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An Obituary for Our Girl

Our Girl

Her names and nicknames.

This is somewhat tardy, but as I was missing her especially today… the obituary of my dearest girl, Lotte.

Born in November, 2001, Lotte (a German Shepherd mix) was abandoned as a puppy, and the only one of her litter to survive.  She was rescued, and in April of 2002 went to her forever home, gaining her names.  Lotte because that had the most votes, and the other two because “Maggie” and “Alex” were the runners-up.  She adopted her humans, too, and always did her best to protect them– including from each other.  Wrestling, lightsaber duels, and other rough activities were curtailed quickly, upon realizing that the person Lotte deemed the aggressor would suffer for their sins… including her beloved human father.

A decent hunter, Miss It bagged a few birds, a squirrel, one frighteningly large beetle, cornered a possum against the side of the house, and narrowly missed a large trout one day at the lake.  She also enjoyed “people food”– particularly cheese and peanut butter.  Her eyes would also grow three sizes around popcorn.

Shy around people, but always good with kids, “that black dog” was a regular sight around town with her master on their daily walks.  Walks, which came to an end finally, after thirteen years.

The week before Christmas 2014, Lotte Margaret Alexandra made her final trip to the vet’s after suffering an infarction, which caused her to go blind, deaf, and lose a lot of mobility.  Her prognosis was even bleaker (up to three months of further deterioration), and her human family made the painful but ultimately easy decision to put her to sleep; she rests today with the veterinarian, who asked to be the one to inter her.

“I always liked this dog,” he said.

And, aside from her family– he was always one of her favorite people.  Beginning in a ditch– ending on a farm… though Lotte’s years were fewer than we would  have liked, they were each and every one of them good.

“Fear no more the heat o’ the sun,

Nor the furious winter’s rages;

Thou thy worldly task hast done,

Home art gone, and ta’en thy wages:

Golden lads and girls all must,

As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.​”

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20 Years Later, An Apple With A Mustache Still Scares Me

Be afraid.  Be very afraid.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

My parents read to me a lot when I was small.  One book, being the morbid little thing that I was, I often requested was Some Things Are Scary by Florence Parry Heide.

It was an educational experience.  Some things are just plain scary, and you can’t do anything about them… no matter what they say on any of those syrupy kid shows you see everywhere else.  And the book didn’t make me scared of the things it listed, necessarily.  Getting a shot, for instance– that’s never scared me.  On the other hand… the apple with the mustache always got to me.  There’s no good reason for an apple to have one– either it’s gone moldy, there’s a nasty stinging caterpillar crawling on it, or something even worse is going on!  Bleah.

But reminiscing about this lovely piece of literature made me wonder about fear.  There’s a lot written on the subject, goodness knows.  As old FDR said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”  A sinister but ultimately harmless movie doctor said fear is what makes human beings live so long compared to other animals.  George Lucas said fear leads to the Dark Side.  That’s all well and good.  Fear is bad.  We should fear it.

But what do we fear instead?  How does it change?

When I was getting read Some Things Are Scary, I was afraid of the black panther under my bed.  Don’t judge me.  About the time the panther stopped bothering me, I acquired my morbid fear of sharks after a creepy incident at the aquarium.  (This is why jelly shoes are a fad that never needs to come back.)  Now I’m still afraid of sharks, catfish and crocodiles, but what really keeps me walking the floor nights are my student loans.  My fears have evolved and grown up with me.

Like the New Testament said, when I was a child, I thought as a child… and so on.  When I was a kid, I was afraid of a variation of the monster under my bed.  That’s no longer the case.  My fears are for the most part now, very adult in nature.  Except for the apple with the mustache.  That thing is still scary no matter how old you are.  And maybe that’s another lesson in that book.  Some fears can’t be sung away like in Barney, and some are too weird for time to do away with.  The thing to do is to not let our fears get the better of us.  We accept them, and we work with them.  Shoving them back under the bed doesn’t help.  That’s what really leads to the Dark Side.

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Words, Words, Words!

I’m a writer.  This means I love words almost as much as I love names.  Anyway, as such I’m always interested when words are created or when they fall out of fashion.  The same applies to when people try to “reclaim” words, and their varying levels of success.  And I’ll go ahead and place my allegiance right now– words bloody well can hurt me.

Anyway, here are a few notables.

One of my aunts groused that the word “niggardly” is practically no longer used.  The word means “stingy” by the way.  And apparently it depends on where you look, as to whether it’s used or not.  While it may no longer appear in conversation or on spelling lists (and who would use it in conversation– one of Scrooge’s customers?)  When I was reading about Elizabeth I, who was famous for being stingy, the word was used quite frequently.

My mother and I howled with laughter when the word “booty” was removed from a new edition of a certain Bible and replaced with the phrase “the spoils of war.”  I can’t remember which Bible it was, so I won’t speculate (though I think I’d remember if it was NRSV), but I distinctly remember the cast of “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” on NPR having merciless fun with it.  “King David saw the spoils of war on the rooftop… and it was FINE!”  Yeah.  Less comment would have been made, probably had the powers that be left well enough alone.  Just saying.

