Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Questions I've wanted to ask recently but can't

Why do you hate her with the fire of a thousand suns? Did she kill your dog, disrespect your mama, WHAT?

Are you under the impression that I'm a dumb-ass, or that you're my boss, or possibly both?

How, exactly, did your last-minute emergency become my problem to solve?

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Another thing I'm thankful for...

...The backup country. Yes, everyone should have a backup country. History has proven this over and over again. When your country is overrun by genocidal maniacs, wrung dry by debilitating drought or disease, unable to provide basic economic security for its citizens, or co-opted by war-mongering fundamentalist idiots - you need a Plan B.

My backup country is Canada. (THANK YOU, Dad.) Some of my foremothers and forefathers came to Boston in the 1600s and decided they liked the English monarchy, thank you very much, so when things heated up over this whole revolution thing, they headed north. They were too polite for revolutionary war. It's the Canadian way. Eventually they got their independence, too. The Daily Show's America: A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction explains this in one of their handy little comparative sidebars on Canadian history:

"Our style of revolution centered less on bloodshed and guerilla warfare and more on the time-tested strategy of 'not making a fuss'...And our patience ultimately paid off, for in the glorious year of 1982, we took the bold step of getting permission from England to amend our constitution so we could amend our constitution - without getting permission from England. Let freedom ring!"
While I have my Canadian citizenship card, I don't yet have a passport. I went through quite a few hoops to document my Canadian citizenship. I didn't have to apply for it, mind you - I have always been a citizen - but I did have to bring myself to the attention of the Canadian government, as a long-lost citizen separated from the flock. It involved a great many notarized documents.

I figured the passport would be a breeze in comparison, but no. My passport application has to be signed by a doctor, veterinarian, judge, police officer or notary public who has known me for at least two years and is willing to attest that I am who I am, and the passport photos (a special size, available through exactly one photography studio in this Canadian-friendly city) are actually of me. I'm trying to get all this together before my friend Julie, a doctor who has known me for 26 years, comes for a visit next weekend. She's very excited to be certifying my passport application. She doesn't have a backup country. She's envious.

As I type this, Enrico is saying to me: "Do you really want to blog that you have Canadian citizenship? Some Homeland Security twerp is probably trolling the blogs for disloyal and ungrateful Americans, and he'll trace your identity and cause you all kinds of problems."

And that, my friends, is exactly why we all need a backup country. And I don't give a crap who knows about it.

Happy Thanksgiving

Today, I slept in. I talked to a friend who called me yesterday for advice, and learned that my advice did in fact help her. I deposited a check that I earned from a piece of work that I feel proud of. I bought a shredder and some toner. I did my best to contribute some resolution and healing to a situation of great contention and mistrust. I spent some time with an older, wiser woman whom I respect. I went to my public library and got a (hopefully) good book to read. I donated our old printer to a nonprofit that can use it. I bought a big slab of Alaskan salmon for tomorrow's meal. I received a tail-wagging, face-washing greeting from my dogs. I enjoyed a good laugh with Enrico and a bottle of fine Argentine Malbec over dinner. I am currently eating chocolate Italian gelato. Soon there will be a new episode of Lost.

For these things, and for the meal we'll share tomorrow with my oldest friend - I am thankful.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Here's one for the analyst's couch

When I was in the third grade, we went to live in Cincinnati for a year. The schools in Cincinnati were not as good as those in my little home town, and the year was mostly review for me. My mom had to come down to the school and obtain special dispensation for me to check out books from the fourth-grade "section" of the library.

I was a very shy child, so making friends in a new place for a year was hard, and it wasn't made easier by being ahead of everyone in class, the only kid with security clearance for the fourth-grade library books. It really didn't help that I had a teacher who picked obvious favorites. I would have loved to melt into the back row, but alas - front and center, constantly held up as having the best test scores. (I was happy to keep my mouth shut and my hand down, but I drew the line at intentionally throwing a spelling quiz, dammit.) Nonetheless, I managed to make enough friends, and it was a happy year, most of which I spent exploring the two-acre back yard of our rented house, complete with a creek and a stone bridge and tadpoles and snakes. Snakes!

