No job that pays

Tomorrow is the first Monday in forever I won’t have anywhere to go. Nowhere to be. Nothing to do for anyone higher up the pay scale.

Last week I was fired when the non-profit job-that-paid eliminated its entire communications/marketing department. Conveniently, they let me come into work Monday morning (45-minute commute) and work for a couple hours before they did it. My coworker and I were unceremoniously tossed out, putting the contents of our desks in whatever bag or box we could find. I felt like I’d did something wrong, and still do, in spite of the lovely letter swearing to the contrary in my severance packet.

I understand the business decision, and in fact believe it was probably the right one for the organization at this current moment. And I wasn’t in love with the job. After a career, it was just that– a job. I was grateful for it, however it didn’t scratch any itch for creativity or exploration. It is also the height of irony since I left newspapers because of the increasing risk of having my job disappear. Life is hi-lar-eee-ous.

So now I sit here on a Sunday night, not sure what to do with my planner, my to-do-lists and my time. I have at least a few weeks and then whatever or whenever something presents itself that pays the bills. I am fortunate in that we are financially stable because my husband is good at that kind of stuff. And we have health. That makes all the difference and has nothing to do with us.

At 2 a.m. the morning after I got fired, the SAR pager went off. I was out the door in five minutes and a few miles up the road when the disregard came through. But it was enough of a reminder that with The Job That Doesn’t Pay I am beyond blessed for meaning and raison d’être.

I’ll be fine. But it is weird. I expect the house will be cleaner than it has been in years, I’ll plague you a bit more here. Say a prayer for my coworker and dear friend who was marched out of the building with me. She has kids and pre-existing conditions and all of that. Things are scarier always with kids.

All ya’ll going off to punch the time-cards in the a.m., good luck, have a great week and I’ll be thinking of you. 2017-02-20 10.06.01.jpg

I’ll be looking around for a job for a professional badger because that’s what I am to my core.

And I need a new place for this kick-ass mouse pad.

A good workout

Stuff’s been weird lately. You know, how you get yourself a little cross-threaded in your head, and it’s just not going forward or coming out. Church hasn’t been the safe place I’d been needing it to be. Work’s been ridiculous for all the stupid going on, exhausting in its whimsy. The only places things seem to make sense right now are in this strange new thing called marriage, and atop the rubble pile or on the training field.

Today I started the day with an interesting conversation with one of my favorite people, an African-American pastor who is always in the courthouse, ministering and chatting to all who cross his path.  We were talking about how “hard” everything is here–the crimes, the poverty, the injustice, the inequity. Then he reminded me how really simple it all is.

“Love God and love others?” I said.

“Yep. That’s it.”

Then he told me a story about a woman he sees at the gym–who works out constantly, going from one machine to another. But she’s always on the phone, never pushing herself. Never breaking a sweat. And she’s still gaining weight. Working out is work. Not complicated, but work. We’re supposed to be working.

Then this afternoon, I covered a little thing. Not a big story, but probably an important story. And while doing it I encountered a Jewish writer and consultant. He tells me of this old Hebrew blessing–“May you go from strength to strength.” He amends it a bit when he’s working with kids. He adds “…and may you give that strength to others.” We’re happiest, he said, when we are working on being better people.

I’m not sure whether I’m up to the workout right now. Mostly I feel  like I’m just trying to keep my own poop in a group. I’m not real good (read: at all) at loving others, and am pretty sure the only living creature I can tolerate for more than 20 minutes is my dog. But I’m still trying, I guess, to be “better people.”

 

Blame the dog

(Or How Dogs Change Everything)

There’s a sign hanging in the training building I have seen or heard with every trainer I’ve ever worked with: “It’s never the dog’s fault.”

It’s true. It’s not Helo’s fault if I can’t figure out how to get him to understand what I’m asking of him. It’s not his fault he’s a dog and not a person who walks on all fours.

But I blame him, and his predecessor Sunshine, for so much anyway. And it’s ok. I think my trainers will let me.

On April 15, 2006 I met my sister at the Hacienda Restaurant in Warsaw to collect a middle-aged Golden Retriever. Three days before I got the dog, I came back from Rome, having cancelled the wedding plans with the Great Italian A$$hole (it’s a great story, ask me about it sometime when we’re drinking adult beverages). It needed to happen, and one of the reasons it did happen was because I knew I had something waiting for me very soon.

