Thursday, March 31, 2011

Dennis Miller time

I always assume that anyone who reads this blog thinks I'm some sort of a sweet person. That is, anyone who hasn't had the experience of being around my rather sharp sense of humor. A friend of mine told me once, "You're a good person but you'll never be a nice person. Nice people don't challenge people. They just say, 'How nice for you'. You could never do that when you disagree."

I use this blog for thoughtful pieces and discussion and it's true that this "good" person prefers not to get off on a public rant. But then, there are moments when I channel Dennis Miller.

And this is one of those moments.
  • If you're in a lane that is marked (on the pavement and on signs) as a right-hand turn lane only, is there a reason, Mr. Driver, that you feel the need to also put on your right directional?
  • And another one from the overstating-the-incredibly-obvious file... If you're merging from an entrance ramp onto a highway, do you really need to tell me with your directional that you're going to the left? I mean, where else can you possibly go in that situation unless you're hell-bent on becoming intimately acquainted with a guard rail?
  • If you are over 16, you should know how to use "you're" and "your".
  • I'm a vegetarian, not a vegan. There is a difference. Please stop correcting me and telling me what I am. K?
  • My name is pronounced deh-shane, not du-shane. Do you see any u's in my name? Didn't think so.
  • If you have a cellphone for emergencies, why is it never on when I call? And, why have you never learned to operate voicemail? If you don't want to be reached easily, why do you have a cellphone?
  • And while we're on the subject of cellphones... When you're in a public place, put the damn cellphone on vibrate. I don't need to hear your bad taste in ringtones or your loud voice punctuated by "huh?" because your crappy phone can't hold a signal.
  • If you're a cashier in a supermarket, don't pick up my one cortland apple and say, "What are you going to do with one apple?" And when I reply that it's for a scone recipe, don't show your culinary ignorance by scrunching your face and turning your head sideways while looking at me. I'm not expecting Julia Child behind the scanner, but I do expect that most adults have some clue of the existence of non-processed food. Especially when you work in the food industry.
  • If you're over 16, you should know the difference between there, their, and they're. There.
  • And while we're at it... affect is a verb, effect is a noun. It's that simple.
  • If you don't know the difference between a verb and a noun, how did you graduate high school?
  • It's Kathy, not Cathy. You've known me for 30 years. It's time to learn my name.
  • If I put my name on a waiting list for you to call out when there's a table, why must you always make me and the people in line behind me wait longer by asking if I spell my name with a C or a K? You'll be pronouncing it the same no matter how I spell it. Seems like bad time management to me.
  • I drink decaf coffee because caffeine gives me migraines. It still tastes good to me. No one is impressed by your coffee snobbery.
  • If I'm going through a really difficult time in my life and choose to talk about it which is rare because I always suck it up and hate to whine, it's now your turn to listen to me. I've been listening to your non-stop tales of woe for years. It's not always about you.
  • I'm okay with stupid. Just do it quietly.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The power of words

Ever since I was a kid I've been fascinated by the power of words. Not just words that tell a story or report the facts. I'm talking about words that help change lives.

We've all had times where we get lost in the words rolling around in our heads. We future-think ourselves into corners, fight verbal battles with opponents, and sometimes end up creating entire lives for ourselves without ever living them.

Those who follow this blog know that my mom is not well. Anyone who has heard a doctor deliver an incurable cancer diagnosis to a loved one knows what an emotional nightmare that is. Mom's making her own personal journey through this which is not the same as the ones the rest of us are making.

My personal journey through this has been strangely accepting. That is not to say that I don't have my moments. I have plenty. Most of it takes place in my head late at night when I can't sleep. That's when the future-thinking starts and sometimes spins out of control. I keep most of this thinking to myself and rarely share it. When there's someone else with a greater need, I focus there and park my own issues for later.

But I feel, at the same time, to be incredibly lucky in many ways. Lucky to have my mom with me still. Lucky to have a family that is so caring and helpful. And lucky, too, to have such a strong support network.

I have a friend who sends me the funniest cards I've ever seen. They don't come on occasions and aren't for any particular event. They come just because. They appear in my mailbox amidst all the bills and are often signed with a simple :-)

My church has two groups called "Healing Conversations". One is for adults; one is for teens. My minister and I co-lead the one for teens and I treasure those times with the youth. The adult group is for me. It's a time to come together and explore grief and support each other. There is crying and laughing, occasionally at the same time.

Throughout my journey, I've had friends from church and outside church speak words that get into my ever-processing brain and cause it to stop its churning. I don't think any of these friends have any clue how much a couple of words, spoken at the right time, can mean to me.

My friend Jack said two words to me the other night that have helped me a lot this week. The words are "Be peaceful." Simple but perfect. To me that means accepting what will be and letting go of the impulse to predict the future.

