Sunday, November 28, 2010

Day with the Animals

On the way to the SPA (Society for the Protection of Animals) yesterday ...

This is us en route to my first day as a benevole (volunteer) at the local animal shelter.  [Practicing making mini-videos with my little blue camera.  Hint:  Try not to hit too many red lights.  The camera doesn't know what to do when the rolling landscape abruptly stops! Also, I can't figure out how to get rid of the annoying Google pop-up ads. Click on the "x" to remove them.]

Last week a new little creature arrived on our doorstep, abandoned and starving. She was all skin and bones. We named her Chloe and took her to the SPA where she was given an exam and put up for adoption.  A less-than-five-minute casual conversation with the animal handler who came to pick the little stray cat up was all it took to get me hooked--on volunteering.  It's funny about those things--a random remark here, a casual reference there, that piques your curiosity so that you're prompted to inquire further, and before you know you're suddenly involved in something you'd never considered before. 

I did not always have a positive view about animal shelters.  Someone had once told me that after a few days, if no one adopts the animal, it is put to sleep.  That may be true of some shelters, but not this one.  Every effort is made to find a new home for their animals.  Some are there for as long as six months or more, being fed and cared for, until someone adopts them. Animals severely wounded, seriously ill or wild and unmanageable cannot be put up for adoption.   

Yesterday I got to see Chloe and play with her for a while. (Here is her up-for-adoption announcement). 

During the 2-1/2 hours I was there I walked eight dogs and did playtime with three cats. For the dogs, they asked if I preferred a short leash or a long one. The one thing I know about dogs and leashes is that it's hard to run and play when the leash is short. So I opted for the long one.

When I went into the Dog Room, all the dogs started barking as soon as they saw the leash. "Take me!"  "No, me!" they seemed to be saying. Which one to choose? I picked a 4-month old mixed-breed Labrador/Dalmation named Frip. Of all the dogs, he was the only one not barking. He was just lying there in a corner looking kind of sad. So I took him first.

<--Frip.    What a friendly, playful dog he turned out to be. He seemed to come alive the minute we hit the air outside.  We walked the perimeter of the grounds onto an adjacent, wooded field. I threw snowballs and he chased after them. Leaping, almost.  I had as much fun as he did. I brought him back, and next took out a dog named Renata; "I adore to live in the country!" her file says. So she, too, got taken near the woods.

My greatest challenge was walking a Huskie called Top Gun. What a name for a dog, a tribute to its perceived macho-ninity, I suppose. Sixty-four pounds of raw brute energy, it was all I could do to hang onto him. His favorite thing was diving into the snow, burrowing his nose deep into the earth and chewing on everything in sight. I had difficulty putting him back in his cage, it seems he wasn't quite ready to go back in yet.  "Offer me stability and love, and I will show you all my loyalty," his adoption file states.

It was funny:  every one of them pushed their nose into or tried to eat the snow.  A beautiful, mixed Golden Labrador named Maggie just wanted to play tug-o'-war with the leash and tried bringing a big scratchy branch back in her mouth when we got to the entrance door. To a one, they all loved being outside.

Then it was on to the cats. I got to visit Chloe, who was as affectionate and playful as I remembered her from our first meeting a mere two days before when she showed up at our back door.

The cats are not often let out of their cages and so even ten minutes of playtime or getting their hair brushed or simply being held and paid attention to is a real treat for them. My mate arrived before I was scheduled to leave and so he joined me in hosting a cat in the play room--three, actually: Glosette and Pitoune and one named  Dur a Cuir (which in French means "Hard to Leather.") What kind of a name is that for a cat? I asked. It means, he explained, the equivalent of "Tough Cookie". This cat, according to its bona fides, seems to have had a difficult life. "I have probably known the great cold of winter, without a place to warm myself.  It is why I have lost the tips of my ears," its file said. "But with my passive nature and my original look, I hope to find a loving family that will assure me a warm place for life!" 