There was a boy a few doors down who was, I would say, "troubled." A year younger than me, he was in a special ed class, and had behavioral difficulties of some sort. This boy (I'll call him Todd, I don't remember his name) used to bully me on the way to and from school, and I was baffled as to why he had taken such a vigorous dislike to me, although with adult hindsight I can see that it had nothing to do with me personally. This went on for some time, and one day the teacher called me out into the hallway, where I saw Todd and his teacher. My teacher asked if it was true that Todd had been hassling me on the way home from school. Surprised at how she knew this when I had told no one, not even my parents, I nodded.

"Slap him," she said.

I looked at her, stunned. Surely a teacher - two teachers! - were not telling me to hit another child? She repeated herself, explaining that because he had harmed me, I got to hit him. I hesitated, then gave him a light slap across the cheek, ready to turn and run back into the classroom. Harder, she instructed me, slap him harder. I gave him a good whack, and then (as ordered) one more, and it was finally over. He never bothered me again.

I can vividly, vividly recall the shame and guilt I felt at hitting that poor boy across the face, knowing it wasn't right, no matter how mean he'd been. I can honestly say I felt no satisfaction at seeing the fear and humiliation on his face. I remember my confusion - my brain simply couldn't compute, couldn't reconcile the trusted authority figures with the instructions that I knew to be wrong. As an adult, I've told this story to parents, and a few teachers, and they are always dumbstruck. Of course, this was a school that still actively used big wooden paddles for discpline, which was a bit of a throw-back even in my day.

It turned out that two boys in my class - boys I scarely knew - had seen the bullying and reported it to the teacher. Despite the bizarre events set in motion by this act, the act itself demonstrated such decency from a couple of eight-year-old strangers that, to this day, I am astonished and touched to think of it. It's at least as astonishing as the poor judgment of the two teachers. The whole memory, the good and the bad, comes to me from time to time when I think about what we know about right and wrong, and violence, and how we learn it.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Why I could never work in government

"So have they found a new cubicle for you yet?"

"No, but they met last week to talk about it."


"Progress! They decided to decide."

"What does that mean, they decided to decide?"

"Just that."

"But that makes no sense. Could they decide not to decide? Or not decide to decide?"


"But what would that actually mean? Not deciding IS a decision. WHAT THE HELL IS A DECISION NOT TO MAKE A DECISION OR A OR NON-DECISION TO MAKE A DECISION?"

"You see, your problem is, you're thinking about this like someone who lives in the real world."


Wednesday, November 16, 2005

An update on the animal experimentation

You may recall that in an effort to stave off canine senility and entertain myself, I embarked on a series of fun psychological experiments/games with my dogs. I'm sure you've all been waiting with bated breath to hear about them.

Dogs are thought to have the cognitive abilities of a 2- to 4-year old human, and one of the important things that happens in early human development is the idea of object permanance - the concept that an object exists even when you can't see it. It may seem obvious, but it's actually a pretty amazing leap. Think about very small babies playing peek-a-boo: the reason they are so delighted to see the stuffed bunny reappear is because for the moment that it was hidden behind your back, it genuinely ceased to exist for them. Object permanence gives us the concept of people and things as independent, abstract beings.

So my exercise is a variant on 3-card monty, or the shell game. I set a piece of kibble on the floor, and cover it with one of two cups that I place face-down on the floor. When I tell them to "get it!" they have to nudge the correct cup with their nose to get the treat. Wrong cup, no treat. Dogs supposedly see blue clearest of all colors, whereas red looks like black. I thus have a blue and a red cup.

Not surprisingly, Nelly is better at this game than Toby, although it did take her a while to figure out what the hell I wanted from her. She now has almost 100% accuracy, so I'm thinking of increasing the complexity - perhaps a third cup, I don't know. They both get less accurate as we go on, which I suspect has to do with the fact that both cups start to smell like treats, and they rely on their noses first and foremost.

