Archive | June, 2011

Funny, Frog, Fig, Flower, Fire, Family, Fabulous, Foil, Freckle, Five, Friend

27 Jun

My grandma’s neighbor Helen had to take a memory test the other day. The test is supposed to determine if a patient has dementia or other type of memory problem. In Helen’s case, it was also meant to help her doctor determine whether she should still be allowed to have a driver’s license.   

This is a woman who spends hours every day meticulously matching her outfits–which all have a bedazzled or zebra-print component–and applying colorful makeup. She manages to return opened boxes of cereal and kleenex by playing the Old Lady Card and batting her (fake) eyelashes. She shamelessly cheats the system–applying for food stamps and divvying her money up among relatives (who give it back to her in regular installments) so that she can qualify to live in the low-income senior housing my grandma calls home. When we found out the doctor suspected Helen had dementia, I couldn’t decide what to think. Is she suffering from some form of mental problem? I think it’s just as likely that she’s eccentric and sly like a bejeweled fox–but who knows? The latest Helen Story certainly doesn’t lead to any clear conclusions.

One of the questions on Helen’s memory test was to name a word that starts with “F”.

“I just blanked,” Helen told my grandma when she recounted the experience. “The only words I could think of were ‘fart’ and ‘fuck’.”

“So what did she put?” I asked, fascinated in spite of myself.

“She told me she debated for awhile about which would make her seem nuttier, then finally wrote ‘fart’ very deliberately.” Grandma said. 

A few days later, Helen got her results back. Lit by an indignant passion, she cornered Grandma and started venting. “Can you believe it?” She demanded. “I didn’t pass! Now they think I’ve got memory problems!”

Grandma must have been feeling brave that day, because she carefully suggested that maybe the F-word question cost her. “Oh please,” Helen said. “Nobody can think of words that start with F on demand. Besides, why wouldn’t those words naturally come to mind? Everybody does them, after all.”


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Dogs Who Heal and English Majors Who Wield Needles

20 Jun

My family suffered a major loss last December when my aunt passed away from cancer related to Fanconi Anemia. She was my mom’s younger sister and, in all the ways that matter, my big sister. She was one of those people who make friends instantly and she had an enthusiasm for every aspect of life. She fancied herself a matchmaker and was the one who arranged my first date—an unremarkable occasion with a boy who didn’t have much of a sense of humor but helped me out of my jacket and opened doors. (Gentlemanly acts = 10 points.) She cooked legendary spaghetti dinners and had a kitchen policy of “the more, the merrier.” She was thoughtful, vibrant, beautiful, charming, and funny. When other family members call me “Little Lynn,” I consider it the grandest of compliments.

Before she passed away, my aunt made my mom promise to take care of her two dogs, Lucy and Molly. Of course my mom wouldn’t have dreamed of saying no to her request, but we were a little concerned because we already had two dogs, Mona Lisa and Max. Besides the sheer idea of the numbers (four dogs!?), I was sure there would be some doggy politics when we merged the two households. I was predicting canine power plays and a very un-Brady atmosphere. The miracle? They all love each other! Sure, they occasionally get a little jealous or want their own space, but when they first met? Oh the tails, they were a-wagging. And if happiness is a warm puppy (and it is, according to Charlie Brown), then we’ve got four times the happy.

Lucy and Molly have made a really sad time in our lives a little easier–it’s a riot to see all four dogs together, and they are so loving and so loveable. Lucy is a clown with a big personality (you might recall that she doesn’t like chickens) and it’s easy to be drawn in by her big eyes and long tongue. Molly, however, has a special spot in all our hearts. She was Lynn’s constant companion, both before and during her illness. Towards the end, when my aunt was forced to stay in bed, Molly never left her side. She wasn’t interested in food, especially if it meant leaving her person. She wasn’t interested in going outside, and had to be forcibly carried out of the room for trips to the backyard. And when Lynn finally died, Molly wouldn’t leave her bed. The priest who came to give last rights did so while Molly looked on, strong and regal. At one point during the blessings, to our horror, she started licking Lynn’s face. We were embarrassed that Father Brady witnessed what we felt was an undignified (and a little bit yucky) scene, but he just stroked Molly. “She’s just saying goodbye.”

When times of great crisis arise, humans often fall short of being true compassionate forces of good. Neighbors may tut-tut at your misfortune, but go about their lives. Family members might fail to rally, and instead be consumed by denial or selfishness. Sometimes friends, though well-meaning, don’t know how to help and issue vague promises. “Anything I can do…” they say, leaving you to spin their helplessness into gold. “That’s so sweet of you” and “I’ll be sure to call”—this is the dance you’re forced to perform, and it requires certain expected words and strained smiles.

