Reluctant Traveler in Nairobi

One day last week while I was in Nairobi we had lunch with a Kenyan colleague who asked “When people from the U.S. talk about Africa, why do they only talk about the animals? When you go home, talk about the people.” I struggle with this, the same way I always (not just in Nairobi) struggle with photographing people. I am not comfortable with treating people like a tourist attraction, and even with their consent I can never seem to capture in a photograph what I see when I look at people.

I’ve been thinking about this for over a week and wondering why this post is so hard for me to construct. It finally dawned on me today that maybe the reason we don’t talk about the people is that to do so, we have to talk about race, and we really do not want to talk about race. I really do not want to talk about race.

Genetically I am a mix of European regions – the UK, eastern Europe, the Mediterranean. If I’m feeling uncomfortable with being identified as American, as long as I keep my mouth shut I can pass pretty much anywhere in Europe. Even in Africa the first thing people usually ask me is “European?” not “American?” I was amused by a multi-lingual person at a counter in the Brussels airport asking me loudly and slowly “DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH?” One thing I always am, and it’s really noticeable in Africa, is white.

On our first trip to Nairobi we American travelers were four white and one black, all from the east coast, all ranging in age from 35 to 55, all fairly equal as to social and economic privilege in both our current lives and our growing up lives. The first shop we walked into in Nairobi, one of the employees asked if this was our first trip to Africa. We all said yes, and he turned to our one black colleague and said “Welcome back!”

So part of talking about what’s different in Nairobi necessarily involves talking about not how Nairobi is different, but how when I am in Nairobi, I am different. And I am not used to that. And I am not comfortable with how not used to that I am.

I also worry that when I talk about the people I met in Nairobi, I will fall into some weird cheerful-native trope if I generalize.

So, yeah. It’s easier to talk about the animals.

It is also true that in the entirety of my schooling I took exactly one African history class. The “familiar” things to me about Kenya are not from school or even the news, but from an embarrassing array of entertainment sources. I am sure I am not alone in this – if you have ever seen The Lion King I dare you to hear “asante sana” (“thank you”) and not follow it in your mind with “squash banana,” even if out loud you are more appropriately saying “karibu” (“you’re welcome”). I know about Karen Blixen because of Out of Africa. More than one person I have told about seeing the Karen Blixen house seems to genuinely have her confused with Meryl Streep, and her lover with Robert Redford.

Karen Blixen

I laughed the first time I heard someone respond to “How are you?” with “Hakuna matata” because, of course – the Lion King. But shortly after my first trip to Nairobi last fall, I saw an episode of the splendid snark-rom-com You’re the Worst in which one of the characters says “hakuna matata. ” His girlfriend asks him if he’s quoting the Lion King at her, and he has no idea what she is talking about but explains that it is a Swahili phrase and it means – and she interrupts him and says “Yeah, I know, it means ‘no worries’.” He says “It’s a bit more nuanced than that” and explains it really means “There is not a currently a problem.”

I find this to be a perfect description of the feeling I get when being greeted by a Kenyan – “Jambo! Welcome! There is not currently a problem!” Unlike “hello,” I don’t think it’s possible to say “jambo!” without an exclamation point. It is a very welcoming greeting. The only thing more welcoming is when you say it to someone who is not expecting a swahili greeting – the smiles you get in return feel like the sun coming out after a week of rain, which in turn means you can’t say “jambo!” without smiling.

One of the most noticeable things in the office was the laughter. In both our New York office and our Nairobi office, the organization provides lunch and everyone gathers in one room to eat. Admittedly the New York office is bigger, but still, people tend to gather in pairs or very small groups and huddle. In the Nairobi office the whole room is often involved in the same conversation. When you are not in the room you really notice the laughter coming from the lunch room, and when you are in the room, you are caught up in it along with everyone else.

My general impression of the Kenyans I have met in passing – drivers, hotel staff, people working in shops – is that they are friendly in a sweet and genuine way. I could guess that this is because they are in a service industry, but that has emphatically not been my experience of people in service in the U.S.

