Untethered Dog

You Never Know Where He Will Go

Critters

One sign of the warm weather that has finally arrived for us is the increasing presence of bugs. Mostly a nuisance and never courted, summer would not be summer without some critters crawling and flying in your space — critters not present (at least visible) the rest of the year. The uninvited summer guests.

Living in a new home I am seeing bugs anew for the first time since perhaps I was a child. For I am regularly encountering new-to me insects at unexpected moments. At first these sightings give me a start: do I need to worry about this one? It’s not the case the answer is always no. Carpenter ants, for example. Yet I write these words to make something of the small fears that arise in these moment and — I hope — to better acknowledge what is real: the circle of life, the whole of all living things, the wonder that can be had when you look, really look, at another living thing. The more foreign the creature, the more you might see.

The minute green guy that makes it onto the fleshy part of your hand while you sit in the sun, for example; you almost kill him with the usual movements, such as the wiping the sweat off your brow. The black beetle that scurries over the same grass on which you play ball with your dog: that is my black beetle, you think. And it’s not yours. And it is — you own nothing, really, and yet it is also the case you are the little thing’s most direct overlord. So there is that. And it’s a cheap and easy example but I don’t care: the monarch butterflies that have turned up of late. Growth personified — beauty embodied — to watch the slow-winged monarch air dance across one’s immediate view is surely better for the soul than anything you can see on Netflix.

Inside the house or out — the wonder factor is different, to be sure. And those little slivery buggers that seem to like water almost as much as you …. well, it’s hard to summon affection for them. But the bits that have arisen in my consciousness of late I shall put like this: even if I have few specific memories of particular bugs at particular times, collectively, these critters carry inside my home and through my lawn mirrors of memory, to a time when summer was all-day baseball and late nights of card games and noisy fans blowing and juicy tomato sandwiches and cold milk shakes and the pervasive sense that anything could happen.

In these reimagined scenes the screen door is always closed, keeping the bugs out. But they are there. A moth and some friends are probably pressed up against the door. We don’t let them in, not intentionally, of course, but how different life would be if they were not right there with us.

Open

I am neither a night owl nor a big spender. But I love joints that are open forever. Hopper’s “Nighthawks” is a favorite painting. Yet when I think of the all-night diner I do not see straight faces — I see smiles. I do not see a city — I see a glow in the middle of a prairie. Open your nostrils and you will be there, too: a grit-and-grease cook slings a joke to his old friend at the counter. “You ever heard about the time Betsy here …” The side of the friend’s fork clanks against a thick plate. A tongue-full of Crème de menthe is lifted, then suspended. Yes, he’s heard this one before. Heck, he’s heard this story a thousand times. But he laughs as if for the first time. Betsy, who has waited tables here since high school, gives it back to the cook one better. He can do nothing but snort. Shared laughter. That is what I hear when I see the Open sign after hourslaughter of shared histories that play out under yellow light that pushes against big glass windows wrapped by the safety blanket of night.

Good

This, to the extent I am aware of such dynamics, is my experience of — my view on — grief.

Grief is sneaky. Stealthy is perhaps the better word. In any event, you often do not see or feel grief until it is already on you, in you, surrounding you. Even then, even when, you do not always know that grief is in your midst.

You can live in a cloud of grief and not even know it.

Grief is pervasive. Grief seeps and spreads. Grief attaches itself to thoughts and things that are unrelated to the grief itself.

Grief is not logical.

You can experience grief about the future. You can feel grief for a loss you have not yet experienced. The body knows.

Grief disguises itself. As fury. As sadness. As more things than be counted here.

Grief is a combo-platter emotion and yet also distinct. That might not make sense but then I do not purport to make sense of grief.

Grief is decidedly uncomfortable. We do so much to avoid grief. We try to outrun grief. We try to bury grief. We look away from grief. We pick up our phones and our drinks and our potato chips. We do almost anything if it means not dealing with grief.

It is understandable that we do not want to deal with grief. Grief is hard. And not nearly as fun as a video game.

Grief is seldom speedy and usually grief is slow. It puts its feet up and stays a while. You might think you set grief aside but grief remains in the guest room. Grief lingers under the covers.

Grief is cyclical. And its orbit is impossible to discern. What you know for sure is that grief will be back. Without question grief will return.

You can’t defeat grief. You can’t control grief. To try is also to increase grief’s strength.

We are not, however, despite these views, helpless to grief. We can lessen grief and sometimes even resolve grief.

Grief loses its power when we see it, feel it, let it be. Look grief in the eye; you are stronger than grief. Really, you are.

Yet, to be sure, you do not want to identify too closely with grief. There is no shame in grief but you do not want to make grief your friend. Grief is no badge of honor. Grief can teach you things but grief is not a buddy. Don’t put grief on any flag you fly.