How kind, to term a physical disfigurement "an original look."  I've heard a similar enactment of this tendency to soften the bald reality of a situation--in this case re: humans.  Say someone, one of your friends of relatives, is especially difficult to deal with;  downright weird, even.  Rather than the negative-sounding "Oh, he's impossible!" or "She's really strange", one says instead, "He (or she) is special."  

As to some of the shelter's "special" animals, one of the employees there told me he and his wife adopted two physically handicapped cats after no one came forward to take them--one cat had only three legs and the other one a mysterious condition where it could not support its own head.  Its head "bobbled" and the poor thing could not hold its head up straight. I once saw a guy in North Cambridge, Massachusetts carrying his aged dog up and down the sidewalk for a "walk" because it could no longer walk by itself. Most people would have had it put to sleep at that point. There are people for whom that is the last option, not the first. And there are people who bypass the cute puppies and kitties and choose the seemingly least adoptable creatures to take home with them, knowing these animals will require special care and may not live as long as their younger, more physically fit counterparts.

Who among us at some point in our lives hasn't lost a beloved pet to illness or accident or old age, vowing never to go through that again, declining suggestions to get another one.   Sometimes we do--get another one. You can't really replace a lost loved one, pet or person.    There will never be another exactly like them.  Ever. But love locked in for what has already passed--is love locked in.  Sometimes it's good to let love out again, for another being--one who could use it, would welcome it, and there is something to be said for the healing that comes from love recycled.  Just my opinion.  Life is too short not to share love, to take some of that love for what is already gone and allow it to flow again to what is still very much here.

Not long ago you could adopt a dog or cat here for around $20 or $30. The price has since more than doubled, mainly because the shelter is currently operating at a loss. All domestic animals are required to be registered in this city. The money from these licenses constitute 60% of the shelter's revenue but as of the end of last month they were $68,000 in the red.[1]. Many people, rather than pay the yearly animal license fee of $20 or $30, claim the animal has been lost, or deny having domesticated animals altogether. The situation is  especially problematic in the case of cats.

According to an article last week in L'Hebdo, an estimated 6,000 animals are abandoned here each year. Since January, 2010, according to the SPA, 5,635 files have been opened for abandoned or lost animals. Of these, a total of 1,723 animals have either been adopted out or reclaimed at the local SPA. Some people adopt an animal but then bring it back.  "It was too frisky", they complain; or "I don't have the patience to work with it" (in the case of a too-shy, defensive or overly energetic animal).  And so it is put up for adoption again.

The shelter can only house 40 dogs, 90 cats and a dozen other animals (such as rabbits, or parrots, or gerbils, etc.  A 4-month domestic rat named "Albert" is currently up for adoption for only $10.)   Just last week, someone left a box of newborn kittens outside the doors of the SPA. "These animals were literally frozen," said an employee who has worked there for five years. "I've seen everything," he says. "I think I could write a book."

With the new, higher prices for the adoption fee, some otherwise willing would-be adopters struggling with economic woes may think twice about forking over $75 to $115 for an abandoned dog or cat. One is always  juggling priorities. And yet people seem to find money for the latest electronic gadjet, especially around Christmas time, according to some recent polls assessing consumer-spending habits. 

All I know is, Frip and Chloe and their fellow cage-mates sure would love to find a new home this winter.

How many stray cat visitors  we have seen come and go, come and go; how many rescued, or found shot with a BB gun, or ravaged by another animal, or hit by a car, or frozen on a porch, just in our small neighborhood alone..

<-- Our Pépé, when we first found him, 6 years ago.  We found a neighbor woman willing to adopt him but two days later she knocked at the door, a brown, zipped up satchel under her arm, bringing him back to us.  Her landlady would not permit her to keep him. I'm not going to bore you with hearts suddenly melting (ours) but that's exactly what happened.  (You had to have been there.)  Suffice it to say, Pépé stayed.  We probably should not have named him before we attempted to give him away.  Made it all that much harder when he came back.  He wasn't just "that little cat" anymore.  He had a name.