I don’t know. Trying to describe what Nairobi is like for me is like trying to describe a flavor, or a sound, or a feeling. This jumble of photos does a pretty good job of matching the jumble of images in my mind. 

The city skyline can be seen immediately beyond the safari area in the Nairobi National Park. Baboons cross the highway between the park on one side and the university on the other, and they beg for (or steal) food like squirrels do here, or pigeons. Driving into downtown you will pass roadside commerce of all kinds, on roads that have been dug up almost beyond recognition, with people walking on what would be sidewalk regardless. The flowers and foliage are lush in the rainy season and amazingly beautiful. You never know when you will see Masai driving their cattle along the road or across a gas station parking lot, moving to the next grazing area. Tour drivers always point out the enormous Kibera slum, the second largest in all of Africa. It looks like a jumble of corrugated tin, plywood, cardboard. Each shelter made of things leaning against other things, held up by the next group of leaning things that backs right up against it. It almost looks as if you moved any one piece the whole thing would crash to the ground, and at the same time it is so packed together it seems that nothing can move, making me wonder how people actually get around in the space, let alone live. Also very near to downtown is a forest with walking paths, caves, waterfalls, more wildlife. This is in the wealthy area, where the beautifully landscaped yards are surrounded by high walls topped with coils of what I always think of as prison wire, though there is probably another name for it. The plants used in that landscaping are sold in spectacular – well, garden centers, I suppose, though they look like fantastic gardens themselves, a little farther out of town. They have plants and huge brightly glazed and painted ceramic pots and piles of mulch in beautifully laid out sections, and they either go on for the equivalent of city blocks or they are one right after the other; I’m not sure which. In the daytime there is someone there and in the night time they are empty of people as far as I have seen, but they are just as open in any case. The traffic is legendary, with hardly any functioning traffic lights, and roundabouts everywhere. Everyone seems to know the exact dimensions of their car down to the millimeter, as they need to in order to squeeze into spaces that don’t seem they can possibly fit a car. In many, many places you see guards armed with impressively large rifles, but they seem to be part of the landscape for residents. There are security checkpoints for vehicles and pedestrians going into malls, a security checkpoint about a mile out from the airport, and vehicle checks or at least gates with guards going into most office buildings and hotels. The guards, armed or not, also often greet you with a cheerful “Jambo!”

I want to take all that and draw conclusions, and summarize, but I find I can’t. It all adds up to…Nairobi. I supposed I don’t have to explain it. I’m just glad I got to experience it, even a little, even around the edges.

Reluctant Traveler: Home Again

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The Accidental Tourist is my favorite Anne Tyler book. If you haven’t read it, it’s about a man who falls into writing travel books by way of writing a letter to the editor about going to an event in a nearby city and all the ways it was not like being at home. He becomes the guy who tells travelers how to travel without feeling like they are traveling. How to find the most familiar feeling hotels, restaurants, meals. It’s about comfort in some ways, but it’s also about being stuck. I can relate to both aspects of this.

When I left for my most recent work trip to Nairobi, Kenya, The Accidental Tourist is what kept coming up in my mind. Not because I want to travel without traveling – I actually really like the things that are different, and I think that is in fact the point of travel. Most of my travel is for work and I generally could be anywhere, as most of what I see is the inside of an office and the inside of a hotel. In the US, most of my work travel has been to suburbs of cities and frankly they all look pretty much the same. It’s an Accidental Tourist’s dream. And it’s boring.

I like the part about seeing new places and trying new things and meeting new people. I like the part about having where I go look and feel nothing like where I am from. My issue is more that I do not want to travel. The part where you put large distances between home and yourself, that’s what I don’t want to do. Unlike the accidental tourist who wants to go away without feeling away, I want to BE away without having to GO away.

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About twenty five years ago I had a friend (I use the term loosely). I was young and stupid, and when I worried about whether I should say something to him because of what he would think, he would say “what’s the worst thing I could say?” and I would say whatever I thought that would be, and then he would say “Come on, just tell me” and I would tell him, and then he would say the thing that I had said was the worst thing he could say. And then he would say, “See, that wasn’t so bad, was it?”