Respect grief. Accept grief. Allow it to do what it must. Allow it, too, to be its best good — allow it to remind you of the love that is lost so that you can be present to the love that exists and be open to the love that may come.

Wires Crossed

Do you ever feel as though you have energy for a thousand things and for nothing at the same time?

As if your emotional currents are so crossed that sparks form and fly — zap-zap — but the whole of you does not know where it wants to move?

That you burn through your allotted supply of juice while stationary?

You are highly motivated now — and prostrate at the same time. Flying and grounded. Inspired and despaired. You are a walking contradiction. Or a sitting one, as it were.

I mean, tell me, does this ever happen to you?

No?

Me neither.

Mood (De-)Enhancer

There are places in America that are downright depressing. You might be perfectly content. You may otherwise be in a pleasing part of town. It could well be a beautiful day. Then you step in the door and your mood immediately sinks.

I think we can all agree that Applebee’s is one of these places.

Look: I had gift certificate — OK? The thing’s been burning a hole in my wallet for months. Heck, to think of it, I am pretty sure I have had that plastic card for a year or more. I can’t recall, frankly, which Christmas the gratis riblets appeared in my proverbial stocking. Finally in the “neighborhood” yesterday and ready for a free meal — shuddup — I whipped it out and walked in.

I sat down at one of the faux wood tables in the bar area. Before me, a women’s World Cup game was on two large screens (which sounds cool, except the game, England versus the United States, had been played two days before). Elsewhere within easy view, on three, maybe four other screens, I could watch what I gathered was a sort of East-West all-star football exhibition — high school or college, I could not tell (it is July; I do not know who plays football in July) — in which both teams wore the color black. I believe theMinnesota Twins were live on another small screen in the corner. The sound was not on any of these televisions.

I picked up the plastic menus. I say menus, plural, because there were like eight of them, each unique. Some had pictures of fajita platters (cedar lime cilantro chicken — sing it with me, people) and others advertising cool liquid concoctions (there was a blue one, a yellow one, and at least a couple that were various shades of green). I had a dessert menu. Of course. There was a specials menu. I also had the combo-platter menu in which I could order either two salads or one appetizer and two full entrees for $22. (Which makes you wonder which is more real — the food or the wood.) I had a full length biography on my person that had fewer words to decipher.

The staff, save for the guy behind the bar, were college-age. They hung out in the corner, sipping from glasses and laughing amongst themselves. It was not busy in the “neighborhood” bar and grill, at least not at that time.

I wanted much to order just enough food to use up my certificate. It was my own personal game of Price Is Right. In my mind, I could not go over the $25 price on my gift card or I would have surely lost.

Well, I did not go over and yet it cannot be said that I did not still fail. I ordered a steak salad that came well short of the $25 and yet was so much food it fell over all the sides of my plate with the first forkful. I mean it was big. And I even found a few strips of steak in there among the sea of tortilla strips and black-bean-corn. I can put away me some food. But I could not justify ordering a burger or a basket or a “USDA real” steak also when I could not finish the salad.

When I stood up to leave I left a ring of blue cheese and lettuce on the table. I half apologized to Libby, my undergrad server with a necklace tattoo, who assured me this display was perfectly OK — it happens here in the neighborhood bar and grill.

I walked out still in possession of the card. I have $10.05 left to use the next time I find that I am feeling entirely too happy.

Shattered Glass

They killed pregnant women at Wounded Knee.

Four of the women — four of the 150 to three hundred (estimated) people slaughtered by the United States on December 29, 1890 in southwestern South Dakota — were women with child.

Driving to the All My Relations Gallery yesterday afternoon, with the Minneapolis skyline on the horizon, I thought about how narrow can be one’s view of things. How days can go by, weeks, months, years, even, I suppose, while stuck entirely within one’s own sphere of concern. This is not to trivialize the day-to-day care-taking and self-sustaining endeavors that consume our days. Those are necessary. Those acts give meaning and purpose to our lives. Yet it is not either/or. We sometimes are able or are forced to see a layer beyond our own, and usually one of the first things we realize is how rare it is to do so.

In “Kiksuyapi 1890 (Remember, Don’t Forget)” Angela Babby depicts four women who died that December day, thirteen decades ago. Wounded Knee remains the largest massacre in United States history.

Babby said she was inspired while studying old black-and-white photographs of the scene. She had looked long at one of the photos before realizing what she was seeing: what at first appeared as a pile of blankets were, in fact, these women.

The colors Babby’ uses to convey the women are bold and beautiful — greens and oranges — and ornate in detail, such as of the moccasins Babby finds on the women’s feet. Babby’s colors are also haunting: the purple dark skin of death.