It is expensive to have a dog or cat "fixed" so they won't reproduce. And when people move, they sometimes can't take their pet with them. What would happen if places like the SPA did not exist?   But it does. And both their temporary and long-term animal residents eventually all get adopted out. Some are just there a lot longer than others.They would like to expand, add more holding space, build a park behind the shelter, hire a permanent, full-time veterinarian, more staff.  They need a generous benefactor, more people willing to adopt.

What an interesting day it was. The downside is--and my mate warned me about this--you can get too attached to them.   Everyone I have ever known who has worked in an animal shelter, at some point, burns out.   A lot leave and don't come back.  "Too hard," they say.  "Too sad."  I can understand why.  It is hard seeing these animals all caged and waiting, and waiting, and waiting, to find a home; or arriving in pain, or too sickly or injured to be saved.  But for now, time and weather permitting, I look forward to continuing going there. Running in the snow with a happy dog--the greatest feeling in the world.  Seeing an animal get adopted out--priceless.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Stone People

Rain, on stone
like teardrops, sent
to wash away
uncried pain


*Photo by Tine Berge, taken "one beautiful rainy day" in Oslo.

*A reader has kindly pointed out to me that it looks more like a nose drop than a rain drop.  That's only because it was caught in the act, so to speak, the only rain drop visible when this particular photograph was taken.  Where it landed should be irrelevant. It's still "rain, on stone".   But it still looks like a statue with a runny nose.  I saw it as a metaphor, however, for people who have difficulty expressing pain--or anything at all.  People unable to speak, or sing, or cry.  Like stone statues.  Hence the title Stone People.   

On second thought, without the photo, the poem makes no sense.   Poems that need visuals, to "explain" their intention, should rethink themselves.  With or without visual accompaniment, we all see different things in the wording of a poem.  I think now this couldn't be classified as a real poem.  It's more a mental observation, on associations, pretending to be something it's not.  But I shall leave it, because the stone face in the photograph is magnificent and it "said" something to me, however awkwardly I managed to portray it.  It still does.  Stones that speak, without sound.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Fun with Harmony #3

Landscape, Interrupted

Man Contemplating Bird


I am relaxing, playing with Mr. Doob's Drawing Program.

The first drawing is called "Not a Care". It is a kind of imagined voluntary liberation.

"Landscape, Interrupted" is unfinished because the darn program "saved" before I was through. I think my finger fell asleep doing the yellow grass and I pressed the wrong side of the mouse by mistake. (There was supposed to be a sea of sunflowers in the foreground. It would have taken For-ever.) I will be seeing yellow in my dreams tonight.

The bird in the third drawing has a head that looks more like it belongs to a squirrel, and its tail perhaps should go with a chicken. (It could be why the man is staring at it.) The bird wasn't meant to be there. I tried drawing a mustache on the guy's face and screwed up. You cannot erase on Mr. Doob's drawing program. So you gotta improvise. The bird is an attempt to salvage the scene. It may or may not have succeeded but it was fun.

The last (mini) drawing is another "original-idea-gone-south." It is trying desperately to be a cat, so I will let it. I call it "Sort of a Cat". He's in front of sort-of-a window, staring at a haphazardly executed brick wall. The 'bricks' are all different sizes--stacked, but not cemented together. It's made his hair stand on end.

This bunch added to the other Fun with Harmonies, #1 and #2)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Invitation to Awareness

Happy Thanksgiving! -- to all those who celebrate this special holiday.

Last year on Thanksgiving, I itemized all the things for which I was thankful. Here it is that time again, one year later and that still all holds true but no special dinner has been planned. Canada celebrated its Thanksgiving Day in October and it's nowhere near as big a holiday here as it is in the U.S.

In the U.S., for many Thanksgiving means not only a big family dinner but watching the annual parade or football game on TV, big sales on Black Friday the day after, and the horrendous traffic back for those who came in from out of town. All part of the tradition.