Dogs can’t run errands. They can’t drive to doctor appointments or call the deceased’s friends and relatives to deliver bad news and pass along funeral details. Their power is quiet and steady. Their inaction is, in fact, a monumental action. It’s amazing what a cold nose on the hand or the presence of a warm doggy body can do. When they’re needed, dogs are there—and that is everything.

Molly was sick recently. The vet performed a series of tests while she trembled and looked to me for assurances that he wasn’t evil. (The jury’s still out.) Kidney disease was the tentative verdict, and major dehydration was a side-effect and major problem. We were given bags of nutrient-rich water, needles, and instructions on how to inject Molly in the neck twice a day. That was a few weeks ago, and until now, it’s been my mom who did the actual dirty work. While I prepped our makeshift medical station and held Molly, my mom played doctor to my nurse. (Although, perhaps that should be reversed—whenever I’m in a hospital, it always seems to me that nurses are doing more than doctors…) This suited me well, since it’s a role I’m comfortable playing. In 7th grade, when it was time to dissect earthworms and frogs, I was more than happy to sit back and let my partner do the actual cutting. I took notes like a trooper and drew detailed, vivid drawings of the internal workings of Kermit and pals—but I’m fairly certain that the only time I touched the tray holding the unfortunate creature was to move it away from my notebook. (Ewww, slime.) Like a privileged noblewoman with unworked, callous-free hands, I did not deign to get involved in the dissection. My fingers were made to hold pencils, not scalpels.

My mom’s out of town right now, so it falls to me to give Molly her injections. The vet has cut it down to every other day, which is a small blessing because I’m enough of a panic-stricken mess. I’ve never minded getting shots. That’s not to say that I enjoy injections or that I like to watch the actual process, but I don’t cry or freak out or anything. Imagine my surprise to discover that the idea of giving a shot gives me the heebie-jeebies on steroids. Yesterday, I sat staring at the needle that I was supposed to stick Molly with. It’s as big as a darning needle, with a nasty point that makes me woozy. “But I’m an English Major!” I wailed. “I can’t do this!”

My grandma, who had agreed to assist me by holding Molly, rolled her eyes. “So now you’re an English Major who gives dogs shots. Hurry up.” I pinched a hunk of skin on Molly’s neck, trying to find a fleshy place to stick her. But the idea of poking that darn darning needle into her body made me let go. “I don’t even sew!” I protested, as if that’s a prerequisite for this sort of thing. “I can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t.”

“Do it do it do it do it!” Grandma said.

I have to tell you, I instinctively shut my eyes as I moved the needle closer to Molly. “Are your eyes closed?” Grandma asked, appalled. “Open your eyes! For God’s sake—would you want a doctor to operate on you with his eyes closed?” So, I forced myself to watch the needle disappear into Molly’s fur and feel the icky popping resistance as it pierced her body.

We can do amazing things when it comes down to the wire. A mother can find the strength to lift a car off her trapped baby. A pilot can land a plane in emergency conditions. An English major can wield a needle and move out of her comfort zone with eyes wide open. A niece can make a small effort to pay back the miracle dog who brought peace to her dying aunt.

Molly seems to be doing much better. She’s very perky and vocal. She even played with a squeaky toy for a while last night. Still, tomorrow it will be time for another shot to the neck and the trauma will begin again. I should probably start doing deep-breathing exercises now.


What Meryl Streep, Salsa Dancing, and the Circus Have in Common

16 Jun

damn damn damn damn


My internship ended this week and that means a lot of crazy mixed emotions started bubbling inside me. But instead of crowing about my temporary freedom or waxing whiny about finding a job, I thought I’d get one last work anecdote out.

I was asked to write a profile–a blurb, really–about a client who requested that my writing tone be “fun, exciting, sophisticated, and direct.” A few emails later, the client added “chic” to the list of stylistic demands.

You should also know that the company I interned for aims for a writing tone that is friendly/informal and engaging.

Hokay. So. my poor little words needed to suit up and be fun, friendly, exciting, sophisticated, direct, and chic? I don’t even know how to make my writing chic (unless I put it into French, for which I would need le google translate) let alone have it encompass all of those descriptive terms. There are a lot of exclamation points in the articles on my work’s website. It’s sort of an unwritten company policy to use them generously, and I suppose it goes with the vibe they’re trying to create. For this client, though, even one exclamation point seemed to spit in the face of “chic” and “sophisticated.” On the other hand, “fun” and “exciting” almost demand exclamation.