Babby used color in “Kiksuyapi” to “show the culture laying in a heap on the ground and to give the sense of being there.” I love old black-and-white photographs for how they allow us to focus on what is important. They convey sincerity and importance. Yet, in this current, image-frenzied world, in which we Instagram our dinners and our kids’ second-grade graduations and nearly every other happy occasion, black-and-white photographs from another century sometimes obscure reality. They can make it too easy to think we are far removed from what we are seeing.

The scene in “Kiksuyapi,” the aftermath of the slaughter, captured by Babby in iridized glass, shows the face of a mustached white man looking back toward the women from some distance. He looks Stalinesque. At once I also read into his face new awareness; it’s as if he’s now realizing what has been done. What he has done. What we all did. It’s a moment after the heat has been lowered when he must face what is beyond him. He no longer sees only what is before him.

Near the man lies a dead horse. I look long at that horse. What we put the animals through. What we do not often see about them. (Minutes before I walked into the gallery, while looking for a parking spot, I saw a dog, a pit-bull, perhaps, chained to the front of a house. He was alone. He looked at me. A sign on the front of the house said “beware of the dog.” We should also have warning signs for people who put their dogs in positions where their fear overcomes them. But I digress.)

Scattered about the prairie are other men. They linger. Some carry on conversations but most seem, to my eyes, to be standing in attention. They are products of the world we had created to that point. Those of us who are white, who have benefited from the raised consciousness that has followed Wounded Knee (it is clearly there even if unevenly exhibited), might assume that had we been there we would have acted differently. About this almost certainly we are wrong.

The view of personal responsibility, of pure autonomy, goes only so far. We are responsible not just for ourselves but for the world we shape. We are, in turn, shaped by that world. We don’t make it all up. We are shown what is right and what is wrong. Inside is both love and hate. We know what prevailed that December day. Which will we encourage more of at this moment?

Usually when we are in our own spheres others are impediments to us, not opportunities. Art reminds us there is more. Art shows us new possibilities. I spent nearly all my time at the All My Relations Gallery standing before Babby’s portrait.

The massacre, which some historians have said began over a misunderstanding between an American soldier and an American Indian who may have been deaf, took less than an hour. Of the dozens killed in that sixty-odd minutes, some sixty women and children were gunned down. Their lives abruptly ended. Their pain unleashed into the world in which we all live.

Blankets were placed over their bodies.

New Sensation

I cleaned my garage the other day. This is an under-rated accomplishment.

Mind you, there really wasn’t a ton to do. I own no power tools. Hang a broom here, discard some strands of wire there, clear off the single shelf, find a place for some planter’s boxes I want to keep but not immediately make use of. That sort of thing.

In other words, no Herculean effort, to be sure. But sometimes it’s not the monumental problems that weigh one down. In fact, in my experience, it is the small and mid-sized matters, too long unattended to, that are the real humdingers of despair. At least in the First World. When you have enough food, clothes, shelter, and health care.

In the winter there was a feeling in the back of my chilled mind that, when I went into the garage, this still new-to-me place where I parked my car, with its cracked concrete and weathered walls, I was entering a space of unnecessary disarray. (I do not have OCD but, in a few areas of life, including that of my personal space, I am sympathetic to what that must be like.) Which is no thing for a day or a week or maybe even a month but after awhile, at some point, you realize that your mood lowers a bit when you encounter that which you have not faced. It’s like the pebble becomes a boulder. Yes, this is true even where misaligned shovels, ladders, and garbage cans are concerned. At least for me.

Now when I go in the garage, whether to retrieve a sprayer or grab the little buddy’s ball, and everything hung up and on the shelf in a way that pleases, easily accessible and yet not in the way, it is most satisfying. Like realizing anew that you dropped that extra pound around your belly.

I watched a YouTube video some months ago in which Jordan Peterson was telling a bunch of undergrads something to this effect: don’t underestimate the power in cleaning up your room. Yeah.

The Sky is Falling


I squint my eye and face the north sky. I see a winged foot, a whirligig of silver maple seed, break from a tree that is ten stories high if it is a foot.

I have not noticed this tree before. Though already in the short time I have lived here I have walked beneath its outstretched limbs a few dozen times. Sometimes you miss the massive things.

I follow the twirls as the golden winged foot helicopters toward me. The seed seems somehow to fly both slowly and quickly at the same time.

I watch it cross two backyards, watch it travel over cars and garages, until it dives down and tucks into an overgrown patch of Irish-green sod feet from my feet. Sucker must have traveled sixty, seventy yards.

While a solo voyage, this winged foot is hardly a pioneer. In fact, that silver maples and another I spot on the other side of the block are filing the alley, our gutters, our lawns, with these golden winged feet. You might say they are everywhere. On everything. You might say they are a nuisance. In a few minutes, the kind old gentleman on the end of the block and I share words to this effect. (I think it would be funny to knock on the door of a silver maple tree owner and ask them to pick up their mess.)