Jack's advice also reminded me of the power of words. Two words might not seem like much communication in the course of a long day of talking - or typing. I was happy to know that my life-long love of words hasn't been lost in 140-character tweets. 

Words are powerful enough to grab heavy emotion by the scruff of its neck and gently place it where it can do no harm. Magic happens at times like that - when you least expect it but most need it. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

You know you're a dog lover when...

I got to thinking today what a bizarre bunch we dog lovers are and how we have adapted our lives around our dogs. So, I got a conversation going on Twitter today. You can find my and other's comments at #doglover.

Here are some of my tweets to answer the sentence, "You know you're a dog lover when...."
  • You find dog poop on your wedding ring and don't even flinch.
  • You start your day with dog fur floating in your coffee cup.
  • You leave your outdoor winter gear within reach until mid-April.
  • Drool is the new furniture polish.
  • Your rugs have throw rugs on top of them.
  • You introduce your dog to your houseguests before you take their coats.
  • You spend more time grooming the dog than yourself.
  • Friends ask you how "the kids" are doing and you don't have any children.
  • Sleeping in is something you did back in college.
  • Your mother calls and asks how the dogs are doing before she asks about your husband.
  • You say you're taking the dogs on a "W" because the word "walk" makes them crazy.
  • You pass a dog and remember him but have no idea what the dogwalker looked like.
  • You have an email address and/or password with your dog's name or breed in it
  • You drive with the windows rolled down on a 20-degree day.
  • The word "bitch" doesn't phase you.
  • You spend an easy $100 at the pet supply store but cringe when your own food bill comes to $80.
  • You always have paper towels and Resolve Pet Stain carpet cleaner on your weekly shopping list.
  • You are friends with your vets and their employees on Facebook.
  • Your arthritic dog gets a massage every two weeks and you get one once a year.
  • People apologize to you ahead of time if they're going to say something not completely glowing about a dog.
  • Friends call you for advice before they call the vet.
Can you complete this sentence? If so, add your thoughts here or on Twitter under the topic #doglover.

C'mon! Join in!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Why vegetarianism?

I get that question fairly often when people find that out about me. It's been about 5 years since I've given up meat and fish (though I do occasionally have shrimp) and I have honestly never regretted the decision.

This week I attended a discussion about vegetarianism at my church. There were a large number of people there who either were vegetarians or vegans, or folks who were thinking about making that switch.

My path to vegetarianism was a fairly long one. I've always been an animal lover and, even as a kid, felt great empathy for living things. When my dad or brother caught a fish when vacationing in Maine, my heart would break when I saw the fish flopping in the bucket.

Back home in the city, I would follow squirrels and try to learn about their family lives. I was able to recognize them individually based on coat coloring, size, and behavior. If I didn't see one of them for a while, I would worry.

Me advocating for Springer Spaniel Rescue at one of our
many outdoor events

We didn't get a family pet until my uncle brought a Springer Spaniel puppy to us when I was in high school. That was one of those life moments that I will never forget. It was such a surprise and a joy to see that little wiggling blur running toward us as we all instinctively dropped to the living room floor.

Through years of dogs that were either my parents or mine, I found myself becoming an animal rights activist. Seeing and reading about the abuse and neglect that so many sweet souls endure led me to volunteer with Springer Spaniel Rescue where Ron and I had adopted our first dog together, the amazing Miss Brittany.

While volunteering with Rescue, I became involved with the Massachusetts Animal Rights Coalition (MARC) when a call went out to protest a rather nasty pet store. All of the puppies came from puppy mills in the South. While holding signs and being sworn at by ignorant passers-by, I started to chat up the president of MARC.

She was a confirmed vegetarian and told me that her group wasn't just about advocating for pets but for all animals, especially those in the factory meat processing plants. She told me, "Pigs are as smart and as in-tune emotionally as dogs. But the calls for action against pet abuse are the only ones that get people holding signs."

The seed was planted.

Over the course of a few years, I started paying more attention to the way animals were treated if the end result was food. The systematic "processing" of the living really started to gnaw its way into my gut.

I lost a lot of sleep thinking about how I was contributing to the process. Thoughts of animals and birds crowded into pens while awaiting a frightening and stressful end got me thinking about how my own dogs would feel if they were in those pens -- and in the line of terrified animals headed for the slaughter.

But then, how would I function without meat and fish? And not just the food, but the traditions surrounding it? The hot dogs on July 4th, the turkey at Thanksgiving, the ham at Easter. What could I order in a favorite restaurant that catered to meat eaters?

Conflicting thoughts flooded my nighttime conciousness and I just couldn't decide. Then, one day... it happened. I stumbled upon an online video of a puppy mill taken by an animal rights activist who posed as a worker and brought a hidden camera with her.