I sat for far too long, trying to come up with an opening sentence for this mountain of a molehill. Blink blink blink went the cursor. Curse curse curse went my mouth. Who were these people, to want my words to conform to these labels? Did they have split personality disorder? Were they testing me? Was this one of those unsolvable riddles?

To boost my spirits, I started thinking about who or what could be described as fun, friendly, exciting, sophisticated, direct, and chic. Initially, I thought that if I could identify something/someone, using all these words, then I would prove that it was possible and my task would be less daunting. Eventually, however, I just got a kick out of trying to create a list….

  • Meryl Streep
    She can sing ABBA songs as good as any dancing queen, she wears high fashion, she’s earned and won awards. She can act high and mighty and just plain high. She’s brilliant, she’s a chameleon, she’s all of those damn words that the client wanted. Wouldn’t it be funny if, for the client profile, I just wrote MERYL STREEP in a larger than life font?  And then pulled an Emperor’s New Clothes and acted like that was perfectly reasonable and anyone who thought otherwise was crazy? Not your usual Meryl Streel fantasy, but a good one…
  • Salsa Dancing 
     Well, really, the first descriptive I think of for this dance is sexy…but “exciting,” “sophisticated,” and “fun” work well too. As for “direct” and “friendly,” well, if you’ve ever watched two people salsa you’ll know that the graceful touching, twisting, stroking, is beyond friendly and pretty much cuts to the chemistry chase.
  •  The Circus
    Clowns. Fire. Animals. Acrobats on high-wires and other twisty people. Ladies wearing feathers and leotards and long eyelashes.
    I’ve been to the traditional circus once, when I was little. (And I was slightly scarred by the protesters outside yelling about animal cruelty and other grown-up concepts.) I saw a Cirque du Soleil show once, when I was a brand new teenager. (Impressive, but a little above my head.) It seems like either could be described using the aforementioned list of words. 

That’s all I got. It’s hard coming up with fun, friendly, sophisticated, exciting, direct, and chic examples! (Can you think of any more?) You want to know the ending of this story? How I possibly managed to adhere to the client’s wishes and produce the ideal requested material?

I ignored the adjectives that were inconvenient to me (chic? what the heck?) and just directed my words to be the best they could be. The customer is always right….except when they’re oh-so-wrong and weigh you down with unhelpful labels. No word back yet on whether they were satisfied with what I wrote, but I happen to think it’s pretty good. Although, since I’m not working there anymore, I probably won’t get notice of their approval. That’s probably just as well. If they had major problems with the blurb I turned in, my mind would probably churn with a few choice words for them–they wouldn’t be fun, friendly, sophisticated, or chic……but they’d sure be direct.



Friends Dragging Friends and Absent Words

14 Jun

Even in 2-D, running sucks

Bad Abigail! More than a week without posting? Bad! And what were you doing that whole time? Well? What was that? That’s what I thought–nothing! 

In high school P.E, the teacher used to make us run around the gym for a certain amount of time. (In my mind, it was long, painful hours–who knows how long it was in reality?) Those who stopped, failed. If I recall correctly, the teacher’s rule was that you had to have one foot in the air at all times. Sometimes, to amuse myself while running in circles, I would play with my feet placement. Up, down, up, down, airborne, on the ground. I probably resembled a drunk gazelle, only less graceful. 

Our teacher’s pièce de résistance, however, was that she would idly pick off runners and make them pull over to the side (these teacher-approved stops didn’t count as stopping) while she put two fingers to their neck and counted their pulse rate. If it was high enough, she sent them on their way, back to the running masses. If it was too low–fail. 

I was always picked out for a pulse count. Maybe it looked like I wasn’t running to my full potential (which I probably wasn’t) or the teacher had a particular place in her heart-region that was reserved for me, but there was never a time that I wasn’t obliged to halt my unremarkable-but-still-mobile progress. The uncomfortable wait, with the teacher’s fingers on my neck, usually felt longer than it really was. I never failed the pulse rate test, but it was agonizing all the same. It wasn’t the embarrassment of  being singled out, or the possibility of failing P.E (that was, after all, always a possibility for me). It was that after my heart succeeded in beating the proper number of times, my P.E teacher would tell me to get going again. “Okay, you’re good. Now, get running again and keep running until I say otherwise.”

Now, I may have passed high school physics by the skin of my teeth (and the grace of a teacher who recognized that matter didn’t really matter to me), but I know that a body at rest abso-freaking-lutely wants to stay at rest. To start running again, after being stopped for more than a heartbeat of time? Agh. Commence groaning.