So last week when I was 5,500 miles away from home and 5 hours from my plane for home taking off to start 22 hours of travel and I started vomiting, getting dizzy, and my throat closed up and my arms started to tingle and go numb, I was right back there feeling like someone thought it would be funny to demonstrate the reality of what I had said would be the worst thing that could happen. A side note, but a relevant one: on the first day in the office on this trip, a mere 4 days earlier, we got word that the wife of a colleague in Nairobi had been taken to the hospital where she had died. She had not previously been ill. They have two young children. They are in their early 30’s. Sometimes worrying about the worst thing that can happen is catastrophizing. Sometimes it is just a possibility.

I wound up delaying my flight 24 hours and now I am home. There’s no suspense in this story, but I have to write this part out in order to get to the part where I can write about the interesting things about the travel, because there were and are many of those. More posts to come on those topics.

Once I took a management style test of some kind. You end up with a graph of your results with 4 points on it. Most of the graphs tend to trend upwards or downwards, as most people have aptitude in areas that are tied to each other and therefore adjacent on the graph. Mine was a near perfect parabola, where I was near the very top in the two extremes and nearly nonexistent in the middle. The facilitator put mine up on the board and then looked at me and said “Wow – you must be talking to yourself ALL THE TIME. Risk! Don’t risk! Risk! Don’t risk!”

This is exactly what happens in my head when I have the opportunity to travel for work. I want to go, but I don’t want to go. I try to make sure I take advantage of the things I would never get a chance to do or see otherwise, and I really enjoy doing them. I walk the streets (where I’m told by local people that it’s safe – I’m adventurous but I try not to be stupid), I talk to the people (including total strangers), I try to pick up some of the local language (while I’m there if not before),  I eat the food (I might want to rethink that a bit), and I try to see sights that are unique to the area. And I enjoy all of it, I really do.

But I am also doing it to distract myself from how far away from home I am. And despite the fact that I know I am going to do these amazing things, you can see my heel marks from digging them in all the way to the airport every time I have to leave home. I enjoy taking photos and I post them on facebook and my friends say “Oh, you’re so lucky, I wish I were there, I want your job” and I think “PLEASE, one of you please take my damn job!” I wish I enjoyed it more. I wish there was only the part of me that enjoyed it. I wish I did not spend any time wishing I was home.

But now I am home, and while in this particular instance at this particular moment I’d be hard pressed to say I’m glad I went, I am glad I got to see and do the things I did. More Reluctant Traveler travelogue to come.

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The Pack

 

12987170_10156904329045165_5451335982654072746_nWe have three dogs. I’m sure there are things that can be said about them based on birth order now that they are all in one household. We made a lot of mistakes and did a lot of learning on the oldest. The middle one is precocious and self-activating in the particular way of middle children. The youngest is spoiled but does not take advantage of it (much), and tries harder to please and to be noticed than the other two do. He likes to always be touching one of his dogs or humans, whether for comfort or to make sure we know he’s there, I’m not sure.I am also the youngest of three, so I may relate to him a little more than is good for me.

I have seen no evidence that our dogs fight with each other when we are not with them. I’m sure our kids also get along better when they laugh at us together in our absence then when they are with us and keeping an eye on who gets how much attention. Birth order behaviors and sibling rivalries and alliances aside, there is no getting around the fact that as long as parents are there they have a huge impact on the family dynamic, and for better or worse it changes when they are not.

Our human children are also three in number. They like to say we have replaced them, now that we have three dogs. This is a conversation they have had amongst themselves that at least one has reported back to us. I know the kinds of conversations my sisters and I have had about our parents, and I don’t have a lot of illusions that our kids sit around saying “you know what I love most about our parents?” They tell stories about when we’ve annoyed them, or infuriated them, or, if we are lucky, made them laugh.