We have plenty of big, sit-down dinners here with my mate's family, but my fondly remembered American Thanksgivings are now a thing of the past. I don't know any Americans here, my mate's not that crazy about pumpkin pie, and I'm a vegetarian, so there'd be no turkey. Turkey is traditional but I've had many an untraditional version, with calamari or tofu or soup.  It was still a thanks-giving.  My kids are hundreds of miles away and none of us can afford to visit at this time. Hence no big family Thanksgiving get-together celebration this year. We will share our good wishes over the telephone. As for spectator parade-watching or sports broadcasts or Black Friday shopping, none of that interests me. In that, I guess you could say I'm untraditional. Pumpkin pie, however, is non-negotiable. You absolutely cannot have Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie. It just doesn't compute.

The most interesting Thanksgiving I ever heard about was from the wife of a former colleague who volunteered at a local soup kitchen. She told me that one Thanksgiving, to raise awareness of all the people who were starving in the world, some organization whose name I can no longer remember invited people to attend a big sit-down Thanksgiving dinner, for $15 per person, proceeds to go towards world hunger.

When you arrived, you were asked to pick your entry ticket out of a box. There were three kinds of tickets.

If you got a green ticket, you would be served the full dinner, with all the trimmings--and be allowed seconds on desert.

If you got a yellow ticket, you would be served what starving people in third-world countries sometimes get to eat--a child-sized helping of rice or thin, watery soup--and nothing else.

And if you got a white ticket--you'd get nothing at all.

So imagine you're at this banquet and you get the full meal, with all the trimmings, and you're sitting next to someone who got nothing. Would you turn and give half of what you have to that person? What if you're one of the unlucky ones who got the thin, watery soup? Or worse, the empty plate. Would you quietly sip your water and listen to your stomach growl, hoping the people next to you might offer to give you some of theirs?

I'm sure a lot of sharing went around, probably immediately, after the initial surprise (and perhaps discomfort) wore off. Giving money to a charity, for which you get a sit-down dinner, is one thing; being invited to dinner and served an empty plate and having it suddenly sink in what real deprivation is like, is quite another. (Well, the invitation did say the theme was Awareness.)  But how uncomfortable to have to sit in front of an empty plate all evening long while others are eating. That glass of water can only go so far.

I went without  lunch yesterday--not by choice.  I simply forgot.  I was working on something and the hours flew and I suddenly realized it was getting dark outside and all I'd had to eat the whole day long was a cup of coffee at 6 a.m.  My stomach began reminding me it hadn't been fed.  Loudly.  No problem.  I could open my refrigerator or reach for something in the cupboard and solve the problem, instantly.

But what if I couldn't?  What if, for whatever reason,there was none to be had and no more food would be forthcoming for another day. Another two days. Maybe even a whole week. How would I deal with that?  Certainly, after a day or two, lack of food would make me woozy, lightheaded ... lethargic, even.   I'd probably lose weight.  Temporarily fasting is one thing. Starvation, however, is quite another.

I think that's what the organizers of that unusual Thanksgiving dinner wanted to convey--that life is not fair.  Some of us get to sit down every evening to a good meal, Every Single Night.  Some can only afford to buy food meant for animals.  Some get somebody else's leftovers, fished out of a trash can.  And some get nothing at all.

So many things to be thankful for this holiday.   Awareness--however received--is one of them.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Poems come tapping

when you least expect.  As did these this morning, from  impressions recalled from past-week ruminations, blog readings, and remembered observations:

Hooks and Ladders

desire to break the pattern
climb out

look back,
fear of lost habitude

loosening the bolt,
keeping the

                                                         green mountain morning

                                                           at the woodcutter's house
                                                           he's repairing the roof
                                                           making stone walls
                                                           he shares his song
                                                           hers too

                                                           love lives there

Dust to Dust

scattering her ashes,
tiny fragments of bone
tumble into the sea.
he thought dust to dust meant 
. . .  Dust.
ash dust, not bone.

ash means nothing's left.
bone means I am holding her.
not her dust.
. . . Her.
in the palm of my
astonished hand

[first publicaton]

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Lost in the chunkable time queue

Conversation Overheard between Two Friends, one of whom is

plugged in
tuned out.