I grew up with dogs, a dog specifically, a beautiful Lab from hunting trial lines who kept me sane and kept me safe from myself for more than a decade growing up in that house. But in my adult life in Fort Wayne, I had not been able to get (or was afraid to allow myself) a dog.  Sunny was the perfect dog to bridge that gap.

As I drove away from the restaurant, I looked into the rear view mirror and saw a scene I would see constantly for the next six years–that big soft red-gold head propped between the back seats, dozing as she watched out the window. That big sweet dog accompanied me to therapy sessions, got me off my couch and introduced me to my neighbors. My desire to give her more room led to the purchase of my house. 381512_10150514677219437_278700776_n

She slept under my desk in the bureau, and went with me to everything from fire scenes to school board meetings. She spent an afternoon with the Bluffton police chief while I covered a court hearing.

I know that her constant presence in my life healed my heart in a way I could not have predicted that day I watched her hop into my car. I know that what she nurtured in my soul prepared the way for A. When she became ill at the end, A came to my house and helped me put her on her bed. As Sunny was unable to stand or walk, my friend J came the next morning with me to take her to the vet. When it was time for her to cross the Bridge, I held her head in my lap and her leg in my hand as I thanked her and told her it was OK to go.

A week later, that little fuzzy ball of black fur with the speckled tan paws showed up, a polar opposite of that old Golden in every way possible.

With Helo, it became clear from moment one he needed a job. Sunshine possessed no motivation for anything beyond rawhide bones and belly rubs. Helo, though, he wanted to be with me all the time, assist me in whatever task I was doing, climb on my lap, chew on my hands and shred anything he could find.

Within a few months of his arrival, we were in obedience classes. We walked every day to the football field at a nearby college campus and I wore his furry little butt out with tennis balls and soccer.

When I moved in with A, Helo’s life became fields and groundhogs, barns to explore and new roads to run. But it wasn’t enough. So we got him another job (hopefully) and with it, more people for me to meet, friendships to build and adventures to have.

I blame Sunshine for so much of this, for starting me on this journey by being safe. I blame Helo for the rest of it, for needing so much more from me than I thought I could give.

In the book of Tobit, there is a dog. The dog came out with Tobit’s son and journeyed with him. That is all we know.

1426301_10151916285291743_240149804_nFor me, the dog has often led and I’m fine with that.

 

Humans (and dogs) being

My training coordinator got my blood pressure up tonight with a simple message asking about a picture of my dog training yesterday. I’ll spare you the inside baseball discussion about the picture and what the issue was. She was concerned about the picture itself. I was concerned about the behavior the picture may have portrayed (funny thing about pictures–they may be worth 1,000 words, but they rarely tell the whole story).  We take a ridiculous amount of pictures while we train — cell phone cameras, actual cameras, whatever happens to be handy. The pictures provide, not just fun pictures of dogs, but also provide instant documentation of how we work and what the dog can do and has done. Anyway, someone else took the picture and at that moment in time, that split second, it looked concerning. My fear was that the picture was the whole story and that we were done.  It wasn’t. We’re not. We’re fine for where we’re at. Phew.

But I did not climb off that ledge for hours. And while Helo nonchalantly shredded a box in the living room, I worried.  Are we going to get this done? Is he doing what he’s supposed to be doing? Etc. etc. ad nauseum.

As a bit of a control freak, this whole training-dog-for-search work is SO hard for me. There is this whole other variable here, and it’s huge. It’s like 80 percent of the whole equation. I am, to quote our leader, a dope on the end of a rope. This largely depends on Helo, a 50-pound fur covered animal with his own reactions, instincts, desires and ideas. This is his show, his work. And I am having the worst time getting out of his way.

All my life, the few dogs I’ve worked with in either 4-H or in our home, it was about getting the dog to DO something. To sit. To stay. To high-five. Helo’s early life (his first 18 months with me) was largely getting him to do things. He is extremely good at doing. He aced his obedience classes. He will wait for me patiently outside a coffee shop for hours. He is, officially, a Canine Good Citizen. Helo is a very good dog.

But this thing we’re doing together, I’m asking him to BE something — a Search and Rescue K-9. I need him to be 100% dog, 100% of the time AND to use that dog-ness to perform a task humans cannot perform. I need him to be willing and able to work away from me, to use his nose and his instincts in an extraordinary way.  There is talk in our group of “putting obedience” on the dog after the beginning of the search training is done, like a title. It struck me the first time I heard it — “putting it” — as an odd thing. But it makes sense now. It is restrictive to their being.  The obedience work is merely so we can live with them, exist with them in social settings, so they know what’s expected of them in public. Because we weren’t planning on this little adventure we’re on, Helo and I did it backward. Now we’re having to go back and undo some of what I did before, what I put on him–Helo, obedient family pet.