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If our animals could talk I’m pretty sure all their stories about us would begin “Remember the time they thought it would be a good idea to…?” Come to think of it, our kids’ stories might start out just like that too. I wonder sometimes which stories they do tell when we are not around, and if those will be the same stories they will tell when we are gone.

The story I tell most often is about Rose’s first Thanksgiving with my family. The guests included my parents, my oldest sister, her husband, their three kids, me, Rose, and my father’s friend Stan. Stan was one of those family friends who has always been around, and since his wife died very young he had spent just about every holiday or birthday celebration with us.

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I don’t know if Stan was born a curmudgeon or if he had curmudgeonliness thrust upon him, but the level of it increased dramatically over the years. He and my father loved to debate loudly on the few points on which they agreed, and and on the many, many points on which they disagreed. They agreed about the state of the world (decaying), the state of politics (deplorable), the state of the newspaper industry (deteriorating). They did not agree on Stan’s feeling that life was generally being ruined by women: his woman boss was making his job miserable, movies were being destroyed by woman directors, and it was only a matter of time before woman politicians would bring about the downfall of society as he knew it.

My mother called me before Thanksgiving to give me a list of things not to talk about in an effort not to set Stanley off. On the list were (it was the early ’90’s) the movie The Piano (woman director), his job (woman boss), John and Lorena Bobbitt (woman run amok), the Bobbitt-inspired New Yorker cartoon where the nice looking elderly lady says to her nice looking elderly husband across the breakfast table “Pass the cream or I’ll cut off your penis,” and presumably (though not explicitly) the fact that I was bringing my girlfriend home for Thanksgiving.

Dinner was uneventful until my oldest sister excused her kids from the table. We had managed to avoid any untoward topics and we all enjoyed the customary combination of traditional Thanksgiving foods and tofu from a local Chinese takeout. My mother sat back and surveyed the table, and then said pleasantly to the room at large “Pass the cranberry sauce or I’ll cut off your penis.”

We all roared. Well, most of us. Stanley turned instantly red and sputtered “I suppose you all think that’s VERY FUNNY!”

My father turned just as red and yelled back “What, do you think we’re all assholes, Stan? There are seven people at the table! Six of them are laughing! WHO’S THE ASSHOLE, STAN?”

My mother looked at us all, a pleased smile on her lips.

I can only hope to provide stories to my own kids that get half the longevity that one has had for me. If I had only one story to tell about my family for the rest of my life, that would be the one I would tell. I told it to my sister who was not there that night, twelve years later as we sat around the same dining room table in my parents’ apartment. When I went to see my mother in the hospital bed in her bedroom, she wanted to know what had made us all laugh so hard, so I told it to her as well, and we laughed all over again.

The next morning she went into hospice. She died four days later, the windows open to the night air and the scent of cherry blossoms from the garden planted by other people’s children in memory of their parents who died there too.

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New Tricks

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My youngest dog loves to learn new tricks. He goes at everything he does with everything he has, and he happily offers every trick he knows if he thinks you might want something from him. Sit? Down? Roll over? I can do it! I can do it all! We have some agility obstacles set up in the yard and he may fly off to jump through the hoop and then run back to sit in front of me looking very pleased with himself. He also incorporates the obstacles into his zoomies, jumping the pole or zipping through the tunnel as he runs in crazy circles around the yard.

The older young dog is more targeted in his activities. He particulary loves to jump. He jumps the horse cavaletti. He jumps the agility bar. He jumps the hoop – he doesn’t jump THROUGH the hoop; he jumps the whole hoop. He jumps the tunnel. If you tell him “jump,” he just jumps. Into the air. With no obstacles anywhere nearby. He will obey other commands in slow motion. He has an excellent eventual sit, and a very good gradual down. But he will use what he knows for his own purposes: when he wants me to take him out, or when we are out and he wants to go somewhere else, he will run to my left hip and heel me.