Ring Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrring
buZZ buZZ  buZZZZZZZ   jingle-jingle      hummmmmmmmmmmmmm
oops, got a call.
W8--text, 2.
Hold on a min

The min takes 4 mins.

Click.  Ap off.
"So.  S'up?"

"Forgot, dude." 

End of Conversation.


"On YouTube, 'you can get a whole story in six minutes, ....a book takes so long. I prefer the immediate gratification.'"  Growing Up Digital

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Free at Last


What good news yesterday!  Aung San Suu Kyi has been released, after seven years under house arrest in Mynmar (formerly Burma).

We are keeping our fingers crossed.  (She was set free before, then rearrested.)  She has been told by Burma's ruling military regime that she is now free to travel about the country, unconditionally.  Let's hope that's true.

Aung San Suu Kyi reminds us that "there are still 2,100 political prisoners in jails across Burma, and that no-one in the country could feel truly free until they were all unconditionally released.  'If my people are not free, how can you say I am free. We are none of us free.'"[1]

But for now, for today, welcome back from captivity, Aung San Suu Kyi!!!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Friday, November 5, 2010

Fun with the "Be" words

At this table, very soon
a belated Anniversary dinner,
for two

I was out of the country on our real anniversary date back in October. Wine and sunshine and your mate, what more do you need?  Even the wine bottle opener wants to celebrate.  :) 

Placing those words just now under the picture, I'm intrigued by that word "belated", for some reason.  Be-lated.  What a strange word.  I am going to be late for something.  I will be be-lated.  If I were trying to learn English, I might ask, "Why not just say 'I will be "lated"?  It got me thinking for some reason about some other words that start with the letters "b" and "e".

Beware!   --  A contraction of "be" + "aware"
Begone!   --  A direct command.  Make yourself gone. 
Bejesus!   -- As in, "He scares the bejesus out of me"

Beseech, bequeath, believe ... take away the "be", and "seech", "queath" and "lieve" slip into Nonworddom.

Beyond, before, betwixt, between, beneath --
"yon", "afore", "twixt", "tween", and  'neath', can all lose their be's and still be functional.

More "be" words:
because, become, bedarken, befit, befall, before, befumble, beget, begin, begotten, behave, behead, behind, behold, behoove, belated, belief, belong, beloved, bemuse, behead, belittle, beneath, benign, benumb, bequeath, bereave, beseech, beset, beside, besiege, besotted, bespangle, bespatter, bespeak, besprinkle, bestir, bestow, bestrew, betroth,  bewail, bewilder, bewhiskered, bewitch.

Word Challenge for the Day:

See if you can come up with a little story, not to exceed 500 words, using the list of words above, in the order in which they are presented, i.e., alphabetically.  You can add the letters "s", "er", "ed" , "ing" and "ment" ... the only rule is, it has to make sense.  The reader must be able to get beyond the be-ness of the be's, that is, become so enmeshed in the story that the repetition of the "be" sound does not distract.  (To make it easier, you can also occasionally "un-be" a "be" word.  You are, however, limited to only two "un-be" attempts.)

Be-words used are in red; "un-be'd" be-words  must be marked in blue (for purposes of keeping track).
No cheating allowed.

Let the game begin. 

Here is what I came up with.

How Not to Write a Story

           Because you have lately become rather a recluse, your room now darkened by soft cover of night befitting the mood that befalls when you find you have nothing left to say, you fumble, begetting patterns that begin the long, slow progression backwards, begotten of another time, another life.  "Behave," you whisper to the cat perched on the windowsill, its shadow moving across the wall like a beheaded black blob.  Behind you, the candle flickers, so that what you behold is not the cat, nor its shadow, but the overwhelming spaciness of this space in which you have deposited yourself.

          It would behoove you, albeit belatedly, to leave your beliefs behind, just this once, stop trying so hard to belong when it's clear you do not, in that company of writers whose beloved works line your deep, stuffed wooden shelves.  