One of the fascinating things that Stanley Coren does in his books is to make real what it's like to have a brain that works in a fundamentally different way. He does this particularly well in the book How Dogs Think, with this analogy: Suppose you walk into a room and see a table, covered with a tablecloth, with a pen and a book and a bunch of other things on it. Your brain takes in all of that quickly and effortlessly - the layering of items one upon another, the variety of items, etc. However, the smells in the room are probably only an amorphous blob that makes little impression, unless there's something that really stands out like the smell of fresh bread, or ammonia.

For dogs, it's basically the reverse. In addition to having more complex noses, they have entire lobes of the brain devoted to smell that don't exist in humans. So they pick up each smell distinctly, with an awareness of placement and layering that's analogous to our sense of sight. Coren notes that smugglers will naively try to "mask" smells from detection dogs by, say, putting a bag of drugs in the gas tank of the car. A drug-sniffing dog will simply smell a car with drugs in the gas tank, much as we see the items on a table, clear as day. Their vision, on the other hand, will be more of a blurr. Other than being highly evolved for motion detection, vision is a dog's secondary go-to sense.

So one of the hardest things to do is train a dog to choose something on the basis of color. They can learn it - it's not that they don't see color, because they do - but it takes hundreds of repetitions for them to figure out what you want. "Oh, it's the green that you care about!" Suppose you laid out three balls for a human, and they got a reward for picking the "right" one - they just have to figure out the pattern you're looking for. Now imagine the correct answer is the ball that smells like banana, rather than the one that smells like apple or orange. Think how long it would take you to figure that out, and you've got an idea what it's like to train a dog to choose colors.

Anyway, I do think the dogs are enjoying the game, so I'll have to think of new ways to keep it interesting for all of us.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

I could not possibly make this up

So, here's a handy tip for you.

Tonight at private investigator class, I heard the following story about one of our instructor's clients: A guy's girlfriend dies, and is cremated. He can't locate any family, so he takes her ashes, because he figures somebody should. He puts them in a nice urn.

A month later, members of the girlfriend's family show up. Next thing he knows, the police charge the guy with misdemeanor theft of cremains.

So, the very important moral of the story is: Don't just accept any bag of human ashes that somebody might try to give you.

Oh the things I do

I have to go to Texas for work in a couple weeks. This, after determining that due to the screwed-up nature of the Estimated Self-Employment Tax system, nearly every penny I earn between now and the end of the year will go DIRECTLY to the IRS. For this, I am going to Texas. Sheesh.

To all the IT guys I've loved before

Our new computer toys arrived and I spent much of Sunday getting everything transferred off the old equipment and set up on the new one. A very glitch-free experience, I am pleased to say.

I've been acting as my own IT department for a while now - I've always been the computer gal in the house, but since I've been self-employed there's a greater complexity to our technology needs, and greater urgency that it run smoothly. I have had terrible, terrible glitches with high-speed internet setup, and a total system crash which eventually required outside expert assistance. In those moments of deep despair, I lifted up loud and sincere praise to the many IT professionals at my various places of employment who took care of such nightmares for me in the past.

It's easy to appreciate the job they do when something goes wrong. What I learned to appreciate this weekend was the SHEER MONOTONY of the job when it goes well. Watching the little bars scroll across the screen... sitting... sitting... hitting a key... sitting... reboot... yawn... snooze.

So, to all the guys (and yes, for some reason they were pretty much all guys) who have cared for my technology needs in the past, keeping them humming smoothly, out of sight out of mind: You'll be honored, I'm sure, to know that you have been included in the Flossing Gratitude Ritual. Live long, and prosper.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Logic, people. Learn it, love it.

Suppose the statement If A, Then B is known to be true. Say: If Johnny is sick, he stays home from work. Let's take that as your base statement: If A, Then B.