Luckily, my friend Nikki was in my class. She was rarely stopped during these runs, but when she was, her heart rate impressed our teacher–something about the speed with which it dropped. While I stood with the teacher’s fingers on my neck, Nikki enthusiastically kept the faith, running in circles without slowing down. When my count was finished, and the idea of getting one foot in the air again was more than a little daunting, Nikki would actually take a hold of my arm and pull me into motion. You know that Albert Camus friendship quote that goes: “Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Just walk beside me and be my friend.” Nikki makes me think of that, only our quote would go something like “Don’t run away from me; I definitely won’t follow. Don’t run without me; I won’t be inspired. Just take my arm and pull without mercy while I struggle behind you…and be my friend.”

I posted more than a week ago and intended to do so again a few days later. A few days later, I claimed to be uninspired and vowed to write the next day. I met a friend for coffee on Monday and Oh My Words! came up in our conversation. I really should post something when I get home, I thought. I had time to watch itty bitty rappers on slightly trashy tv, I had time to see amazing garments made out of paper, and I had time to ponder phobias, dogs, and true callings. But I did not blog. Once you’ve stopped and taken an unintentional blogging break, it’s hard to start again. My words have been absent from the internet universe for all this time because it’s hard to take a hold of your own arm and drag yourself until something good results. 

Except that I sat down to write a quick word about writing, procrastination, and my leave of absence, and now have 700+ words that form a story that form a blog post that breaks my blogging silence. So I guess I can yank myself into action.

I almost wish there was someone around to time my heart rate.

aorta be a law against running

Everyday Counts

2 Jun

Today, I got frustrated about work and life and left 1 almost-incoherent message for a friend of mine. Luckily, true friendship means never having to say “what the hell did you say in your message? You make no sense” and she called back quickly, and with a lot of sympathy. 

I had 2 cups of coffee. 

I tripped 3 times. Once, over my computer cord. Once, over a dog. And again, apparently, over my own feet.

I received 4 phone calls from telemarketers. You can congratulate me, because I won a fabulous trip, became eligible for lower car insurance  and mortgage payments, and was selected to participate in a brief survey. I know, some people have all the luck.

I ate 5 yogurt-covered pretzels. I know it was exactly 5 because that’s how many I took out of the package before putting it away. (Then, to reward myself for having such good pretzel control, I had a cookie.)

I checked my email mid-morning and had 6 new messages. My Amazon order had been shipped. My saved job search didn’t have any good news. Four emails were from work–I needed to make changes to things I had written because the clients thought there should be a lot more information included. I spent the next few hours cramming more details into a 200-ish word limit. Torture.

I went to get something out of my car and found the street lined with vehicles. There were two hybrids, three Old Person cars (clunky tanks and tanky clunkers), one convertible and one mo-ped. That’s right, 7 vehicles. I stood there pondering them for awhile. Was someone having a party? Our only neighbors are elderly retired folks or young, professional parents with young, well-behaved kids. Besides, it was the middle of a Thursday afternoon, there was no professional sports game on television, and it wasn’t a major or minor holiday. I’m thinking that the older couple who live across the street from us were having a get-together–but just think about the range of personalities that must have been there, judging from the car types.

I hid all of the squeaky dog toys in the house. Yes, there are 8 of them–two for each dog. I know it was kind of cruel to take away their toys, but the sound of multiple squeakers being squeaked out of sync got to me. I was like a twitchy, paranoid, crazy person. The squeaky noises came from under beds, in closets, under my chair. I would look down, and there was a toy on my foot. (Lucy often puts her toy there as if to say “Look, I am making it really easy for you to play with me. I’m just going to leave this riiiiiiight here.) I went around gathering toys like the Grinch and I’m not sorry. (I gave them back eventually–how can you resist puppy dog eyes?)

I found 9 socks without mates in a pile in our spare room. This bothers me a lot, because I have no idea where the rest could be. I put these poor lost souls in a drawer but I’m pretty positive that I’ll forget they’re there, and then the cycle will begin again. It’s enough to make you believe in sock-stealing trolls. 

Our dog Molly has been sick and had to stay at the vet’s overnight last night. (More details on that later.) My mom and I were 10 minutes late picking her up, but then they were about 10 minutes late letting us in to see her. Poor thing was trembling like a leaf. For the car ride home, I wrapped her in a blanket like a little hairy baby and she stared at me the whole time. You were twenty minutes late, her eyes said. Dogs can count, you know.

Molly, post vet