          To bemuse itself, the cat toys with the curtain, its own peculiar way of belittling this, your latest pretension, that this absurd scripted exercise will produce something of merit.  Beneath the pile of papers lies your pen, its ink dried out, the result of benign neglect.  Benumbed by inertia, you consider bequeathing this, your favorite writing instrument, to one more worthy, not considering the swell of instant bereavement that will surely follow from such  foolishness.

          "I beseech you, Darling, come out," pleads your mate from behind the locked door.  "I am beset with worry for your health.  You have not eaten in days.  Besides, you are missing "Frindge", it's starting in three minutes!"  Besieged by distractions such as these,you wonder if anything can ever come of this hiatus from staid normality.  The cat, as if besotted, echoes your mental bespanglement; it skitters to the floor, bespattering yet another pile of papers left waiting on the chair.  This, of course, definitely bespeaks of chaos, proof positive that you should not allow your pets to infiltrate your inner sanctum if you are serious about writing.  Not even if you generously besprinkle catnip in strategic corners will that feline respect the  bestirring of the awakened  muse, nor care that she's about to bestow her gracious inspirations.

          Meanwhile, outside the door, your mate awaits, impatient, his thoughts bestrewn elsewhere, towards the living room.  "Can you send out the cat?" he asks, this gentle soul to whom you were betrothed eight happy years now, here for you through all your bewailings, bewilderings, and silent quietnesses.  Bewhiskered but benevolent, he leaves you to locate and consult with your muse.  Contrary to popular opinion, you are not bewitched.  You're merely engaging in a favorite pastime, he will say. 

 *Word count: 428

Ouch, ha ha.

Play time is over.  Going to bed.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


He had trouble living up to
his expectation of himself;
when inspiration died he dug out his older poems
presenting them anew,
turning from writer to critic.
When he looked in the mirror, he saw someone

I'm becoming my father
he said with a jolt, staring at
his tired face and thinning hair and sloping shoulders ...
that bitter mouth, that hallow gaze

He stooped to stealing,
first a word, then a line, lose the quotes

I still love you, said his wife
though he didn't know which you she meant:
the you he was and can't locate?
the you he became, this loathsome hack
of words in baskets heaped and scattered
waiting for the churn ...?

I dreamt of being on a bus
full of children going to
It made no sense, nor did the words
that made their way to paper when the
daylight came; not far behind

a writer, chased by his own ghosts;
he seemed so real.
He whispered in my head and said
I've a message for you--
write this word down:  "Recyclopoeticon"
I'm leaving now, late for my ride

and thus I woke, forgot the rhythm;
jumbled words 'mid vapory images,
message lost.  Except ...
he did say he was a con
(or was it his father, disappointed?)
He climbs back in the basket at my feet
(in which I keep my socks)
sifting words, mumbling:
No, no, that's not what I meant to say at all, at all.  Go
back to sleep (except I can't)
and am left with this leftover character
from a dream, interrupted
by morning's
kiss of light

~ ~ awyn


I wonder if anyone else has this experience--just before waking up come lines of a poem or story flowing effortlessly forth, yet when you're fully conscious trying to remember them, all that comes out is ... jibberish.  There ought to be a mental waystation between the sliding from Unconsciousness into Awareness where you can halt the doors, so to speak, to make sure you haven't left something important behind.

As it is, one arrives with paltry fragments, and the sense of having lost significant connectors, now irretrievable.  But it was magnificent! you try to explain.  Of course, no one believes you, because ... look at the high weirdness that emerges when you put pen to paper and try to recall.  It's now an empty room with all the air sucked out of it.

Sleep is the germinator, wakefulness the sifter.  Thinking that what you bring out even remotely resembles  what went on "inside", in all its imagined glory, is mind's greatest con. 

A poet recycling, what cannot be deciphered.  A fictional character who emerges to explain his unevolved counterpart in Dreamville.  Not at all convincing.


*artsketches by awyn