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The old dog has never had any interest in leaving the ground, even when he was a young dog. If you try to lift him up he somehow makes himself three times as heavy. Jumping requires a lot of treats (and a very low jump), and climbing on anything is out of the question. One of the reasons his first owners gave him to us when he was a year and a half was that he was a “failed” agility dog. He is very obedient at sit, down, heel, stay – as long as you have treats and there is nothing more compelling in sight, hearing or sound. He is also the best tennis ball retriever I have ever known.

I went back to school as an old person. At 41 I had not thought of myself as old, but as soon as I sat in a classroom surrounded by kids half my age, the age of my youngest child, I felt a hundred and ten years old. I simultaneously felt twelve, in a new school, and very unsure of my welcome. My professors at least had the decency to be my age or older.

I was never much of a student, at any level. Like my middle dog, if something caught my interest I would do it very well and would work hard at it. Otherwise it was something of a crapshoot as to whether the teacher would grade me on my tests and papers, or on if I did the homework (or later, in college the first time, if I showed up to class). I might find that I got A’s on all the tests but wound up with a C or a D in the class due to lack of effort.

As an old person, I expected this to change. It did not. Part of why I left college the first time without finishing was my lack of interest in jumping through hoops. Now I was back and still being required to round out my education by taking the history and social science classes I never took the first time, and retaking classes that I had taken twenty years before. Biology they felt I needed to take again, but they assumed I would remember inorganic chemistry. They were mistaken.

By about my third semester I was really struggling with how I could be so sure that I wanted to be there, and that I wanted to be studying the field I was studying, and yet I had to take so many classes – even classes in my field of study – that I had no interest in.

At 19 I had begun college as a biology major. I tried a little of everything: in 3 years I majored in biology, political science, Russian, and philosophy. By the time I quit I was double majoring in biology and philosophy. Twenty years later, I went back to get a degree in animal science. My original thought was to take only the classes I needed for vet school, but then it became important to me to actually get a degree, and then I realized that if I was 110 now I would be about 217 by the time I finished vet school, which I realized I didn’t really want to do anyway. Clearly all those intervening years had done wonders for my abililty to make up my mind.

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Fortunately there were a few options in the animal science department, and I was able to find one that was more animaly and less sciencey. In my 40’s I found that either my brain could no longer retain information the same way it used to, or it had developed a filter that went something like “Nope, don’t need to memorize THAT just to prove that I can.” I was able to avoid taking physics again, and took what I can only call organic chemistry for dummies, which I somehow actually enjoyed.

I did graduate, and I even spoke at my graduation, and got to tell everyone else that if their parents ever gave them any grief about taking an extra year or two to get through school, they could say “Well, at least it took me less than TWENTY FIVE years!” I’m sure the parents loved me for that.

When I went back to school I envisioned that I would somehow become like my youngest dog, full of enthusiasm and desire to achieve. My youngest dog is now a year older than my oldest dog was when he came to us, and I can only conclude that some things really are just part of who we are. I may always be cranky about doing things I am required to do, I may only want practice the things I like to do, but I’m glad that even if it takes me approxomately forever to finish the things that are important to me, I do get around to it in the end.

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Dog Fight

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A few months ago I watched two of my dogs get into the world’s most avoidable fight.

Dog fights are always terrifying, in my limited experience. There is a lot of noise and drama, and it’s hard to tell how serious it is, and it’s even harder to get the dogs apart once they are in it.

I watched the fight in question unfold in the moment, and if I really think about it, I watched it unfold over two years. Our old medium-sized dog had been “training” our young extra-large dog in his rules of the house, which mostly (but not entirely) line up with our rules of the house. This was our first experience with this kind of age difference (9 years) and our first experience with a puppy, and we were torn between putting a stop to it and trusting that Old Dog knew more that we did about dog behavior.

So there were warning signs. And in the moment, the fight went something like this: both dogs showed up at the gate at the same time. Old Dog said “back off” and Young Dog did – immediately. Old Dog followed after him and said “And STAY there!” Young Dog said “Stop talking to me about it.” Old Dog said “No back talk from you.” Young Dog paused for a few seconds and then said “I don’t have to take this from you ANY MORE!” and then he lunged.