Some feminists want to reclaim words like “slut” and “cunt.”  I hear that the Brits have done a pretty good job with the latter, and hell, I’d like to see it happen.  Why is the vilest thing you can call someone a vagina?  That in and of itself is vile.  Admittedly, I’m skeptical about the words overcoming their nasty histories, but I suppose anything can happen.  We’ll have to work, start dialogues, and hope for the best.

Now,  a word that I would personally like to reclaim is “evangelical.”  In its purest form, the word means “follower of the gospel.”  Good thing, right?  But, at least in the States, it has become a dirty word, associated with the lunatic fringes of Christianity… too many movie villains, the Westboro Baptists, that annoying guy on TV… you get the drift.  Something’s got to change.

And that’s about 400 words on the subject of words!  If you’re interested look up Wordsmith.  They’re a pretty cool service (much better than junkmail).

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Dealing With Door-to-Door Missionaries

At the moment, it ain't good news.

At the moment, it ain’t good news.

They mean well.  They really do.  (Or at least, I think they do.)  But holy smoke are they annoying!  You’re mooching around the house, minding your own business when the doorbell rings!  It’s two men in suits, and one of them is holding a bunch of cards with pictures of Jesus on them.  Alternately, it’s a Piper Laurie/Carrie’s Mom lookalike, right down to the crazy hair and black dress.  Charity freezes out of your system as you anticipate the awkward scenario to follow while the people on your doorstep try to invite you to their church in a way that implies you’re hell-bound or incredibly intolerant if you say no, or have all the paperwork ready for a formal conversion.  Brrr.

There are ways to deal with this scenario.  I’ll name a few survival methods that either I’ve used, or have been recommended to me by friends and family.

1. Get it over with quickly.  Sometimes you have to talk with them and the easiest thing to do is just accept the card, assert you know who Jesus is, and get on with your life.  This happened to me when I was accosted by a couple of young Elders while my dog had stopped to fertilize the nearby tree.  (Really, guys?  You couldn’t have waited?)

2. Tit for tat.  Let them go through their spiel and then talk about your worship preferences.  It’s only fair, after all.

Now… if you’re feeling playful.  And the old “sorry, I’m busy” excuse has a surprisingly high failure rate.

3. Put on earphones and pretend you don’t hear the bell (requires foresight, some sort of device, and that you be facing away from the door).

4. Turn out the lights and pretend not to be home. This was recommended to me by an old friend who once lived down the street from the local Mormon congregation.  Apparently her family adopted this tactic quite frequently.  But if you do pretend you’re not at home, for goodness’ sake, don’t get caught.  It’s most awkward.

5. If female, mention that you’re single.  One of my aunts apparently had a pair of Mormon missionaries positively flee when she told them that she was unmarried (they had asked to speak to her husband).  If there really is a man in the house, use your imagination.  I suppose the idea that you’re living together but not married could scare the more righteous types off, or make them more determined to “save” you.  It’s kind of a craps shoot, really.

6. If female, be scantily clad.  My mother had a pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses positively flee when she answered the door in a bathing suit (her gardening attire of choice).  Pajamas don’t work so well– it has to be really obvious sleepwear, and the less there is the better. (Works better with young male missionaries.  Older female ones can adopt the “we’re all girls here” attitude.)

7. If male, simply answer the door wearing gaudy lipstick.

Finally…. Never just slam the door in their faces.  It’s just plain rude.

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Mary Poppins… Practically Perfect?

Politically equality!

Political equality!

My grandmother is obsessed with Mary Poppins.  None of us are sure where this fixation came from, but we’re all just as glad that there’s a long movie we can suggest watching when she’s otherwise to stubborn to take it easy (like she’s supposed to).  And it’s a fun movie, although I recently came across another explanation of the ending that startled me, but at the same time makes sense.

At the end of the movie during the song “Go Fly A Kite” as Mr. Banks makes his peace with the children and reinvents himself as less of a stick-in-the-mud businessman, Mrs. Banks offers one of her “Votes for Women” sashes as a tail for the new kite.  I have always interpreted this ending as Mrs. Banks no longer being afraid of openly showing support for “the Cause” around her husband.  And he does look pleased seeing the feminist kite flying among all the other, less creative ones in the park.  They all live happily-ever-after.  Or do they?

The other interpretation I came across recently states that Mrs. Banks’ gesture means that she’s giving up “the Cause” for a life of staying home, barefoot, and pregnant.  Unfortunately, it’s an equally valid claim– Mrs. Banks is something of a straw feminist (although that’s par for the Hollywood course) and other films contemporary with Mary Poppins, such as The Great Race, took delight in punishing those characters or making them as unappealing as possible.  Given Disney’s track record with female characters and Uncle Walt’s politics, the anti-feminist ending is pretty likely.