The images were heartbreaking. Dogs were kept in cages too small for them. They were emaciated, covered in sores, and acting crazily from years of being used as money-making products and not living creatures.

It was then I had an epiphany. I realized it was easier for me to become a vegetarian than it was for me to agonize over it.

The result is a happier, healthier body and soul. Traditions haven't changed that much - I just eat the vegetables instead of the meat. Restaurants are more than happy to adjust menu items to fit my life choice. And veggie burgers are a fine replacement for hot dogs on Independence Day.

My husband has learned to prepare his own meat dishes with some guidance from me. I've found some amazingly tasty vegetarian meals that we both love. And my family and friends have adjusted and accepted the change, often ensuring that they have a vegetarian option for me when I come for dinner -- though I honestly don't expect it.

What I find the most interesting is others' approach to my spiritual and ethical decision, one that I don't push on anyone. As some offer me a meat or fish dish out of pure hospitality, they immediately catch themselves and say, "Oh. I'm sorry! You can't have this!"

My answer is always the same: "Actually, I can have it. I choose not to."

Monday, March 14, 2011

It's a Lowell thing

The Boston Globe listed new DVD releases this weekend and The Fighter was one of them. Ever since I saw the movie last year, I've been meaning to write about it.

The movie was a huge draw for me, and still is. I not only grew up in the area of Lowell that was depicted in the film (The Highlands), I also was an unpaid extra in the early fight scenes. Could you see me? No. Although I plan to buy the DVD and slow-mo the part where I thought I'd appear on camera (in the background) and doublecheck.

Still, my voice and energy were in those scenes and I consider myself part of the film. An Oscar award winning film, at that. Check that one off the bucket list.

It was fascinating to be part of the filming for one day. I knew when I walked into the Tsongas Arena and was faced with Marky Mark in boxing trunks and gloves (and not much else) that this was all the payment I needed. It was a long day sitting in an arena with a bunch of extras doing the same take over and over and over. I think that the entire 7 hours I spent on the set resulted in 30 seconds of the movie playing time.

Watching the actors and all the supporting professionals like the makeup crew and even the guys who operated the smoke machines that got that 1980s boxing arena feel was awe-inspiring. I didn't miss a detail. And, although it now helps me understand the process while I watch a movie, I have to admit that it also took away the magic.

I never saw the director though I heard his booming voice all day instructing both the actors and the extras. Mark Wahlberg was incredibly gracious and thanked and joked around with the extras as much as he could to keep us from dying of boredom.

Christian Bale and Melissa Leo were there the entire day too but never acknowledged us. Which I thought was pretty classless. Sugar Ray Leonard had a cameo (that ended on the cutting room floor) and he got in the ring and chatted us up during a break. Micky Ward and Mickey O'Keefe also took to the ring and did some chatting with the crowd.

Maybe Bale and Leo were trying to stay in character. Or maybe that sort of pandering was beneath them. Either way, I left with a bad taste in my mouth for both of them, especially Bale who was and is a big name. Wahlberg seemed to be the regular, never-forgot-his-roots kind of guy that journalists love.

When I saw the movie, I was expecting really bad Lowell accents. The Highlands section of Lowell has a very unusual accent. Somehow, my siblings and I have managed to escape it (or maybe we have some of it but don't notice it). The accent is more pronounced than a Boston accent. It's not a Kennedy accent but is close. [Note to Martin Sheen: It's time to ditch the Kennedy accent when doing characters from Boston. No one in the world talks like that except the Kennedys.]

I remember once when I was in 6th grade, a classmate invited me to her house for a play date. It turned into a hot day and I told her I needed to bike back home and change into shorts. And I pronounced "shorts" exactly like that.

She and another playmate laughed and laughed and told me I was saying the word that means "men's underwear." Not knowing what they were talking about I asked what the difference was.

"It's pronounced 'shaahts'! Don't you know how to <taahk>?" So, I relearned the pronunciation and was very careful not to say it wrong for fear of being laughed at. Eventually, when I moved away from Lowell, someone asked why the heck I pronounced "shorts" so funny at which point I had to unlearn the wrong way and relearn the correct way. To this day, I have to remind myself to pronounce it the non-Highlands way.

I think Amy Adams did the best job with the accent. They all came very close but she nailed it. It's those sorts of details that can make or break a movie. Even Wahlberg didn't just go with his native Dorchestah accent. He understood that a well-executed local accent makes a character more believable and sets the stage for some deep character work.

Dicky Eklund went to school with me in 7th and 8th grade. I don't remember him and I moved to Andover (another accent for another day) before 9th grade. A friend told me Dicky dropped out after 8th.

