someone would picture. No Christina Ricci-esque dark ensembles or eyeliner, a casual but not wardrobe-defining interest in what unbeknownst to me was known as "goth rock," of course, but not much outside of the typical suburban upbringing with a lot of laughter and 0% interest in, say, cutting on a Saturday night while Dead Can Dance percolates on the Discman.

Still, I remember quite clearly how The Fear manifested when I was young, somewhere around eight or nine. You can't sleep, you suddenly become very, very conscious of the silence in the room and the whirring inside your head and suddenly, for reasons that maybe only my goofy Irish Catholic DNA can explain, you have thoughts of The Void. The howling black nothing/something that awaits at the end, the impenetrable unknowableness of it all which, for a vaguely introverted kid like me led to a crushing consciousness of my own breathing, a heaviness across my chest and, soon after, a helpless wet-eyed vigil at my mother's bedside as I silently attempted to will her awake with my mind. (Which was successful for a reason that maybe only parents know.)

But that consciousness of death, isn't really why I showed up here. This is part of the game as you grow older, as I alluded to below. The longer you're around, the higher the probability goes that you're going to have to face down that potential nothing that could be looking back. It just seems that for us over the past few months, we've gotten our share of practice. Prior to saying goodbye to our dear friend Shenoa last week we also lost a housecat Maja (from the Polish and pronounced "My-uh," a name my wife chose in reference the fat cartoon bumblebee found here). She was a strange, difficult, damaged and yet loving and beautiful creature who we lost suddenly, struck by a car out in front of our house in an appalling, even gauche reminder that loss can also come in a blink of an eye as easily as it can slowly come at you from the horizon.

I started writing a similarly long-winded tribute to that little beast a short time after that happened, and maybe I'll share those in-the-moment remembrances here next time as this seems to be going on long enough for this evening. Might make for a good read, and besides, theoretically everything has to go somewhere.

Friday, November 13, 2009

funeral for a friend

Well. That sucked.

Yesterday went about as I feared / expected and our beloved wilderness explorer, urban trail guide and pack leader Shenoa lost her battle with Time, just a few months removed from her 13th birthday. Of course, as her guardians it fell to us to give time itself a nudge, to head to the vet's and make that most incomprehensible request of asking someone to end a dear friend's life.

And of course, it's not like that, not really. This most difficult of decisions is The Right Thing. This is What's Done. This is Humane. This is Affording Her Dignity. This is Unselfish.

I have all the descriptors at the ready, and believe them all (mostly), the healing bromides we tell ourselves as pet owners when the time comes. Oh and it's coming for all of us, you young and windswept who just got their first dog and haven't known this feeling yet. It's the bargain we all passively consent to when we make the delightful and blindingly rewarding choice to bring a companion into our lives. And no, I don't think I am entirely talking about pets, either.

As I might've mentioned below, this was my first front-line experience with this and it was, well, exactly what you'd think. I'm grateful she won't have any more terrible nights like her last two, no more pain and confusion, no more cruelly inert decline for a spirit that was too stubbornly free and brilliant and loving to put up with such nonsense.

As a manner of tribute, a brief list of Shenoa's Top 5 Likes and Dislikes, in no particular order:

  1. Hiking/running in the woods (unleashed, if you please)
  2. Backseat road trips
  3. Pre-breakfast belly thwaps
  4. Smaller dogs
  5. Rolling in dead things and/or animal droppings (see #1)

  1. Baths
  2. Luggage
  3. The vacuum cleaner
  4. UPS delivery drivers
  5. Homework
For the most part those are off the top off my head, and as I look at them, surely not comprehensive and probably not all that unique (except the homework one -- she seriously took issue whenever my wife and center of her universe started working through paper and textbooks, an activity that usually sent Shenoa to some corner of the house armed with a battery of heavy sighs and loud, elbowy drops to the floor, seeped in dramatic disappointment).

Luggage was also right out, as this usually translated to an impending separation from The Pack, a time when Shenoa's role as Our Mighty Protector could not be met, where ever my wife was headed. This manifested most notably when she packed for a business trip and Shenoa stormed out of the room, asked to be let outside and proceeded make a great show of preferring to sit in cold darkness alone in a pouring rain than watch. This show, I should add, was not allowed to last too long.