You can then make the following statements:

  • A, therefore B. Johnny is sick, therefore he stays home from work.
  • Not B, therefore not A. Johnny did not stay home from work, therefore he was not sick.
The following statements, however, are logical fallacies. They DO NOT follow from your premise.
  • Not A, therefore Not B. Johnny wasn't sick, therefore he didn't stay home from work. You can't say this for sure, because there may be other reasons that Johnny stays home from work. Say, because his kids are sick, or it's a holiday, or he's just a lazy-ass.
  • B, therefore A. Johhny stayed home, therefore he was sick. See above about the many reasons that Johnny keeps his lazy ass at home.
This base statement is basically the same as the Venn diagram - for those of you who like circles - of "All A's are B's" - If it's an A, then it's also a B. Same conclusions flow, and do not flow. If something isn't in the bigger, outside B circle, it can't be in nested little A. Just because something is in big B doesn't automatically make it an A.

So, for example:
"All Republicans are idiots."
"That's not true!"
"Really? Give me an example that disproves my assertion."
"My brother Jerry is a total idiot, and he's a Democrat."
"Jane, you ignorant slut. You could say, 'Dan Evans is a Republican, and he's not an idiot, therefore not all Republicans are idiots.' The fact that you found some idiotic non-Republicans does absolutely nothing to invalidate my argument."
Why am I saying these things? Because the standards for rational, logical reasoning have becoming stunningly, abysmally low in this country. Because I was required to take a semester of formal logic waaaay back in the 7th grade - none of which I really remember - and so I am apparently condemned to a life where just reading the news each day is like FINGERNAILS ON THE FRICKIN' BLACKBOARD, people, what with all the logical fallacies flying around. I'm just trying to do my part to bring a little more rationality to the world. That's all. Thanks for listening.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Got a monkey on my back

"Any comfort food I can get you while I'm out?"

I looked at my husband with a look that said, you know the answer to that question, and it can only end badly. Cocoa Crispies, the delightfully crunchy cereal that turns the milky all chocolately good. With absolutely no natural ingredients or nutritional value whatsoever.

"Hey, you're sick. You should be able to eat whatever you want."

"Ok, but you'd better get an extra jug of milk while you're at it, because you know that once they're in the house, the entire box Crack-o Crispies will be consumed within 24 hours."

"It doesn't have to be."

"Yes. Yes, it does."

Friday, November 11, 2005

The more things change...

Tonight we watched Dr. Zhivago, the old one with Omar Sharif and Julie Christie. I read the book years ago, during my Summer of Russian Literature, but the movie struck me for its compelling portrayal of the hardness of life in a disintegrating society. Perhaps not a realistic portrayal - I wouldn't know - but striking nonetheless.

I think sometimes about what would happen if this society just fell apart for some reason - economic collapse, war, a massive electromagnetic pulse that disables all electronic devices...pick your apocalypse. I envision us wandering the desolate countryside after the apocalypse with our dogs on ropes, and I joke about this frequently enough that my friend Megan once said, "Why are your dogs always on ropes in this scenario? Are there no leashes after the apocalypse? Will there be some kind of doomsday leash-vaporizing machine?"

A couple of weeks ago in Phoenix, I had a cab driver who came to the US from Somalia at 17, during the war. I commented that Seattle, my home, has a large east African community and he nodded and held up his cell phone - he had just been talking to someone in Seattle, in fact. Many Somalis move to Seattle, he said, because it is like home, with its mountains close to the sea.

I got to asking him more questions about what Somalia is like, and he explained that most of the country is peaceful, but there is no central government, just local governing authorities that are tribally based. "Do people want a central government again," I asked, "or do they prefer localized government?"

"Oh no, people are ready for a government again. The whole tribe thing...When I was growing up, my parents never told me what tribe we were from, even though it was one of the big ones historically, a powerful one. That wasn't important any more. It was only after the war started, suddenly people reverted to 200 years ago - who was from what tribe, which one used to control this area or that. After all these years, people started teaching their children, 'you're from this tribe, they're from that tribe,' and the children learn that." He shook his head. "The bullshit that people teach their children, it sticks, you know?"

"Yeah well. I think most cultures have their bullshit that they teach their children. We certainly do in this country."

"Oh, yes," he said. He held up his arm and pointed to it. "Like about skin color."

Indeed, about skin color. We rode in silence for a while. "When we came to this country," he said tentatively, "I had no other home to go back to. And I am very grateful. This is a good life here. But people here...they don't understand what a good life they have. They don't understand what it's like elsewhere, what happens when the life you know just - disappears."