This whole work is so amazingly difficult for me, the control freak, the person who works largely on my own. I pick my stories. I cover my beat. I design my class and I teach it.

I have to slow down with this. I have to be quiet, like ACTUALLY QUIET, while he works and let him figure it out. It makes me want to climb out of my skin. Of course, he senses it and the “good dog” worries that he’s disappointing me. See? It’s a vicious cycle.

If you’re reading this, and you’re prone to praying, throw one up for us, for me, that I’ll let him just be. It’s a lesson I need to learn in just about every area of my life anyway — letting those living, free-will-endowed beings around me just do their thing without me worrying about them every minute of every day. I never could keep them all safe and sound, protected and whole, and God knows I tried. It’s no different with the people I love than it is with my dog. I can’t control. I can’t change.

Helo’s not the only one learning how to “be.”

The limits of observation

This post has been rolling around in my head for a week now, sometimes more put together than others. It woke me up this morning, along with a sunrise showing itself on the field behind our bedroom. It was a pretty solid thought right then, but after I let the dog out, got my computer up and running, then went outside to take a picture of the sunrise, and was greeted by a big wide canine grin asking for play time, I lost it again. This is my attempt to get it back. I think it’s a good one.

I think I’m nearing the end of my abilities to just stand by and watch. In 20 years as a journalist I have stood by and watched the ridiculous, the mundane, the terrifying, and the sorrowful. I have wiped many tears from my eyes in a quiet darkened car before I’ve called the story in to my editors (shhh, don’t tell them). It’s my job. I watch, and I try very hard with some success to put what I have seen, heard, smelled and touched into words safe enough for a family newspaper written to about an eighth grade reading level. I argue and cajole, badger, coax, ease and tease the stories out of those who think it’s too much to share, too little to be of value, or that which they are trying to hide. I work with amazing and talented people who do the same thing in words or in pictures, providing to our communities information they need to know, should be aware of or what they are entitled to understand. I know, absolutely, that what I do is important, in spite of what people often tell me in emails, phone calls, and face to face. It is my chosen profession and I do an alright job at it most of the time.

It fits completely with my nature, my inclination to stick my nose in where it absolutely doesn’t belong. (Have I mentioned how alike my cattle dog I am? Kinda spooky). But I am growing emotionally weary of being unable to do more, to stop it, to ease it, to smooth its rough edges, to make it better. Along with that ridiculous need to nose, I also very much want to fix it or help it.

And there is not usually a damn thing I can do about any of it. I couldn’t put the little girl back together when Michael Plumadore chopped her up. I couldn’t make it easier for the cops who cried on my shoulder the day after they found her. I can’t bring the families and friends and loved ones back for those who have lost. I light a candle. I pray. I don’t ask why, though, anymore, because there isn’t a why. Reason is not for this place. This is place is for survival and courage. But I am at a place where I want to do more, to do something, to do anything.

That desire intersects right now for me at a very strange and odd place –the aforementioned Australian Cattle Dog, this energetic, fuzzy-headed bundle of fur and brains and way too much boldness for his small size. An effort earlier this fall to find a new place to provide him with intellectual and physical stimulation of obedience/agility work escalated a wee bit and now I have my new thing, a way to do something, even in a small-ish way, a way that may not show any fruit for years.

I am training Helo for Search and Rescue work. He seems to have the easy part, for he is a  young dog and as we know, new tricks are the easiest for them. This old dog, though, I have to learn all kinds of stuff–scent theory, how the wind works, how not to ruin crime scenes, how lost people behave, and become a first responder. It is going to eat up time and energy, and more time. I spend my Saturday mornings now buried in rubble piles, hiding in woods, wrestling with much larger German Shepherds to help them learn and love their work, and getting my little guy acclimated to heights and holes, and trying to turn him into a barking machine.

The husband spent a lifetime chasing radio calls as a professional and volunteer in all kinds of emergency services and is becoming content to let the younger guys run into the burning buildings. I am quite sure he is a tad concerned I’ll lose my balance in this new thing and wear myself (or him out). It’s possible. But I married him in part for his ability to ground me, to keep me from floating off into dangerous orbits. I know with absolute certainty he has my back in this, in every way that’s appropriate and real.