Unfortunately, without a “Word of God” on the subject, we won’t know, and Disney is probably savvy enough to keep mum on the subject.  Unless Saving Mr. Banks answered the question– I had no interest in watching it.  That means it’s up to us to write our own conclusions.  I’d like to go on with my feminist interpretation of the movie.  Mr. Banks accepts his wife’s cause and lets her host meetings of the other suffragettes in the house with minimal grumbling, and even helps out from time to time.  For her part, Mrs. Banks sometimes misses meetings to look after Jane and Michael, and organizes with the other mothers in her group to share childcare on picket-line days.  In a few years, Jane starts picketing with her mother.

They all live happily ever after.  I wonder what Grandma thinks of the ending?  I shall have to ask her….

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Little Children

Martin_Luther_King_Jr

My mother once told me that I could be sure St. Peter took him up to Heaven personally.

Any post about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day has to start in my childhood.  I am a person who likes to think that I’m not racist, but I have put my big foot in my mouth (I wear a size 10, incidentally– big feet) several times on the subject of race.  And some of my cringiest moments occurred when I was young and innocent.

For example, I had two plush baby dolls when I was a tot.  They were exactly the same, except one was white, and the other was black.  The white doll, I named “Pinkie.”  The black doll I named “Pinkie Brown.”  Oops.  And not just because I named my toy after the villain of Brighton Rock.

On another occasion, I was given a black plush horse for Christmas.  I already had a stuffed dog named “Blackie,” so I decided (having a somewhat limited capacity for names) to call the horse “Darky.”  My parents immediately vetoed that name, but they refused to say why.  Later I found out the reason.  Oops.

The trope “innocently insensitive” comes to mind.  I had no idea at ages 2 and 9, respectively, that my actions could be considered, at least, microaggressions, and racist at worst.  But I learned better.  My parents were too amused by the cute babydoll named Pinkie Brown to correct me on that one, but they put a stop to my naming the horse “Darky.”  They probably should have explained why, though.  Dad explained why my brother and his best friend couldn’t call their comic-drawing partnership “the SS” (for Sherwood and Smith), though he made it 5th-grader friendly enough.

All these instances lead to my conclusion that tolerance and peace are, at least in part, learning experiences.  Everybody probably says something stupid at some point, and then there’s Cards Against Humanity games (which may or may not count), but we have to learn from them.  And we should be exposed to diversity to make the lessons really sink in.  I was lucky.  My parents lived next door (literally– it was a duplex) to a black family when I was little, and one of my babysitters was Jewish.  I got to see early that people whose skin was a different color than mine, or who practiced a different religion, were just people, and that nothing was inherently wrong with them because of that.  “Why would someone want to hurt Jimmy because of his skin?”  “Why would someone want to hurt Marla because she goes to church on Friday?” (For a Christian toddler, every form of worship is “church.”)  And I answer my littler self now– no one should.  People who would want to do that are bad, and one can only hope that someday they learn better.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s most famous speech mentions his dream that “my four little children will one day be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”  Amen to that.  And to achieve that dream, we must all make sure our little children know that while differences (race, religion, sexual orientation, etc.) exist, they are not the criteria by which we are to judge other humans.  If we are to love one another and raise our children in that light, we must lead by example.

We honor one such example today.  And we should do likewise the rest of the year.

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How Many Ideas Are There?

Is it even an idea?

Is it even an idea?

Everybody probably knows the expression, “There are no original ideas.”  Right?

If you can think of something, chances are… somebody else already thought of it.  Probably including this one.  (Now we’re in Twilight Zone territory.)  Come to that, somebody told me “There are no original ideas.”

The other night, we watched part of “V” for Vendetta in one of my classes (bet you wish you were there), and it reminded me a lot of several Vincent Price revenge-centered movies from the ’60s and ’70s such as The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Theatre of Blood, and some of the Poe movies.  Nearly every time I see a movie I think “Oh, this was in Rear Window.  That’s from Chinatown.  Now you’re just messing with me.”

Though they aren’t always.  We don’t know if Stanley Kubrick was aware of The Phantom Carriage, a Swedish silent film that features an alcoholic husband chopping down the door to the room his wife had barricaded herself in when he made The Shining.  (I didn’t mention Stephen King because the compositions of the two movies is quite similar and more or less takes the book out of the equation.  Or does it?  You can argue.)

In my more immediate experience… I’m working on a fantasy novel where the villains commit horrible acts of magical/biological warfare.  Imagine my horror to find out that China endured some of what I thought I was making up during World War II!  Minus the magic, of course.  Look up Unit 731 on Wikipedia if you want nightmares.  I had a few.

Anyway, if there are only so many ideas floating out there in the Jungian Unconscious, how many?  And how many ways can they be recycled?  Hopefully that part is infinite, otherwise the future will be incredibly boring.

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