I asked how easy it is to go back and visit now. It's possible, he said. His mother in fact just went back to visit her elderly mother, because she couldn't stand to be away any more. "Eventually," he said with a shrug, "people get tired of killing each other."

Well, let's hope he's right about that.

You've gotta be bleepin' kidding me

Today I see in the news that George Bush has used the occasion of Veteran's Day to proclaim that people who are against the Iraq war are trying to "rewrite history."

This, from someone who claimed that we had to go to war because (a) Iraq had terrible weapons, (b) Iraq was part of the 9/11 attacks, and ergo (c) bringing down Saddam Hussein was part of the "War on Terror" and necessary for our personal safety? And now, when (a) and (b) have proven demonstrably false, he claims that in fact the war was all about bringing a better life to the Iraqi people and democracy to the Middle East? WHO'S REWRITING HISTORY HERE?

Because as I have said many times, I am always interested in putting myself inside someone else's head. I really wonder - does he believe this shit? Is this one of those cases - and I have seen it before - where someone genuinely rewrites reality in their head, because it's convenient, or because the previous reality is no longer bearable? Is he cynically lying?

I don't seriously want to get inside the man's head because that's gotta be one damn scary place to be. I don't know how you could possibly reconcile, say, "I am a Christian" with "torture is an acceptable tool in the pursuit of peace," in one united psyche. I picture all these incompatible beliefs careening erratically and dangerously in there, like highly-energized particles with opposing magnetic charges. But sometimes I really do wonder - is he delusional? Lying? A pathological liar, which is a little of both? Under the control of hypnosis, extraterrestrials, or a microchip implanted in his brain? WHAT?

Thursday, November 10, 2005

It turns out...

1) Many loud and strange people ride the bus.
2) A sinus infection can feel exactly like a toothache.
3) Sentences like, "Yeah - no, we're not doing that," just roll out of my mouth like gumballs from a nickel machine. Where did this person come from? For years I was other people's Backup Boss. Now I'm a professional Substitute Boss, and the first time, I remember taking a deep breath and feeling self-consciously weird, like every word out of my mouth was ponderous and unnatural, and everybody knew I was a big fat faker who didn't know what the hell to do, but they were too polite to say so. It appears, on the third go-round, I may or may not be a big fat faker, but I am definitely no longer self-conscious about it.
4) Enrico makes really good banana cinamon pancakes, which must be the best food in the world for a sinus infection that feels like a toothache.

That is all.

Monday, November 07, 2005


Well, the prime blogging material that I have today is out of the question due to its clear violation of the Thou Shalt Not Blog About Work commandment. I know, I violate that commandment with reckless regularity, which I rationalize by avoiding anything really negative or juicy, and relying on the fact that I normally work for a few clients at once so who really knows of whom I speak? But, there's just no way to put this story on the Internet, not today, anyway. Soon it will be fair game, but not just yet.

And other than this one (in my opinion) amusing but unbloggable little anecdote, my mind is a blank. I can think of nothing else to deliver to my vast reading public today. So, there it is.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

The gaping chasm

"Before it is too late, we must narrow the gaping chasm between our proclamations of peace and our lowly deeds which precipitate and perpetuate war. We are called upon to look up from the quagmire of military programs and defense commitments and read the warnings on history's signposts. One day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal."
- - Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? (New York: Harper & Row, 1967).

Today's sermon at church featured a guest - Jennifer Harbury, a lawyer and human rights activist who became famous when her husband was imprisoned, tortured and then extrajudicially executed by the Guatemalan government in the 1990s. Harbury conducted a lengthy hunger strike as part of her effort to find out what happened to her husband, and to shed light on the US government's complicity in his fate and that of thousands like him around the world who are imprisoned, tortured and killed with the resources, training, knowledge and often physical presence of US intelligence agencies. Harbury, the granddaughter of Jews who fled the Holocaust and found a home in a Unitarian congregation in upstate NY, now works for the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, as the director of their STOP Torture program.