Fight lite

An almost silent dog fight, in which one extra-large Young Dog has his jaws clamped around the neck of one medium-sized Old Dog who is on his back crying, is even more terrifying than a sound and fury dog fight, it turns out. There are any number of ways not to break up a dog fight and I tried most of them. By the time I remembered to grab the back legs of Young Dog, Old Dog was in need of a good few staples, a drainage tube, and a couple weeks of antibiotics.

Everyone is fine now. I have a PhD in “now we know how not to do that,” and we now manage our dogs differently in many ways.

It’s the unfolding of the world’s most avoidable fight that I keep coming back to. And what I come back to most is that I have not only watched that fight, I have been in it. I’ve never actually throttled anyone with my teeth, or been throttled, but verbally, I have been in that fight.

You know those times you feel your blood pressure rising, and you can hear the thing you are about to say, and you know you shouldn’t say it, and you pause – but then you say it anyway? That fight. The one if you could stand outside of you could see where one of you just can’t let it go and the other one of you just can’t turn around and walk away, and next thing you know, you’re trying to figure out how to put the pieces back together? That fight.

Sometimes I am Old Dog: “Don’t you walk away when I am talking to you!”

Sometimes I am Young Dog: “I do NOT have to take this from YOU!”

What do we do with the dogs? Separate them when they obviously aren’t in the mood for each other. Pay a lot more attention to their body language and distract or deflect or remove them from the situation. Give them time alone to do things they like to do. Recognize that they don’t like to do the same things all the time. Notice (and act on) that they like to have one on one snuggle time with their people.

It’s like all those things that people tell you to do to find balance in your relationships work on people too. Damn it. I HATE that.

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Like most lessons in life, I hate the way I learned this one. I wish it had been easier on me, and on the dogs. I realize that the dogs probably forgot about it as soon as it was over, and that how to shake things off and walk away would not be the worst thing for me to learn from them.

Luckily I have them to remind me, every day, that if you get to hang out with your favorite buddy and can play together and work together, it doesn’t matter if you fight sometimes. The fact that you are together is enough.

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The Artful Codger

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A month and a day ahead of my 50th birthday, my creativity is starting to show the way my grey hair did in my early 20’s.

I was never one to cover it up but I was really good at ignoring it. I had a lot of explanations  – I was a towheaded child turned mousy brown adolescent, so maybe they were blond and not grey hairs. There weren’t many at first. I got them from my mother. It was the stress of college. My last boyfriend. Moving to New England. It wasn’t really me.

I am still surprised when I get my hair cut and my black salon cape is all covered with white hairs. Whose are those? When I look in the mirror I still see multiple colors. Enough people ask me if I dye my hair (why would I dye it grey?) or talk about how much they hate their grey hair that I can believe that they also don’t see mine as grey. Until they turn to me and say “Oh, no – I mean, it looks great on YOU.”

I have never been the artistic type. Can’t draw or paint, can’t sing, can dance a little, but my oldest sister was the ballerina in the family. I have had pockets of things I enjoy and can do well but they are things like calligraphy and pottery – things with a pre-defined form. They seem too much like paint by numbers to qualify as artistic pursuits. It’s not creative if you are following a pre-set form, right? Surely I can just pluck out that one grey hair.

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Writing is more my game, but not creative writing, so again: form. Who can’t string a sentence or two together? My parents were writers, and my aunt and uncle. Published in real newspapers and magazines. I’m not a real writer. I just play around with it. Post a funny caption on facebook now and then with my dog photos. And the photographs? Everyone has a smart phone now. Who doesn’t take photos? Apps and filters can make anything look good. A decent haircut with good layering helps disguise the increasing numbers of grey hairs, right?

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I love my animals. I’m no good at taking photos of people, and I have trouble getting the colors right when I take landscape photos, sunsets, or flower photos. Because my horses won’t leave me alone when I am in their fields, I am forced to take close-ups of horse parts. It’s just something that happens. They make me laugh, so obviously it’s not art, it’s just silliness. What do you mean, when did I start to go grey? Grey? Me?