Helo and I may never find anything, but by golly we’re going to try. I owe it to him to give him a job, and I owe it to myself, after all these years of watching and standing by, to make an effort to do something.

 

helo on the pile

Unpacking (finally)

Place matters to me. I tend toward being a homebody, and other than my earliest years in Baltimore, I have always been a Hoosier, and a Fort Wayne resident for the past 15 years (most of my adult life). And I was proud of the professional and personal life I carved out for myself.

Then I met A, and he drug me off to his scenic rural home about 30 minutes away from my coffee shops and brew pubs, my downtown farmers markets and my noisy neighborhood. He flat refused to live in the city (in fairness my house was too small for me and the Cattle Dog, let alone him too), so to the country we went.

I went sooner than I planned when my house was burglarized the night before my bridal shower. Within a few days I started staying up there more frequently, coming down just to change out clothes and by the time Christmas rolled around (and I packed all my winter clothes for a two-week holiday) there was no point in going back. So we began the official move, but it happened in fits and starts with no big moment when everything was done. I just kind of trickled up the road.

I have to confess, though, it has not been a smooth transition for me. I make the commute for work and then again on Sundays for church (and since A changed jobs, so does he), so there wasn’t anything that made me feel like this new place, this rural county with its rolling hills and countless lakes, was home.

But I needed something to do out there. It’s weird, but I needed a thing. I needed something that was mine, in the new place. My husband and I do not share social circles for the large part (a hazard of how we met). And while our connections into each others’ lives and cultures grows, I felt very much like a guest. However, I never really thought about the fact that I actually moved. (Anyone wanna buy my house? PLEASE?) I thought, in some strange way that I merely just changed sleeping locations, and maybe someday I’d go back to the little white house. He’d be with me, somehow, but the life I lived here still existed, in nearly the same way.

Ha!

I moved. I moved my geographic location. I changed my name. I changed my legal status. I changed the beneficiaries on my life insurance policy, and my emergency contact information.

I cheated in the transition, though, because I kept my byline the same, so in the newsroom, with the people I have known for so long in the city where I lived for so long, I feel like I did before. Then I would leave to go home, but it didn’t really feel like home. I loved that A was there, and I love the life we’re building together there, but I did not feel like I lived in that place.

A few weeks ago, though, a new opportunity opened up out there in beautiful rural nowhere. I am not going to call it a hobby because it feels more than that. I will bug you later (trust me) with stories about it. But for now, this is just about this deepening sense of place, of belonging to a new spot as this new person. It will be my new name on release forms and contact sheets. These people I am doing this with, many of them know my husband, and know me now only as his wife — “Woody’s wife.” We talk about him because they have known him for longer, and in ways I do not. This is a very good thing. Until this, there had not been in anyway a place (other than with family and in-laws) where that identity — me as his other half — existed.

Is that weird? It may be.

I realized yesterday, when I came back to the city after more than a week away from it, it didn’t really have the pull for me that it did before. It’s now a place I work, and with the exception of my faith community, not where I live.

I live in a new place.

60 words left to use

How shall I use them?

I am trying to read and write more…not writing for public consumption, and stuff I have no intention of ever showing anyone. Feeling like I need to, so I tried to write 1,000 words tonight.

I still have a few left.

I’m on my porch, listening to the crickets and sipping some very good bourbon. I don’t know why, but tonight, I decided, was a special occasion. Helo’s sitting somewhat contentedly at the edge of the porch, listening too. I’m sure he hears so much more than I could even imagine. His ears are like little satellite dishes, always going, always listening, turning this way and that. So cute.

I miss my family–my nephew and niece and the one that’s not yet born. I wish I was at the country home with the boy, who’s probably been in the hot tub and looked at the stars. You can see stars there. You can’t from my house–too many lights. And the sirens are drowning out the crickets right now.

The city’s been a violent place lately–lots of shootings, fights, etc. I joke that I don’t care till someone’s charged, but it really has been noisy on my end of town.  The boy spent Sunday on a manhunt in another county, looking for a murder suspect.

World gone mad, I guess.

But for now, I am sitting on my porch, sipping Van Winkle bourbon (told you it was the good stuff). The sirens have faded a bit and I can hear the crickets again, and my CD player has shuffled onto Jakob Dylan (preceded in the lineup by his father, of course).

Helo’s laying down now, and I’ve used my 60 words and then some. Hope you didn’t mind my sharing.

Night, ya’ll.