I could go on, of course -- hell, it's not as if I'm going to run out of room here, but don't want to belabor the idea. It's a curious compulsion in this world of the Unsolicited Personal Narrative; I spill this sort of thing allegedly without consciousness of you, gentle reader, lurking out there in the weeds somewhere yet, by the same token, would like to provide something of at least vague interest. And, frankly, I'd like to not think of this as some kind of depressive mission where I'm not going to shut up until at least one of us is crying (though hell, perhaps that would lead to an ever-lucrative endorsement from Oprah's Book Club).

This entire exercise could lead and perhaps should lead to a longer yet not exactly unheard of study of life being at it's root, somehow, inextricably linked with loss. As aligned with the view of some chain-smoking Eastern European poet that view may be, it's the constant threat of loss and the finite nature of life that makes it precious, fellow travelers, and to be savored. Obviously.

Even though, I should add, there is no true way to utterly and completely savor every moment of love and companionship, not justifiably because that would require stopping time somehow, both in your life and someone else's. And there's simply no way to do that -- though it's utterly vital to try.

Suffice to say, I miss our dog.

Also -- Bonus coverage! This song has been in my head since way-too-early this morning. I think it fits in a non-Wes Anderson kind of way. And it sounds like watching a dog run in the forest feels.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

on life and living

So when i flicked this thing back on a couple days ago I had a couple of completely amorphous and occasionally ambitious ideas of what form this shoppe would take, if any. I've got big ideas, see, and every so often the wherewithal to carry them out.

But one such concept I had involves this longer project that's been, well, haunting me for the past few years. As I told a kind and literary-minded coworker of mine who asked what I was working I sort of rolled my eyes, explaining "When I lie in bed and think about what I'm doing, it's not an as-yet unreviewed jazz album that keeps me up at night." So here we are.

Still, I haven't been entirely certain if this is the forum. But while I've been twirling that around in my head life, as it does, made a move. We've been lucky enough to have a remarkably smart, stubborn, smelly and utterly loving dog in our lives since I met my wife some six years ago (she's been lucky enough to enjoy the her company for around seven years prior to that). Shenoa is her name -- that's a sort of thoughts-eye view of her up above there -- and in addition to having a volatile digestive system we often joked has long been lined with fine silk and filagree she has also has advanced glaucoma and lost about 80-odd percent of her sense of smell and hearing  in the past six months or so. Yes, as those of you who are sharp enough to have done the math a few sentences back already recognized, she's old.

But she's been, in recent weeks, a mostly perky kind of old, the kind of old where can allow yourself the illusion that the inevitable end isn't really coming over the horizon. We still walk her around the neighborhood, she smells familiar smells and was back to her relatively silly and energetic self apart from getting tired earlier than usual (she was born a wild-hearted Flagstaff dog, one I swear impatiently circled my city-dwelling ass when i lagged behind on mountain hikes).

That is, until last night. She laid down in the dining room, kind of troubled-looking (which ordinarily isn't a problem--she's a dog with a lot on her mind), a little disoriented and apparently uncomfortable setting her head on the ground. It was like some kind of vertigo had set in, something that became even more noticible as we led her on a meandering and seemingly dizzying walk to the back bedroom as we turned in.

This morning wasn't any better as we watched her struggle to find her way around the house and, puzzlingly, get turned around and disoriented in the back yard. A vet appointment has been acquired, knowledge perhaps will be gained, but whatever happens, it's difficult to imagine hearing something like, "Oh, she has The Canine Spins, give her this peanut butter-flavored pill and she'll be fine."

It's entirely possible that the only course of action will be bloodwork, a battery of tests, debated 'procedures' and, inevitably, conversations to figure out the grim cost-benefit analysis of how to treat a dog that, especially for a shepherd, is a senior citizen in unavoidable decline.