I finally spent the time watching High on Crack Street after I saw The Fighter. One of the filmmakers is a distant cousin of mine. But then, I think all Irishmen in Lowell are cousins somehow with most of them coming over from County Cork around the same time.

If you've seen both movies, you know that some poetic license was taken with Dicky's story. The addict in Crack Street that they focused on was nicknamed "Boo" but his character morphed into Dicky's story in The Fighter. Boo was actually born and raised across the street from my grandparents and his family was very good to mine. I remembered that they had a son who was "trouble", as my grandparents put it, but we never held that against Boo's family.

So, there was a lot of familiarity in the movie that made me feel even more a part of it than just my being there for the fight scenes. They filmed on the street where I grew up. And they filmed in front of the house where my aunt and cousins lived. The opening scene starts in Cupples Square--the closest shopping area to my house when I was young.

The bar that appears in that first scene (The Highland Tap) was the bar I hung out at with my boyfriend when we were in college at UMass Lowell which happened to be around the time the story unfolded. Who knows, we may have even played pool or sat at the bar with Ward or Eklund. God knows we spent enough time there.

I hope Lowell can host another film crew. It's a great city with a big heart. Sure, it has its problems. What city doesn't? I'd be an extra again--paid or unpaid. Sitting in the darkened theatre with friends who survived that long day of filming with you as you watch for each other on the big screen is priceless.

And clapping with all the other Lowellians as the credits roll is a proud moment. After all, the city of Lowell was a character too.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

When the muse strikes

I've been spending more time in the hospital with my mom than writing. But today, while waiting for my husband to stumble out of some pretty nasty oral surgery, I was overcome by the feeling that I would explode if I didn't put pen to paper - immediately.

I have a journal that always sits on my dresser awaiting some revelation. The journal comes with me on trips and sometimes when I know I will have a long wait. You never know when an idea will pop into your head and you best be ready before it leaves your post-menopause, foggy brain.

Today was one of those days. The past week has been emotional and exhausting. Mom is back in the hospital and I've been doing a lot of waiting, hand holding, and broad-shoulder work. They're my parents and I love them so it is my honor and privilege to walk with them during times of crisis.

I brought my journal with me the first full day my mom was in the hospital and we awaited a procedure for her. But the muse did not strike. I think if it had, I would have hit it back. "No time! No energy! Come back another day!", I would have told it.

It takes a while for me to process an emotional event. I know there is always a lesson in there somewhere. It often comes to me in the middle of the night when I'm too tired to get out of bed and shuffle over to my journal. And so, the thought will often disappear with the morning light.

Magazines and a book were to be my distractions today as I awaited a peaceful resolution to Ron's gum warfare. I brought a coffee with me and finished that. Poked through the horrible, uninspiring magazines in the office waiting room and decided that a woman's magazine called "More" would be More useful as kindling.

Then, it hit. That muse! And it would not go away. I looked at the magazine and book I brought to see if there was enough blank space on the pages for me to scribble my ideas. Nothing.

I went to the service desk and, with my eyes certainly darting back and forth, asked breathlessly for a pad of paper. The clerk held up a medium-sized note pad with the doctor's name on the top and asked, "Will this do?"

"Yes. Yes. Thanks." I said as I snatched it out of her hand. A wad of gently-used toilet paper would have sufficed at that point. I fumbled for a pen in my purse as I reached my seat. Repeating over and over to myself the words that were streaming through my head at a speed faster than any toboggan I had ridden as a child.

Can't forget a single one. Must write quickly. I scribbled and tore pages away at lightning speed until there was a pile of papers (double-sided) on the table next to me. I somehow remembered to number the pages so that I wouldn't lose the flow.

I feared my pen would run out. Could I go to the service desk again and ask for a pen? Would I be pushing it if I asked to use one of their computers? No time to think about that. Just keep writing.

My husband emerged out of the treatment room and I looked up with glassy eyes. "Oh," I said, "Right on time! It took exactly one and half hours as they predicted!". "Actually, dear," he replied, "I was only in there for an hour."

I looked at my watch for a long time and did the math. Yup. One hour on the nose. Did the muse take away my sense of time while I scribbled madly? Or maybe it just took my sense. Period.

On our way back home, I tried to shake the muse from my brain as I listened to Ron's post-procedure instructions and stuffed his prescriptions in my purse to fill for him after I nudged him onto the sofa to rest. As I prepared to make the drugstore run, I grabbed at some scrap paper I have by the phone and headed back out.

I scribbled as I waited for the 'scripts to be filled and felt the piece had been somewhat fleshed out. At least enough for me to put it to bed and work on later.

Songwriters must feel this way. Do they bring their guitars with them everywhere? Or their music-lined notebooks? Or maybe a small recorder to sing into?

I don't know if their muse is the same as mine. All I know is that I will never be caught again without my journal in my voracious writer's reach.