Yet I read up and learn that the silver maple’s intentions are good and, besides, it can’t help it. It is reacting to the frightful winter we just had. This tree is simply smarter than you think.

The winged feet are designed to travel. That is the point. The point is not to fall straight down. The point is to spread seeds in the hope more seeds will mean more trees will grow. In that respect, we should thank them. For the trees could survive without us but we could not survive without the trees.


Stressed silver maple trees produce more of the golden winged foot seeds and after record-setting snowfalls and polar vortex temps this winter, like the rest of us, these guys must have been a little worried about their survival.

In other words, the seed that I watched fall to my feet did not land indiscriminately. It landed seed-side down. It landed precisely between the blades of my sod as a means to plant itself and grow into something new.

How can you do anything but admire something with which you share a purpose?

Houston, Do You Copy?

There are times when I cannot make a decision.

Not a large decision.

Not a small decision.

My mind in these moments is like television sets in the old days when they did not work. The antenna was broken or something and all you saw on the screen was what we referred to as “snow.”

In my head I think of what is going on as something like that. There is too much static.

Indeed, the mind’s not empty — it is, rather, the opposite. Too much something. Just like with the TV, there is a lot of electricity going on, but nothing coherent can be read from the currents.

I don’t like the machine comparisons so often used to describe the human body. The body, and its brain, are decidedly different from that of a machine and when we make the comparison we run the risk of minimizing these differences. We can mistakenly view the body as a series of impersonal parts rather than an organic whole. Yet it’s the language I have — it’s what seems to fit.

Static. I don’t know if I want to go for a walk or clean the house. I don’t know if I want to eat eggs or Cocoa Puffs. I absolutely do not know whether I want to play the harmonica. The latter example is not likely since I do not own a harmonica. But you get the picture.

I’m not sure what brings about this state. My sense is that we all can take in only so much sensory stimulation at one time and sometimes I take in my limit pretty quick. Actually, I don’t know how quick — I just know that I have. And I suspect it is quicker than for others, given how easily it is for me to stray outside my competence.

One distinction I can make is that of new learning versus old learning. When I engage the world during tasks that are foreign to me, my store of energy burns more quickly than when I engage in familiar tasks and processes. Today, for example, I did a number of house projects many of which aroused good and positive feelings — I was glad to have gotten theses tasks done. Some had been on my to-do list for weeks. Yet these were largely knew tasks for me and by the end, the person I was working with very well might have sensed my impatience. I wanted much to turn my attention to the familiar. My way of giving my brain a break.

Another way to put it: Let’s say you do not know how to speak French and you walk into a French language class. An hour later your brain is going to have been stimulated in ways very different than it is probably used to. I think this form of stretching is important and gives you benefits they go well beyond that hour. But it’s not surprising that you might to feel taxed for awhile immediately afterward. You flexed a flabby muscle and that muscle is going to be a little tired and maybe a little sore. (Forgive me all the metaphors in this post. I could easily insert more of them — be grateful I am not more out of control.)

Whenever possible in these moments I meditate. I take some breaths. I close my eyes. I take a short nap. I let the static die down. After a while the energy store replenishes. (Though I am still more likely to immediately seek the familiar.) Sometimes it really doesn’t take too long.

That is why I decided to write this post. This, writing, is, for me, another sort of stimulation — one that adds energy rather than takes it away.

Life Is Easy

You think the next day of the man in the jacket on a hot afternoon standing on the pavement who turned to you and told you about his two dachshunds. He chuckled at the thought. The dachshunds are 14 and 16 and years old, respectively, he said, they are father and son, barely more than a year apart. He laughed again and his eyes reached for his wife, who stood there, too, as he told of another dachshund they had some years ago — how many, honey? — who lived to be 20. The man smiled so easily, so comfortably, as if he knew something you didn’t and that something was good, really good. His wife, too, was not stingy with her smile. She wore a bright yellow shirt. She added that the dachshunds had German names because they were German dogs. You could not understand the German names she spoke but it was OK, all just fine. Just then, their adult son had crossed the street and approached us. They took him in as if he were part of the breeze. He was much taller than they. They waited at the bus stop. The three of them were going to take the bus. They smiled so easily. You sensed that in our categorical world all three would, somewhere on some official forms in some office or hospital, have long been documented as having a cognitive impairment. Yet it was you at that moment who fought a battle in your head, who kicked around petty concerns and uncomfortable sensations, the sorts of voluntary attentions that keep you at such moments from offering your own easy smiles and telling stories and soaking in the warmth that is all around, readily available to be found, by you, for you, always.