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I’ve always been afraid to call myself a writer, a photographer, creative, an artist. Those are things that other people are. Those are things you are just good at. If you have to work at it, you aren’t it. But if it slips in around the edges, if you just do it now and then, if it starts to take up more of your time…when does it become who you are? When does the brown haired person become the grey haired person? How many days of practice, what number of grey hairs, causes one to become the other?

I am still in the early stages of seeing the creative bits in the mirror. Just a little one here or there. Maybe more in the back – is that why other people see it when I can’t? Like my hair, I think I will just let it go. I don’t have the personality for hair dye. It’s too hard to maintain. I’d rather just let it take over, let it look how it looks, deal with the sometimes funny comments, and get on with my life. It took probably twenty years for my first grey hairs to become a grey head of hair, and ten more for me to admit it. I hope to allow the creativity to seep in a little faster, and to recognize it when it comes.

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Old Dog

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My old dog likes to help me feed the horses. It something we do alone together, which is his favorite part. He polices the younger dogs, but they make him tired, and if he could speak I think he would yell at them “You kids get off my lawn!” When it is just him and me, he trots along next to me. More so if I have treats in my pockets, when he is so focused on me he sometimes runs into things.

As an old dog, he no longer ducks under the fence and chases the horses, usually in the exact opposite of the direction I want them to move. He doesn’t roll in horse poop, or eat his weight in it. He almost never runs off after the sight or scent of rabbit, fox, neighbor cat. When he does separate from me, he usually comes back when I call him, though it helps if I can get in his line of sight and reach for my pocket. I am not sure if he is losing his hearing or if he just hears selectively. He certainly has no trouble hearing the rustle of the treat bag in the kitchen.

The old dog still loves to chase a tennis ball, and still has no off switch. I have to count throws and put the ball away so he does not run to the point he falls down. He likes to feed with me because it is something he can still do easily, and we are not out too long, and afterwards he can take a nap. If we have to fill the water troughs and it’s a longer trip, he stumps along next to me on the way back to the house muttering under his breath.

I realized this past winter that he is starting to remind me of my father.

My father died five years ago, and last Saturday was his 91st birthday. I’d like to say I miss him, but I more miss the idea of him in the world than I do miss the actual him in my life. I was sad when he died, but I was also relieved, and the relief was bigger than the sad. The last few months before we got him 24 hour home health care, I stayed with him a lot. I was worried that when he was alone he would fall down the stairs – but then when I was there I was worried that I would push him down the stairs.

The things I like to remember about my father, especially in his later years, are all about his love of life. His equivalents of chasing tennis balls and helping feed the horses. He loved to walk long past the point it was safe for him on the uneven city sidewalks around his home. He was horrified at the idea of a wheelchair, but then he loved being squired around in it by his home health aide, who wheeled him to his “office” (Starbucks) every morning to meet with his “colleagues” (his typical mix of everyone from high powered executives on their way to work to homeless people who hung out at the outside tables with a single cup of coffee all morning).

He spent a week at hospice as an in-patient and he came out again the weekend of a big festival in his neighborhood, which his home health aide took him to. I arrived to visit  him before they got home, and when they came in, my father pulling himself up the railing of his many stairs, being balanced from behind by his aide, he looked up at me with a huge smile and said “Guess what I did at the festival?” I had no idea, and said so, and he said “I DANCED!”

While I am sad for my father that he is no longer alive, because he really loved living, I am not really sad for me, most of the time. When I think of losing my old dog, however, I am sad already –  and he is still here and still fine.

My old dog was once my young dog. His nickname was “Runs Twice as Fast,” when compared to our then old dog. He was tireless, and he didn’t listen all that well, and he chased the horses, and he would run off and disappear for hours and come home having rolled in something long dead, stinking to high heaven and so, so pleased with himself.

I am counting on him living forever, and it seems likely I will be disappointed. But we will keep on feeding the horses together, and gently chasing tennis balls, and sitting in the grass in the sun whenever we can.

Cody art