Harbury talked about what is happening in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in other countries that conduct torture on behalf of, and on the payroll of, the US government. She talked about how this is not new, and the threads of such activities trace back through many decades despite numerous international treaties and US laws specifically prohibiting and criminalizing them. She talked about the effects of torture on our moral health as a people, our standing in the world community, and the safety of our citizens and soldiers abroad.

So, a couple things:
  • There is an amendment to the current defense spending bill that would prohibit (again) U.S.-sponsored torture anywhere in the world. President Bush has threatened to veto the entire bill if it includes the anti-torture provisions, despite the fact that the Senate voted 90 to 9 in favor of the anti-torture amendment sponsored by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). This overall spending bill is next headed to a conference committee, where representatives of the House and Senate will agree on its final form. You might feel moved to contact your members of Congress about that. Learn more here.
  • I am about to start a 3-day-a-week interim director job. I hereby designate one of my two remaining weekdays as "Social Justice Day," wherein I will spend my time doing whatever I can think of to try to help make the world a more just place. One day a week. It may not do much, but it can't hurt to try. So there. I have a few ideas already, but suggestions are welcome.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

On biting off more than I can chew

I have this pendelum-like tendency to take on a bunch of activities, and then resent the activities for taking over my life. There was the time when I took Russian classes four nights a week after work - what was I thinking? Oh, the many good causes I've volunteered for, and then abandoned with a big fat wallop of guilt.

Of course, I have less natural energy than some people I know. I believe everybody has a natural energy level. Some people are go-go-goers. Not me. I get stuff done, don't get me wrong, but I need a healthy dose of vegetative time, when I don't have to interact with any other human beings. That's what knitting and murder mysteries and fleece pants are for. NOT INTERACTING.

I should know that this time of year is always tough, what with the total absence of sunlight. It makes you want to hunker in the bunker, and take three naps a day to boot. Even Nelly doesn't want to go out for a walk in the mornings, she just climbs onto the bed with me and stares blankly at Enrico as he jangles her leash. What, go out? In the rain, where my feet would get wet? Screw that. What was I thinking, with Italian class and private investigator school and the half-marathon and all these damn fundraisers that have somehow appeared on my calendar? You'd think I'd learn my limits by now, or at least confine my overachieving months to the May-to-July season, when the sun scarecely sets and all of life is like one big prednizone trip.

Signed up for another hitch

Yesterday I gave in and ordered us a new computer, complete with external backup drive and an all-in-one printer/copier/scanner/fax. The time seemed right. I'm getting paid. The current laptop has developed an unnerving screen flicker, and I'm tired of being told several times a day that my device could be operating faster with a high-speed USB port!

I really wanted to switch to Mac this time. Really, really. But it was going to be so, so much more expensive, what with having to replace much software, and there are things that just don't exist for Mac. Visio, I would've missed you something awful.

So, it appears I've re-upped for another three year stint with Windows. It reminds me of when we bought our last car, having SWORN the next one would not be a gas-only vehicle, but the time just wasn't ripe yet to buy a hybrid. I'm excited to have my new toys, but it is a bittersweet moment.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

One day, I know, it will be otherwise

This has been one of those weeks, or two, when I'm constantly struck by how fortunate I am. I am healthy, as are the people most important to me - Enrico, my parents, my sister. I have good friends - not legions of them, being an introvert, but the ones I have are golden. We have a nice little house, more than many can afford now in this overpriced city, and I have the peace of mind to not crave bigger, more luxurious digs. I've travelled the world a bit, and I live in a beautiful corner of it. Heck, I even have a backup country in case my difference of opinion with this one becomes so great that we have to part ways.

This week Enrico and I went out for a fancy dinner and a nightclub show, to hear a very talented French group called Paris Combo (seriously, people, buy their CDs). I studied music for many years, thinking to become a classical musician, and I ended up as a French major in college, so as I sat in the nightclub sipping champagne, I found myself noticing the interesting time signatures in the songs, and following along with the French lyrics, and I thought - how fortunate am I, that I've had the luxury of learning about music and languages, so I can sit here and not only enjoy this music on an aesthetic level, but appreciate it on other levels as well?