Now maybe, gentle reader, you're one of the lucky ones who have stumbled onto this space not yet really knowing this kind of decision -- it's certainly my first time -- or, even more enviably, haven't ever lost a loved one, any loved one in your young and certainly charmed life. You probably have regular bowel movements and only sneeze maybe four times a year as well. Good on you. But, no doubt, it's coming for you too.

There's a line in my head now, well actually a few of them. The first comes from an unheard Warren Zevon album recorded near his death called, "Life'll Kill Ya." Warren knew, first hand.

But maybe the one most lingering is a line from Joan Didion's "Year of Magical Thinking" that is most apt, "It all evens out in the end." It was a line from the late John Dunne to the (eventually) late Quintana Roo Dunne, who was complaining about having to deal with such struggles of life and death while she was in school. Didion thought the line was upbeat, that good things also happen to leaven the impact of the bad. Didion was mistaken -- Dunne knew too.

But more on that later.

For now, I'm kind of pondering what waits for us, trying to prepare and being completely certain that there is no preparing, not really. Maybe this'll be something minor and the grim decisions and finalities can wait. But I'm completely assured that whatever lies ahead will wait for us for as long as it takes.

Monday, November 09, 2009

the end of the beginning

Greetings, friends. We are once again open for business.

When this space began (good lord) over four years ago the idea was simple -- allowing yours truly the limitless space and outlet to spill notions and half-baked ideas across the world. The whole news-magazine cover story 'Blog' trend in a nutshell, I suppose. And, even more egregiously, it evolved into something that meshed pretty well with the whole mp3/music blogging wave which, given where my head's been at for the better part of my life, was just fine.

Then things, as they often do, changed.

My little hobby of tossing my Very Important Thoughts out into the howling, self-hosted cocktail party of the Internet got larger and smaller in equal measure -- larger in the sense that throwing words around about music eventually became my dayjob on the Gutenberg and online at places like this and even more commonly this, but smaller in that the music eventually overtook the message, so to speak.

This hasn't necessarily been a bad thing. In fact, you could argue that this space essentially acted as an agent of sorts to further my efforts to write about music for a living. Behave as if you're doing a certain something and, if the universe is paying attention, you will be. So, great, the self-actualized goal had been reached and inevitably the blog drifted into a pleasant retirement, a museum space of sorts dedicated to where my head was at in the latter '00s.

Except it's not all that great, actually. What's happened as I've tried on the Professional Journalist Hat is I've become fairly good at fitting into a certain template, but suddenly less practiced with another. Meaning, I can write my ass off for this publication or that but I've been terribly incapable of writing for me. This is not nearly as self-absorbed as it sounds.

Because, frankly, just about anyone who's putting part of him or herself out into the world, be it through illustration or songwriting or, yes, wild-armed bloggin, is not doing it as a selfless gesture in the name of the Greater Good. Sure, that can be a nice byproduct, but inevitably we're all doing it because of how it makes us feel, because for whatever reason we were born with the foolish notion that we've got something to say.

So, with a little luck and (gasp) motivation, that's when/why i'll be popping back here from time to time. Those of you out there who stumbled upon this place because i was giving away a few songs here and there, please move along. Your needs will find no purchase here -- besides, if in 2009 you're still wandering around these kind of places for single songs, well, I'm grateful for it but I also wonder if you've turned on a computer in the last three years. Entire albums are out there, and if you want those you'll certainly find them without listening to me for a reason.

No, this is going back to the garden a bit, a return to the dark and shadowy true purpose of spaces such as these which is -- it's all about me, man. This is not a new concept. The innovations of the past four years -- Facebook, Twitter, etc -- have essentially been founded on the basis of the kid in the back of the class waving his arms frantically in the name of holding the floor.

Now, I'd like to think that wherever we go from here won't be quite as selfish as all that and, with a little luck, it'll be half-interesting to read anyway, but we'll see. Music I'm sure will come up, but in the true nature of using This Space as an unfulfilled outlet it certainly won't play the role it once had. You want to come along? I can't promise anything but, hopefully, four years from now the universe, sun god or a magic dragon in the sky will notice these little rumblings and before i know it I'll be making a job out of that sort of thing instead.

Thank you, drive through.