Having steadily held jobs since the week I turned 15 and was legally able to earn a wage, a couple years ago I just walked away from so-called "permanent" employment, and now I get to do interesting work, frequently in my pajamas, largely on my own terms. Yeah, the income is unpredictable and we rely on Enrico for financial stability and the all-important health benefits. I never, ever forget what I owe him for that, since life in The Bureaucracy can be pretty mind-numbing for someone as bright and energetic as Enrico. But for the past month I've been working hard, with evening and weekend hours and a very tiring trip out of town, and yet for the past two days while everybody else was at work, and the cold rain came down relentlessly outside, I slept, and read murder mysteries. Because that's what my brain and my body wanted to do, and I could indulge it. How great is that? I think about the millions - billions - of people who have to work themselves to the bone every day just to keep a roof over their head and food on their table, and it seems to me that my good fortune is downright astonishing.

Many times I find myself frustrated with the way things are happening in the world, and wondering if I'm becoming complacent and detached in my fortunate little life; I have this sense that I should be able to DO something more to make things different, as if a grand idea is just on the tip of my tongue, waiting for me to formulate it clearly and charge forward. But then I think, maybe I'm not that person, who charges forth into the world and leaves a mark. I also have the feeling that perhaps the world is poised for big change, that the molecules of the world order have become sufficiently unstable that they will blow apart and form something new, which just heightens my sense of anticipation and also gratitude for what I have, lest it get blown away in the winds of change.

Regardless, eventually things will change. People I care about will get sick, and die, and there will be bumps in the road. In my experience, unhappiness has a way of expanding to fill all available mental space, so that a small, niggling unhappiness and a big, earthshaking one can somehow seem equally absorbing. So I want to capture this moment of gratitude and amazement, and hold onto it as best I can. A moment best described by my favorite poet, the late Jane Kenyon, in her wonderful poem, Otherwise.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

An unprecedented show of cooperation

Our dogs have a carefully crafted power balance, which we don't fully understand. The old stereotype that a dog is either dominant or submissive is an oversimplification of canine social structure, of that I am sure. Nelly and Toby's relationship can basically be summarized like this: Nelly is the boss, but only because Toby is too easy-going to want to re-hash that conversation Every.Single.Day, and everyone knows that when push comes to shove he can kick her butt, so he'll take second-dog status - so long as she doesn't bully too much or mess with anything really important, like, his food.

Because they are both what's termed "status-seeking" dogs - i.e. neither one just rolls over to any old dog that wants to be the boss - we have to be extremely careful with toys, bones and food. A dogfight is a bone-jarring thing, all deafening noise and bared teeth. In a wild canine pack, it's to the pack's advantage to resolve disputes without any actual injuries, because an injured member weakens the pack. So the idea of a dog fight is to get the other party to back down through intimidation if at all possible - not to cause actual harm. Occasionally one of our dogs gets a nicked ear or jowl in a fight, but we're pretty sure it's an accident. And yes, after seven years together, they do still sometimes fight. It doesn't happen often, but I've seen a fight erupt over a dropped cheese-puff on the floor.

However, when we go out, they are capable of astonishing displays of cooperation in the interest of making mischief. Toby is lanky enough to not only reach the kitchen counter, but to fish things up and out of the kitchen sink. Nelly, being a stout little teapot, is not. Every now and then - usually when they're pissed off that we've left them alone - we will come home to find dishes or food snagged from the kitchen or dining room, and the spoils of plunder evenly divided between their two dog beds. A spoon on one, a knife on the other. A tupperware tub for Toby, the lid for Nelly.

I'm dying to know what goes on in those moments. Is Nelly standing there, egging Toby on? "What do you see up there? Anything good? Is there anything with some butter left on it, 'cause I love butter!" Why is there no fight to the death over these prizes in our absence? How do they arrive at the precise division of spoils? Does Toby get special privilege because he's the one doing the work, or does Nelly's higher status entitle her to first pick?

All in all, it just confirms for me that these guys are playing us like a fiddle, each and every day.